Hemp vs Whey Protein: Coach Explains Differences & How To Pick

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If you’re interested in switching from whey protein powder to a plant-based option, you’re likely curious about how hemp protein compares to whey.  As a personal trainer and nutrition coach, I’ll explain the differences and their unique pros and cons to help you choose the best option.

Key Takeaways

  • The main difference between hemp and whey protein is the source. Hemp protein is derived from hemp seeds, whereas whey comes from dairy (the liquid part of the milk left after cheese production).
  • Both are complete proteins (having all nine essential amino acids); however, whey has significantly more leucine, which is crucial for protein synthesis (a precursor to muscle growth).
  • Hemp protein is better for people following a plant-based or vegan diet and those with lactose intolerance. Whey is superior for people with no nutritional restrictions who can digest dairy without stomach issues.

At A Glance: Comparing Hemp & Whey Protein

CategoryProtein PowderPre-made Protein Shakes
Nutritional InformationLess calories,
Zero carbs, fat fiber, sugar
& more sodium
More calories
& zero sodium
SourcePlan-based from cannabis plantAnimal-based plant
Leucine Content6.8% leucine content10% leucine content
Amino Acid ProfileIncomplete proteinComplete protein
Mixability, Taste, and TextureLess soluble
(more likely to clump)
More soluble
(mixes more readily)
DigestibilityDigestibility score hovers around 0.63-0.66Digestible with a score of 1.0
CostHigher priceLower price
Environmental ImpactLower environmental footprintHigher environmental footprint

What Is Hemp Protein?

what is hemp protein?

Hemp protein is a plant-based protein derived from the hemp seeds of a cannabis plant.

During processing, the outer shell is removed, and the oil is extracted, leaving behind the hemp meal used to develop protein powder.

Although many plant-based proteins are incomplete, meaning they do not contain all nine essential amino acids your body needs from food, the one from hemp is complete.

This is a huge benefit for hemp protein over other plant-based protein sources (like pea protein, which I discuss here).

Hemp protein contains approximately 15 grams per 30-gram scoop, though the exact amount can vary between brands.

What Is Whey Protein?

what is whey protein?

Whey protein is the most popular protein powder on the market. It is derived from dairy milk that separates into curds and whey (the liquid portion) during processing.

Liquid whey is separated, condensed, purified, and dried to make whey protein powder. 

The manufacturing process determines the type of whey:

  • Concentrate: a less processed variety consisting of around 80 percent protein

  • Isolate: a more refined product with approximately 90 percent protein

Whey concentrate contains slightly more sugar (lactose) and fat. Because of that, the protein per scoop is generally around 22-24 grams. In contrast, isolate, almost pure protein, has about 27 grams per scoop.

Regardless of the type (isolate or concentrate), whey is a high-quality protein source rich in leucine, an amino acid crucial in muscle protein synthesis (a precursor for muscle growth).

8 Differences Between Hemp vs Whey Protein

To help you decide which is best, I’ll highlight their differences:

differences between hemp vs whey protein

1. Nutritional Information

The table below includes the nutritional information for 100 grams of whey protein isolate and hemp protein.

Nutritional Info (100 grams)Whey Protein IsolateHemp Protein
Calories364 calories408 calories
Protein90.9 grams (99% of calories)50 grams (49% of calories)
Fat0g12 grams
Carbohydrates0g25 grams
Fiber0g20 grams
Sugars0g3.3 grams
Omega-30mgUp to 1,800mg (ALA)

Note: These are average values and can vary from brand to brand, so it’s best to check the nutritional label of the product you want to purchase to ensure it suits your needs.

As you can see, whey isolate provides primarily protein (up to 99% of calories). In contrast, hemp protein has a more varied nutritional profile, with only half the calories from protein. 

Hemp has more calories per 100 grams (mainly due to the higher fat content), as well as more fiber, sugar, omega-3s (only alpha-lipoic acid or ALA), and iron.

“Hemp protein powder is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats, which protect the heart and help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.”

Melissa Boufounos, a certified holistic nutritionist and nutrition writer

2. Source

Hemp protein is a plant-based product derived from the cannabis plant and isolated from hemp seeds. In contrast, whey comes from dairy (the liquid left behind from cheese production).

Whey protein may not be suitable for those who are lactose intolerant or have a dairy sensitivity or allergy.

Hemp is ideal for those who cannot tolerate dairy and those who live a vegan lifestyle.

3. Leucine Content

Leucine is one of the nine essential amino acids and plays a crucial role in muscle protein synthesis, which is necessary for muscle repair and growth.

According to research, leucine alone can activate the necessary pathway and initiate protein synthesis, which no other amino acid can do independently. 

Its ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis is one of the reasons why researchers speculate that leucine is the most essential amino acid of all.

According to another study, the amount of leucine necessary to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis is ~3-4g/meal.

