Hemp and whey supplements both pack a protein punch – so what’s the difference and which should you choose? Weighing up the pros and cons will help you find the supplement that suits your taste preference, nutritional needs and budget.
Protein powders used to be the domain of athletes and dedicated resistance trainers, but they are also popular dietary supplements for weight management, increasing muscle mass and for health and medical reasons.
*Always consult your doctor, dietitian or nutritionist for nutritional guidance particularly if you experience allergies or an intolerance.
Protein powder supplements: the basics
The amount of protein you need depends on your age, weight, health and activity level – but protein itself is crucial. There are guidelines for the recommended daily intake that vary for men, women, children, adolescents, mothers with newborns or if you are 70+ years.
Protein is available in some of the whole foods we eat, but conveniently there are also powdered forms which are dairy or plant based. Dairy derived protein powder such as whey, comes from eggs, or milk. Plant based protein powder comes from plants such as hemp, soybeans, peas, rice, and potatoes.
Whey versus Hemp: How it's made
Whey is a collection of proteins which is the water-soluble part of milk or a by-product of cheesemaking. To make whey into the supplement, the whey is separated, heated, micro filtered, pasteurised and dried (i.e. processed) and sold as dry powders. Whey is considered a complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Plant based protein sources on the other hand require little to no processing and are thus considered a more natural source. Hemp protein powder for example is made by extracting the oil from the seeds and then grinding the remaining hemp cake into a fine powder. Hemp is a high-quality vegan protein and like whey, contains all nine essential amino acids.
Whilst hemp fares well, complete protein sources are less common in the plant kingdom, and for example methionine and lysine are typically lower in plant-based proteins (but not all). It's always worth checking the label as sometimes powders include other ingredients like added sugar or artificial flavour.
Actual impact on your body - is there a difference?
Whey protein is widely consumed as a nutritional supplement to enhance strength and muscle mass during resistance training. It’s considered excellent nourishment with an array of bioactive components.
- Some studies suggest whey protein is effective in regulating appetite and improving body composition (aka muscle to fat ratio).
- It may also confer benefits against a range of metabolic diseases as well as reduction in cardiovascular risk factors.
Research into hemp protein is still in its infancy but preliminary studies of hemp seeds (from which hemp protein is derived) suggest they are incredibly nutritious and rich in healthy fats, protein and minerals.
One review of hempseed protein found it to be an excellent source of arginine, glutamine, cystine, methionine and other amino acids that support physical performance and general well-being.
Whey is ultimately animal sourced and hemp plant based – so for many the sustainability factor may be the clincher. The increasing movement towards plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets often goes beyond health, animal welfare and ethics.
The production of plant-based foods require less land and water and is associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions compared with animal-based foods. World population growth in combination with increasingly limited resources (arable land and water) means an urgent shift towards sustainably sourced products.
Comparing the cost of whey protein powder to hemp protein powder is variable depending on the specific product, but overall per kilo whey tends to have a lower price tag.
Finding a product that ticks all your nutritional requirements and is affordable is a personal decision but it tends to work out favourably to purchase protein supplement products in bulk, once you find the right one.
Whey has traditionally been a prized protein source because of its high nutritional value and it’s fast absorption. However allergies to milk, eggs or dairy may also mean an allergy to whey, in which case a hemp protein powder or other plant-based source, may be a viable alternative.
- In comparison, studies suggest, hemp protein also has a high level of digestibility (albeit slow), so the choice will depend on your goal for taking the supplement.
- Also, people with lactose intolerance may be seeking a non-dairy derived option, which is another reason plant-based protein powders may be preferable.
Ultimately the question of whey protein versus hemp protein, will be a personal decision. But it’s great to know that there are plant based options that stack up in more ways than one - especially if you don’t eat animal sourced foods or can’t tolerate whey.