Whey Protein vs Meat: Which Is Better? (Science-Backed)

If you’re trying to increase your protein intake, you may be wondering whether there are benefits or drawbacks to consuming a lot of whey protein or meat and if one protein source is better.

Here’s my quick answer:

While whey protein is better to consume before and after a workout since it digests quicker, certain meats are superior to whey since they are minimally processed, contain high amounts of nutrients, and are cheaper. As part of a well-rounded diet, you should include both whey and meat to increase your protein intake.

Let’s take a look at the nutritional differences between whey and meat, as well as:

  • The pros and cons of consuming whey vs meat 
  • Whether most of your protein should come from whey or meat
  • When to consume whey or meat

Whey Protein vs Meat: Nutritional Comparison

The table illustrated below outlines the main nutritional differences between whey protein isolate, red meat such as sirloin steak, and white meat such as chicken breast.

While the nutrition comparisons will vary based on the type of whey protein and type of meat, for this article, we will be focusing on the protein options outlined in the table below.

INGREDIENTWHEY PROTEIN ISOLATE
(60 grams or 2 scoops)
RED MEAT
(60 grams Sirloin Steak)
WHITE MEAT
(60 grams Chicken Breast)
Calories2107266
Carbs (g)100
Protein (g)501314
Fats (g)020.75
Saturated Fats (g)00.750.198
Monounsaturated fats (g)00.090.18
Polyunsaturated fats (g)00.810.168
Cholesterol (mg)02035
Sodium (mg)3003239
Vitamin D (mg)000
Calcium (mg)270127
Iron (mg)1.32.70.43
Potassium (mg)300202153
Vitamin A (mcg)000.7

Calories

One notable difference between whey protein powder and meat is that it is quite calorie dense in comparison to the same volume of both red and white meat. 

In whey protein, all of these calories are coming from protein and a small number of carbs, whereas in meat the calories are coming from both protein and fat.

The calorie density in whey protein can be both good and bad, depending on whether you have high or low-calorie requirements. 

If you are trying to gain weight, then consuming whey protein can be very useful.

On the other hand, it might not be a good option for you if your calories are low, and you would likely gain more fullness and satisfaction from getting your protein from meat.

Should you take whey protein?  If so, when and how much?

Carbs

While the whey protein example in the graph above does contain more carbs than meat, the amount is quite negligible at 1 gram per 60 gram serving. 

While this amount will vary depending on the type of protein powder, generally a whey protein isolate will contain a very low amount of carbohydrates.

Meat does not contain any carbohydrates, making it a good choice if you are following a higher protein lower carb diet. 

Since whey protein and meat both contain little to no carbs, they also do not contain any fiber, meaning it is important to obtain fiber from other food sources in your diet. 

Protein

As seen in the above graph, protein powder provides an extremely high amount of protein, even when compared to high-protein meats like sirloin steak and chicken breast. 

This is because whey powder is processed to contain a concentrated amount of protein while leaving out the carbs and fats.

This is what can make whey protein a great choice if your protein targets are high, but you have trouble eating the amount that you need through whole foods alone.

Fats

Another notable difference between whey protein and meat is that meat is a source of dietary fat, while whey protein isolate contains no fat at all. 

If you are watching your fat intake, then whey protein can be a helpful supplement to add to your diet.

On the other hand, some dietary fat is essential for the body to remain healthy and function optimally.

Meat contains a combination of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, all of which are necessary for our health.

When you compare saturated fat to unsaturated fats (poly and monounsaturated fats), you want to aim to consume a higher ratio of unsaturated fats in your diet. 

However, it is important to consume saturated fats as well, since they play a large role in bodily functions such as the formation of cell membranes, and increasing good cholesterol levels.

Micronutrients

While both whey protein powder and meat contain high amounts of micronutrients, it is important to note that the nutrients found in meat are naturally occurring, whereas most whey protein has been fortified, with the nutrients added during processing.

While whey protein powder can be a valuable tool to help you hit your protein targets, it is important to ensure that you are mostly consuming whole food protein sources that contain essential vitamins and minerals, rather than strictly relying on food sources that have been fortified with nutrients.

