Hemp Protein vs Whey Protein: Is Hemp Effective?

Protein powders have been popular supplements for a long time, but hemp protein is a relatively new plant-based addition to grocery store shelves and online marketplaces. 

Vegans, plant-based eaters, and individuals simply looking to reduce their consumption of animal products may wonder whether hemp protein is as effective as whey for building muscle. Others may not even be sure what hemp protein actually is.

That’s where I come in – I’ll discuss the key similarities and differences between hemp protein vs. whey so you can wonder no more!

A shaker bottle and scoop of protein powder on a marble countertop with text overlay reading "hemp protein vs. whey, is hemp effective?"

What is hemp protein?

Hemp protein is a dry, protein-rich powder made from hemp seeds. It’s a dietary supplement used most often by vegans and plant-based eaters who want a convenient way to get more protein in their diet or who are trying to build muscle. 

To make hemp protein powder, hemp seeds are processed to remove most of the carbohydrates and fats. The process includes:

  1. Harvesting fresh hemp seeds and drying them
  2. Washing the hemp seeds and removing their tough outer shells, leaving the tender hemp “hearts”
  3. Cold-pressing the hemp hearts to remove most of the oil
  4. Grinding the remaining dry, protein-rich solids into a fine powder
  5. Adding other additives like flavorings, if desired by the manufacturer

And there’s no need to worry about getting “high” from hemp protein – hemp is indeed a type of cannabis plant, but it contains only a negligible amount of THC.

What is whey protein?

Whey protein is a popular dietary supplement used to help build muscle after resistance training and to help people eat more protein in general. It’s a byproduct of cheesemaking and is produced by:

  1. Pasteurizing milk to kill harmful bacteria and microorganisms
  2. Adding rennet to the milk, separating it into solid curds (cheese) and liquid whey
  3. Liquid whey is filtered to remove most of the fats and carbohydrates, producing whey protein concentrate
  4. Optionally, whey protein concentrate can be further filtered into whey protein isolate, which is higher in protein
  5. Whey is spray-dried into a dry powder
  6. Other additives like flavorings are added if desired

Benefits of protein powder supplements

Protein powders are popular, but do they really provide any additional benefits over getting protein from whole foods? 

While I recommend that people regularly include whole food sources of protein at every meal, protein powders can fill in nutritional gaps and make it easier for people with higher protein requirements to get enough. The main benefits of protein powders are listed below:

1. Helps build muscle size and strength

In order to build muscle during a resistance training program, the body requires more protein than usual. Lifting weights breaks down the muscle, which must be repaired in order for the body to build it back up stronger than it was before that workout. 

Dietary protein from foods and protein powder is made up of amino acids, which the body uses to rebuild muscle. 

It can be challenging for many people to get the recommended amount of protein for building muscle (about 20-40 grams1 every 3-4 hours or up to 1.6 grams2 per kilogram of body weight per day) from food alone without overshooting their calories for the day or feeling uncomfortably full. 

Protein powder can make this much easier.

2. Helps with fat loss while maintaining muscle

An unfortunately common side effect of losing weight is the loss of muscle, which can lower your metabolic rate and increase the risk of frailty later in life if not corrected. The ideal situation is to burn body fat while minimizing the loss of muscle, a process called “body recomposition”.

Fortunately, including some resistance training while eating in a higher-protein calorie deficit can help improve the body’s ratio of fat to muscle, according to a 2020 study3 in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome. 

As with building muscle, protein powders can make it much easier to meet your protein goals while trying to lose body fat.

3. Helps improve protein intake when appetite is poor

Protein powders can be especially helpful for people who struggle to eat enough during the day, as is common in older adults,  people suffering from depression, post-surgical patients, and cancer patients. They can easily be blended into smoothies and shakes or added to oatmeal, providing additional calories and protein.

Hemp protein vs whey: key differences

Nutrition content

How do the nutrition profiles of hemp and whey protein differ? Let’s compare their macros and micronutrients below using two popular brands as examples: Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah! Max Protein Powder and Naked Nutrition Naked Whey Protein Powder.

Both products are unsweetened. The chart below is based on the serving sizes recommended by each brand:

Chart showing the nutrition profile of hemp protein powder and whey protein powder

As you can see, hemp protein is a little higher in calories than whey due to its higher fat content. Some of this fat is from omega-3 fatty acids, a type of anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fat with important benefits for the heart and brain.

Per serving, whey protein provides 5 more grams of protein and is higher in calcium. Hemp protein, meanwhile, contains more dietary fiber, iron, and potassium. 

Hemp protein and whey both contain all nine essential amino acids required by the body for optimal health. The proportions of certain amino acids vary slightly, but both of these proteins are considered “complete” proteins.

Hemp protein and whey protein are both good sources of zinc, although zinc content wasn’t reported on the nutrition facts label for Naked Whey Protein. Zinc and iron can be more challenging to get on a plant-based diet, so hemp protein powder can be a helpful addition to a vegan diet.

Overall, whey protein provides more protein with fewer calories and is higher in calcium, while hemp protein is a better source of iron, dietary fiber, omega-3 fats, and potassium. Hemp protein is also lower in leucine, an amino acid important for building muscle which I’ll discuss in more detail below.

Protein quality & effects on muscle

Whey protein is considered the “gold standard” when compared to other types of protein powder because of how effective it is4 for building muscle. While the benefits of whey protein for building muscle are well-proven, there’s been almost no research on the effectiveness of hemp protein.

The only study to date that has tested hemp protein for muscle is a 2016 conference abstract5, with no peer-reviewed version available. Researchers gave forty men and women 40 grams of hemp or soy protein per day during an 8-week resistance training program. They found that hemp protein supplements increased strength and muscle thickness in women, but only improved fatigue in men.

