There has been a rise in popularity of plant-based protein over whey protein in the global supplement market. Many of the mass shifts we are seeing in the world lead back to the monumental domino-effect the pandemic created. This large switch to a plant-based protein powder Is another domino falling. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic many have sought out ways to live and eat healthier. Most are achieving this goal by switching from animal products to fruits, vegetables and plant-based food products.
The term “Flexitarian” refers to someone who continues to eat meat but limits or restricts the amount they consume. Through the study of this wave of meat reduction, or “flexitarianism,” it has been discovered that globally between 14-60% of the population falls into this class 1.
Many dieters, athletes and bodybuilders are continuously looking out for the latest, more efficient protein source to repair and rebuild muscle. Science has proven that plant-based proteins have benefits that outweigh its competitors. You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to reap the benefits from a plant-based protein powder.
Now, more than ever before, people are choosing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. From 2005 to 2020 over 9.6 million people chose a plant-based diet, which is a 300% increase in vegan/vegetarians in the United States population2. There are many healthy and legitimate reasons why people choose this lifestyle. Here are some examples of why consumers might choose a plant-based diet:
- Environmental concern (animal agriculture is the 2nd largest contributor to GHG emissions)
- Welfare of animals
- Health issues
- Financial cost
- Religious beliefs
- Personal taste
There are numerous reasons why animal protein is not the optimal option as a protein source. Science has brought to light the multitude of benefits that plant-based protein offers over whey protein. Let’s delve into the information backing the types of protein and their effect on the human body.
Three Forms of Protein Powder
By learning about the three forms of protein powder, whether animal or plant-based, it is helpful to distinguish the benefits and differences each form offers.
This type of protein is produced using an extraction method from whole foods using acid, heat or enzymes. Whey protein is produced from this method which is 60-80% protein and 20-40% carbohydrates and fat.
For a higher concentration of protein and less fat and carbohydrates, protein isolates add a secondary filtering process. This form of protein powder consists of 90-95% protein.
Adding another step on top of this already complex process, protein hydrolysates break the bonds between amino acids with acid, heat or enzymes. In doing so, your muscles are able to quickly absorb the protein powder. Theoretically, this sounds like a positive method, but in the case of whey protein, hydrolysates quickly raise your insulin level faster than the other forms of protein. If burning fat is your goal, because of the spike in insulin, protein hydrolysates would not be an ideal form of protein powder3.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is one of the main proteins found in dairy products. Whey is a byproduct of the cheese-making process and it is a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. These amino acids are “essential” because your body cannot produce all nine amino acids on its own, therefore they need to be supplemented through your diet. Amino acids combine to form proteins which are necessary to carry out the functions of our body4.
It is a complex process to form whey protein powder and it is no longer the go-to protein powder supplement. This is not to say whey protein powder lacks benefits. Whey has been well-researched for many years and it has been shown to help gain muscle, increase strength and aid in the loss of body fat.
Usually whey protein powder is mixed with flavors such as chocolate or vanilla due to its unappealing taste. You should avoid whey protein if you have an intolerance or sensitivity to dairy products. Whey protein can cause digestive issues and stomach discomfort for those with these sensitivities5.
What Is Plant-Based Protein?
If you have been a vegan or vegetarian you know how it feels to be asked the question: “How do you get enough protein?” at infinitum. There is a wealth of protein found within the plant kingdom, mainly in nuts, seeds, legumes and beans but also in leafy greens such as kale, watercress and broccoli. There is an abundance of protein which can be sourced and used as a substitute for animal protein.
A popular choice of protein for vegans and vegetarians is tofu or tempeh, which are forms of fermented and condensed soy beans. Depending how these two ingredients are prepared you can gain anywhere from 20-60 grams of protein per serving! Tempeh can be combined with spices and herbs and is regularly substituted for meat in restaurants or in vegan recipes.
Plant-Based Protein Powder
One of the most common plant-based protein powders is pea protein. Besides having very low traces of heavy metals, (heavy metals are in all protein powders as well as whole foods) pea protein presents no major health concerns.
Vegan protein powder of the past was mostly limited to soy, which was not ideal due to soy’s high level of isoflavone. Isoflavone is an antioxidant which acts similar to estrogen in the body. Today’s plant-based protein comes from a variety of sources including:
- Brown rice
All plant-based protein powders are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants which are not found in animal-based protein powders. Antioxidants are vital to our health by preventing damage to cells caused by free radicals6.
With all of the additional benefits you are receiving when choosing to supplement with a plant-based protein powder over a whey protein powder, deciding on vegan or vegetarian protein powder seems like the logical choice. Of course, the whey versus plant-based protein debate is sure to continue.
Embrace changes in your diet, your four-legged friends will thank you.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
- Meat Reduction Through Our lives, https://faunalytics.org/meat-reduction-through-our-lives/.
- New Study Reveals 9.6 Million Are Vegan Now, https://vegannews.press/2020/03/06/vegan-america-study/
- The Best Vegan Protein Shake In 2022, https://www.jaquishbiomedical.com/best-vegan-protein-shake/.
- Whey Protein, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-whey-protein/art-20363344.
- Whey Protein 101: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/whey-vs-plant-protein#bottom-line.
- Your Guide To Plant Protein Powder, https://naturya.com/blogs/superfood-news-and-education/your-guide-to-plant-protein-powder.