Beef Protein vs. Whey Protein Powder: Which Is Better?

September 22, 2021

With fitness being all the rage, and sports supplements being a multibillion-dollar industry, supplement companies are more than happy to present you with the newest, latest, and greatest products without any scientific proof about their claims.

All you need is a jacked bodybuilder holding your supplements and that’s enough to convince the average lifter. But I know you’re not the average lifter since you are doing your own research about these products.

While whey protein has a superior essential amino acid profile and faster absorption rate, beef protein has longer-lasting amino acids within the bloodstream and shows the same, if not better gains in muscle mass and strength compared to whey protein when taken after a workout.

Much of the arguments against beef protein are that they mainly consist of collagen protein instead of muscle-building amino acids. Turns out, this may only be a brand issue. Not a beef protein powder issue.

What Is Beef Protein?

What Is Beef Protein

Beef protein powder is exactly what it sounds like. Beef! But a much leaner and easily digestible version that mixes in water and tastes like chocolate (or vanilla depending on your flavor preference).

It’s important to note that not all beef protein powders are made the same. If you see a cheap tub on the shelf at your local supplement store, it’s cheap for a reason. 

Cheap beef protein powders are made with unwanted beef products such as ligaments, hooves, and ears making them generally higher in collagen and lower in protein that will actually help you build muscle.

High-quality beef protein powders have amino acid profiles similar to real beef without the use of these unwanted beef products.

What Is Whey Protein?

What Is Whey Protein

Whey protein powder is a derivative of milk. Milk is separated into whey and casein when undergoing its transformation into cheese. Whey used to be a waste product of this process being thrown in the dumpster. Lucky for us, a smart man decided to repackage it as protein powder.

Compared to milk itself, whey protein is much higher in protein, and low in fat and carbohydrates as whey is the protein extracted from milk.

Beef Protein vs. Whey Protein

Now you know what beef and whey protein are and how they are made, it’s time to do a comparison. How do these two protein sources match up when it comes to building muscle and recovering after a workout?

Bioavailability

Header

Whey Protein

Beef Protein

Protein Digestibility Score

1.00

0.92

The protein digestibility score ranges from 0 to 1 which represents the quality of the protein source based on its essential amino acid content. Whey protein beats beef protein powder in the category of bioavailability but not by much [1].

There are much worse foods that are often touted as great sources of protein such as black beans (0.75) or peanuts (0.52). The higher bioavailability of whey protein means more of the ingested protein can be used for building new proteins.

Amino Acids

Next, we have the amino acid composition of whey and beef protein powders.

Header

Whey Protein

Beef Protein

Total Protein

80%

98%

EAAs (per 100 g)

37.3

18.1

BCAAs (per 100 g)

17.7

8.0

CEAAs (per 100 g)

29.5

51.1

Alanine

3.8

8.1

Arginine

1.9

6.9

Aspartic Acid

8.7

5.8

Cysteine

1.4

0.1

Glutamic Acid

13.7

10.5

Glycine

1.6

19.4

Histidine

1.4

1.1

Isoleucine

5.0

1.6

Leucine

8.2

3.6

Lysine

7.1

3.6

Methionine

1.6

0.9

Phenylalanine

2.6

2.2

Proline

4.8

10.1

Serine

4.0

3.1

Threonine

5.2

2.1

Tryptophan

1.6

0.2

Tyrosine

2.1

1.0

Valine

4.6

2.8

Hydroxyproline

0

9.7

While beef protein may not have as many essential amino acids (EAAs in bold) or branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), it makes up for it in conditionally essential amino acids (CEAAs) and total protein content [2].

I’m not going to go too deep on these as it’s beyond the scope of this article, but BCAAs (and ECAAs as all three BCAAs are considered ECAAs) are deemed the driver behind signaling the building of new proteins (i.e. muscle). Specifically, the BCAA leucine.

The ECAAs are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine (also a BCAA)
  • Leucine (also a BCAA)
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine (also a BCAA)

The reason these are essential is that humans cannot make these within the body. We must ingest them. The CEAAs are:

  • Arginine
  • Cysteine
  • Glycine
  • Glutamine
  • Proline
  • Tyrosine

These are only conditionally essentially as we make these in the body. It is theorized that leucine triggers the anabolic response to build new proteins and that a minimum threshold must be met to trigger the response.

Therefore, it would seem that whey protein has a superior amino acid profile compared to beef protein. But how does this play out in the complicated world of human biology?

Acute Muscle Building Effects

One study compared 23 g of protein from either beef protein isolate or whey protein concentrate after an overnight fast on amino acid profiles in the bloodstream [2]. While BCAAs and ECAAs were higher at 45- and 60-min post-consumption with whey, CEAAs were higher and lasted longer (3 hours) with beef protein.

