Hemp Protein vs. Whey Protein; What’s the Difference?

Choosing the right protein powder for you is an important factor when considering your dietary requirements, goals and lifestyle. Hemp based protein is one of the most popular forms of plant-based protein, with whey protein being a powerhouse of the bodybuilding world. With plant-based lifestyles constantly growing, the call for exceptional vegan protein powders and other supplements is expanding. However, there are still a lot of people who believe that it is harder to gain the same results from a plant-based protein powder as it is from its whey or casein counterparts, but is this really the case? 

There are different types of process used to create protein powders, which all have varying degrees of refinement, carbohydrates, fats and protein percentages. You can look into this in more detail in our article about how protein powders are made. These are all important in helping you choose the best protein for you:

  • Protein concentrate, which contains lower levels of fat and carbohydrates and between 30-90% protein depending on how refined it is. This is achieved by extracting protein from whole foods with heat, acid and enzymes. 
  • Protein isolate, which is processed even further than the concentrate. More of the fat and carbs are removed during this additional process, and usually leaves behind a product that is 90-95% protein. 
  • Protein hydrolysate, which has been exposed to further heat and enzymes in a process known as hydrolysis. This breaks down the bonds between the amino acids in the protein, and is therefore easier for the body to digest. 

This guide will explore the similarities and differences between these two protein sources, and if one outshines the other.

Let's look at whey first: 

Whey protein is a staple of the supplement industry, with people relying on whey protein powders to encourage muscle protein synthesis, and the growth of lean muscle mass in conjunction with resistance training. It’s a byproduct of the cheese making process. When milk is curdled, the liquid element is strained off - this is whey. It’s largely made of lactose and whey protein. 

Whey is considered a complete protein, as it contains all 9 essential amino acids, with typically high levels of BCAAs, and around 20g of protein per serving. BCAAs are very important for muscle growth and recovery post exercise. Some studies have shown that whey protein is beneficial for weight loss, the prevention and treatment of some cancers (although more research is needed) and lowering cholesterol. Whey protein has also been found to increase the amount of insulin produced by the body, making it beneficial for muscle growth. 

It is also noted that whey acts as an appetite suppressant, so a whey protein shake might well stop you reaching for the empty calories, as well as protecting your body against oxidative stress. 

However, people who have an allergy to milk can be specifically allergic to whey, and this can cause stomach pains, cramps, bloating, nausea and fatigue for those who take whey protein powders. There is a similar effect for those taking whey protein who have an intolerance to lactose or find it hard to digest. 

Higher amounts of whey protein taken consistently have also shown to be the cause of acne -  although this could be down to the artificial sweeteners, flavourings and preservatives that are used to make whey protein taste better. 

Hemp Protein, what are we saying: 

Hemp protein powder is made by pressing hemp seeds, and then grinding them into a powder. It is generally considered to be a high quality option for protein powder, as it contains dietary fibre (around 8g per serving), unsaturated fats and all nine essential amino acids on top of its protein value. It also contains a larger number of minerals than whey. 

Studies suggest that hemp protein has a similar amino acid profile to that of soy or egg based protein, which is lower than you might find in whey protein. However, the amount of processing and refining which goes into whey protein makes hemp a good choice for those who prefer their products to be more natural. 

Further to this, whilst plant-based protein sources are usually considered harder to digest than their animal based counterparts, hemp protein is found to be between 90 and 98% digestible, so the amino acids present in hemp protein are better used by the body. If you want to ensure that you are getting the most out of your hemp protein, look for powders which have cold pressed hemp seeds. Using heat treatments can reduce the efficacy and digestibility of hemp, which is why Vivo Life’s hemp based protein powders PERFORM and VEGAN PROTEIN use cold pressed hemp for maximum nutritional value. 

Hemp protein is also a source of beneficial fatty acids omegas 3,6 and 9, which do not feature at all in whey protein. Fatty acids are vital for brain, eye, bowel, and heart health amongst a huge number of other benefits, which you can read more about in this guide. This means that hemp protein might have a higher calorie content per serving than you are used to and might not fit in with your overall health goals. 

If you have a tendency to gulp down your protein shakes, then hemp protein might not be for you. Too much consumed too fast has been shown to cause digestive distress in the form of gas and bloating, due to the higher amounts of dietary fibre. This is especially relevant if you are making moves towards a plant-based diet where the natural increase in fibre intake can take a little while for your body to become accustomed to. 

So then, what’s better? Do we have a winner? 

Hemp protein is more sustainable, and contains no animal products. It has less chance of causing an allergy response, is easier on our digestion, has better levels of healthy fats (which are often missing from our diets, let’s be honest!) and is considered to be a complete protein source with excellent bioavailability. 

Yes, if you’re trying to lose a few pounds, then the higher calorie content might not be for you, but at the same time, is putting heavily refined and processed substances in your system for the sake of preserving your mid afternoon biscuit break really worth it? 

Finally, a quick word from the planet - hemp takes far fewer resources to produce than whey protein, despite the fact that it is considered a byproduct of multiple industries. If you are considering switching to a protein powder that is more environmentally sound and uses less space, water and energy to produce, then hemp protein is the way forward. Plus, if you order your protein powders from Vivo Life, we’ll plant a tree for every order you make - increasing your positive environmental impact.