Plant-based protein powder: can it whey up?

The rise of veganism is reaching new momentum.

From food to clothing, consumers have cottoned on to the earthly benefits of adopting a more ethical way of living—change is everywhere you look. When it comes to diet, European consumers are most invested in finding meat-free alternatives to their favourite dishes, accounting for 39% of global sales of meat substitutes.

Google searches for “vegan” are on the up, and one of the most burning questions people are asking is: How can more protein can be introduced into a vegan diet?

Many worry that going vegan would compromise muscle building efforts, however this just isn’t the case. In the plant-powered corner, Tom Hall makes a conscious effort to live this lifestyle. And he contributing to it, having developed a new vegan protein powder formula.

Here, we ask Tom about his experiences, his product, and share everything you need to know about vegan-friendly protein alternatives.


Before jumping straight into looking into the effectiveness of vegan protein, here’s a summary of amino acids—the building blocks of protein and muscle maintenance.

“Amino acids quickly breakdown protein, allowing your body to absorb more at a time” Tom explains. There are two types; essential and non-essential. 

Your body produces non-essential, but it cannot produce essential amino acids, so they must come from a varied diet. And out of the essential amino acids exist branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which are particularly important when it comes to muscle care. 

Whey protein contains full amino acids, whereas vegan doesn’t. However research has shown that as long as people eat enough total protein, the source doesn’t matter. “Your body naturally breaks down protein at its own rate,” Tom adds. 

“This means it isn’t always necessary to take extra amino acids, but supplements are a viable option for people looking to speed up this process.” 

Need some recipe inspiration? Have a look at these meat-free meal ideas for fast recovery.



The US population alone saw a 600% increase in uptake of plant-based diets, over a five year period. It highlights the rapidly growing trend towards veganism.

So, where does vegan protein powder fit into this? Should it only be for people who follow this lifestyle or is it a better choice for anyone who wants to make some protein gains?

While some physically can’t stomach whey protein, others opt for vegan because of ethical or sustainable reasons. “Derived from natural sources, vegan protein powder is usually made from rice, pea and hemp proteins.” Tom explains. “Switching to a plant-based diet is also the number one action an individual can make to help protect the world.” 

While a full diet change might to a tall order, small wins can be made by switching protein. “Whey is product of milk, swapping to plant-based is a more sustainable option.” 

Plant-based protein are gluten and lactose free, and also more nutrient dense in vitamins like Zinc, Iron and Vitamin C. The nature of vegan powders make them naturally hypo-allergenic and highly digestible for easy absorption. And Tom brings other benefits to light including “less inflammation, excelled metabolism and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.” 

However, it’s not all good news. 

Plant-based protein powder doesn’t contain full amino acids—it falls low on lysine. For those making the switch, this means to building out diet rich in other protein sources. Dr Adam Collins, Director of MSc and BSc Nutrition at the University of Surrey, explains that most people who follow a vegan diet will meet their requirements, “combining plant protein  sources will provide a full complement of amino acids.” 


Rapidly digested, whey reaches muscles quickly. It’s a popular choice for people on the quest for muscle, strength and leanness and has become one of the most researched sports supplements

Made from a mixture of proteins isolated from whey (which is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production), and heavily processed into the familiar powder form used in shakes, it’s packed with leucine—the most important muscle-building amino acid. 

Whey also quickly releases the protein, vegan protein doesn’t grant “quick-release super stimulus in the same way.” Explains Dr Collins. 

Moreover, by providing all nine essential amino acids it’s granted certain bragging rights. Which works a treat if all you want is to build muscle. 

So, how much bang can you get for your buck? 

Some plant-based protein may require more scoops for the equivalent of one scoop of regular whey, so always check the label before making a choice. 

Tom believes that vegan protein powder also shouldn’t be disregarded just because it doesn’t contain full amino acids. “There are plenty of options out there that have the equivalent amount of protein as whey, it’s just about doing the research.” 

Read: Rest and digest: Expert recovery advice and 6 high-protein recipes.


Ultimately it comes down to you. 

Depending on your personal goals, both forms of proteins have their space. Plant-based because it’s lactose and gluten-free and less likely to cause inflammation, therefore it’s the obvious choice for those with dietary restrictions or allergies. On the other hand, whey protein contains all the essential amino acids and is easy for the body to absorb, however it isn’t great for those sensitive to dairy. 

The spread of plant-powered alternatives into this market is a win for those looking to shift towards a vegan diet because of skin or digestion problems, or simply those choose to eat in a more sustainable way. 

Whichever route you choose to take, always opt for powders that have a short ingredient list and without artificial sweeteners.

Do your research and consult a nutritionist before making any sudden changes in your diet, what works well for someone else may not have the same impact for everyone.