Whey vs. Hemp Protein Powder: Amino Acid Profile Comparison


Whey protein has always been the gold standard when it comes to protein powders, whether for bodybuilding or sport nutrition.

When it comes to plant alternatives, hemp is generally regarded as one of the best options, and is often included in vegan protein powders along with pea protein.

So let’s take a look at the difference between the 2 protein powders.

Whey vs. Hemp Protein Amino Acid Comparison

The best way I know of to compare protein sources is to compare them both to a baseline – a complete protein (although being “complete” isn’t necessarily that important).

Since protein powder will always have a high amount of protein, we only need to look at the distribution of essential amino acids.

Here’s a summary table for both hemp and whey, alongside the minimum percentage of each amino acid in a “complete” protein, defined by the WHO (note that these values have changed over time, and may in the future):

Amino Acid Complete Protein (min %) Hemp Protein (%) Whey Protein (%)
Histidine 1.5 2.7 1.7
Isoleucine 3 4.5 6.4
Leucine 5.9 6.8 10.6
Lysine 4.5 3.8 9.6
Methionine+Cysteine 2.2 4.6 4.4
Phenylalanine+Tyrosine 3 8 5.6
Threonine 2.3 3.9 6.7
Valine 3.9 5.6 5.9

Not surprisingly, whey is a complete protein. It easily exceeds the minimum percentage needed of all essential amino acid groups.

Hemp is quite close, but a little low on lysine. As long as it’s not your only protein source, that’s not a big deal.

For reference, here’s a page of the best vegan lysine food sources. Legumes, nuts, seeds, and even some grains all have a good amount.

Macro Comparison of Hemp and Whey Protein Powder

I picked a popular protein powder isolate for both hemp and whey to compare their macros together.

  Hemp Protein (Nutiva) Whey Protein (ON Gold)
Serving Size 30 g 30.4 g
Calories 110 120
Fat 3 g 1.5 g
Carbohydrate 8 g 3 g
Fiber 6 g 0 g
Protein 15 g 24 g

While the serving size and calories are pretty similar:

  • Hemp protein has much more fiber
  • Whey protein has considerably more protein

Most hemp protein has similar macros, so it’s not just this brand.

If you’re looking for a 1:1 plant protein replacement for whey, you’ll want to focus on pea protein. See my vegan vs whey protein comparison for a side-by-side look.

Digestibility of Hemp vs Whey

One of the most common misconceptions about protein is that plant proteins digest absolutely horribly.

These claims are based on tests like PDCAAS and Biological Value (BV), which test proteins in isolation, and also in rats (humans digest protein a bit differently).

The results just don’t reflect reality.

Studies that have looked at the effect of supplementing plant vs animal proteins have always found that it either doesn’t matter at all, or just a small amount.

Here’s one such study that looked at supplementing rice vs whey protein powder for 8 weeks and found they were equally effective (and rice is one of the “lower quality” plant proteins).

Both whey and rice protein isolate administration post resistance exercise improved indices of body composition and exercise performance; however, there were no differences between the two groups.

Research shows that hemp seed meal has a 90.8-97.5 protein digestibility percentage. Realistically, I just don’t think digestibility is a concern.

Is Hemp Protein Better Than Whey Protein?

If anything, whey is probably the “better” protein by most definitions, but not by a huge amount.

Both hemp and whey are good protein sources for any athlete, and it’s not going to make a difference in your results whether you use one over the other.

Is Hemp The Best Plant-Based Protein?

The only plant-based protein with a more complete amino acid profile is soy. However, from what I’ve seen, most people prefer the taste of hemp over soy protein powder.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.