Whey or Plant Protein: what is the difference?

We all do it. We take more care of our bodies nowadays and are keen finding the best product to help. And what do we do first when standing in the shop; look at the label in search of how much protein it holds. But there is so much more to protein than just looking at the label.
It all starts with knowing the difference between the two available sources of protein; animal and plant-based protein sources.

With thousands of different proteins options, it can be daunting to find the right option for. Protein, being one of the best and safest supplements you can take, is important for helping your body to repair cells and make new ones. To find the right protein for you it is wise to focus on learning more about proteins. For example, you might want to focus on high-quality proteins.

Healthy food high in protein. Meat, fish, dairy products, nuts and beans
Healthy food high in protein. Meat, fish, dairy products, nuts and beans

High-quality proteins?

High-quality protein depends on four things

  • The amount of protein per serving
  • Protein digestibility
  • Amino acid content
  • Amino acid availability

Not every source of protein has the same amino acid profile. Amino acids determine if a protein will help create tissue, lose weight and recover. Even they way how your body breaks down protein has an effect. You might be just adding calories to your diet without the benefit you are looking for.

Simply choosing a product because it contains protein is not enough. Proteins can be divided in complete and incomplete protein.
Proteins are biochemical molecules that contain chains of amino acids. There are twenty different kind of amino acids. Eleven of them our body can produce on its own. The other nine we must consume through diet or supplements. Or a combination of those two.
These nine amino acids are called essential amino acids.

Complete protein contains all the nine essential amino acids, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Generally found in fish, poultry, meat, dairy products and eggs.

Incomplete proteins do not contain all the nine amino acids. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils), nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables are sources of incomplete protein. Eating this will not give your body all the essential amino acids it needs.
Of course you can combine them to get a complete protein meal and you should. Varying is advised to get all nutrients you need.

When buying whey or plant protein it is wise to look at the label. You want the right amino acids to get most out of it. As mentioned before incomplete protein do not contain all the nine essential amino acids. Specially for vegetarians and vegans it is important to combine different protein sources for a complete protein meal, because very few plant sources are complete proteins.

Products rich in amino acids.  Protein sources and food for bodybuilders
Products rich in amino acids. Protein sources and food for bodybuilders

Learning the difference

The difference between whey and plant protein comes down to sourcing and amino acids. The essential amino acids play a big part in this difference.

Dairy, for example, is a complete and healthy whey protein. But is not an option if you suffer from dairy allergies or follow a vegan lifestyle.
Plant protein comes from high-protein plants like seitan, lentils, peas or soy.

The reason why the difference between whey and plant protein is so important. As mentioned before in this article, your body produces amino acids on its own. However, nine amino acids your body does not produce. Remember, the are the nine essential amino acids. You need to obtain them through your diet.

Most popular protein powder is whey protein, because of all the essential amino acids this contains. Note that you still carefully need to select your whey protein, because some whey protein contains less protein than might seem at first glance.

Important to know is that very few plant sources are complete protein and do not have all the nine essential amino acids.

Muscle gain

Supplementing with protein powders a common thing to grow or build muscles. Heck, it even helps with fat loss. But there is a catch; to do that you need consume the right proteins. For muscle gain, for example, your body will break down protein into amino acids. And these amino acids are needed for muscle gain and support growth.

When your body does not get all the necessary and essential amino acids, you might not get the results your working out for. These amino acids help your body build muscles.
Both whey and plant protein are helpful in building muscle. But in the end, you need to get all the essential amino acids for the desired result.

Man holding a whey protein on gray background.
Man holding a whey protein on gray background.

Whey Protein Powder

The most popular protein powder supplement, whey protein, comes from milk. When making cheese, milk coagulates. Coagulation is the formation of gel. This is formed by destabilizing casein micelles causing them to aggregate and form a network which partially immobilizes the water and traps the fat globules in the newly formed matrix.

Due to whey being a complete amino acid source containing moderate to high levels of the most essential acids, whey helps muscle tissue grow and supports fat loss. Plus, whey enhances recovery.

Whey proteins can be bought in concentrates or isolates. Isolates might be your best choice. Whey protein isolate is guaranteed to contain at least 90% pure protein. Concentrates on the other hand can contain between 30 and 80% pure protein.
Concentrates also contains more lactose than isolates, which is something to look out for when you are lactose sensitive. Isolates has less than 1% lactose.

Set of different whole grains beans and legumes seeds lentils and nuts colorful snack texture background / Various beans mix peas agriculture of natural healthy food for cooking ingredients
Set of different whole grains beans and legumes seeds lentils and nuts colorful snack texture background / Various beans mix peas agriculture of natural healthy food for cooking ingredients

Plant Protein Powder

Vegetarian diets can be a bit challenging at first to find complete protein sources. Many plant-based proteins sources do not contain all the essential amino acids. And as mentioned before, you need these essential amino acids when building muscle tissue or working on fat loss and recovery.

Mixing different plant-based protein sources for a complete protein dish is a solution. Plant based protein are low in calories, but unfortunately are also low in various essential amino acids.

Soy and pea protein are the exceptions here. These plant-based protein sources are high-quality protein containing all the nine essential amino acids. The amino acids in peas are like whey and a great source of iron. Pea proteins are typically used to increase the protein content of smoothies and shakes. Besides helping muscle tissue growth and weight loss, it also benefits your heart health.
So be sure to put pea proteins in your search for a good plant-based protein at the top of your list.

Read more about diets here.

https://askthescientists.com/qa/protein/