Whey protein is well-known for its high leucine content. According to estimates, roughly 10% of the protein content is leucine. So, a scoop of whey isolate containing 27 grams of protein would have approximately 2.7 grams of leucine.

In contrast, hemp protein consists of less leucine at approximately 6.8%. If a scoop has 15 grams of protein, you would get just one gram of leucine, or 62% less.

4. Amino Acid Profile

The following table compares the amino acid composition of whey and hemp proteins per 100 grams. I’ve bolded the amino acids with a significant difference.

Amino AcidHempWhey
Aspartic acid12.58.7
Glutamic acid7.413.9
Isoleucine (*branched chain amino acid)14.9
Leucine (*branched chain amino acid)2.68.6
Valine (*branched chain amino acid)1.34.6

As you can see, whey is significantly higher in all three branched-chain amino acids.

There is also a significant difference in other essential amino acids in favor of whey, including threonine (1.3 vs. 5.7) and lysine (1.4 vs. 7.2). 

Several non-essential amino acids were also significantly lower in hemp protein, but that may be less detrimental, given that the body can produce them to cover its needs.

That said, hemp protein has slightly more aspartic acid, arginine, and glycine. Research links arginine to improved cardiovascular health; glycine is praised for its anti-inflammatory effects.

5. Mixability, Taste, and Texture

Whey protein is known for its superior mixability and taste. When mixed in a shaker bottle, it blends well with liquids and doesn’t form clumps.

Hemp doesn’t mix as readily and often forms clumps. It also has a somewhat ‘earthy’ or ‘nutty’ flavor.

Here’s what some people have said:

“I was really excited this morning. I picked up a box of Hemp Protein Powder at Trader Joe’s with the intention of enriching my kick-ass breakfast smoothies. I opened the box to behold a green powdery substance that made my smoothie feel like sand! I will finish the whole thing, but just wanted to share my mild disappointment!”

Reddit User.

“I see dark-colored slivers of tough hull or husk everywhere & I feel them with every bite.”

Amazon Review.

“I’ve gone through 5-6 containers over the last few months, but Hemp powder seems to have a really gritty and earthy texture that I’m having trouble enjoying and mixing in foods.”

Reddit User.

Additionally, whey protein is available in any flavor, whereas hemp protein appears limited to unflavored, vanilla, and chocolate.

6. Digestibility

According to the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score from the World Health Organization, whey protein is easily digestible with a score of 1.0 (along with milk, casein, egg, and soy protein). 

In contrast, hemp protein’s digestibility score hovers around 0.63-0.66.

Whey protein also has a high biological value, which means the body uses a large percentage of the amino acids for tissue formation (growth).

In contrast, hemp (and other plant proteins) is considered to be more difficult to digest because of the higher fiber content. Further, the protein found in hemp is typically enclosed in fibrous husks, which the body needs to break down.

That said, whey protein (especially concentrate) contains lactose, which not everyone can digest effectively. Those with lactose intolerance may experience bloating, gas, and abdominal pain when consuming whey.

7. Cost

The average cost per serving of whey protein is $1.34 based on our reviews of various whey proteins from multiple brands, including isolates and concentrates.

That said, the highest quality of whey protein typically costs $1.80 to $2 per serving.

The average 30-gram serving of hemp protein is $1.66. This average is based on numerous hemp protein powders on Amazon and other online stores.

8. Environmental Impact

Both hemp and whey proteins have their environmental advantages.

Hemp protein is recognized for its environmental friendliness.

A recent paper highlights hemp’s sustainability and the useful properties of its seed protein, stating:

“..with its sustainability as a plant as well as its distinctive useful property of the seed protein, hemp has promising value in the development of new foods.”

This underscores hemp’s potential as a sustainable food source.

On the other hand, whey protein, often perceived as less environmentally friendly, surprisingly shows a lower environmental impact than expected.

According to a 2019 study using Life Cycle Assessment – a method that evaluates the environmental impacts of a product from material extraction to disposal – whey protein ranks as one of the more sustainable foods.

This study found that:

“The best-performing foods include peanuts, whey, and soy protein isolate, while the worst performing foods include beef, white rice, and bread.”

The sustainability of whey protein is further supported by its long shelf life, its status as a byproduct of cheese production, and its high protein quality.

How To Pick Between Hemp vs. Whey Protein

In addition to the criteria above, other factors that you’ll want to consider when picking between hemp and whey are your goals and lifestyle.

Dietary Restrictions & Lifestyle

Hemp protein will be the clear choice if you follow a plant-based or vegan diet for health or ethical reasons.

Hemp is also a good option if you’re lactose intolerant or have a sensitive stomach and can’t handle whey protein well.

If you have no dietary restrictions or lifestyle choices that prevent you from using whey protein, it is better because it has more protein per calorie and a higher leucine content.

