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The important place of protein in any diet cannot be overemphasized. Whether you are into a fitness program or just want to maintain good health, taking a protein supplement is important. You could have it in the form of protein powder or smoothie. In the whey protein vs. Plant protein debate, the former has always been thought of as the better, only until recently.
If you scoured the web on this topic, you’d find that most articles published are clearly biased in favor of vegan protein, but one might wonder if this is necessarily true. Of course, the two types of protein have their differences. It is on the basis of these that we shall seek to determine which one to include in your diet without suffering unnecessary side effects.
Whey Protein Vs. Vegan Protein
There used to be a time when whey protein would reign as the king of muscle building supplements. However, people started to deal with different health issues that were linked to the regular consumption of the supplement. In most cases, those who had a history of food allergies or sugar milk(lactose) intolerance were affected.
Then, since the market in the sports nutrition industry started to look toward other options and alternatives, a new evolving trend on the rise is that of plant-based protein supplements. Regardless of the many benefits attributed to whey protein and the multiple studies supporting them, there seem to be increasingly more proponents of vegan protein.
On the other hand, vegan protein was also underrated, especially because of the insufficient evidence to back up any benefits associated with it. It wasn’t until some research started to emerge trying to prove how plant protein stacks up against whey concerning muscle building and protein synthesis, among other benefits, that it became a high demand product.
Is Vegan Protein Powder As Good as whey?
From its name, vegan protein is a plant-based type of protein. It is sourced from different types of plants. The following are some of the common plants from which vegan protein is sourced:
1. Brown Rice Powder
Although mainly a source of carbohydrates, brown rice contains a substantial amount of protein. In fact, it compares very favorably with other protein powders. It is a good source of fiber, phosphorus, and iron.
You can replace whey with brown rice protein if you suffer from food sensitivities and allergies. The best thing about it is that it is easy to digest. Due to the fact that it is not a complete protein, you will have to pair it up with other vegan protein powders.
2. Pea Powder
This is undoubtedly one of the best vegan protein powders. Its protein content is high enough to help athletes perform at their very optimal levels. It contains high amounts of lysine and arginine. The former, an essential amino acid, is hard to find in most vegan diets.
Apart from regulating blood cholesterol levels, it plays a role in collagen formation and the conversion of fatty acids into energy. Arginine, on the other hand, is key to the body’s natural wound healing process. It regulates blood pressure and preserves muscle mass, and is also a precursor of nitric oxide.
Pea powder is easy to digest and has a texture that’s fluffy and smooth enough for use in protein shakes. Combine it with other vegan protein powders to ensure you get all the amino acids your body needs. Mix with some flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds for maximum effect.
3. Hemp Powder
Due to its rich nature, hemp powder is a vegan’s favorite as a protein supplement. You will find all the amino acids that your body is unable to produce in hemp seed powder.
This protein powder is known to contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which boost heart health. It works by reducing inflammation and lowering blood cholesterol levels. It is also a good source of iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
When it comes to comparing vegan protein whey debate, this is definitely a protein source worth considering. However, the jury is still out on whether hemp can offer a substantial amount of amino acids regardless of being either essential or not.
There are also research findings suggesting that the amino acid Lysine is found in relatively low levels in hemp. For maximum effect, you should take it together with other vegan protein powders. That will help to boost the amount of lysine in your diet.
4. Soy Powder
This protein powder is made from soybeans. It exists in various forms, including salad dressings and breakfast cereals. When it comes to the vegan protein vs. whey debate, this is a good alternative, especially for individuals with food allergies.
The good thing is that it is a complete protein with all the amino acids that are essential to your body’s proper function. Use it for muscle recovery and growth.
However, it would be best if you didn’t consume too much soy powder. In women, this protein has been proven to increase the risk of breast cancer, especially in women with previous estrogen-positive cancer. This is due to the high amounts of phytoestrogens in soy powder, which leads to increased estrogen levels.
Nevertheless, the latest scientifically-based studies have found that dietary soy intake does not adversely affect hormone levels or human health, for that matter
Plant-Based Protein Benefits and Disadvantages
•Vegan protein is hypoallergenic, which means almost everyone can tolerate it. That’s especially if you consider pea and rice protein, which hardly cause any side effects.
•It can be included in a detox program, mainly due to the fact that vegan protein is easy for the body to tolerate. Apart from doing well as part of a detox program, pea and rice proteins will form a key component of an elimination diet.
