The Scoop on Whey Protein – Get Answers from Vegan Dietitians

6 min reading time

What is whey protein?

Whey protein is the most common kind of protein in supplements. It’s quite popular among fitness enthusiasts, partly due to it being a come protein. It contains all of the essential amino acids in good ratio, which are molecules that our body needs to be able to make protein. We need to get these molecules from our diet because our bodies can’t make them on their own.


Is whey protein powder vegan? 

In our modern society, it’s common to think “The more options, the better”. We all appreciate having options, right? Think about it – when you shop for a new T-shirt, would you rather the store have one or multiple for you to choose from?


In the same way that clothing options allow us to cater to our unique style – protein powder options allow us to choose one that’s best suited to our dietary needs and preferences. But with the growing amount of protein powders on the shelves at stores, navigating plant-based sports nutrition can be challenging.


If you’re following a plant-based diet, you may be wondering: is whey protein powder vegan? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Read along as we explore whey protein, how it compares to vegan protein and things to consider before purchasing. 

What is whey protein good for? 

The most sought-after benefits of whey protein include its ability to:

  • Promote muscle growth
  • Support weight management


Some pros of using whey protein include:

  • Quick absorption
  • Convenience


Are you an avid exerciser who could benefit from some nutritional guidance? Check out our plant-based sports nutrition services.


Where does whey protein come from? 

Whey protein comes from milk. “Whey” actually refers to the liquid that’s left over from milk when it’s being made into cheese or yogurt. 


The whey protein powder we commonly see in stores is a concentrated form of the protein, usually from cow’s milk. Manufacturing usually involves the following steps:

  • Separation
  • Collection
  • Filtration
  • Drying
  • Additional processing (to achieve desired characteristics and concentration)


Additional processing may be needed depending on the desired type of whey protein (concentrate, isolate, or hydrolysate). These steps allow for the desired protein characteristics and concentration to be attained.  

Is whey vegan?

No, whey isn’t vegan. It comes from milk (usually cow’s milk). With veganism encompassing a diet that stays clear of all animal products, whey protein isn’t a suitable choice for vegans.


But don’t worry – you’re still in luck if you’re looking to improve your vegan diet. There are many plant-based protein powders available that can be safely included in a plant-based diet


Is vegan protein as good as whey? 

Yes, as vegan dietitians we can assure you that vegan protein powders can be as good as whey! However, there are a few considerations to effectively navigate plant-based sports nutrition


Firstly, plant-based proteins might not contain all the essential amino acids in good ratios. Choosing a vegan protein that’s made from multiple plant proteins or alternating sources can enhance the amino acid profile. You can check the nutrition facts label to confirm if your vegan protein powder includes all nine essential amino acids. By doing such, you can boost the muscle-building properties and other benefits of your vegan protein powder.


Secondly, plant sources of protein can be less bioavailable than protein sourced from animals like whey. This means that plant protein may be less readily absorbed, though this is not a big discrepancy. All this means is that you might have to have a little bit more plant protein to achieve the same effects. Luckily, many plant-based protein companies provide a simple fix by making their scoop size slightly bigger!


Is vegan protein better than whey? 

Ultimately, the choice between vegan and whey protein powders is multifactorial and highly individualized. There are many pros to choosing plant-based sports nutrition with vegan protein powders offering: 

  • Enhanced sustainability
  • Nutrient-richness (vegan protein often contains additional nutrients like fibre, antioxidants, and vitamins)
  • Diverse options from a variety of sources (pea, hemp, rice, soy, and more)
  • A possible decreased risk of gastrointestinal discomfort (for those with lactose intolerance/sensitivity)

What to avoid in vegan protein powders? 

In most cases, there isn’t a specific ingredient that merits boycotting on the ingredient list of vegan protein powders. Protein powders are regulated by Health Canada meaning that the ingredients are generally regarded as safe. However, some people have raised concerns that the regulation standards for protein powders are not rigid enough. Protein powders fall into the category of natural health products, which aren’t as rigorously regulated compared to pharmaceutical and food products. 


To enhance the safety profile of your protein powder, you can opt for one with a third-party certification. A third-party certification is given when the product is tested by another neutral company and deemed to meet expectations. Certifications can be easily found on the package and may include examples like NSF-Certified for Sport and Informed Choice Certified.


Despite the ingredients being generally regarded as safe, personal preferences may cause some to stay clear of certain ingredients.  Specifically, some individuals may opt for vegan protein powders without artificial sweeteners like erythritol or stevia. This choice might be rooted in digestive sensitivities, health concerns, or dietary/taste preferences. It’s important to note these artificial sweeteners may cause side effects like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.


Vegan protein powders with erythritol and stevia 

Overconsumption of artificial sweeteners is not recommended. Here are a few examples of vegan protein powders without erythritol and stevia:


Remember, product formulations can change so it’s always best to verify the ingredient list before purchasing!


Final thoughts – the vegan-friendliness of whey protein

Whey protein is not suitable for vegan diets because it’s made from milk. But fear not – there are plenty of plant-based alternatives! Plant-based sports nutrition can be just as effective and have additional benefits. In fact, vegan protein powders often contain additional nutrients like fibre, antioxidants, and vitamins in comparison to their animal-sourced counterparts.


Vegan protein powders are regulated by Health Canada and all ingredients are generally considered safe. To enhance the safety profile, you can opt for products with third-party certifications. Remember that dietary needs and preferences are individualized so it’s important to choose the supplements that best suit you!


Are you concerned about meeting your protein needs? Our team of vegan dietitians is here to help. Contact us to find out how we can support you in meeting your goals.