If Your Goal Is Fat Loss

Two things matter more than anything else for fat loss: putting yourself in a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than you need to maintain weight) and getting enough protein (at least 0.8 grams per pound of body weight).

Whey protein is the better option because it has a higher protein-per-calories ratio, which promotes satiety and makes it easier to reach your daily protein target when calories are limited.

Hemp is also suitable for fat loss because it is satiating thanks to the fat and fiber. However, it has significantly less protein per scoop, making it more challenging to hit your protein target without overconsuming calories, carbs, or fats.

If Your Goal Is Muscle Gain

Whey protein is the clear winner for muscle growth because it provides more protein per serving to build and repair muscle and is of higher quality due to its higher leucine content.

In contrast, hemp protein’s quality is somewhat lower, and you get fewer grams per scoop.

If Your Goal Is Overall Health

Some experts argue that hemp protein is better for overall health because it has omega-3s and dietary fiber, encouraging better digestion and heart health.

However, I would argue that the primary purpose of a protein supplement shouldn’t be to boost your omega-3 and fiber intake. The goal should be to get as much high-quality protein as possible from each scoop. In such a case, whey would be the clear winner.

Eating more whole foods, especially fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fatty fish (for EPA and DHA), would be best to increase your intake of these other nutrients.

“Whole foods are higher in nutrients, such as fiber, minerals and vitamins than processed foods and when they make up the majority of a diet, may lower rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Whole foods allow nutrients to act together like they were meant to.”

Rebecca Crumb-Johnson, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist & Registered Dietitian

That said, I recommend picking the protein that’s easier to get, feels better in your stomach, fits within your budget, and is enjoyable to consume. There is no need to overcomplicate your nutrition or stress about it.

6. If Your Goal Is To Reduce Stomach Discomfort

Like the previous consideration, this can differ from person to person.

For instance, hemp protein is better if you are lactose intolerant or suspect you have a dairy sensitivity. However, whey is the better option if you’re sensitive to the higher fiber content of hemp protein. 

The best thing to do is test both and see what feels better.

Hemp Protein Recommendation

Bulk Supplements Organic Hemp Seed Protein

bulk supplements organic hemp seed protein

My top pick for hemp protein is Bulk Supplements Organic Hemp Seed Protein

The product is third-party tested and certified, which means the nutritional label has been verified to match the ingredients in the product in the specified amounts.

It provides all 20 amino acids, omega-3 (ALA), and fiber. The protein content per scoop is 15 grams, about what you can expect from a hemp protein powder.

Whey Protein Recommendations

Transparent Labs Grass Fed Whey Protein

transparent labs grass fed whey protein

The Transparent Labs Grass Fed Whey Protein is one of the best options on the market because it is 93% protein, higher than any other whey protein we’ve reviewed.

Another thing that makes this product stand out is the transparency of the nutritional label, which allows you to see the precise amount of each ingredient. 

Further, it comes with a lab certificate for your specific tub and batch, which you don’t see with most other supplements.

Plus, it tastes incredible, mixes readily with liquids, and has a great texture.

Read our full review here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Hemp The Best Plant-Based Protein?

Hemp is a decent protein source because it has all nine essential amino acids. However, it isn’t the best. Soy protein has a more balanced amino acid profile and more leucine.

Are There Any Potential Allergens In Hemp or Whey Protein?

Yes, both types contain potential allergens.

Hemp is considered safe, but people with an allergy might not respond well to it. Whey is also relatively safe, but people with lactose intolerance may experience digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea.

Which Tastes Better: Hemp Protein or Whey Protein?

While taste is subjective, most people agree that whey protein tastes better than hemp.

It has a smoother and milder taste. Plus, whey has more flavor options to suit more people’s preferences.

Can I Use Hemp Protein & Whey Protein Interchangeable in Recipes?

It’s best not to swap protein powders in recipes because the two types of proteins have different textures, tastes, and mixing capabilities that could affect the outcome.

I recommend looking for recipes that call for the type of protein you have.

Can I Get All My Protein From Hemp or Whey Protein?

Technically, yes. However, it is not recommended because you would miss out on essential nutrients from a whole-food diet.

Consuming all of your protein in supplement form will likely cause nutrient deficiencies.

Can I Use Both Hemp Protein And Whey Protein At The Same Time?

Yes, so long as you don’t have allergies or intolerances.

Other Protein Comparisons


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About The Author

Philip Stefanov

Philip Stefanov is a certified conditioning coach, personal trainer, and fitness instructor. With more than nine years of experience in the industry, he’s helped hundreds of clients improve their nutritional habits, become more consistent with exercise, lose weight in a sustainable way, and build muscle through strength training. He is passionate about writing and has published more than 500 articles on various topics related to healthy nutrition, dieting, calorie and macronutrient tracking, meal planning, fitness and health supplementation, best training practices, and muscle recovery.

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