•Easy to digest, given their high tolerance levels, especially people with any food intolerances or allergies that can’t digest whey comfortably.
•Vegan protein is a rich source of all types of micronutrients, including zinc, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, iron, iodine, calcium, and B vitamins.
•Some people don’t find the taste of vegan protein to be so good. But this does not apply to everyone.
.The source of iron in plant protein is non-heme, which means that your body might not absorb this nutrient well, unlike heme iron from animal sources.
•Most vegan protein powders have a few of the essential amino acids. It is harder for them to build muscles unless used in combinations of several types.
Whey Protein Definition
Whey protein is sourced from milk. After cheese curds have been separated, they leave behind a watery liquid. This is what’s called whey. The liquid is the main ingredient in the production of whey protein.
Whey protein is the preferred choice compared to other milk-based protein supplements due to the ease with which it is absorbed. Compared to casein, whey protein causes fewer allergies. You can find other forms of whey protein other than powder in protein bars.
Whey Protein Pros and Cons
•Whey is a complete protein since it contains all nine essential amino acids. It promotes muscle growth and function in a better way.
•Contains high amounts of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as valine, isoleucine, and leucine, which play an important role in stimulating muscle growth.
•Supports detoxification by stimulating the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, and detoxifier.
•The amino acids in whey play a key role when it comes to boosting the body’s immunity. It also contains immunoglobins for a stronger immune function.
•It contains lactoferrin, an immune-boosting molecule that is both anti-cancer and anti-bacterial.
•Whey protein tastes much better than some of the vegan protein powders. This aspect could be of less importance to certain individuals.
•People who suffer from food sensitivity are likely to suffer from all forms of allergic reactions. It can cause discomfort, excess production of mucus, and headaches.
• Some Whey protein products are full of additives and artificial sweeteners, among other contaminants.
Vegan Protein vs. Whey
Given what you know so far, just which is better vegan protein vs. whey? While whey has its benefits, it has been blamed for exacerbating food allergies and sensitivities. Below is a blow-by-blow comparison of vegan protein and whey:
1. Digestibility and Absorption
When it comes to supplementing protein in your diet, the ease of digestion and absorption are some of the key aspects to consider. It isn’t just the cost and amount per serving that matters. Protein powders that are difficult and slow to digest may lead to intestinal discomfort and malabsorption.
Whey protein is ideal for individuals with no food allergies. It is easy to digest and absorb into the bloodstream. For individuals with lactose sensitivity or intolerance, avoiding whey protein is the way to go. Apart from causing flatulence, the protein may end up being flushed down your bowels instead of being absorbed.
Vegan protein powders hardly contain any allergens and are digestible by just about anyone, without regard to whether they have food allergies or not. Apart from being gut-friendly, vegan protein is easy to absorb into the body but not to the extent of whey when it comes to how much of that protein is used by the body and how much is excreted(more on that later). It is great for recovering athletes or those looking to increase their muscle mass.
2. Protein Quality
When choosing a protein supplement, it is important to go for one with the highest quality levels. Look at the number of essential amino acids the protein contains. Go for complete proteins, which easily synthesize to help build muscle mass.
Whey protein is known to be a complete protein. It contains all the nine essential amino acids required by the body. If you are looking for a protein supplement to promote muscle growth and recovery, this is the best choice. In the vegan protein vs. whey debate, this would be a clear winner if it were not for the preservatives and additives included by the manufacturers.
But not all hope is lost since you can still find many reputable brands of whey protein offering products derived from clean sources such as Non-GMO and grass-fed cows. It’s all about doing your own due diligence and deciding what the right choice for you is.
Some vegan protein powders may not contain all the essential amino acids but still, stand out when it comes to health benefits. You can find most of the nine amino acids in pea and hemp protein. Combine several vegan protein powders to increase their potency.
You will love them for the reason that they contain no preservatives or additives. Overcome the lack of all essential amino acids by increasing the variety of foods you eat together with the supplementation.
3. Muscle Building Potential
In the vegan protein vs. whey debate, which one is better when it comes to muscle-building ability? Given the differences in amino acid content, it is not enough to have a protein. The source really matters. You should ensure you use a protein supplement that has the ability to spur muscle growth and recovery.
