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Is Whey Vegetarian? (+ Best Protein Choices)

When it comes to fitness, it can be difficult to determine what is considered vegetarian, especially with the large variety of protein powders that are available on the market. The supplement company I use and completely trust has high standards for protein supplements, including a vegan option.

One common question is related to whey products, and whether or not they are safe for consumption for vegetarians. Between whey and plant protein powders, there are endless options for you to choose from. Even with certain allergies and food sensitivities, there is almost always a protein powder out there perfect for your needs and health goals.

large glass of milk with 4 scoops of different protein powders sitting around it

Whey itself is an animal product derived from cow’s milk that could be considered vegetarian, depending on your vegetarian practices. Most whey protein supplements are created by isolation from whey. Whey is a liquid, milky byproduct that is produced during cheese making. The liquid is collected, and stripped of all carbohydrates, water, and fat.

This leaves behind a powdery form of protein. A common derivative of cow’s milk is a milk sugar called lactose. There are two different ways to process whey.

When whey is processed to have a higher concentration of lactose, it is referred to as whey protein concentrate. When whey is processed to have a lower concentration of lactose, it is referred to as whey protein isolate.

Whey protein powder is not considered vegan, as it is an animal byproduct. However, as mentioned earlier, depending on the type of vegetarian diet followed, whey protein can be suitable for a vegetarian diet.

Difference in Vegetarians

woman in white fitness clothing with yoga mat in one hand and a shaker bottle in the other hand

1) Lacto-vegetarian: Avoid all meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, but find it suitable to consume any dairy product, such as milk and cheese.

2) Ovo-vegetarian: Avoid all meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, but are able to eat eggs.

3) Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Avoid all meat, poultry, and fish, but consume both eggs and dairy.

4) Pescetarian: Avoid all meat and poultry, but find it suitable to consume fish. They allow dairy products and eggs to be consumed as well.

5) Vegan diet: Considered far more strict and require that no animal product or byproduct be consumed under any circumstance.

If you are lacto-vegetarian or lacto-ovo vegetarian, then whey protein powder is perfectly suitable to consume. If you are interested in taking whey supplements or whey protein powder that is fortified with different vitamins and minerals, ensure that the minerals and vitamins are not derived from an animal source.

Some vitamins, especially Vitamin D, are often pulled from non-vegetarian sources, such as fish, meat, eggs, and dairy.

Whey Protein Powder and Food Sensitivities

If you are lactose intolerant, it is very possible that whey protein will trigger your intolerance. If you are sensitive to dairy, whey protein powder may not be the best choice for you.

As mentioned before, there are different levels of lactose in whey protein isolate and whey concentrate. A third type, known as whey protein hydrolysate, has the lowest amount of lactose. This makes it easier to digest for those who are lactose intolerant. The only downside is the limited availability of the hydrolysate product, but it should be readily available online if internet shopping is an option for you.

It is also more expensive than other forms of whey. Plant proteins are a better option for those with food sensitivities, as they do not contain lactose. However, if you have a gluten allergy or a soy allergy, be sure to check the container for allergy information, even if it is plant-based.

Some plant-based protein powders have gluten and soy and can cause issues for those who are sensitive to gluten and/or soy.

Alternatives to Whey Protein Powder

woman on bike in workout clothes resting elbow on bike and chin on hand looking at the camera

If you are not interested in trying whey protein powder, there are a variety of different protein powders that are on the market that are certified as either vegan or vegetarian. When searching for a protein powder, it is important to find a source that has all essential amino acids and BCAAs.

BCAA stands for “Branched-Chain Amino Acids.” BCAAs are incredibly beneficial because they contribute to building muscle growth, aide in muscle recovery, and help reduce exercise fatigue.

A quality protein powder has at least 20-30 grams of protein per serving and 5-12 grams of BCAAs per serving.

