Hemp vs. Whey Protein Powder: Which is Best?

UK Fitness Pro
UK Fitness Pro
· 9 min read
An image representing hemp and why protein powders.

In recent years, the popularity of protein supplements has surged among fitness enthusiasts and health-conscious individuals. Among the plethora of options, hemp and whey protein powders stand out due to their unique nutritional profiles and health benefits. This article delves into the key differences, benefits, and considerations of hemp and whey protein, helping you make an informed decision that aligns with your dietary needs, fitness goals, and overall health.

Understanding Hemp and Whey Protein

Hemp Protein: A Plant-Based Powerhouse

Derived from the seeds of the hemp plant, hemp protein powder is celebrated for its complete amino acid profile, making it a complete protein source. 

Unlike many plant proteins, hemp seeds provide all nine essential amino acids, crucial for muscle growth and repair (Wu, 2009). Hemp protein powder is particularly rich in the amino acid arginine (Xu et al., 2022), which has been linked to increased aerobic and anaerobic performance (Viribay et al., 2020). Hemp powder is also rich in healthy fats, including essential fatty acids (Gimeno-Martínez et al., 2023), and offers a good amount of dietary fibre (Teterycz et al., 2021). 

This plant-based protein source is an excellent choice for those on a vegan diet or with lactose intolerance.

Whey Protein: The Popular Dairy-Based Option

Whey protein powder, extracted from dairy products, is a staple in the fitness community. 

A bag of Myprotein's whey protein concentrate

Known for its high protein concentration, whey protein is a complete protein source (Almeida et al., 2016), offering a higher protein content compared to most plant-based proteins. Whey protein concentrate and whey powder are popular choices due to their ability to support muscle mass (Devries & Philips, 2015) and assist in weight loss (Frestedt et al., 2008). 

However, for individuals with lactose intolerance or those following a plant-based diet, whey may not be the best protein option.

Nutritional Value and Health Benefits

Protein Quality and Muscle Growth

Both hemp and whey protein are good sources of protein that support muscle protein synthesis and are beneficial for building muscle. Whey protein, with its higher protein content, is often preferred by those engaged in resistance training or looking for a convenient way to increase their protein intake. Hemp protein, while having less protein per serving, offers a balanced nutritional profile with additional benefits like dietary fibre and essential fatty acids, which are important for digestive health and heart health.

An image representing protein quality and muscle growth

Fats and Heart Health

A key difference between hemp and whey protein lies in their fat content. Hemp protein contains unsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, beneficial for reducing inflammation (Raphael & Sordillo, 2013). Whey protein, being an animal-based protein, typically has lower levels of fat and may be preferable for those managing cholesterol levels or concerned about heart disease.

Dietary Considerations and Intolerances

Hemp protein is a great option for those on a plant-based diet or with dietary restrictions like lactose intolerance. It offers a plant-based protein source free from dairy products, making it suitable for vegans and those avoiding animal products. Whey protein, although a popular choice for its high protein content and muscle-building capabilities, might not be suitable for everyone due to its dairy origin, which can cause digestive issues in lactose-intolerant individuals.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability

Hemp Protein: A Sustainable Choice

One of the additional benefits of hemp protein is its environmental impact. The cultivation of hemp seeds requires less water and land compared to dairy farming, making it a more sustainable and eco-friendly choice. Hemp farming also contributes less to greenhouse gas emissions compared to dairy farming, aligning with the environmental concerns of many consumers.

Whey Protein: The Dairy Dilemma

While whey protein is a byproduct of cheese production, dairy farming itself has been scrutinised for its environmental footprint, including higher water usage and contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (Peterson & Mitloehner, 2021). For those concerned about the environmental impact of their dietary choices, hemp protein might be the better option.

Fitness Goals and Physical Activity

Muscle Building and Resistance Training

For individuals focused on muscle building and engaging in regular physical activity, especially resistance training, whey protein is often considered the best way to meet their higher protein needs. With its higher protein concentration and complete amino acid profile, whey protein effectively supports muscle growth and recovery.

Weight Loss and Overall Health

Both hemp and whey protein can play a role in weight loss and improving overall health. Whey protein's ability to promote muscle growth can aid in fat loss and improve metabolic health (McGregor & Poppitt, 2013). Hemp protein, with its fibre content, can aid in digestive health and help regulate blood sugar levels (Mollard et al., 2021), making it a good option for weight management. Additionally, the healthy fats in hemp protein contribute to satiety (Neacsu et al., 2022), which can be beneficial for those looking to control their appetite and support weight loss.

You might like our article on the best protein supplements for fat loss

Nutritional Profiles: A Comparative Look

Protein Content and Quality

Whey protein generally offers a slightly higher protein content per serving compared to hemp protein (about 21 grams vs. 20 grams per 30-gram scoop). For those requiring a higher intake of protein, such as strength athletes or bodybuilders, whey protein might be the more suitable choice. However, hemp protein, with its complete amino acid profile, still provides enough protein for muscle growth and maintenance, especially for the average person or those on a plant-based diet.