Due to its amino acid profile, whey is incredibly good for building muscles. It also contains a number of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), such as valine, isoleucine, and leucine. These help improve protein synthesis in the muscles, thus enabling faster and better growth. Only watch out for whey protein if you have food allergies. Whey manufacturers also contaminate the protein with all manners of preservatives and additives.
Vegan protein sources may not give you all the essential amino acids at a go, but they can still work when a variety of foods is emphasized. You may want to combine several vegan proteins to get all the muscle-boosting amino acids. Sources such as soy protein are, however, complete.
4. Residual Nutrients
Protein supplements are not just meant to supply you with amino acids. They contain additional nutrients such as carbohydrates and fats. To succeed in your exercise or workout program, you need all the calories you can get. But the number of macronutrients you need in the protein powder will largely depend on your goals.
Whey protein traditionally contains some carbohydrates and fats. The balance depends on the formula you choose. While some may contain high amounts of sugar, others may have extra saturated fats. These attributes make whey a no-no for individuals looking to lose weight.
As for vegan protein sources, they contain other macronutrients in their complex form. They hardly have any saturated fat or refined sugar. The carbohydrate content in vegan protein sources will vary from one food type to another. You will find the highest amount of carbohydrates in quinoa and rice. These two can be very good for individuals involved in strength training.
5. Nutrient Density
Nutrient density is all about the number of nutrients in a food type per calorie. Foods that have fewer calories but loads of minerals and vitamins are considered to be nutrient dense. The more nutrients in food, the better it is when it comes to building muscle.
Whey is a nutrient dense food, given its low-calorie count. But it is the protein content that makes it stand out. The carbohydrate and fat content in whey is low enough to no cause you little concern. When it comes to the vegan protein vs. whey debate, this food does not have enough minerals and vitamins.
Unless fortified with these micronutrients, whey will supply you with nothing more than protein, but in this case, you can meet those nutrient requirements missing in whey if you follow a healthy balanced diet. On top of that, you can fill that gap by simply adding your favorite ingredients to your whey protein shake.
Vegan protein, on the other hand, comes with a lot of extra nutrients, including zinc, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, iron, iodine, calcium, and B vitamins. That’s due to the ability of the plants to absorb minerals from the soil.
Vegan protein is definitely much better than whey as far as nutrient density is concerned. Your muscles will benefit to a great extent when supplied with both protein and minerals. But on the other hand, you are supposed to be getting all those nutrients in your regular food.
In this case, remember that your aim is maximizing muscle growth and strength through protein supplementation, so getting all those extra nutrients comes as a bonus.
6. Biological Value (BV)
This is the percentage of protein absorbed from food that becomes part of the proteins present in the body. It measures the usability of the digested protein in the process of protein synthesis in the body’s cells.
Proteins are, in fact, the primary source of nitrogen in food. BV takes protein as the only source of nitrogen and mediates the proportion of this nitrogen absorbed by the body that is then excreted. All other nitrogen must have been incorporated into the body’s proteins.
A proportion of nitrogen incorporated in the body over the nitrogen absorbed equals a measure of the “usability” of the protein, namely BV. Whey protein’s biological value is far superior to plant proteins.
Compared to whey,plant-based protein supplements are more expensive, while whey protein products are easier to find at more affordable prices.
Which Is The Better Option?
This question should be rephrased as What supplement is the better option? Both types of protein sources are excellent for supplementing your sports nutrition. It’s only up to you to decide which one to use based on your personal goals.
While vegan protein was not considered as good as whey, now it looks like the tables have turned, and Whey protein is being demonized as something that might do more harm than good. To end the vegan protein vs. whey debate, it is clear that the former stands out when it comes to nutrient density and tolerance.
However, some of the vegan protein sources may not have as many amino acids as your body requires. Whey has been around since ancient times when it was used as a medicine and to improve health. There are a lot of studies backing up the benefits of whey as compared to plant protein, with only some recent studies supporting it.
Whey, on the other hand, contains all the nine essential amino acids, and regardless of the overhyped claims on its alleged harmful effects, it is considered safe to the majority of people who practice moderate to intense physical activity, especially when chosen from trusted, reputable sources. You can even consume whey if you do not have any form of food allergy.
The Biological Value(BV)of Whey is far superior to vegan protein, so you should ask yourself these questions: are you a vegan? Do you have any food allergies or lactose intolerance? Based on this reasoning, you can decide which one is good for you.