Similar results have been found when comparing skim milk and minced beef post-exercise but this time, favoring beef for the spike in leucine and amino acids for longer [3]. However, these are quite different from the powdered versions of each.

While there is little evidence on the short-term effects of beef vs. whey protein especially after exercise, there are some good long-term studies comparing outcomes of muscle mass and strength.

Long Term Muscle Building Effects

Beef vs. Whey Protein Powder

This study put subjects through 8 weeks of strength and hypertrophy training three times per week and was double-blinded to either a beef or whey protein group [4]. They consumed 46 g of powder (approximately 35 g of protein) directly after training and at similar times on non-training days.

Both groups consumed a similar number of calories each day with a similar macronutrient breakdown. 

Both the whey protein and beef protein groups increased lean body mass, reduced body fat, and increased strength and power to a similar extent.

Another double-blind study over 8 weeks of training compared 20 g of beef or whey protein in 250 ml of orange juice after training and for breakfast on non-training days [5]. Both conditions increased muscle thickness and 1RM strength. However, the beef protein group increased arm size to a greater degree than whey protein.

Should You Take Beef Or Whey Protein Powder?

A recent meta-analysis (the gold standard of research) compiled these studies and more into one mega study [6]. The researchers concluded that beef protein supplementation provides benefits on protein intake and lean body mass similar to whey protein which confirms the results of the studies mentioned above.

Meaning there is no real difference between the two when looking at a moderate/long-term timeframe. While beef protein doesn't spike leucine to the same degree as whey, it seems that leucine content should not be the primary factor when considering your post-workout protein.

Especially since research has shown that 0.75 g of leucine from an EAA supplement stimulated the muscle-building response similar to whey protein with added leucine totaling 3 g [7]. The results of these studies in totality suggest other factors must be considered such as total amino acid content when consuming protein after a workout.

For example, the amino acid glycine is very high in beef protein compared to whey protein and may contribute to body composition through its synergistic effect with creatine (also highly prevalent in beef protein) as it supports the metabolism of creatine [8].

Overall, there is promising research on both whey protein and beef protein supplementation. Whey protein has been around for decades and has a lot of supporting research behind it. Beef protein is a new player in the game but seems to be comparable in the mid to long-term response in body composition.

If you suffer from a dairy allergy, then beef protein is your saving grace. If you don’t have allergy problems, you can go for either. Currently, I’m quite fond of beef protein as very rarely do you find a protein powder that has such a high protein to serving size ratio. This is usually a good marker indicating the quality of the protein powder.

For example, some protein powders may only have 20 g of protein in a 30 g scoop which means there is 10 g of cheap filler. The current beef protein I am using by Paleo Pro has 26 g of protein per 30 g scoop which I’ve never seen in a whey protein before.

It is made from high-quality grass-fed beef from New Zealand (yep, my home country) and not from low-quality off cuts that load the protein powder with collagen. While collagen is great for tendon repair, it's very poor for building muscle.

If you are like my wife and love coffee, you'll love the Mayan Mocha flavor. If you're like me and hate coffee but love chocolate, you can't go wrong with the Ancient Cacao flavor.

Check out the Paleo Pro Beef Protein Isolate for yourself and my full review here.

Paleo Pro Grass Fed Beef Protein Powder

References

1. Hoffman, J. R., & Falvo, M. J. (2004). Protein–which is best?. Journal of sports science & medicine3(3), 118.

2. Detzel, C., Petschow, B. W., Johnson, N., & Weaver, E. M. (2016). Comparison of the amino acid and peptide composition and postprandial response of beef, chicken, and whey protein nutritional preparations. Functional Foods in Health and Disease6(10), 612-626.

3. Burd, N. A., Gorissen, S. H., Van Vliet, S., Snijders, T., & Van Loon, L. J. (2015). Differences in postprandial protein handling after beef compared with milk ingestion during postexercise recovery: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition102(4), 828-836.

4. Sharp, M. H., Lowery, R. P., Shields, K. A., Lane, J. R., Gray, J. L., Partl, J. M., ... & Wilson, J. M. (2018). The effects of beef, chicken, or whey protein after workout on body composition and muscle performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research32(8), 2233-2242.

5. Naclerio, F., Seijo, M., Larumbe-Zabala, E., & Earnest, C. P. (2017). Carbohydrates alone or mixing with beef or whey protein promote similar training outcomes in resistance training males: a double-blind, randomized controlled clinical trial. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism27(5), 408-420.

6. Valenzuela, P. L., Mata, F., Morales, J. S., Castillo-García, A., & Lucia, A. (2019). Does beef protein supplementation improve body composition and exercise performance? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrients11(6), 1429.

7. Churchward‐Venne, T. A., Burd, N. A., Mitchell, C. J., West, D. W., Philp, A., Marcotte, G. R., ... & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. The Journal of physiology590(11), 2751-2765.

8. Branch, J. D. (2003). Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism13(2), 198-226.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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