October 06, 2021 3 min read


You are likely here because choosing a protein powder confuses you. As a Registered Dietitian, believe me when I say you are not alone. “Whey or plant-based?” is one of the most common questions I get from my clients, and it makes sense due to the amount of protein powder misinformation circulating the internet. Let’s dive into the facts to ease your decision making. 

Benefits of using protein powder

First, we need to touch on the role of protein powder. It is a dietary supplement and should supplement your nutrition foundation. It should not replace your meals or be your primary protein source each day. 

That being said, protein powder is an excellent tool in the performance wellness toolbox.

  • It is an excellent recovery-fuel option post-workout
  • It offers an easy and convenient way to get quality protein on-the-go
  • It aids in the maintenance and growth of lean muscle tissue
  • It adds an extra serving of protein for those with higher needs

What is whey protein?

Whey is a protein found in milk. During processing of protein supplements, the whey proteins are concentrated, and the fat and lactose are removed. Whey protein isolate is lactose-free whereas the whey powder and whey protein concentrate may contain lactose. This affects the cost and quality of the product, which is why isolates are typically more expensive. 

Whey is the most popular form of protein powder because it is highly regarded as the optimal source of essential amino acids (EAAs). The nine EAAs must be consumed in the diet, as our bodies cannot make them. If a protein contains all the EAAs, it is considered a complete protein. The most notable EAA for muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is leucine, and whey contains the highest amount compared to other sources. After consumption of whey protein, there is a rapid increase in plasma leucine concentration, and this increase corresponds to the extent of stimulation of muscle building.

Besides being a complete protein source, whey is considered a high-quality protein because it is quickly digested and absorbed by the body. Some Whey Isolate powders such as Pinnacle Nutrition Groups Whey Protein Isolate contains forms of digestive enzymes to assist with rapid absorption. 

What is plant-based protein?

Exactly how it sounds—the protein from plants. Soy, rice and pea are among the most common plants used for protein powders. These plants have the highest amounts of EAAs and are often blended to increase the amino acid profile to produce similar benefits to whey. Unfortunately, plant-based proteins do not contain significant amounts of leucine beneficial for muscle protein synthesis. Soy is the only complete plant-based protein source; however it is considered a lower quality complete protein due to slower absorption and digestibility. Other plant sources are incomplete proteins because they are missing at least one of the 9 essential amino acids. 

With careful nutrition planning, vegetarians and vegans can combine plant-based protein sources to ensure they get adequate amounts of the EAAs each day. Attention to EAA ratios and protein timing is important for plant-based athletes and those looking to manipulate body composition. 

Whey Protein vs Plant-Based Protein

Which is better?

Both whey and plant-based protein powders offer benefits. When used properly, protein supplements can maximize training adaptations and overall performance wellness. Athletes should choose protein sources that are both fast-digesting and high in leucine to maximally stimulate MPS. 

Vegans and vegetarians can get enough daily protein by combining quality plant-based sources to ensure adequate amino acids. Non-vegetarians, however, will benefit from whey protein powder due to its higher-quality amino acid profile. Additionally, the leucine content in whey is the highest option available. If you tolerate dairy and whey products, I recommend choosing whey protein isolate powder. Research has shown that products containing dairy-based proteins have the highest percentage of EAAs and result in greater hypertrophy following resistance training when compared to a vegetarian protein-matched control. 

Overall, no matter which protein powder you choose, quality and safety should be at the top of your priority list. NSF for Sport and Informed Sport Certified are third-party testing companies that screen supplements for banned substances. I encourage my clients to only buy products that include these seals of approval, as the supplement industry is highly unregulated. 

PNG Whey Protein Isolate is one of the highest quality options on the market and is Informed Sport Certified. This protein powder contains 24 grams of protein and does not contain any protein concentrate or blends. The added enzymes assist with digestion and rapidly increase EAA absorption. I recommend adding this protein powder to your routine for optimal performance and recovery. 

Stay fueled!

Contributed by:  Brooke Wyatt, Board-Certified Sports Dietitian of Long Game Nutrition www.longgamenutrition.com | Instagram



Source: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise

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