Whey protein powder has long been a popular choice for people who wish to incorporate it into their diets.
However, as of 2018, hemp was federally legalized for commercial use, and as more and more individuals seek plant-based alternatives to animal protein, so does interest in hemp protein. (1)
As the popularity of hemp protein grows, more and more people are wondering about the compassion of whey protein vs hemp.
Let’s look at the differences between these two types of protein to see which one might be right for you.
Why do we need protein?
Protein is an essential part of a well-balanced diet, and it has a wide range of roles in the body, including growth and development, and it helps with building lean muscle mass. Protein is also needed to produce enzymes, hormones, and other chemicals in the body. (2)
The current Recommended Dietary Allowance RDA is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 g/lb) daily. This means that a person weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds) needs to consume 56 grams of protein daily. (3)
Protein-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts. It is important to eat a variety of protein-rich foods to get all the essential amino acids required by the body.
Foods high in protein have different concentrations of 21 different amino acids. 9 of these amino acids are essential, which means that they cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from the diet. (4)
Essential Amino Acids:
Nine amino acids are considered essential and must be obtained from food.
|Methionine plus cystine
|Phenylalanine plus tyrosine
Non-Essential Amino Acids:
Non-essential or conditionally essential amino acids are amnios we can produce if we have sufficient essential amino acids.
Read more about sources of protein by reading the macro food list.
How do whey protein vs hemp proteins compare
Both whey protein and hemp protein are considered protein supplements, but they differ in a few ways:
1. Lactose or lactose-free
Whey protein is a by-product of the processing of cheese. It contains lactose, which can be difficult for people who are lactose intolerant to digest. Hemp protein, on the other hand, is completely lactose-free.
2. Grams of protein
One serving of whey and hemp protein both weighs about 30 grams or measure 1/4 cup. Whey protein has 25 grams of protein per serving and hemp protein has about 10-13 grams of protein per serving.
Nutritional value based on:
Hemp protein: *Bob’s Red Mill Hemp Protein Powder
Serving size: 30 grams
Protein: 13 grams
Whey protein: *Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard Whey Protein.
Serving size: 32 grams
Protein: 24 grams
3. Amino acid profiles
The amino acid content of plant proteins is lower than animal-based proteins. Hemp protein powder has a 23% content of essential amino acids which is below the 28% recommendation for amino acids. (5)
Whey protein has a 43% content of essential amino acids. This is above 28% and would be considered a high-quality protein source. (5)
4. Leucine Content
Leucine is an essential amino acid that plays a role in signaling muscle growth and recovery, especially post-exercise. This is also referred to as muscle protein synthesis. Plant proteins have a lower concentration of leucine, compared to animal proteins. (5)
Protein in hemp has a 5.1% leucine content while whey protein has a leucine content of 11%. (5)
The digestibility of protein powder depends on the absorption and use of the amino acids in the powder. Different protein sources get a different rating on the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS).
The PDCAAS is a method of rating protein quality that takes into account the digestibility of a protein and its amino acid profile.
Hemp protein powder has a PDCAAS score of 0.62-0.74, which is lower than whey protein powder, which has a PDCAAS score of 1. (5)
Whey protein powder averages between 110 – 150 calories per serving, while hemp protein powder has about 120 – 140 calories per serving. While the calories are similar the macronutrient composition is different.
Hemp protein powder is higher in dietary fat however it is a source of healthy fats, with about 3 – 4 grams of fat per serving. Whey protein powder has very little fat, with about 1 gram or less per serving.
Hemp protein is a great source of fiber, with 11 grams per serving. Whey protein has no dietary fiber.
A dairy-based protein supplement that only continues to grow in popularity. According to Grand View Research, “The global whey protein market size was estimated at USD 8.7 billion in 2019 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.8% from 2020 to 2027.”
The benefits of whey protein
- High-quality, complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids that your body needs to build and maintain muscle.
- Whey protein is quickly absorbed by the body, making it an ideal post-workout recovery supplement.
- Whey protein is considered a pure protein, which means that it is very low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates.
