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Hemp vs Whey Protein Powder: Which Is the Better Choice?

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: August 19, 2023
We personally test every product featured in our reviews and guides. By ordering products anonymously and getting a group of independent testers, we are able to get first-hand experience and provide data-driven recommendations. Learn more.

Hemp protein powder is fast becoming one of the most popular products for many athletes. I wouldn't say that it has overtaken whey just yet, but the

re are a lot of health advantages that are gradually coming to light.

It was certainly interesting enough for our team here to do some more research.

Before you start blindly switching to different protein products, take the time to make sure you don't end up with supplements that don't help your goals.

And to help you with that, I sat down with my dietitian to try and figure out the hemp protein vs. whey debate.

What's the Difference Between Hemp and Whey Protein?

The main difference between hemp and whey protein is that whey is a dairy product in the form of a milk isolate, while hemp protein is extracted from hemp seeds.

That's the obvious difference. When you look at the nutritional values, it gets interesting. That does make hemp stand out a bit like a healthy option.

It should be noted that whey contains some saturated fats and cholesterol, while hemp only contains unsaturated fats [1].

Both whey protein and hemp protein are excellent sources of essential amino acids, but hemp protein also offers additional benefits due to its plant-based nature.

You might also have heard that hemp is rich in fiber [2]; however, you should consider that many supplements don't process the hemp seed shells where most of the fiber is found. Incorporating both whey protein powder and hemp protein into your diet can provide a diverse array of nutrients and support your fitness and nutritional goals effectively.

Benefits of Hemp Protein Powder

hemp seeds in bowl

There are a lot of benefits when it comes to hemp-based protein powders that go beyond it being a sustainable plant-based product.

For me, the most interesting fact is about the essential amino acids.

The reason I don't tend to recommend plant-derived protein powders is that pretty much all plants don't contain the complete range of amino acids. You can read more about this in our plant vs whey protein article.

That means you would need to stack them. However, hemp is kind of a nutritional anomaly. Not only does it contain all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential ones [3], but your digestive system may be able to process it more easily than other plant supplements [4].


Benefits of Whey Protein Powder

The main reason why whey protein powder has become one of the most popular post-workout proteins comes down to the fact that especially whey isolate is known to be easy to digest. Some studies have reported measuring increases in protein levels after 20 minutes [5].

Add to that the fact that whey contains all 9 essential amino acids, you could be providing your body with the most important nutrients to help with muscle recovery and building.

Seeing as the threshold for activating protein synthesis occurs right around 2.5 grams of leucine, whey is a no-brainer for athletes looking to boost growth, recovery, and performance.
- Krissy Kendal Ph.D., and lecturer in health science

Potential Side Effects of Hemp Protein

man in pain

While hemp seed allergies are rare, it's crucial that you are aware of the symptoms.

Before you start using it on a daily basis, try one serving after exercising to see how your body responds to it.

Look out for things like stomach cramps, nausea, hives, itching, and trouble breathing.

One of the more common issues that some athletes have reported is reactions to the relatively high content of minerals like iron and copper [6].

Always read the label for recommended daily dose and avoid excessive amounts. For most people, this shouldn't be an issue, though.

Related articles:

Potential Side Effects of Whey Protein

The most common problem encountered with whey is some reaction due to dairy intolerance. While it's low in lactose [7], some people may still have significant digestive responses to anything that is sourced from milk, like whey or casein protein powder.

The other common reason why people have adverse reactions is down to taking very large amounts of whey. While processing of whey isolate may be quite easy, your stomach and gut flora may come under substantial pressure.

Symptoms, including nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea, may be an indication that your body is struggling to process the volume. To avoid these effects, consider consulting your dietician or nutritionist before buying whey protein powders. That way, you'll know whether you're fit enough to consume it.

Protein Sources for Better Results

toned bodies of man and woman

This is ultimately what we started to debate here in our team.

We took out the argument of plant vs. animal proteins and focused solely on how results compared during our testing.

So, assuming you're not lactose intolerant or eat a strict plant-based diet, here's what we would suggest.

Muscle Gain: If you're looking to bulk up or you're into bodybuilding, then I would still recommend sticking with whey.

It has all the essential amino acids, and you'll struggle to find anything that is as easily digestible.

Weight Loss: From every bit of research I've read, and extensive conversations with my dietitian, I have to say that hemp protein powder may be the better option for weight management.

The lower amount of saturated fats and calories are significant factors. But also consider that it may help fill you up thanks to some quality fiber.

See our other related protein powder guides:



Hemp Protein Vs Whey FAQ Banner

Can You Build Muscle With Hemp Protein?

Yes, you can build muscle with hemp protein as it contains the full range of amino acids. Hemp is the only plant-derived protein known to provide that, so you don't have to stack it with some other high-quality sources.

Does hemp protein contain BCAAs?

Yes, hemp protein contains BCAAs, which may have a significant benefit when it comes to training performance and recovery. Hemp is unique in this regard, as the majority of non-animal derived sources are generally low in BCAAs.

Can hemp protein help you gain weight?

Yes, hemp protein can help you gain weight for bodybuilding and bulking. Many vegan and vegetarian athletes have turned to this high-quality protein because it may provide the most important nutrients for bulking.

Can hemp seeds replace protein powder?

Yes, hemp seeds can replace protein powder, but you may want to rely on the extracted powder form. While it's easy to add the seeds to other foods, it's highly unlikely that you can eat enough of them for your athletic needs.

Make a Choice for Your Goals

Of all the plant-based protein products, hemp has become the number one choice here at TotalShape.

It's not just suitable for vegans and those with lactose intolerance and may be a healthy alternative, especially for weight loss.

However, if you're looking to bulk up and are struggling to take in enough protein through the foods you eat, then stick with whey.

You'll need to monitor the saturated fats content and calories, but from a bulking perspective, we've struggled to find better.

As always, join the debate on social media and let us know how you get on.


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