Hemp Protein vs Whey Protein: Which is Best?

“Hemp Protein vs Whey Protein” was co-authored by Devon Suggs and by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. Devon is a dietetic intern at Oregon Health Sciences University.

Whey protein has traditionally been a go-to for individuals looking to supplement their diets with protein powder. However, more and more people are looking for plant-based alternatives to whey protein. And interest in hemp protein in particular has been on the rise.

So, when it comes to hemp protein vs whey protein; which is best? Let’s look at why we need protein and start digging into the differences between hemp protein vs. whey protein.

Why Do You Need Protein?

Protein is an important nutrient for health. It is one of three micronutrients our bodies need: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Protein has a role in every part of our bodies. For example, it helps to maintain muscle, has a role in healthy bones and skin (1).

Protein

Protein Needs

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein in generally healthy adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (2). For example, a 200-pound individual would weight 91 kg (200 lbs/2.2= 91 kg) and require 73 grams of protein per day (91 kg x 0.8= 73 grams protein).

Research suggests that older adults need even more protein at 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram body weight. You can review our article on Protein Requirements for Older Adults to learn more.

There are situations where an individual would need more protein. For instance, if they have wounds or pressure injuries, are in recovery from surgery, etc. There are also situations where an individual would need less protein.

Be sure to speak to your medical provider and/or a Registered Dietitian to determine how much protein you need based on your unique situation.

Protein Powders

Protein PowdersAs a dietitian, I advocate for getting protein from food first. However, there is an important role that protein supplements and protein powders play.

Some individuals are unable to get the protein they need from food alone. Protein powders can make it easier to consume the protein an individual requires.

There are many different types of protein powders. They typically come from two sources: animal based or plant based.

Whey and casein protein powders are animal based, coming from dairy. Soy, pea, and hemp protein powders are some of the plant-based protein powders available on the market.

Hemp Protein vs Whey Protein: The Differences

Now that we know why protein is important, how much is needed, and the role of protein powders, lets get down to the differences between our two featured protein powders: hemp protein vs. whey protein.

The table below breaks down some of the basic differences. In the following sections we will go into additional detail. Note: These differences are estimates and averages (ex. protein per scoop, exact color, and flavor).

Hemp Protein vs Whey Protein

TABLE: Hemp Protein vs. Whey Protein

  Hemp Protein Whey Protein
Category Plant-Based Animal-Based
Source Hemp Plant Component of Dairy
Protein per scoop 15 grams 24 grams
Color Olive Green Cream
Price typically more expensive than whey 2lbs or more container from a range of $40-$60
Taste “earthy”, nutty Bland, typically flavored
Research Newer in research Heavily studied
Other Contains omega 3 fats High in BCAAs

Hemp Protein

Hemp Protein PowderHemp protein is made by grinding hemp seeds into a powder and is one of the less processed protein sources. It creates a smooth natural flavor profile and is very nutrient rich.

Being a plant source, this protein has become very popular for individuals who are lactose intolerant or follow a plant based diet for their own personal preferences.

Hemp is considered a complete protein. This means it has all 9 essential amino acids. Unlike whey protein, hemp does not have as high amounts of all essential amino acids, however, studies on amino acid amounts in hemp protein have shown similar composition as protein sources such as egg white and soy.

Another benefit of hemp protein, especially for those who follow a vegan diet, is that it is high in Omega 3’s.  Omega-3 fatty acids are heart healthy fats. Hemp contains about 8 grams fiber and 2 grams omega-3 fatty acids per scoop,

Whey Protein

Whey Protein PowderWhey protein is animal sourced protein that is derived from milk. It is made in the same process as cheese.

During the cheese-making process, the milk is heated to kill unwanted bacteria. The rise of temperature splits the milk into curds and liquid whey. From there that is how whey is obtained and later formed into powder for a high protein and low calorie consumption.

Protein that is considered “complete” means it contains all of the nine essential amino acids that our body needs. There are 20 different amino acids, and our bodies only make 11 of them. We rely on our food to get the other 9, which are called “essential” amino acids. Like all animal products, whey protein naturally has all 9 essential amino acids therefore making it a complete protein.

Whey is high in BCAAs which help muscle maintenance and growth and is immune boosting as well. There are two different qualities of whey protein that you can find:

  1. Whey Protein Concentrate:
    • 30-90% pure protein
    • Greater amounts of  lactose
  2. Whey Protein Isolate:
    • 90-95% pure protein
    • Very low percent of lactose.

Common Questions

Now that we’ve reviewed the differences between hemp protein vs. whey protein let’s address some common questions you may have.

Does Hemp Protein Contain THC?

Though hemp protein is derived from the sativa cannabis plant, it does not include any of the psychoactive compounds of THC. It is derived from a different variety and part of the plant itself. If there are any traces of THC in the protein, it will be 0.3% or even less. This will not affect you in any way.

Is Plant or Animal Based Protein Better?

It is ultimately your personal preference in deciding which one to consume! Either will provide you with a high amount of protein.

Here are some helpful tips to choose the best protein for you:

  • If you are not dairy sensitive or vegan, try out both! See which one your body digests better.
  • Look at the ingredients
  • Choose which one will benefit your personal health or diet preferences more
  • When you find a kind you enjoy, experiment with the flavors!

Where Can I Find Hemp Protein?

Hemp proteinWhey protein is quite common. You can find it at most grocery stores, big box stores, natural food stores, nutrition and supplement stores, and online.

Hemp protein may be a little more challenging to find, depending on where you live and the stores available.

Natural food stores and nutrition/supplement stores are more likely to carry protein alternatives including hemp protein.

And if all else fails, you can easily find hemp protein online. Google hemp protein and you will find many different options.

Where Can I Learn More About Whey Protein?

We have an entire article dedicated to whey protein if you would like to learn more:

9 Things to Know About Whey Protein for Weight Gain

Conclusion: Which is Best?

OK, which is best? The answer is that it depends on you. Take in all of the information provided above and decide which protein supplement is best for you. Both are good options for protein powder.

Questions about Hemp Protein vs Whey Protein

References

  1. Dietary Proteins. Medline Plus website. https://medlineplus.gov/dietaryproteins.html. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  2. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2005. https://www.nap.edu/read/10490/chapter/1

Hemp Protein vs. Whey Protein- Infographic

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