Common and effective plant-based vegan protein powders

  • Pea protein: One of the most common forms of vegan protein. It has a good quality to it, and many fans of the powder agree that it tastes better than other vegan options.
  • Hemp protein: The taste can be off-putting to some, but the benefits of the amino acids outweighs the taste. Hemp protein is also relatively affordable in comparison to other protein powders.
  • Brown rice protein: This is usually added to other forms of plant-based protein powder in order to add more amino acids to the mix.
  • Soy protein: Can be hard to find. You may have to order soy protein isolate online if you cannot find it in stores.
  • Peanut protein, chia protein, and pumpkin seed protein: These three protein powders are not really used on their own. They are often blended together and added to other plant-based protein powders in order to add nutrients.

Whey vs Plant-based Protein

Whey is called a “complete” protein because it contains all essential amino acids on its own without any added supplements. This is rarely the case for plant-based protein.

Soy protein and quinoa protein have the amino acid profile needed to be considered “complete.” All other plant-based proteins do not have all of the amino acids, and need to be combined with other amino acid sources.

If you need help blending protein powders in order to maximize the benefits, there are a variety of resources online that can help you decide how to best add amino acids.

Best Vegan Protein Powder

1st Phorm Vegan Plant-Based Protein Powder is the industry’s leading choice for vegans based on taste, quality and being a complete protein source. This is the brand I use and trust.

In addition to the pure premium pea protein isolate and rice protein sources used, Vegan Power Pro also contains a rich Green Superfood Complex, a Phytonutrient Blend, and a Digestive Enzyme Blend to further enhance the overall health benefits you will receive.
Our all-natural vegan protein is made with organic, pure ingredients, is 100% Non-GMO and contains…

– No Artificial flavors

– No Gluten

– No Artificial sweeteners

– No Animal products

– No Artificial colors or dyes

– No Dairy or Soy

Vegan Power Pro is by far the best tasting, best mixing vegan protein on the market. Not only will you taste the difference, you will actually feel the difference immediately when you use it!

1st Phorm

Using Protein Powder for Weight Loss

workout equipment and protein powder on a table

Whether you use whey or plant-based protein powders, both types can help you reach goals such as: weight loss, increased muscle mass, and toning muscles. Depending on the protein, it can even help you gain weight if that is your goal.

Here are some tips for maximizing your weight loss through getting enough protein:

  • Watch out for added sugars. Some protein powders are absolutely packed with unnecessary sugars. Make sure to read the label and choose a protein powder that does not have extra sugar.
  • Avoid protein powders that have low protein (look for at least 20 grams per serving and whey protein being the first ingredient) and stuffed with artificial flavoring and colors. The more natural, the better.
  • Keep the calorie count on the low side. When tracking calories, it is best to find a protein powder that is only 100-150 calories or less per serving. If the product goes over 150 calories, there are most likely unwanted filler ingredients added.
  • Be diligent in what you put in your smoothies or shakes. One of the most popular ways to use protein powder is to mix it into a smoothie or shake. However, if you add too many extra ingredients, such as peanut butter, milk, or juice, your shake calorie count will significantly rise. Keep track of what you add in order to avoid extra calories.(It’s best to track macros rather than calories only.)
  • Try adding protein powder to other foods. By simply mixing protein powder into pancake mixes or oatmeal, you instantly boost the amount of protein in your meal. This will help you stay fuller for longer.
  • Choose the right protein powder for meal replacements. Most protein supplements don’t have enough variety of nutrients in a single protein shake for your body to qualify as a meal replacement.
  • Lift weights in combination with your protein powder. Adding strength training at least three times a week can preserve your muscle mass and build up your strength. This protein powder is best to drink immediately following your workouts.
  • Add protein throughout the entire day. When you eat protein throughout the entire day, you are able to build muscle faster. Consuming protein at different times throughout the day instead of consuming protein all at once will give you maximum benefits. Increased muscle equals a higher metabolism.
  • Hit your personalized protein intake goal consistently. How much protein you need can be determined when using an app or calculator for macros.

Bottom line, whey and plant-based protein powders have a variety of differences and similarities, and both types are an excellent source to fill in gaps of protein deficiencies during the day. Regardless of the protein source, protein is an essential nutrient to your overall fitness goals.

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