Hemp Protein vs Whey Protein

While hemp protein and whey protein are both considered complete proteins, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids (EAAs), there are differences in the overall amino acid composition, macronutrient and micronutrient content, digestibility, taste, price, and health benefits. Here we’ll explore these differences and help you make a choice between hemp protein vs whey protein to help meet your health and fitness goals.

Comparing hemp protein vs whey protein

Processing of hemp and whey into protein powder

Hemp is made from defatted hemp seeds, either dehulled or non-dehulled, which are ground into a fine powder.

Whey is a byproduct of the cheese-making process. Chemicals are often used to remove lactose and fat from whey to create a high-protein, low-calorie product.

Forms of hemp and whey protein powder

Hemp protein powder is made from either dehulled or non-dehulled hemp seeds which makes a difference in the nutrient composition and digestibility.

  • Dehulled hemp seeds are lower in fiber and the protein is easier to digest
  • Non-dehulled hemp seeds are higher in fiber, but the high-fiber content may inhibit the digestion and absorption of some of the protein, vitamins, and minerals

Whey can be processed into a concentrate, isolate, or hydrolysate. Each form has varying amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrates (in the form of lactose).

  • Concentrate contains 30-90% protein and may be more difficult for those with lactose intolerance to digest; concentrate is also typically  higher in fat and calories
  • Isolate contains 90-95% protein and very little lactose
  • Hydrolysate contains greater than 95% protein and is easiest to digest since nearly all of the lactose and fat is removed

Amino acid profile

Hemp protein contains all 9 EAAs but is lower in leucine and lysine than whey protein. The lower leucine content is inadequate to promote maximal muscle protein synthesis (MPS) which is needed for muscle growth. The amino acid content of hemp is similar to egg whites and soy. Hemp protein powder usually contains 12-14 grams of protein per 100 calories.

Whey protein is high in all 9 EAAs with an optimal amount of leucine to maximize MPS which is why it’s often preferred by athletes and weight lifters. Most whey protein powder contains 20-24 grams of protein per 100 calories.

Nutrient profile

Hemp protein is high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and contains around 3-8 grams of fiber per 30-gram serving. Hemp is also a great source of iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and magnesium (1).

Whey protein is more concentrated in protein and has lower amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and calories than hemp. Whey is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins (2).

Rate of digestion

Hemp is considered a medium-digesting protein.

  • Hemp protein is digested and absorbed at a rate of 4-7 grams/per hour
  • For some people, hemp protein may cause gas and bloat due to its high fiber content

Whey is considered a fast-digesting protein.

  • Whey protein is digested at a rate of 8-10 grams/per hour
  • While all forms of whey are fast-digesting, whey hydrolysate will digest the fastest, followed by isolate, and concentrate

Taste & texture

Hemp protein powder tends to be brownish-green in color with a rough or gritty texture and earthy flavor (sometimes described as ‘nutty’ or ‘grassy’).

Whey protein powder is usually a yellow-white color with a smooth texture and neutral flavor. It tends to mix well with water and has a creamy texture and mouthfeel. Flavored whey protein powder may vary in its coloring.

Price of hemp protein vs whey protein

Hemp protein costs a bit less than whey per ounce, but whey protein is usually cheaper per gram of protein.

  • Hemp protein powder costs around $1.00 per 1-ounce serving and is around $2.00 per 25 grams of protein
  • Whey protein powder usually costs between $1.25-$1.75 for both a 1-ounce serving and 25 grams of protein

Health benefits

Hemp protein

  • Bone health: contains calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus which help with bone remodeling and bone strength
  • Digestive health: contains fiber which may promote regular bowel movements
  • Heart health: may decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels (3)
  • Cognitive health: omega-3 fatty acids present in hemp may reduce inflammation and protect against cognitive decline

Whey protein

  • Muscle growth: promotes muscle building due to the high amount of leucine which is essential for muscle protein synthesis; the high protein content increases insulin production which aids in muscle growth
  • Weight management: increasing protein intake is shown to suppress appetite, preserve muscle mass, and improve blood sugar control, all of which can promote improved body composition, weight maintenance, and possibly weight loss (4, 5, 6); whey protein can be used as an occasional meal replacement, weight loss aid, and performance enhancer 
  • Immune support: contains immunoglobulins which can decrease inflammation boost the immune response and protect against oxidative stress (7, 8)
  • Heart health: may decrease blood pressure (9)
  • Mental health: may reduce stress and depression
Hemp ProteinWhey Protein
Processing-Mechanical processing: defatted hemp seeds are ground into a powder-Chemical processing: lactose & fat are chemically removed from dried whey
Forms-Dehulled: lower in fiber but easier to digest
-Non-dehulled: higher in fiber but difficult to digest
-Concentrate: higher in kcal, fat, & carbs; lowest in protein; may be difficult to digest if lactose-intolerant
-Isolate: low in kcal, fat, & carbs; high in protein
-Hydrolysate: lowest in kcal, fat, & carbs; highest in protein; easiest to digest
Amino Acid Profile-All 9 EAAs but lower in lysine & leucine
-12-14 g protein per 100 kcal
-Optimal amount of all 9 EAAs for MPS
-20-24 g protein per 100 kcal
Nutrient Profile-High in omega-3 PUFAs
-High in fiber
-Good source of iron, potassium, zinc, copper, magnesium
-Lower in carbs, fat, & kcal
-Good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, selenium, & B vitamins
Rate of Digestion-Medium-digesting
-4-7 g/hour
-Fast-digesting
-8-10 g/hour
Color, Taste, & Texture-Brownish-green color
-Rough/gritty texture
-Earthy, nutty, grassy flavor
-Yellow-white color
-Smooth texture
-Neutral flavor
Price-$1.00 per oz
-$2.00 per 25 g protein
-$1.25-$1.75 per oz
-$1.25-$1.75 per 25 g protein
Health Benefits-Contains minerals beneficial for bone strength
-Improves digestion due to fiber content
-Promotes healthy blood pressure & cholesterol levels
-Protects against cognitive decline
-Ideal AA profile for muscle growth
-Promotes weight management
-Lowers inflammation & supports the immune system
-Promotes healthy blood pressure
-Reduces stress and depression

Final thoughts: hemp protein vs whey protein

Hemp protein and whey protein both have notable health benefits but may serve different purposes as protein supplements. Overall, hemp protein is a great choice if you want a lactose-free protein powder that is high in fiber and omega-3s. If you want to ensure adequate EAAs for muscle growth and fast absorption, whey protein may help you reach your fitness goals more efficiently.

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Photo of Collette Sinnott, RD, LD

Collette is a registered dietitian and has over a decade of experience working with athletes, children & adults on tube feeding, and people with chronic health conditions. She has been writing about food and nutrition since she was in high school and has a passion for sharing evidence-based information, especially on the topics of protein and the importance of maintaining muscle mass for healthy aging.

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