For example, in the graph below you can see that whey protein isolate is high in Vitamin E and K, both of which are fat-soluble vitamins. Consuming these fortified vitamins in whey protein without the presence of fat can affect how effectively you absorb the nutrient.

On the other hand, meat is a great whole foods source of nutrients such as magnesium, selenium, choline, and phosphorus. These nutrients are naturally occurring within the food, meaning that you are more likely to receive and absorb the correct and healthy amount of vitamins and minerals.

NUTRIENTWHEY PROTEIN ISOLATE
(100 grams)
RED MEAT
(100 grams Sirloin Steak)
WHITE MEAT
(100 grams Chicken Breast)
Vitamin B12 (%DV)145%66%8%
Vitamin B6 (%DV)89%43%76%
Vitamin B3 (%DV)73%45%69%
Vitamin B5 (%DV)116%11%30%
Vitamin B2 (%DV)76%10%17%
Vitamin B1 (%DV)73%6%7%
Choline (%DV)41%19%20%
Vitamin E (%DV)52%3%2%
Vitamin K (%DV)39%1%0%
Zinc (%DV)62%35%6%
Selenium (%DV)74%53%77%
Phosphorous (%DV)58%21%25%
Copper (mg)129%9%4%
Magnesium (mg)55%5%7%

Amino Acids

Whey protein and meat have one important thing in common, they both contain all 9 of the essential amino acids. This is especially important, as our body cannot make these amino acids, therefore they must be acquired through our food.

Per 100 grams, whey protein provides a higher amount of these essential and non-essential amino acids since it is a more condensed form of protein.

Amino acids are crucial for functions such as repairing tissue in the body, breaking down food, providing energy, boosting immunity, and maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails. 

The 9 essential amino acids are in bold font in the graph below.

AMINO ACIDWHEY PROTEIN ISOLATE
(100 grams)
RED MEAT
(100 grams Sirloin Steak)
WHITE MEAT
(100 grams Chicken Breast)
Histidine (g)1.60.9421.2
Isoleucine (g)4.61.341.57
Leucine (g)8.82.352.65
Lysine (g)7.52.53.1
Methionine (g)1.60.770.834
Phenylalanine (g)2.61.171.3
Threonine (g)4.51.21.44
Tryptophan (g)1.30.1950.404
Valine (g)4.41.341.66
Alanine (g)3.51.81.87
Arginine (g)2.31.912.17
Aspartic Acid (g)8.42.673.02
Cysteine (g)1.70.3810.336
Glutamic Acid (g)13.34.434.75
Glycine (g)1.41.781.42
Proline (g)6.61.411.02
Serine (g)4.61.1621.22
Tyrosine (g)2.30.941.2

Pros and Cons of Consuming Meat

Pros vs Cons of consuming meat

Pros

1. Provides high-quality protein: The protein in meat is considered high quality since it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids that are easily absorbed and utilized by the body.

2. High in Essential Bioavailable Nutrients: Not only does meat contain a lot of essential vitamins and minerals, but it also contains essential fats that are necessary for your health. In particular, grass-fed meat contains high amounts of Omega 3 fats, which play a large role in good health.

3. Satisfying and delicious to eat: In general, you are going to feel more full and satisfied after eating a meal containing whole foods such as meat, in comparison to drinking a shake. Not only that, but you can prepare meat in a wide variety of delicious and satiating ways that will contribute to diet satisfaction.

Cons

1. High in saturated fat: While some saturated fat is okay in your diet, getting too much of it can raise bad cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.

2. Lacks fiber and can cause constipation: Eating lots of meat can cause constipation since it does not contain any fiber. Therefore, it is important to ensure you are eating enough fiber rich foods alongside meat.

Pros and Cons of Consuming Whey Protein

Pros vs Cons of consuming whey protein

Pros

1. Provides high-quality protein: Like meat, whey protein is considered a high-quality protein source since it contains all 9 essential amino acids that can be quickly absorbed by the body.

2. Quick and convenient source of nutrition: An obvious benefit to whey protein is that it’s a quick, easy, and efficient source of protein that does not need to be prepared or cooked. It is also very versatile and can be used in protein bars, breakfast cereals, and protein bars.

