If you paid attention in 5th grade science class, then you probably remember this sentence from your textbook: “protein is the building back of your system.”
It doesn’t just help build muscle; it is necessary for a healthy immune system and for the proper functioning of your heart, brain, and skin. It also helps control appetite.
And you also know that protein is a-plenty in the foods we eat: eggs, poultry, meat, fish, paneer, lentils and legumes. So if it’s already abundant in food - why are there SO many protein powders - and why are so many people consuming protein powder?
Why You Might Need a Protein Supplement
It’s because you may not be getting the protein you need from your 3 meals a day. The amount of protein you need to consume depends on several factors, including:
- Your exercise routine
- Overall health
The amount of protein that a sedentary or not-so-active adult needs everyday is pretty modest: 0.8 grams per kg of body weight. This is the basic amount of protein you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. (Check out this calculator.) But this number can change based on your activity levels, your fitness goals, and more - and may go up to 2 grams of protein for body weight.
But if you can’t get the protein you need from the meals you eat, you may need to supplement with protein powder.
The Two Main Types of Protein Supplements
There are broadly two forms of protein available to us: plant-based and animal-based. Naturally, protein supplements also fall into this category.
To make supplements, protein is extracted from animal or plant-based sources like cow’s milk and eggs to peas, and soy. During processing, naturally-occurring carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and fibre are often removed, and extra nutrients, herbs, and even sweeteners may be added.
Which brings us to the what and why of this blog: what’s better? Whey protein, or plant protein.
Whey vs Plant Protein
Whey is the clear/cloudy liquid part of milk that separates during the cheese and curd-making process. This liquid is rich in protein and to make supplements, is dried and processed into a powder that can be mixed into drinks and other foods.
Whey protein is a popular choice because it is a complete protein source that contains all 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot produce and therefore must be obtained from food.
Whey also digests pretty quickly, making it easier to absorb. Plus, it is a calorie-efficient form of protein.
Plant protein powders don’t come from a single source. They can be made from a variety of plants, usually pea, soy, rice, hemp, grains and even sprouted seeds. These sources are processed into a powder which can be consumed with food and drinks.
Plant protein supplements score for their high fibre and antioxidant levels and are also ideal for people who are lactose intolerant. They also cause less gut discomfort and are generally more heart-healthy.
Some forms of plant protein (like soy) contain all essential amino acids, while many others have to be fortified or combined with other forms of protein to make it complete. This is one of the major drawbacks of plant protein. (Link)
Choose Your Player!
At the end of the day, choosing between whey and plant protein depends on a number of factors: diet, lifestyle, digestibility. And in a nutshell - if you follow a vegan/plant-based/dairy-free diet opt for plant-based protein supplements like pea protein, soy protein etc. If you are not, you may want to try whey protein.