A typical Western diet often contains enough protein to build muscle. Having ample protein in the body ensures greater resources for the body to build muscles, strengthen bones, and improve connective tissues.
Whey protein has greater protein concentration and a better amino acid profile than hemp protein. However, hemp protein has better micro-nutrient composition and typically lesser side effects than whey protein due to its cleaner and less processed nature.
Animal-based Protein vs Plant-based Protein
The difference between hemp and whey protein are primarily linked to the difference between animal-based and plant-based foods and protein sources. Currently, whey is the most popular protein supplement. It is also the cheapest to produce and therefore the most accessible protein supplement for consumers.
Since the fitness boom in the 1980s, whey protein has been the go-to protein supplement for bodybuilders and athletes. The whey protein industry has accumulated over 10 billion USD in 2018 through its various products including whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and hydrolyzed whey protein.
Plant-based protein sources have different protein and nutritional profiles from animal-based sources like whey. Plant-based foods have lesser protein concentration and an inferior amino acid profile; This means plant-based foods often lack certain essential amino acids.
Only select plant-based foods can compete with animal-based foods. Oftentimes, people need to consume a variety of plant-based foods to get the same protein and amino acids as animal-based foods.
However, plant-based protein sources are products of a more sustainable food production process that helps in mitigating the effects of climate change. Furthermore, plant-based foods help in nutrient and mineral circulation in the soil which helps nourish the environment and help in sustainable consumption.
Whey is a product of processing and refining bovine milk or cow milk. Whey protein powders are often sold cheap since milk is often mass-produced in concentrated animal farming operations.
The milk is heated, filtered, and pasteurized to separate the casein and the whey. Before the fitness boom, the casein was made into cheese or yogurt while the whey was discarded as a waste product. Upon discovery of whey’s protein content, manufacturers began to dry whey into powdered form.
One of the main problems in the mass production of whey is the treatment of cows with various hormones and antibiotics to increase whey production. Manufacturers add additives and other artificial sweeteners to improve the palatability of whey and further increase sales.
Hemp protein requires little processing. Oftentimes, this processing is only physical and does not alter its chemical composition. Hemp protein also does not have additives and artificial sweeteners and is, therefore, a better option as a natural protein source.
Among the various plant-based protein sources, hemp is one of the few which are characterized as a complete protein. A protein described as “complete” means it contains all the essential amino acids (EAA) required to facilitate muscle development. Animal-based foods like lean meat and whey are also complete proteins.
Despite being a complete protein, hemp protein still has a lesser amount of protein per gram than whey. Specifically, 30 grams of whey protein powder contains 25 grams of protein whereas 30 grams of hemp protein only contains 15 grams of protein. The protein concentration of other plant-based foods like soy and pea are even higher than hemp protein.
However, hemp protein contains protein variants like edestin and albumin which produces antibodies and hormones to boost the body’s immune system. It is also a higher-quality protein source than whey because it is more pure and devoid of saturated fats and sugar.
In terms of micronutrients, hemp protein contains fiber, phytosterols, and monounsaturated fatty acids. These micronutrients promote better health, particularly through better cardiovascular performance and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Hemp protein also contains other essential fatty acids that can help prevent inflammation. It can also support cognitive functions and prevent brain deterioration.
Hemp protein also contains phytonutrients and antioxidants. Both these micronutrients are unique in plant-based protein sources like hemp and cannot be derived in animal-based protein sources like whey.
Effects on Body Composition
Whey and hemp protein can both facilitate muscle protein synthesis and weight loss. These two protein sources are both complete proteins. However, the difference in amino acid profiles accounts for the difference in the rate of muscle development.
All the EAAs have to be complete to facilitate muscle protein synthesis. Hemp protein contains all the EAAs but lacks in the concentration of lysine, which is an essential MPS component. Whey, on the other hand, has a substantial amount of all the EAAs. Therefore, it is better at facilitating MPS and improving overall body structure and composition.
Whey protein is commonly associated with various side effects primarily related to digestion such as bloating and diarrhea. People who are lactose intolerant cannot consume whey regularly since it contains traces of lactose. Whey protein concentrate, a more refined version of whey protein powder, also contains discernible amounts of lactose. The only safe version of whey protein for people who are lactose intolerant is whey protein isolate which contains minimal amounts of lactose.
Aside from gastrointestinal problems, whey protein is also associated with a higher risk of heart disease and cancer primarily due to the antibiotics that some manufacturers inject in cows. Another cause for concern is the use of additives and artificial sweeteners in whey protein which helps with palatability at the expense of quality.
Hemp protein, on the other hand, are cleaner protein sources like most plant-based foods. Hemp protein promotes easier digestion through its rich fiber content. It also has better nutrient absorption and helps clean the colon. It is also gluten-free and also free of common allergens.
However, hemp protein has a worse taste than whey since whey contains lactose which produces a slightly sweeter taste. Some hemp protein can also contain traces of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol which is a type of psychoactive substance. However, it contains a very minimal amount to have any psychological effects or to manifest in drug tests.
Whey protein and hemp protein are both beneficial types of protein which have their respective strengths and weaknesses. Both these types of protein can facilitate muscle growth but at different rates. Choosing whey or hemp protein largely depends on personal preference.