Is whey the most effective protein powder?
For generations, it has been known that whey protein always had an edge over any other protein powder, let alone plant-based protein.
But is it true?
After all, there are dozens of other fantastic forms of plant-based alternatives out there on the market.
- Brown Rice
- Soy Isolate
- Sacha Inchi
Has there been a changing of the king’s crown?
Let’s take a dive into the protein world and see the comparisons between whey and pea protein!
Amino Acid Profile
Protein is protein, right? It doesn’t matter which one you choose!
Well not exactly…
Protein powder is made up of amino acids. Consider them the building blocks of protein.
Your body requires 9 Essential Amino Acids from food. Generally, the more abundant amino acid profile, the better the protein is at building muscle.
Most animal-based proteins are considered “complete” proteins since they contain a strong amount of all 9 amino acids.
Of those animal-based proteins, whey has long been known to carry one of the strongest and most colorful and amino acid profiles, making it a fantastic protein source.
It is high in Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, the three most important amino acids for contributing to muscle growth.
On the other hand, many plant-based protein sources including pea are considered “incomplete” proteins, due to their profile lacking one of the 9 Essential Amino Acids.
Methionine is the amino acid that lacks in pea protein. It’s not that pea protein doesn’t contain any methionine. It just contains it at a lower amount compared to the other amino acids.
Regardless, many plant-based protein powder companies add an extra batch of amino acids to make sure that you’re getting a good quality source of BCAA’s that help pack on muscle.
Here’s an amino acid profile I found on Vanilla Whey Protein. (In White*) Not bad! As I mentioned, it contains all the amino acids you need!
Let’s take a look at the amino acid profile I found of this Pea Protein. (In Green*)
Wow… The amino acid profile is fantastic and has pretty much the same numbers as whey protein!
Considering that the amino acid profiles are the same, these proteins will build muscle at the same rate!
Absorption and Digestibility
Protein powder needs to be absorbed and digested properly to reap the benefits…
You don’t want to drink a massive protein shake only to have it sit like a block in your stomach! You’ll just end up shitting it out!
Let’s take a look at how whey and pea protein are digested.
For example, many people like to throw a scoop of protein powder into your post-workout shake. Your body just finished a grueling workout and needs to be refueled.
Although science doesn’t show that there’s an anabolic window post-workout, there may still be some benefit to consuming protein to restock those depleted muscles.
Whey protein is absorbed quickly, making it great to consume as soon as you’re finished with a workout, but this is pretty much the only time you should consume whey.
This is because whey protein absorbs so fast that it spikes your insulin levels, which turns off fat loss. Whey isn’t the best meal replacement powder. For that, I would recommend other plant-based protein powders, or just consuming regular protein from food.
On the other hand, pea protein isn’t absorbed as quick. It absorbs around the same rate as most foods you eat, making it a great meal replacement, although it’s still great to consume post-workout.
This means pea protein can be consumed at any time during the day! So if you ever need an extra bit of protein to reach your daily macro goals, don’t hesitate to consume a scoop of pea protein powder!
When consuming food, it’s important not to just think about the effect of our own body, but the effect it has on others and the environment.
With whey coming from milk, an animal-based protein source, it has a much larger environmental impact than pea protein.
To create whey, a cow must be impregnated and give birth to a calf to produce milk. From there the milk is taken and processed into whey protein powder.
Unfortunately, the amount of resources it takes to create that milk/whey protein is incredible. It requires between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of cow’s milk.
Not to mention all the food, grain, plants, and land required to raise dairy cows for their milk.
On the other hand, peas only require about 10 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of pea milk or protein. Around 100x less than cows milk.
So when thinking about the environmental impact of whey vs pea protein, you need to realize that whey takes a much greater toll on the animals and environment.
Since whey is readily available to the market with hundreds of different brands, it is fairly cheap to purchase.
You can go on Amazon right now and purchase a 5lb tub of whey protein powder for $50.99!
Each tub has 70 servings of protein powder and 24g of protein in every scoop. Not bad for the price.
Compare that to one of the top pea protein brands on the market which sells for $54.99 on Amazon and has 76 servings and 27g of protein for the unflavored version.
Considering that you pay $4 more and you get more protein per serving and more servings compared to whey, that’s not a bad deal!
Both protein powders are fairly cheap so it won’t mess up your wallet no matter which one you decide to go with.
While we know that both protein powders help build muscle, what about their side effects?
Turns out that whey protein has more negative side effects than you think.
If you’ve ever consumed whey protein or too much of it, you know what I’m talking about.
- Bowel movements
This is due to whey protein’s digestibility issues. Whey is made from milk which is designed for a baby cow, not humans. Anytime you consume lactose, your body may have a hard time digesting it.
Another not so pleasant side effect is that whey protein has shown to increase the risk of testicular cancer in men. In this Harvard study, certain supplements including creatine and whey protein were linked to a higher risk of testicular cancer.
This may be due to toxins found in protein powders as well as the unnatural flavor and additives which are designed to improve the taste.
Of course, more research needs to be done on this topic, as other studies show that consuming whey may be more beneficial than bad. One study shows that taking whey may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
On the other hand, when you look at pea protein, there is little to no side effects.
The only negative to pea protein powder is that it contains more sodium. One serving can contain up to 300mg of sodium. If you’re trying to reduce your salt intake, you may have to limit your pea protein.
For those questioning the performance of pea protein, especially when compared to whey, think again.
The study conducted “showed no significant difference in strength, body composition, or muscle thickness, when comparing whey and pea protein.”
Two groups consuming the different proteins were studied for 8 weeks of high-intensity training. At the end of it all, the results showed that both groups had identical increases in their Squat and Deadlift 1RM, as well as their muscular hypertrophy.
When looking at the differences and similarities in whey vs. pea protein, it can be said that both build muscle very effectively. You’re going to make similar gains, no matter which one you choose.
But there’s one clear area where pea protein beats out whey… side effects.
If you’re looking to get more out of your protein, especially as a meal replacement, pea protein is 100% the way to go. The same can’t be said for whey. It causes bloating gas, cramps, and other unpleasant stomach issues.
For this reason, pea protein is ultimately the better route.
Give pea protein a try and see how you like it!