Whey Protein Vs. Plant Protein Supplements: Which Is Better?

Whey Protein Vs. Plant Protein Supplements: Which Is Better?

Protein is an essential nutrient in our diets throughout life, especially if you are an athlete or a recreationally active adult. Yet, only rarely do we think if our diets are meeting the daily protein requirements. So, how does one get that extra protein boost to support performance and muscle growth? 


Enter protein supplements. What could be easier than meeting your daily requirement with a scoop of protein powder in your favourite food or smoothie? With many options available in the market, differing in sources, taste, usage, and health benefits, know which one—whey protein vs. plant protein supplements—works best for you. 

Proteins—The Building Blocks of Your Body 

Proteins are important for maintaining good health and performing various functions in the body1,2

  • The major structural component of your muscles and tissues
  • Growth, maintenance and repair of tissues and muscles 
  • Production of enzymes, hormones, haemoglobin, etc.
  • Maintenance of pH balance in the body
  • Source of energy

About Amino Acids

Proteins are made up of amino acids (AA). You can consider AA as beads that join together to form long chains of proteins. Overall, 20 amino acids have been identified that play a role in growth and metabolism. 

  • Essential amino acids: These AAs cannot be produced by your body and must be obtained through diet.
  • Nonessential amino acids: These AAs are made by the body from essential amino acids or from the breakdown of protein and glucose.


A food source is considered a “complete protein” when it contains all nine essential AA, whereas “incomplete protein” may not have all essential AAs or in lower amounts. 


However, there is a more scientifically accepted method to assess the quality of protein, known as the PDCAA score or protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score. It measures the protein’s ability to provide the required levels of essential amino acids to support human needs. 


A higher PDCAA score means that the protein contains high amounts of essential amino acids and is easily digested by our bodies.  The PDCAA score ranges from 0 to 1.0, with 1.0 being the highest score possible.


We will share more details on how this score can help you make the right choice in the later sections. 

Do You Need Protein Supplements?

Even for sedentary adults, the recommended protein intake is 0.8-1 g protein per kg body weight per day3. However, the requirements increase in special cases as per the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN)4.

  • For muscle mass building and maintenance, an overall daily protein intake in the range of 1.4 to 2.0 g protein per kg body weight per day is recommended for most exercising individuals. 
  • Higher protein intake may result in positive effects on body composition for high-intensity exercising individuals. 


High-quality protein supplements can help meet your protein needs in addition to whole food sources. 

Potential Benefits of Protein Supplements You Should Know

Here are some benefits of high-quality protein powder or supplements5,6,7,8

  • Promote and maintain muscle growth, especially when coupled with strength training
  • Aid in muscle recovery 
  • Reduce muscle soreness 
  • May improve performance 
  • Improve muscle protein synthesis (MPS)
  • Support fat loss
  • Reduce oxidative stress and increase natural antioxidant defences


Protein supplements are primarily derived from plant and animal-based sources and in the later sections, we will dive into more details.

Whey Protein: Animal-Based Protein Powder 

Whey protein is isolated from whey, which is the watery part of the milk that separates out during cheese production. After separation, it undergoes further processing to produce the widely used whey protein powder. Since whey protein powder is made from cow’s milk, it contains lactose. 


Apart from being a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids, whey protein is also rich in three essential AAs called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)–leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs have been shown to increase muscle growth and reduce soreness and fatigue9,10,11


Additionally, whey protein has an ideal PDCAA score of 1.0. 

Whey Protein Types: Concentrate Vs. Isolate Vs. Hydrolysate

There are three types of whey protein powder depending on how they are processed12

  • Concentrate: Whey protein concentrate is the most basic form of a protein supplement with minimal processing. It contains small quantities of other nutrients such as fats or carbohydrates and immunoglobulins. It is a  low-cost option and the protein content may vary among manufacturers between 30 and 90% but typically contains 7080% protein12. It is high in lactose and can cause gas, bloating and digestive discomforts in people with lactose sensitivity. 

  • Isolate: Whey protein isolate is more refined and processed in a way that minimises fat and lactose concentration. An easy-to-digest protein, It has >90% protein content and a very minimal amount of lactose, making it a better alternative than whey protein concentrate for lactose-sensitive consumers. It also has a smooth and better taste profile than hydrolysate. 

  • Hydrolysate: This form is hydrolysed whey in which the protein is broken down into peptides and free AAs. Whey hydrolysate is thought to be easily digested and absorbed, but studies are inconclusive12. Whey hydrolysates also have a distinct bitter, unpalatable taste which is usually masked by manufacturers using added sugars or artificial agents.


