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Whey vs. Plant-Based Protein Powder: What’s the Real Difference?
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Whey vs. Plant-Based Protein Powder: What’s the Real Difference?

Hands down, my secret weapon for long-term weight loss, especially for people who have yo-yo dieted in the past and struggled to keep their excess weight off is...


Specifically, protein used the right way in every single meal can be your secret weapon too.

You see, when you want to lose weight and keep it off (because you don't want it to come back right?) you need to follow an eating plan that is going to keep you satiated, burn off fat, and keep your blood sugar perfectly balanced all throughout the day. And what easier way to do that than with a high-quality protein powder on hand?

But with so many different kinds of protein powders on the market, how do you know which one to choose? To make things simple, let’s think of protein powder as being in 2 categories: whey and plant-based.

1. Whey Protein Powder

Most protein powders contain Whey Protein as their primary source of protein. Whey is the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled and strained, thus, it is dairy (animal) based. If you’ve ever opened a yogurt container to see liquid floating on top, that is whey, and that liquid goes through some processing to form the powder being sold in protein powders.

Why choose whey?

  • •Complete protein – Whey protein powders contain all 9 essential amino acids key for muscle growth and function.
  • •Immune function – It typically contains immunoglobulins. These antibodies help boost your immune system by inhibiting the growth of different types of yeast, fungi and bad bacteria.
  • •Convenience – Because so many plant-based proteins contain soy (a major culprit of weight gain), some people may opt for a wider selection of soy-free, whey-based powders. And that's totally understandable. 
  • •Taste! – Since whey protein is dairy-based, it has a natural creamy, sweet flavor that a plant-based formula may not be able to match. Simple as that.

Of course, while several whey protein powders still contain toxic ingredients, and may be contaminated with added hormones, it’s still possible to find good high-quality whey protein (many I have purchased myself).

2. Plant-Based Protein Powder

Plant-based protein powder is – you guessed it – plant-based. Protein derived from sources that are NOT animal based are those that are derived from foods like peas, rice, hemp, and chia.

Why choose plant-based?

  • •Complete protein and nutrient density – Some plant-based proteins not only contain all of the 9 essential amino acids key to muscle growth and weight maintenance, but they’re also typically loaded with essential vitamins and minerals from the plants it’s derived from.
  • •Skin health – There is a correlation (for many) between consuming dairy products and acne, blemishes, and aging because of the hormones (even if they aren’t added hormones) in dairy-products. Since plant-based protein is dairy-free, your skin isn't subject to these hormones.
  • •Personal choice – If you simply choose to not consume animal products in any form, plant-based protein is a great vegan alternative to whey protein.
  • •Gut and digestive health – If you are sensitive or intolerant to dairy, it can harm the lining of your gut… negatively impacting your mood, ability to lose weight, bloating, gas, and may even cause autoimmune disease.

Speaking of gut health, over the past 2 years I have noticed an overwhelming amount of people do not digest dairy and dairy-based foods well. It’s the most common reason why many of them are choosing plant-based protein over whey.  

If you or someone you know often experiences…

  • •Gas
  • •Bloating
  • •Constipation

…and struggles to lose weight, regardless of eating a healthy diet, dairy could be the nasty culprit.

I began to see this more and more with my clients and with Beyond Diet members. The ones who followed a dairy-free eating plan were showing signs of great success battling the digestive issues.

That leads people to ask me whether or not dairy is good or bad, but that’s not necessarily the right question to ask. The right question is…

Is dairy good or bad for you?

Ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Have you been following an eating plan that includes dairy and at the end of the day feel gassy and bloated?
  2. Have you been following an eating plan that includes dairy and you’re still struggling to see the pounds come off?
  3. Do you feel bloated after drinking a “healthy” smoothie that contains a dairy based protein powder?
  4. Have these symptoms gotten worse as you age? (This is common because our bodies have a more difficult time digestive lactose as we age)

The frequent answer YES from my clients is what led me to formulate a protein powder that is NOT dairy-based.

It contains pea protein because it is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids and contains a hefty amount of branched-chain amino acids, which are necessary for your body to build and maintain the right amount of fat burning muscle.

I also love that pea protein keeps you full and is very easy for your body to digest and absorb (exactly what we’re looking for right?)

Along with pea protein, I also really like rice protein for its ability to control blood sugar levels and boost metabolism. When combined with pea protein, it makes for the perfect protein combination for delivering all the essential amino acids, balancing blood sugar, while keeping you full for hours after consuming it.

Of course, keep in mind that not everyone is sensitive to dairy. If you’re one of those people, then you may prefer a high-quality whey protein powder. 

But Isabel, why argue the case for both plant-based and whey protein?

Because they both WORK!

Like I mentioned above, there are differences in the ingredients (and how people react to those ingredients), but both types of protein support:

  • •Exercise recovery,
  • •Building muscle,
  • •Keeping your blood sugar in check,
  • •Gaining strength, and
  • •Reducing hunger and cravings

As long as you pay attention to the label...

Know the ingredients.

The choice of whether whey or plant-based protein is yours – and the reason can range from digestive issues, convenience, or ethics – but be sure to read the label!

You want to look for high-quality ingredients and know which ones to avoid.

Whey Protein Powder – Here’s what to look for on the label:

  • •100% grass-fed cows
  • •Certified GMO-free
  • •Hormone-free
  • •Soy-free
  • •Cold processed or un-denatured (this leaves the essential amino acids, cofactors, and other vital nutrients intact for maximum bio-availability and absorption)
  • •No artificial sweeteners (make sure it doesn’t list the following: sucralose, acesulfame, aspartame, saccharin and neotame)
  • •Low sugar content (2 grams of sugar or less)
  • •At least 20 grams of protein per serving

Plant-Based Protein Powder – Here’s what to look for on the label:

  • •High-quality plant protein (such as pea protein isolate and rice protein isolate)
  • •Certified GMO-free
  • •Hormone-free
  • •Soy-free
  • •Dairy-free
  • •No artificial sweeteners (make sure it doesn’t list the following: sucralose, acesulfame, aspartame, saccharin and neotame)
  • •Low sugar content (2 grams of sugar or less)
  • •At least 20 grams of protein per serving

As far as any protein powder goes, it’s also typical to see the following approved ingredients like:

  • •Gum blend
  • •Natural flavor
  • •Salt
  • •Stevia

How to use your protein powder.           

As a protein-packed snack.

Banana Nut Protein Pudding

Get the recipe here»

In your favorite smoothie.

Apple Pie Protein Smoothie

Get the recipe here»

In your favorite oatmeal recipe.

Chocolate Banana Oatmeal

Get the recipe here»

Do you need protein powder for optimal health?


Remember, protein powder is not necessary to see successful results based on your health goals, but it can make your life a lot easier. For those times when you can't cook your meal, a high-quality protein powder can come in and save the day.

And of course, weigh your options when it comes to choosing the best protein powder for you, whether that's whey or plant-based.

Know your body, goals, and preferences, take a dairy intolerance test (if necessary), and always be sure to read the label!


Anne Peebles
What brands of whey and plant-based protein powder do you recommend. I've searched, but don't see an answer.
Laura Macpherson
I have tried the Spring of Life protein powder and I think it could be a little LESS sweet. I used BioTrust vanilla for years and actually think that the taste is better on the BioTrust and less chalky than Spring of Life.