The protein topic is a many-headed beast, always finding new ways of entering the fitness discussion.
Today, let’s talk about whey and plant sources. Sorry, I meant to say let’s pin them against each other and see who comes out on top. Plant-based protein vs. whey protein; who will win?
Okay, let’s be clear from the outset, then. Both whey and plant-based sources are fantastic protein options, and we should be glad to have them.
The widespread availability of protein powders, pills, supplements and protein drinks, today, is incredible. And the last decade has only seen an increased boom in quality products. How many people do you see today drinking cups of raw eggs?
Because while that was good enough back in Rocky’s day, the 21st century offers more than enough choice for protein.
Perhaps all I’m saying, then, is ‘be glad that you don’t need to choke on raw yolks every morning.’
The Taste Factor
This brings me to my first plant-source criticism. Best to just get it out of the way, now. Yes—plant-based protein sources naturally taste quite… awful. Certainly different to whey and other dairy-based options.
They can be truly terrible, honestly. And producers know this. Companies are forced to put in a bunch of additives and artificial sweeteners which only make it more difficult to stomach. For different reasons though.
When companies begin to steer away from natural plant-sources to satisfy the user’s taste-buds, they make one common mistake.
Combining various artificial additives, sweeteners and thickeners will often cause digestive problems. Hence, the complaints of many users that plant-based powders are tough to stomach. This goes in some cases, but not always.
Like I say, best to get this out of the way early, because there is a lot of good to be said for plants. Many protein powders with stevia have managed to come out tasting okay, for example. But if you are looking for that all natural protein, no artificial sweeteners or additives label—be prepared to shudder a little with the first sip.
Plant-Based powders are just for vegetarians, right?
Whey, for instance, is also a perfectly vegetarian-friendly option. It is a milk-based protein, along with casein, which simply makes it dairy. This brings on other complications, mostly to do with the digestive system, which will be discussed a bit later.
For now, let me just assure you that plant-based powders are not just for vegetarians. They are a suitable choice for anyone seeking a healthy protein option.
Where to find protein in plants
There are a variety of ‘natural protein powders’ to be found on the market. By ‘natural’ I just mean sources that are located in the wide and wonderful plant world.
Legumes and peas are a common ingredient in plant-based powders, as they contain a naturally high percentage of protein.
Brown rice protein isolate, hemp, pumpkin, seeds and nuts are also primary sources. The difficulty comes with grinding these sources down into an easily consumed powder.
Many plant particles simply do not mix well with water. And, for reasons that will be discussed in a moment, mixing with milk might just defeat the plant-source purpose.
So what about whey?
Well, whey is a dairy product. This means that for those of you who are lactose intolerant, you may experience some discomfort.
Even if you drink it with water, yes. Whey sources, like whey isolate, can also be incredibly expensive. And that’s about all that can be said against whey.
Onto the good stuff, then. Whey protein sources can often be the most protein efficient products on the market. While I’m hesitant to call anything perfect, when it comes to protein sources, whey isolates are just about that.
Typically, the best whey isolates will be about 90% protein content. That means for a 30g scoop; you’re getting 27g of pure protein goodness. It can be taken as a preworkout protein source, post-workout, or simply throughout the day.
Another great thing about whey is that it mixes naturally with water and milk options. For those with tougher digestive systems, one heaped-scoop of a quality whey isolate combined with a full shaker of milk can be a supplement meal.
A note on blending. The fact that plant-based powders do not mix like whey options could be because it is still a relatively younger market.
Maybe when plant powders begin to grow in demand, there will arise better solutions to this mixing-issue. Until then, just know that you might need to chew through some chunks with plant-based options.
In the end, you can find top protein powders in both whey and plant-based forms. Plant powders are considered the cleanest protein powder source. This is of course partly a marketing ploy, and partly right in the sense that they are not manufactured like whey isolates.
However, considering we did make this a fight to the death: my recommendation would be to go with whey. Until plant-based powders can catch up with the competition, whey is simply a significant step ahead.