Since the 1980s, bodybuilders and nutritionists have been promoting protein supplements as the key to packing on muscle and getting in shape.
One of the most affordable and commonly found protein powder supplements on the market is whey protein. However, is whey protein vegan?
Unfortunately, whey protein is not vegan-friendly. Whey is one of two proteins found in milk and dairy products (the other being casein). Whey protein is isolated by evaporating the milk base and isolating the protein compound.
That being said, there are plenty of other great vegan protein supplements on the market. So, whether you’re a vegan bodybuilder or you just want to start adding more protein to your diet, you’ve come to the right place!
In today’s post, I’m going to explain exactly why whey protein isn’t vegan, explain how it’s made, and show you the best vegan whey protein alternatives.
Is Whey Protein Vegan-Friendly? Here’s Why It’s Not
It may be tempting to buy that super-affordable container of whey protein from your local supermarket. There’s only one problem – whey protein is NOT vegan-friendly and is, by nature, a dairy product.
When most people think of dairy, the first thing that comes to mind is milk. There are tons of milk by-products that are commonly consumed in our modern diets, though, such as:
- Coffee creamer
- Baby formula
- Whey protein
- Milk solids
Whey, itself, is a product that’s produced by the cheese-making process. Here’s where it gets kind of messed up, though.
I think we can all agree that industrial milk production is incredibly cruel. Female cows are artificially inseminated so that they remain in a state of milk production for long periods of time.
Then, they spend most of their day hooked up to milking machines to produce milk for humans to eat their cereal with.
How Whey Protein Is Made
The cheese and whey protein production process goes a step further, though.
To turn milk into cheese, an enzyme known as rennet is added to the milk. The enzyme causes the milk to curdle, resulting in solid curds and liquid whey.
Hence the age-old saying, “separate the curds and whey.” Then, the liquid whey is pasteurized and dried, resulting in a dry whey protein powder that’s around 90% protein.
Rennet is an enzyme that’s extracted from the stomach of baby cows (it helps them process their mother’s milk). To get the rennet, baby cows are butchered and their stomach linings are processed to isolate the enzyme.
In my book, that’s just another reason to boycott the entire dairy industry…
Is Whey Protein Concentrate Vegan?
Unfortunately, whey protein concentrate is not vegan either. The only difference between most store-bought whey protein and whey protein concentrate (or whey protein isolate) is that concentrated whey protein hasn’t been mixed down with flavors and other additives.
Whey protein concentrate is made using the same process that I described above.
What Is Vegan Whey Protein Made Of?
Recently, I learned about a revolutionary new product known as vegan whey protein. At first, I thought it was just a clever marketing pitch for another type of plant-based protein (see below).
However, my suspicions were wrong. As it turns out, there is such a thing as vegan whey protein!
So, what is vegan whey protein and how is it made? Here’s where it gets weird…
To create cow-free whey protein, tiny organisms called “flora” are digitally programmed to create milk protein. The flora is encouraged to continue developing and growing and is fed a constant diet of plant-based sugars.
The more flora in the ecosystem, the more vegan whey protein gets produced.
Then, the resulting mix is fermented to isolate the whey protein!
The final product is an exact replica of cow-derived whey protein. The only difference is that it was made without any help from cows at all (other than the original genetic blueprint, which was humanely obtained with a DNA sample).
Sounds pretty futuristic, right? Well, as the saying goes, “The future is now!”
The only issue is that vegan whey protein is hard to find. Currently, the only company that manufacturers real vegan whey protein is California Performance Co.
Since it’s such a revolutionary new product, it’s a good bit more expensive than the whey protein you’ll find at the supermarket.
The Best Vegan Whey Protein Alternatives
Thankfully, whey protein isn’t the only source of high-quality protein. Plants are an amazing source of protein as well! You just have to isolate the protein and concentrate it, just as whey is isolated from milk.
From pea protein to soy protein and spirulina, there are tons of whey protein alternatives on the market. These are some of the best whey protein alternatives on the market today…
1) Pea Protein
Of all the different protein powders on the market, I really enjoy the taste, flavor, and texture of pea protein. A 1-cup serving of peas (by themselves) has 8 grams of protein, which is very similar to a 1-cup serving of milk.
By processing and isolating the protein in the peas, you’ll get a product that’s just as nutrient-dense as whey protein, without the need for any animal cruelty!
Thanks to the natural sweetness of peas, I’ve also noticed that pea protein is one of the better-tasting protein powders on the market. Once you blend it down into a protein smoothie, the taste is very agreeable.
Another great reason to give pea protein a try is that it’s loaded with iron. Iron is one of the main minerals that your body needs to ensure a healthy red blood cell count.
Due to their reproductive cycle, women need to consume higher amounts of iron than men. So, pea protein is an especially good choice for us ladies!
To learn more, check out this cool video on pea protein production:
2) Soy Protein
Soy protein has been around for almost as long as whey protein, and for a while, it was the only source of plant-based protein powder on the market. Soy protein is affordable, widely available, and easy to find both online and at your local supermarket.
According to the FDA, soy protein is actually healthier for your heart than whey protein. Consumption of soy protein is also correlated to lower rates of breast cancer!
The only drawback of soy protein is that it can suppress testosterone production, which can be detrimental to men who are looking to pack on muscle and bulk. If bulking up isn’t your primary goal, though, soy protein is an excellent all-natural vegan protein source.
3) Spirulina Protein
Spirulina protein isn’t quite as concentrated as a pea or soy protein. However, it’s an amazing superfood that offers a good balance of plant-based protein as well as natural vitamins and minerals.
Spirulina has also been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects on the body, making it especially good for those who are age 30 and above!
In Conclusion – What’s The Best Vegan Protein?
Personally, I prefer blended plant-based protein supplements that contain a mixture of pea protein, soy protein, spirulina, and other plant-derived protein.
The advantage of blended supplements is that you get a more biodiverse blend of protein as well as a higher concentration of naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals.
Just because you’re vegan doesn’t mean that you can’t get jacked. All you need is a solid workout regimen and the right source of plant-based protein. To learn more, check out my post on the famous vegan bodybuilder, “Vegan Gains” next!