However, seeing as this was one study with only forty participants, we need more research in order to be confident in these findings.

We do know that hemp protein has a lower protein quality score than whey, meaning that the protein in hemp isn’t absorbed quite as efficiently by the body. Its digestibility is still pretty high, however, as the digestibility of hemp protein6 made from de-hulled hemp seeds ranges between 85-95%.

Hemp protein is also lower in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), essential amino acids that include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine is particularly important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis (the process of building muscle). 

Woman lifting a heavy barbell over her head

Because of this, you may need to consume more hemp protein at a time than you would with whey in order to get the same benefits. The amount needed will vary based on the product. 

 According to an email I received from Monitoba Harvest, there are 1.4 grams of leucine per serving in their Hemp Yeah! Max Protein powder. Using this number, you’d need about two servings (8 total tablespoons) to get the recommended 2.7 grams of leucine for stimulating muscle growth. 

If you mix hemp protein with high-protein plant-based milks, such as soy or pea, you won’t need as much hemp protein to meet the leucine recommendation since these milk alternatives also contain leucine.

Research may be limited on hemp protein, but vegans shouldn’t worry. Soy protein is another plant-based protein powder that is just as effective for building lean muscle mass and strength as whey protein. Research on pea protein is increasing, and while there isn’t as much support for it as soy protein just yet, the results have been promising. 

If you’re interested in reading more about the benefits of these other plant-based proteins for muscle, check out Pea Protein vs. Soy Protein: How Do They Compare?


According to a 2016 systematic review7, diets higher in plant-based foods tend to be better for the environment than diets high in animal-based foods. This makes sense, considering that the production of plant-based foods usually requires less land and water and emits fewer greenhouse gases. 

There’s some nuance for specific foods, but this holds true for hemp protein. Whey protein is a byproduct of the dairy industry, meaning that the negative impact of dairy farming is linked to the production of whey. 

Hemp, on the other hand, is considered a sustainable crop by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. According to their 2022 report8, hemp farming doesn’t require much energy, helps absorb carbon dioxide from the environment, and is a useful strategy for mitigating climate change.

Animal welfare

When looking at our food choices, it’s important to consider how they affect the animals with which we share our planet. The dairy industry is known for unethical practices9 such as the forced and repeated insemination of dairy cows, painful dehorning, inadequate pain relief, tail docking, and separation of mothers from their calves soon after birth. 

As a plant-based product, hemp protein offers an animal-friendly alternative to whey protein. 

Cows lined up to feed at a farm


Hemp and whey protein are both used as dietary supplements to improve protein intake. To date, hemp protein hasn’t been nearly as well-studied as whey for its ability to help build muscle, but preliminary research has shown some benefits. 

Hemp protein is lower in BCAAs than whey, however, meaning you may need to eat more of it to get the same muscle-building benefits. 

As a plant-based product, hemp protein is better for the environment and animals than whey, making it a helpful choice for vegans and plant-based eaters looking for a convenient way to improve their protein intake.

Interested in learning more about hemp protein in its whole form as hemp seeds? Check out my article on Hemp Seeds vs. Chia Seeds – Which is Better?

Hemp protein vs whey – FAQs

Can you gain muscle on hemp protein?

Yes, many people have gained muscle successfully using hemp protein. Studies on hemp protein are limited, so we aren’t sure exactly how effective it is compared to other proteins. You may need to consume more hemp protein (compared to whey or soy protein) to make up for its lower BCAA content.

What is the benefit of hemp protein?

Hemp protein is a vegan, plant-based protein powder that also contains omega-3 fats, iron, dietary fiber, and potassium. Compared to whey protein, it’s more environmentally friendly and isn’t associated with ethical issues seen in the dairy industry. 

Is hemp protein better than whey protein?

Hemp protein is higher in omega-3 fats, iron, and potassium than whey protein, but is lower in BCAAs. It’s a great plant-based option for including more protein in the diet, but you may need to consume more of it (compared to whey and soy protein) to make up for its lower BCAA content and to get the same muscle-building benefits.

The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.


  1. Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
  2. Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults [published correction appears in Br J Sports Med. 2020 Oct;54(19):e7]. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(6):376-384. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608
  3. Moon J, Koh G. Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2020;29(3):166-173. doi:10.7570/jomes20028
  4. Li M , Liu F . Effect of whey protein supplementation during resistance training sessions on body mass and muscular strength: a meta-analysis. Food Funct. 2019;10(5):2766-2773. doi:10.1039/c9fo00182d
  5. Kaviani, Mojtaba & Chilibeck, Philip & Toles, Keely & Farthing, Jonathan & Candow, Darren. (2016). The benefits of hemp powder supplementation during resistance training.
  6. Farinon B, Molinari R, Costantini L, Merendino N. The seed of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.): Nutritional Quality and Potential Functionality for Human Health and Nutrition. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):1935. Published 2020 Jun 29. doi:10.3390/nu12071935
  7. Nelson ME, Hamm MW, Hu FB, Abrams SA, Griffin TS. Alignment of Healthy Dietary Patterns and Environmental Sustainability: A Systematic Review. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(6):1005-1025. Published 2016 Nov 15. doi:10.3945/an.116.012567
  8. United Nations. Commodities at a glance: special issue on industrial hemp. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. No 16. eISBN: 978-92-1-001995-8. November 2022.
  9. Croney CC, Anthony R. Invited review: ruminating conscientiously: scientific and socio-ethical challenges for US dairy production. J Dairy Sci. 2011;94(2):539-546. doi:10.3168/jds.2010-3627

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