With so many different protein powders on the market today it can be difficult to make a decision on what to try. Not only are there hundreds of different brands, but also different protein sources that completely change how the body reacts to the protein. Two of the most popular types of protein for supplements are Whey and Plant based sources. Both supply amino acids the body needs to repair, and both can easily be utilized for a meal if there is not time to eat. So what is the difference? Is one better than the other? How can you choose?
One of the largest differences between Whey protein and Plant based protein is how the body digests it. Whey is a dairy protein, which can be difficult to break down for those with digestive issues or lactose intolerance. While a whey protein isolate tends to be much easier to digest and can be handled by people with mild lactose sensitivities, it can still cause inflammation leading to digestive discomfort.
Plant based protein sources are generally much lighter on the digestive system than their dairy based counterparts. One of the most popular ingredients in these is pea protein, which has a similar rate of assimilation (how long it takes for the body to be able to use the protein) to whey, but other sources like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, and chia are also used in some powders.
Another important factor to consider when selecting a protein is the nutritional value they possess. In most cases, a whey protein powder will be sweetened with sucralose, a non sugar sweetener. Some people are looking for more natural alternatives, in that case a plant based protein may be the better option as they are generally sweetened with stevia or another natural plant based sweetener.
Additionally it is important to look at the amino acid content of the protein you plan to take. Animal proteins such as whey are known as “complete” proteins, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids your body needs. Plant based protein sources tend to be “incomplete” proteins, meaning they lack 1 or more of those essential amino acids. It is important to consume all of these EAAs, as the body cannot produce them from other amino acids, and they are necessary for proper daily functions. To remedy this, many companies will combine different sources of plant protein in order to provide a complete amino acid profile in their product.
Finally, the most notable difference between these types of protein powders is how they taste. While some whey proteins don’t have the best flavoring, there are many companies whose shakes could be mistaken for an unhealthy dessert option. A good quality whey protein will mix much more smoothly than a plant based protein, as plant protein itself tends to have a gritty/sandy texture. The flavoring may not be as sweet with plant proteins as well, due to most companies electing to use more natural flavorings instead of artificial ones, commonly used in whey proteins.
The Choice is Yours
These statements don’t cover every whey or plant based protein though, as there are plant based powders that don’t have a terrible gritty texture (SunWarrior’s Warrior Blend is one of our favorites here), and also whey proteins without the artificial flavors (Allmax Nutrition’s IsoNatural is among our best sellers). Both types of proteins are good options to add extra protein into your diet, and ultimately there is no “better” option. The best protein will depend on how each individual intends to use it, how their bodies are able to digest it, and their personal preferences when it comes to flavor. The most important thing to remember is to make sure the protein you are trying is of good quality, and then find your favorite from there.