Is Whey Protein Vegan?

September 11, 2023

Identifying whether or not whey protein is vegan can be quite a challenging task.

This difficulty primarily arises from manufacturers often concealing the true nature and source of their ingredients.

However, this article aims to uncover the truth and support you, our conscientious reader, in your steadfast commitment to a vegan lifestyle.

Is Whey Protein Vegan?

No, whey protein is not vegan. It’s a product derived from milk, which is an animal product, and hence doesn’t align with a vegan diet that excludes all forms of animal exploitation.

Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, the liquid material created as a by-product of cheese production. The proteins in whey include α-lactalbumin, β-lactoglobulin, serum albumin, and immunoglobulins. It also contains glycomacropeptide, which, despite not being a protein, is the third largest component​​.

Moreover, there are four major types of commercially produced whey protein: whey protein concentrates (WPC), whey protein isolates (WPI), whey protein hydrolysates (WPH), and native whey protein. All these types are derived from milk, which is an animal product, and therefore not vegan-friendly​​.

Is Whey Protein Cruelty-Free?

Just as whey protein is not vegan, it’s also not cruelty-free. As previously mentioned, whey is a by-product of cheese production. During the cheese-making process, milk is coagulated, and everything soluble from the milk after the pH is dropped to 4.6 forms the whey.

The production of cow’s milk, and therefore whey protein, involves the exploitation of dairy cows, which is a form of animal cruelty.

While it’s true that an ingredient can, in some cases, be non-vegan but still cruelty-free, in the case of whey protein it’s unlikely. The mainstream dairy industry is notorious for its inhumane treatment of live animals. It simply cannot be cruelty-free. If you want cruelty-free dairy products, find locally sourced products from certified organic farmers.

What Is Whey Protein Made Of?

Before delving into the vegan alternatives to whey protein, it’s essential to fully understand what whey protein is made of. Here’s a bulleted list of the key components in whey protein:

  • α-lactalbumin
  • β-lactoglobulin
  • Serum albumin
  • Immunoglobulins
  • Glycomacropeptide
  • Lactose
  • Lipids
  • Minerals


α-lactalbumin is a protein that forms a significant part of the protein content in whey. It’s derived from cow’s milk and is not vegan.


β-lactoglobulin is another major protein in whey, derived from cow’s milk. It’s not vegan due to its animal origin​​.

Serum albumin

Serum albumin is part of the protein content in whey and, like the other proteins, is derived from cow’s milk, making it non-vegan​.


Immunoglobulins are proteins present in whey, and since they originate from cow’s milk, they’re not vegan​​.


Glycomacropeptide is a long chain of amino acids and forms the third largest component of whey protein. While it’s not technically a protein, it’s derived from the milk of cows and is therefore not vegan​​.


Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and is present in whey. It’s an animal-derived product and is not suitable for vegan consumption.

Vegan Alternatives to Whey Protein

If you’re looking for vegan protein powders to supplement your protein intake, there’s good news. There are several plant-based protein powders that can provide the essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth. Here are some examples and popular brands:

  • Pea protein: It’s a great source of branched chain amino acids, which are important for muscle growth. Examples include NOW Sports Pea Protein Powder and Anthony’s Premium Pea Protein.
  • Brown rice protein: This is a high-quality, plant-based protein. Despite being slightly lower in protein per serving compared to whey, it is still a good source of protein.
  • Soy protein: A complete protein source, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s a good alternative for those transitioning from whey proteins to plant-based proteins.

You can also consider vegan protein smoothies that combine various plant proteins to ensure a balanced amino acid profile. This can be an important part of a vegan diet and a good alternative to both whey and many protein powders on the market.


In conclusion, while whey protein supplements are popular food supplements for muscle mass development due to their high protein vs carbohydrate ratio, they are not suitable for a vegan lifestyle. These products are derived from cow’s milk and are therefore neither vegan nor cruelty-free.

Thankfully, the growing market for plant-based proteins offers a variety of alternatives that can fit seamlessly into a vegan diet. From pea protein to brown rice and soy protein, there are plentiful vegan protein sources that can be used to achieve your nutritional goals without compromising your values.