Discover more about Nutrova’s whey protein isolate packed with 80% protein content and BCAAs for muscle growth and building. Free from artificial sweeteners and heavy metals, it has very low levels of lactose (0.41%), comparatively suitable for lactose-intolerant consumers  

Plant-Based Protein Powder: Alternative for Vegans

Plant-based protein supplements are usually derived from pea, quinoa, hemp, brown rice and soy. They are a great alternative for vegans and non-dairy consumers. Plant proteins are often considered “incomplete” but this isn’t necessarily true (it depends on the source!).

  • Pea: Pea protein is derived from yellow split peas and is rich in BCAAs which have been shown to have a positive role in muscle building. In fact, research has suggested that pea protein has shown similar results to whey protein when it comes to muscle growth (thickness), performance and strength, force production, as well as body composition following high-intensity functional training13.  

When it comes to vegan proteins, pea protein’s high PDCAA score of 0.93 makes it easily digestible with a well-balanced amino acid profile. 

  • Hemp: Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant. Its PDCAA score is only 0.51, largely because it is low in an amino acid called lysine. It also contains fibre, zinc, iron, magnesium and ALA omega-3 fatty acid. Although considered safe, some people may be allergic to hemp. 

  • Soy: Soy protein is a complete protein and is also rich in BCAAs. It has an ideal PDCAA score of 1.0. The concerns regarding the negative health effects of phytoestrogens are not supported by current research14. Additionally, it is important for consumers to note that soy protein isolates and most concentrates are unlikely to contain high levels of these compounds, especially if bought from a reputed brand or manufacturer. 


Soy proteins have been known to have a bitter aftertaste when compared to dairy proteins. Some people may also avoid this protein powder due to soy allergies. 

  • Brown rice: Brown rice protein is not a complete protein but does contain BCAAs to support muscle building. It is often combined with other sources of plant proteins. Research has also shown that brown rice protein produced similar results to whey protein on body composition and performance after supplementation15. However, there can be arsenic contamination issues with this protein. Make sure to go for a brand that does independent arsenic testing. 

  • Plant protein blends: Vegan protein powders are also available as protein blends which combine different plant-based proteins. However, these blends have added sweeteners and flavouring agents.


Explore Nutrova’s pea protein isolate which has 80% protein content and is gluten and lactose-free. It contains all nine essential AAs including BCAAs and that too in the right amount with no added sweeteners or flavouring agents. 

Whey Protein Vs. Plant-Based Protein Supplements 

When choosing the best protein for bodybuilding or any vegan protein, make sure to consider the following factors in addition to the information shared above. 



Whey Protein Powder 

Plant-Based Vegan Protein Powder


Cow’s milk 

Pea, soy, hemp, brown rice, pumpkin seeds, etc. 

Protein content

20 to 30 grams per serving (may vary depending on the brand)

20 to 30 grams per serving (may vary depending on the brand)

The amino acid profile 

(PDCAA score)

Provides all nine essential amino acids in the right amount and is especially rich in BCAAs such as leucine.  


Whey protein has an Ideal PDCAA score of 1.0

The essential amino acid content of plant-based protein isolates is normally lower (inferior) than animal-based proteins. Amino acids such as leucine, methionine and lysine are typically lower in plant-based proteins16.


Soy protein has a PDCAA score of 1.0 and pea protein has a high PDCAA score of 0.93





Concentrate and isolate: Better flavour profile

Hydrolysate: Distinct bitter taste 

Grainer, earthy flavour 

Tip: Check for additional flavouring agents and sweeteners on the nutrition labels




Digestibility/ Allergies or sensitivities

Isolates are easier to digest but lactose intolerance can be an issue for some consumers. 

May be easier to digest but some consumers may be allergic to soy or hemp-based protein powders. 


Support muscle growth, weight loss, performance, strength, recovery, etc. 

Pea protein has been shown to offer similar/comparable benefits to whey protein. 


Varies depending on the brand but is generally less expensive. 

Varies depending on the brand but organic or keto variants may be a bit expensive. 


Final Words 

Whether you are an active adult, fitness enthusiast, or athlete, who has additional protein needs, whey protein or plant-based proteins can give you that extra protein boost coupled with convenience. Backed with extensive research, the benefits of protein supplements are undeniable. However, when buying the best protein supplement for yourself, the choice will depend on your fitness goals, dietary preferences, lifestyle, and much more. 


Don’t miss out on Nutrova’s performance nutrition range to take your fitness journey to the next level!  


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