- Whey proteins are versatile and can be added to smoothies or baked goods to increase the overall protein content.
- Whey protein and more specifically meal replacements have been shown to aid in weight loss by helping to increase satiety and reduce calorie intake.
My favorite whey protein:
Is an increasingly popular plant-based protein supplement. Hemp seeds technically are a complete protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids, however, the concentrations of these amino acids are below the recommended amount. Hemp protein is also a good source of fiber, essential fatty acids, and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and iron.
Hemp protein benefits
There are many benefits of hemp protein, which include:
1. Hemp protein contains all the essential amino acids however the concentration of leucine is below what your body needs to build and maintain muscle. (5)
2. Hemp protein is a good source of fiber, which is important for digestive health and regularity.
Seeing that Americans average only 15 grams of fiber per day when they should be consuming 25-38 grams, fiber is always something to be on the lookout for.
3. Hemp protein has essential fatty acids, which are important for brain health. This is also contrary to animal proteins that contain saturated fats, which have been linked to heart disease.
4. Hemp protein is a good source of minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and iron. Magnesium is important for energy production, zinc supports a healthy immune system, and iron helps carry oxygen to your cells.
My favorite hemp protein powders:
- Bob’s Redsmill Hemp Protein Powder
- YEAH HEMP
What are the drawbacks of using whey protein vs hemp
While hemp protein and whey protein are both excellent sources of complete protein, they do have their drawbacks:
1. We are talking about supplements and the under-regulated industry, which means that there are a lot of low-quality products on the market.
2. Protein supplements can be expensive and may not be affordable for everyone.
3. Protein supplements are not necessary if you are eating a well-rounded diet that includes plenty of complete proteins.
Drawbacks of using whey protein
Whey proteins also contain lactose, which can cause digestive problems for those who are lactose intolerant.
Drawbacks of using hemp protein
On the other hand, is a complete protein however, it has a lower concentration of leucine, compared to whey protein. Leucine is an amino acid that is especially important for muscle growth and repair.
Hemp protein can also cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people, but this is usually because it is a high-fiber food.
Which protein supplement is best for you
Trying to pick between hemp protein, whey protein, or any other plant-based protein powder, can be tough. The best protein supplement for you is the one that fits your dietary needs, lifestyle, and budget.
If you are looking for a quick and easy way to increase your protein intake, whey protein is a good option.
If you are looking for a protein that is also a good source of fiber and essential fatty acids, hemp protein is a good option.
On the flip side, you may want to avoid whey protein if you are lactose intolerant, and you may want to avoid hemp protein if you are looking to build as much muscle as possible.
Frequently asked questions
Is hemp protein powder the same as whey protein?
Yes, in the way that they are both sources of protein. No, in the way, hemp protein and whey protein are not the same. Whey protein has more than adequate essential amino acids, including leucine. Hemp protein has all amino acids however, they are not at the recommended level to be considered a high-quality protein.
Can you build muscle with hemp protein?
Hemp protein does have a lower concentration of leucine compared to whey protein, which is an amino acid that is important for muscle growth and repair. While yes, a well-balanced diet with hemp protein supplementation can build muscle. (5)
Can hemp seeds replace protein powder?
You can replace hemp seeds with protein powder however, they are not the same. Hemp seeds are a good source of protein, fiber, antioxidants, and some vitamins, but the protein that hemp seed contains has a low amount of leucine.
What are the side effects of hemp protein?
Some people may experience gastrointestinal discomfort when consuming hemp protein because it is a high-fiber food.
Does hemp protein powder make you gain weight?
Hemp protein alone will not make you gain weight. The only way that you will gain weight is if you overeat calories.
Whey protein powder has been the go-to supplement for athletes and bodybuilders for years.
Hemp protein is a newer option on the market with many benefits, including being a great source of fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins.
Both whey protein and hemp protein have their pros and cons.
When It comes down to choosing between whey protein vs hemp, it really comes down to what your individual dietary needs, lifestyle, and budget are.
Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.
Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.