3. Low in saturated fat: If you are looking to reduce your intake of saturated fat, then consuming whey protein instead of fattier cuts of meat would be a good option for you. In fact, whey protein isolate typically contains no fat, making it a good choice if you are wanting to keep fat intake low.

Cons

1. Can contain processed ingredients and artificial sweeteners: The main pitfall of most whey protein powders is that they often contain processed ingredients and artificial sweeteners that can either have negative effects on your health.

2. Can contain possible impurities: Since protein supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it is possible that they can contain harmful fillers or even heavy metals that are terrible for your health.

3. Can cause digestive issues: Similar to meat, protein powder lacks fiber which can contribute to constipation. Not only that, but some people experience digestive issues such as bloating, stomach cramps, gas, and even nausea from consuming whey protein.

4. May not provide the same satisfaction that comes from eating whole foods: While protein powder can come in many delicious flavor varieties, the artificial flavor might not provide the same type of satisfaction that you can get out of a meal consisting of whole foods.

Should Most of Your Protein Come from Whey Protein or Meat?

Whether you decide to get your protein from whey protein or meat comes down mostly to personal preference, since both offer a high-quality source of complete protein. 

With that said, I highly recommend that you try to include a variety of high protein food sources in your diet, including whey protein, meat, and even plant-based proteins in order to hit your targets.

The benefits that come from changing up your protein sources are that you will be consuming a wider variety of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. 

Not only that, but varying the types of high-protein foods you are eating will help you to not feel bored with your meals, and potentially contribute to more satisfaction with your diet plan.

If you have high protein requirements, it is my recommendation to aim to eat at least 80% of your protein from whole food sources.

This includes foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Then, if you are still under your protein targets, you can use whey protein as a supplement to your diet to reach your goals.

Remember that while whey protein can be an effective and delicious tool to help you hit your protein goals, it is not necessary to take protein supplements to reach your goals.

Is Whey Protein or Meat More Expensive?

One more reason to try and get the majority of your protein from whole food sources such as meat is that meat tends to be less expensive in comparison with whey protein. 

While this will vary depending on the cut of meat and the brand of protein that you choose, generally it is safe to say that meat is less expensive than protein powder.

For example, the average cost of chicken is around $0.02 per gram, while whey protein powder is double that cost at around $0.04 per gram.  

When To Consume Whey Protein or Meat

Is It Better to Drink Whey Protein or Eat Meat Before a Workout?

Drinking whey protein may be better than eating meat before a workout since whey protein is digested more quickly and won’t be sitting heavy in your stomach while training.

However, if you would rather get your protein from meat, choose a lean source such as egg whites or white fish to avoid slow digestion.

Is It Better to Drink Whey Protein or Eat Meat After a Workout?

Consuming protein after your workout is important to help your muscles rebuild and repair.

While consuming a fast-digesting whey protein can be a great option post-workout, it is equally as beneficial to acquire your protein from meat, since both contain the protein and essential amino acids that you need.

Is It Better to Drink Whey Protein or Eat Meat Before Bed?

When you are eating a meal before bed, it is more beneficial to choose a source of protein that is slower digesting, and will ultimately keep your blood sugar more stable throughout the night and feeling fuller for longer.

For this reason, having meat in your last meal before bed is a better choice than whey protein.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Protein From Meat Better Than Protein Powder?

Both meat and whey protein contain protein and amino acids that contribute to muscle repair and growth. While both are good quality sources of protein, the protein found in meat could be considered superior since it’s less processed and accompanied by other nutrients that aren’t in whey protein.

Is It Better to Eat Meat or Whey Protein?

While meat and whey protein both provide unique benefits, protein powder should be used as more of a supplement rather than a replacement. Even if you don’t want to consume meat, it’s best to consume protein from a variety of different whole food sources, rather than relying on one food source or supplement alone.  

Can I Drink Whey Protein Instead of Eating Meat?

Drinking whey protein can be an alternative to meat. Like meat, whey protein contains all 9 essential amino acids that are important for your health. However, you should not be getting your protein from whey protein alone, and instead aim to eat a variety of foods, including plant-based proteins such as whole grains.

Other Whey Protein Resources

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About The Author

COLBY ROY

Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.