The Great Debate, Vegan or Whey Isolate?

The Great Debate, Vegan or Whey Isolate?



There has been an ongoing debate in the supplement industry on which is better, Whey Isolate or plant-based Vegan protein? Usually, the answer will depend on who you ask, but the team here at Beyond wanted to skip the hype and give you just the science.

While both forms of protein are made with high-quality ingredients, there are inherent pros and cons to each product that one must consider. In short, neither is "better" than the other. This debate really comes down to which best works for your own personal situation. Unfortunately, plant-based protein powders are still years behind in published research compared to Whey based proteins. However, the studies that are available for Vegan proteins show very positive and promising outcomes. Moreover, recent advancements in ingredient processing and natural flavouring have pushed Vegan options in a favourable position as an alternative to Whey based proteins.

Nutritional Comparison

When comparing the nutritional panels of our Beyond Whey Isolate Protein and Beyond Vegan Protein, you will notice they are both rich and balanced sources of complete protein. Yes, despite what you might have heard, Vegan proteins can be a complete protein source.

Let's get into it! First, what is a complete protein source? A complete protein is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of each of the nine essential amino acids(EAA's) necessary in the human diet. Animal and dairy-based protein sources are all naturally complete protein sources, but every plant-based protein source will have it's own unique amino profile, and some may be lower or lacking in certain EAA's when compared to others. For example, by using a combination of both Brown Rice protein and Pea protein in our Beyond Vegan, we could create a complete and balanced amino acid profile that offers a complete protein profile similar to that found in our Isolate. This is why its important to make sure if you are buying a Vegan protein that it has at least two or more plant-based protein sources.

Although Whey Isolate proteins do tend to have a higher amount of protein per serving than Vegan options, they are both still relatively low and comparable carbs, fats, sugars and fibre.

Which do I need to build muscle?

From a nutritional standpoint, at the bare minimum, you only need two things to build muscle; An adequate amount of complete protein and a caloric surplus. We now know that both the Whey Isolate and the Vegan protein are complete protein sources and therefore will both help build lean muscle. In a clinical study performed in 2013, they tested the effects of Whey Isolate vs Rice Protein on 24, early 20's aged males, which showed that higher doses of Rice Protein (48 g) are comparable to an equally high dose of Whey Isolate at building muscle, increasing strength and promoting recovery. [1]

Listen to Your Gut

It seems more and more people are becoming sensitive to lactose these days. If you are lactose intolerant like me, you might have found that some Whey proteins can make you feel bloated or have an uneasy stomach. You also might have noticed that it depends on the type of Whey that you buy and that some may be harder to digest than others. This is because lower grade Whey Protein Concentrates contain higher amounts of fats, lactose and other milk ingredients that can upset the digestive system. Our Beyond Isolate uses the highest grade of Whey Protein Isolate ( WPI90) possible, and although it is virtually lactose-free and is easily digested by almost everyone, it still contains trace amounts of lactose. On the other hand, plant-based proteins are completely dairy-free and can be less inflammatory to the digestive system and might be a better option if you are sensitive to dairy.

"But aren't all Isolates Lactose-Free?" This is one of the biggest misconceptions in our industry because the term "Lactose-Free," as per the US and Canadian federal regulations, it is not permissible on any Whey protein label even if it contains less than 1% lactose. The regulation states that "Free" means "no detectable lactose," and in reality, every Whey Isolate will have some amount of lactose naturally. In essence, there is no Whey Isolate that should be labelled as being Lactose-Free [2].

This does not mean you should avoid them at all costs because the majority of Isolates are above 99% lactose-free and many people with a mild lactose intolerance, myself included, notice zero side effects from using a high-quality Whey Isolate. Of course, n=1 and the response can vary from person to person, so listening to your gut (literally) is one of the most critical factors in choosing your protein. If your stomach is uncomfortable or bloated after drinking an Isolate, try switching to a plant-based protein for a few weeks and see how your body responds!

Digestion and Absorption

For years Whey Isolate was the gold standard for "the" easily digestible, fast-absorbing, complete protein source. But as we have learned in recent years, Vegan proteins have been giving them a run for their money.

A protein's food value is assessed by experts using the "Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score," which is where they determine the number by calculating the total protein consumed and then determining nitrogen intake versus what is excreted [3]. The higher amount of nitrogen retained compared to what's passed through your waste,  the higher the biological value for that given food. Animal-based proteins have a naturally high biological value, while individual plant-based proteins have lower biological value due to the missing essential amino acids.

As we discussed before, a Vegan that contains two or more plant-based protein sources will provide the complete essential amino acid profile, and therefore, a blend of plant-based proteins would also have a higher biological value.

Which one is better for weight loss?

It is not a myth that increasing protein assists the many fat-burning functions in the body. There are several clinical trials have found that consuming more protein than the recommended dietary allowance not only reduces body weight  but also enhances body composition by decreasing fat mass while preserving fat-free mass in both low-calorie and standard-calorie diets [4]. These studies, unfortunately, did not use exclusively one source of protein, but we know from other studies that the body is typically slower at metabolizing plant-based proteins than Whey protein. This is especially true in the case of Brown Rice protein. In addition, Brown Rice protein includes a unique peptide that reduces weight gain more than other proteins such as Soy or White Rice[5].

While Whey protein has well-reported benefits for weight loss and increased satiety, plant-based protein powders may help keep you fuller for longer, assisting with appetite control and curb cravings [6]. One recent study in men showed that Pea and Whey protein supplements had similar effects on appetite and food intake [7].

In conclusion, as you would expect, there isn't much of a difference in the type of protein you consume when it comes to weight loss. Still, regardless of the source, increasing your daily protein intake will enhance your body composition and decrease fat mass!

Final considerations...

Vegan options have skyrocketed in the past few years. Some people are leaning more towards plant-based proteins for ethical reasons or because growing plant-based ingredients may have less of an environmental impact v.s raising dairy cattle. However, although the market has grown significantly with Vegan choices in the last few years, they tend to come at a higher retail price per gram of protein. This price premium is due to the increased manufacturing costs of these new plant-based ingredients. Some people may want to get the most "bang for their buck," so the price per gram might also be something you will consider when looking at your options.

In the end, it might just come down to personal flavour preference. Ten years ago, Whey proteins would be the obvious choice for flavour and consistency, but Vegan proteins have come a long way in recent years. These advancements in manufacturing processes, making more refined and stable powders, and better flavouring systems have pushed Vegan proteins head-to-head with Whey-based proteins when it comes to mouthfeel and flavour.

However, because taste is such a personal preference, you might want to try both before making your final decision. Speaking of taste, if you are not a fan of the typical Whey protein shake flavours or if you just have a sweet tooth, we have other options for you too! Our Beyond Yourself Candy Series Isolate was formulated to combine the nostalgic candy flavours you know and love with our high-quality Isolate protein. So finally, you can indulge and satisfy your sweet tooth without the dreaded feeling of guilt afterwards.

So, which one is better?

This question will probably always be unanswered, but at the end of the day, it will genuinely come down to whichever option works best for YOU. If you have read this far, you will know there is not much of a difference in performance, nutritional benefit or weight loss when comparing these two supplemental protein sources, so the choice is truly yours!

Just keep your budget, dietary limitations, ethical and personal preferences in mind and always remember to listen to your gut!


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.