Short answer: No. Whey protein isolate powder is NOT vegan friendly.
Slightly longer answer, but still pretty short: Whey is a derivative of the cheese-making process. Protein is extracted from it and packaged into a powdered form to sell as a protein isolate powder.
Technically, you can extract protein from whey that is made while creating a vegan cheese. However, I’ve yet to see a commercial whey protein powder that is from a vegan protein source.
Stick to the protein sources found in popular vegan protein powders like peas, hemp, and soy.
Why is Why Used in Most Protein Powders
Most protein powders are not vegan because they contain whey or casein. It’s the cheapest to make, and until recently, most people thought it was superior to any alternative.
Both of these specific types of proteins are derived from milk:
- Whey absorbs quickly, so is popular in the bodybuilding community. The idea is that the sooner you can absorb protein after a workout, the faster the muscle repair process begins (whether or not that’s true is another story).
- Casein absorbs slowly. It’s still used in protein supplements, but not as often. Usually taken before going to sleep in the hopes of having a steady protein supply for repairing muscles.
The reason that plant protein powders haven’t really become widespread until now is because there’s a stigma (as a result of “bro-science” mainly) that it’s not as effective.
However, studies have shown that plant protein powder is just as effective as whey.
The confusion comes from the fact that plant protein (in the whole food) doesn’t absorb as well as animal proteins. Once you extract the protein from the whole food, it digests just as well.