A protein smoothie

Fibre and Fats

Hemp protein stands out for its dietary fibre and essential fatty acid content. These components are crucial for maintaining heart health, reducing oxidative stress (a physiological state linked to tissue and cell damage, as well as various neurological conditions; Pizzino et al., 2017), and promoting a healthy digestive system. Whey protein lacks these elements but is often lower in calories, which can be a deciding factor for those focused on calorie-controlled diets or weight loss.

Suitability for Different Diets and Lifestyles

Vegan and Plant-Based Diets

For individuals following a vegan or plant-based diet, hemp protein is an excellent choice. It provides a plant source of protein that aligns with dietary restrictions, offering a good source of protein without relying on animal products.

Lactose Intolerance and Dairy Sensitivities

Hemp protein is also a great option for those with lactose intolerance or sensitivities to dairy products. Unlike whey protein, hemp protein is naturally free from lactose and other dairy components, making it easier to digest and more comfortable for those with dairy-related digestive issues.

Making the Right Choice: Hemp vs Whey Protein

Fitness Enthusiasts and Athletes

For fitness enthusiasts and athletes with a focus on building muscle mass and needing a higher protein content, whey protein might be the better option. Its high protein concentration and fast absorption rate (Schoenfeld & Aragon, 2018) make it ideal for post-workout recovery and muscle building.

Health-Conscious Individuals and Environmental Considerations

For those prioritising overall health, dietary fibre, heart health, and environmental sustainability, hemp protein emerges as a strong contender. Its nutritional profile, coupled with a lower environmental impact, makes it a responsible and healthful choice.

Other Plant-Based Protein Powders

In addition to hemp protein, there are various plant-based protein powders offering unique benefits. 

Soy protein is a prominent option, providing a high amount of grams of protein (up to 27 grams per 30-gram scoop), comparable to animal proteins. It's a good choice for those seeking plant-based protein sources that can mimic the effects of traditional proteins in the human body. Another important factor to consider is the balance between dietary protein and whole foods. Plant-based alternatives like soy, pea, and rice proteins offer not only substantial protein per serving but also additional nutrients like dietary fibre without the need for artificial sweeteners. The recommended protein intake, typically measured per kilogram of body weight, can be effectively met with these plant-based options. 

For instance, the Mayo Clinic suggests that those undertaking regular resistance training should aim for 1.1 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (e.g., 110 to 170 grams for a 100-kg individual). 

You might be interested in our article on how hemp protein compares to pea protein

An image representing plant-based protein powders

A serving of hemp protein powder (i.e., a 30-g scoop) typically contains about 20 grams of protein, and pea and soy protein powders often contain more (e.g., 24–27 grams). Therefore, by incorporating a few scoops into plant-based snacks like shakes, smoothies, pancakes, or bars throughout the day, these protein powders can help you meet a substantial proportion of your daily protein needs. Additionally, such powders may contribute to heart health by potentially lowering high blood pressure (He et al., 2011). These types of protein powders can also serve as a meal replacement

When selecting a plant-based protein powder, important considerations include the total grams of protein per serving, the presence of essential amino acids, and the absence of added sugars or artificial ingredients. This holistic approach ensures that your choice not only supplements your dietary protein needs but also complements a healthy lifestyle.

You might also like our articles on how whey and casein proteins compare and how pea and rice protein powders compare with whey protein powders.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when choosing between hemp and whey protein powders, key factors such as dietary needs, fitness goals, and individual preferences should guide your decision. 

Hemp protein, derived from the fine powder of hemp seeds, is a plant-based option rich in essential amino acids, dietary fibre, and healthy fats. It's ideal for those on a vegan diet, with lactose intolerance, or concerned about environmental sustainability. Whey protein, on the other hand, offers a high concentration of animal-based protein, favoured by fitness enthusiasts for muscle building and weight loss. Each type of protein powder, whether plant-based like hemp, soy, or pea protein, or animal-derived like whey, has its own nutritional profile and advantages. Ultimately, the right protein powder for you depends on the amount of protein you need, your dietary restrictions, and your health and fitness objectives. 

Both hemp and whey protein have their distinct benefits, making them excellent choices depending on your individual needs and preferences.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like these articles on the best protein supplements for diabetics, the best protein powders and supplements for weight gain, the best protein powders for seniors, and how BCAAs and whey protein compare

About the Author

Dave Robinson is a co-founder of ukfitness.pro and has a background in psychology (BSc) and neuroscience (MSc, PhD). As well as strength training, he enjoys endurance challenges and has completed marathons and ultramarathons, has cycled across several countries, and has completed the Three Peaks Challenge. When writing, he draws on scientific evidence to understand the pros and cons of different diets, supplements, and training regimes. 

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