Plant-Based Protein vs. Whey Protein: Which Is Healthier?

Plant-Based Protein vs. Whey Protein

Your choice of protein powder may be determined by whether you prefer animal-based whey protein powder or plant-based protein powder.

Protein powders are among the most popular nutritional supplements on the market.

To meet various dietary requirements and lifestyles, several manufacturers provide both whey protein powder (produced from cow’s milk) and plant-based options.

With so many different types of protein powders available, you may be wondering which one is superior and which one best meets your needs and tastes.

Comparison chart

AttributeWhey Protein PowderPlant-based Protein Powder
Complete proteinYesNo (except soy or specific mixes)
Provides 20–30g protein per scoopYesSometimes
Helps build muscleYesYes
Supports weight lossYesYes
CostDepends on brandDepends on brand

Plant-based protein vs. whey protein powders compared

Plant-based and whey protein powders share many similarities as well as distinctions.

The process of their creation

Whey protein powders typically derive from whey, a liquid leftover from cheese production. After obtaining the liquid, we extract various elements such as carbohydrates, fat, and water, leaving behind the protein, which we subsequently turn into a powder through spray-drying.

The production of whey protein powder involves cow’s milk, which contains lactose, a type of milk sugar. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that whey protein isolate has a reduced lactose content in comparison to whey protein concentrate due to variances in processing techniques.

Plant-based protein powders are sourced from a variety of plants, such as brown rice, peas, soy, and hemp. Different brands may use a single plant source or a blend of multiple plants to create their powders.

If you are vegan or have lactose intolerance, plant-based protein powders are a suitable alternative, as they are devoid of any dairy or lactose content and are derived entirely from plants.

Content protein

Both whey and plant-based protein powders usually contain similar amounts of protein, with an average serving providing approximately 20 to 30 grams.

Whey protein powder is considered a comprehensive protein as it comprises all nine essential amino acids, which are the fundamental building blocks of protein. Additionally, it contains leucine, isoleucine, and valine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are crucial for muscle development.

The protein content in plant-based protein powder varies depending on the source plant. Generally, plant-based powders have lower BCAA levels compared to whey powders. Soy protein powder stands out as the only complete plant-based protein option.

The convenience of some manufacturers lies in their practice of combining different plant proteins in their products to make sure they contain all essential amino acids and BCAAs.

The most effective method for assessing the protein content (20–30 grams per serving) and amino acid profile of a protein powder is by examining the nutrition label.

Food digestibility and sensitivities

Whey protein powder is known to contain lactose, which is a frequently encountered food sensitivity. However, choosing whey protein isolate can help reduce the lactose content per serving. Nevertheless, individuals with a high sensitivity to lactose may still experience stomach discomfort, bloating, and gas.

It is important to note that plant-based protein powders consist of different ingredients. Certain varieties may include soy and gluten, which are known allergens. Therefore, carefully reading the labels and opting for products specifically labeled as soy-free and/or gluten-free, if necessary, is crucial.

Certain plant-based protein powders, particularly those that include pea protein, may lead to bloating and cramping for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome or those who are sensitive to FODMAPs.

If you have food sensitivities, a practical way to discover the appropriate protein powder for your needs is to try out a range of options and diligently record your dietary and health observations. This systematic approach will assist you in recognizing and monitoring any potential side effects resulting from the use of different protein powders.


The brand is a major factor in influencing the prices of plant-based and whey protein powders.

Generally speaking, you will come across both varieties at roughly the same price point. Nevertheless, goods labeled as organic, keto, paleo, or featuring other specialized characteristics tend to be priced higher.

It is important to note that the serving sizes of certain plant-based protein powders, such as hemp, are larger than others, like pea. As a result, you may end up using more powder in a shorter period of time, leading to increased costs.

If you want a more budget-friendly plant-based option, pick one with a serving size similar to whey products.

Efficiency in promoting muscle growth

In order to develop muscle mass, it is imperative to participate in strength training exercises and ensure an adequate intake of protein that encompasses all the necessary amino acids and BCAAs.

Whey protein isolate stands out as the preferred option for maximizing muscle growth, thanks to its classification as a complete protein, significant content of the BCAA leucine, and rapid digestion.

Plant-based protein powders can serve as complete proteins and can offer significant levels of leucine, as long as they comprise a combination of two or more plant proteins or are enriched with BCAAs.

In actuality, research has revealed that whey and plant-based protein powders are equally proficient in promoting muscle hypertrophy, or muscle growth, provided that they contain similar levels of protein and BCAAs per serving.

Irrespective of the variety of protein powder you select, a quality product will have a minimum of 20–30 grams of protein and 5–12 grams of BCAAs, with at least 3 grams of leucine, in each serving.  

While protein powders can offer convenience in meeting your protein requirements, it is crucial to avoid making them your primary protein source. It is advisable to prioritize whole-food protein sources like chicken, fish, tofu, eggs, or legumes in your diet and utilize protein powder as a supplement only when there is a need for extra protein.

Ensuring an adequate daily intake of protein is vital for facilitating muscle growth. It is advisable for most individuals to aim for 0.6–0.9 grams of protein per pound (1.4–2.0 grams per kg) of body weight per day, equivalent to approximately 20–40 grams of protein per meal.

Effectiveness in promoting weight loss

Achieving weight loss involves creating a calorie deficit, where you consume fewer calories than your body burns in a day.  People usually achieve this by reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity.

    Whey protein powder, as well as plant-based protein powders, can aid in weight loss by inducing a sense of satiety and safeguarding your lean muscle mass, which constitutes the fat-free component of your physique.

    Here are a few factors to consider that could enhance your endeavors to lose weight:

    • Choose protein supplements that only contain protein. Some protein powders have additional ingredients that can increase calorie intake, like extra sugars. Select a protein powder that solely consists of protein.
    • Seek out products that have 100–150 calories or less per serving. If the calorie count exceeds this range, it is probable that the product contains supplementary ingredients.
    • Smoothie portions should be limited. When incorporating protein powder into your smoothie, it is advisable to stick to a 1-cup (250-mL) serving size. The addition of various ingredients, like milk, fruit, peanut butter, or juice, can greatly increase the calorie content of your smoothie.
    • Incorporate it into various dishes. Experiment with incorporating protein powder into your meals, such as adding it to pancakes or oatmeal, for an extra nutritional boost.
    • It is important to avoid using protein powders and drinks as a replacement for meals. They do not contain enough nutrients or calories to be considered a complete meal. Depending on them for sustenance can result in feelings of hunger and excessive snacking throughout the day.
    • Incorporating strength training into your workout schedule is essential. By engaging in strength training exercises a few times each week, you can help maintain muscle mass and stimulate muscle growth. The increase in muscle mass may lead to a higher metabolism, which can support your weight-loss goals.


    Selecting a protein powder is a personal decision. If you are satisfied with whey protein powder, there is no need to switch to a plant-based alternative. Nevertheless, if you encounter digestive problems or want to explore a non-whey alternative, there are numerous plant-based protein powders available that can deliver excellent outcomes. It is recommended to choose a variety that includes multiple plant protein sources.

    The bottom line

    Protein powders serve as an excellent supplement to aid in muscle growth and weight loss. To cater to your specific requirements, you have the option to choose between an animal-based whey protein powder or a plant-based powder. Both variations offer an ample amount of protein to assist you in achieving your fitness objectives. While searching for a suitable protein powder, it is advisable to select one with minimal ingredients and a serving size that contains 20–30 grams of protein and 5–12 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). In the case of plant-based proteins, it is recommended to opt for a mixed blend for optimal results.

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