Non-Dairy Protein Shakes vs. Dairy Protein Shakes: Which is Better For Your Body?

With the increasing number of non-dairy or dairy-free options available on the market today, from dairy-free protein shakes, protein powder, and non-dairy milk, you might be wondering, “Well, what’s the difference between that and other dairy-based products?”

The major difference between dairy and dairy-free products is their source of protein. Dairy products are derived from lactating animals such as cows, goats, and sheep, whereas dairy-free products come from plants, such as nuts, legumes, and grains.

For years, dairy-sourced protein has been the go-to choice for athletes and gym-goers because of its popularity and availability. However, with many people switching to a more plant-based or vegan diet, the search for non-dairy and dairy-free products such as dairy-free protein shakes and powders are becoming more popular.

In this article, we will discuss dairy-free protein shakes vs. dairy protein shakes, what are they, and which one is better for your health.

Dairy-Free Protein Shakes vs. Dairy Protein Shakes

dairy free protein shake, non-dairy protein shake

Deciding which is the best protein shake is completely up to you and your personal preferences, as both protein shakes offer a wide range of health benefits.

Both dairy-free and dairy protein shakes provide similar benefits such as supporting weight loss, increasing energy levels, and aiding in muscle growth, repair, and maintenance.

However, there are a few key differences between the two types of protein shakes that make dairy-free protein shakes an attractive option for those with dairy sensitivities, or allergies, or who follow a vegan or plant-based diet.

What is a Dairy-Free Protein Shake?

Dairy-free protein shakes are sourced from plant proteins such as soy, hemp, pea, and/or brown rice. Plant proteins are rich in vitamins and minerals and antioxidants, and can provide you with enough energy throughout the day.

Opting for dairy-free proteins offer many nutritional and environmental benefits that are much different than consuming dairy protein.

It’s also important to understand that although dairy-free protein and non-dairy protein are derived from the same plant-based sources, non-dairy protein shakes are a product that may contain milk derivatives, as regulated by the FDA. You can always learn more about that here.

Benefits of Dairy-Free Protein

One of the main advantages of consuming a dairy-free protein shake is that plant-based proteins are free from any hormones and antibiotics commonly found in animal-based proteins.

Dairy-free protein shakes are naturally low in calories, and rich in fiber, making them a great option for those who are trying to lose weight or maintain a caloric deficit.

These shakes are also rich in fiber, thereby helping you feel full longer and help you to reduce your caloric intake, making it great for individuals that always feel hungry.

In addition, dairy-free protein is much easier on the stomach as it does not contain any lactose, which is great for anyone that tends to have digestive issues such as lactose intolerance, bloating, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Furthermore, plant proteins do not contain any saturated or trans fats like dairy protein, making them a great option for individuals trying to lower their cholesterol and reduce their risk of coronary heart disease or any cardiovascular diseases.

Lastly, plant proteins also tend to have a lower glycemic index compared to dairy-based protein shakes, making them a better choice for people with diabetes4 or those looking to monitor their blood sugar levels5.

Cons of Dairy-Free Protein

It is commonly believed that dairy-free proteins are not complete proteins because they are missing one or two essential amino acids. However, all plant proteins actually contain all nine essential amino acids. They just don’t contain them in the same high amounts1 as their dairy counterparts.

Hence the reason why animal protein is usually favored over plant protein. However, consuming all essential amino acids in adequate amounts can be achieved by eating a wide variety of plant proteins. 

With that being said, many non-dairy protein shakes contain a wide variety of plant proteins to ensure a complete protein profile and a great taste.

What is a Dairy Protein Shake?

Dairy protein is an animal-based protein derived from animals such as cows, goats, and sheep, which may contain the two common proteins such as whey and casein.

These shakes easily offer a complete amino acid profile that can help build muscle and improve recovery after a workout. They are often enriched with vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial ingredients to support overall health.

Benefits of Dairy Protein

Because of its complete protein profile, dairy protein is often the go-to option for many because of its ease of access in the market and how quickly it can be absorbed and utilized by the body.

Dairy protein is a great source of calcium, which can help strengthen bones and teeth as well as support weight loss. It also contains Vitamin B12, which helps regulate energy levels and maintain a healthy metabolism.

Lastly, dairy protein is also known for its high leucine content, which helps stimulate protein synthesis within the body. This makes dairy protein ideal for those looking to build muscle or maintain their current physique.

For those looking for an easy, convenient source of protein, dairy protein is a great option. Not only does it provide the necessary nutrients to support health and well-being, but it’s also easy to find in many forms such as milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and more.

Cons of Dairy Protein

The main downside to dairy protein shakes is that they are harder to digest due to the presence of lactose. People who are lactose intolerant or have a dairy sensitivity might have trouble digesting dairy protein shakes and may experience discomfort, bloating, or sometimes diarrhea, if severe.

Diary protein sources also tend to have a higher fat content, however many shakes are created with just the whey protein isolate or whey protein to minimize the amount of fat content.

For those who may be lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy, non-dairy proteins may be a better and more suitable option.

Which One Should You Choose?

Deciding which type of protein shake to use really comes down to personal preference and lifestyle choices. Both dairy-free and dairy protein shakes offer health benefits, so the choice is ultimately up to you.

If you’re looking for a quick boost of energy after a workout, a dairy protein shake may be a better option. While if you need something to sustain you throughout the day, dairy protein would be best. Either way, both types can provide essential nutrients and help you reach your goals.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s nutritional and medical needs are different, and the best option will depend on your individual goals and lifestyle. Plant-based protein shakes are a great alternative to traditional dairy protein shakes, offering many of the same benefits without the potential drawbacks.


A protein shake can be a great way to get the nutrients you need and support your health. Whether you choose a traditional dairy protein shake or a dairy-free option, just make sure to choose one with high-quality ingredients and low sugar content, and free of artificial sweeteners.

As always, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new diet or supplement regimen so that all your health needs are met.

With the right approach and a little bit of research, you can find the perfect protein shake for you.  Feel free to check out my article on the best protein shakes if you’re interested in trying out a dairy-free protein shake.

Happy shaking! 🙂

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient required by the body and serves as the main building block for many cells such as your hair, skin, nails, hormones, and antibodies, and more importantly, is used for muscle growth, repair, and maintenance.

Protein molecules are made up of 20 amino acids, with 9 of them being essential because our bodies cannot synthesize them in large amounts or not at all, and the remaining 11 are non-essential because our bodies can produce them in adequate amounts2,3.

As such, we must obtain our essential amino acids from our diet. Foods that contain essential amino acids are deemed complete protein, whereas foods that do not offer all essential amino acids in adequate amounts are deemed incomplete.

What Are Essential Amino Acids?

Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein that cannot be created by the body and must be obtained through our diet1.

The essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Each of these amino acids plays an important role in various bodily processes, such as building and repairing muscle tissue, supporting immune function, and producing hormones and enzymes.

Dairy Free Protein Or Non-Dairy Protein?

For the purposes of this article, dairy-free protein and non-dairy protein are both free from all animal products.

However, a dairy-free protein shake and a non-dairy protein shake are different because a non-dairy protein shake or product may contain a milk derivative. Whereas a dairy-free protein shake is the complete absence of dairy products such as lactose and casein6.

As always be sure to read the ingredient list for best practices.

Best Dairy-free Protein Shake

The best dairy-free protein shake can be found here in my list of 5 best dairy-free protein shakes.

  1. Gardner, C. D., Hartle, J. C., Garrett, R. D., Offringa, L. C., & Wasserman, A. S. (2019). Maximizing the intersection of human health and the health of the environment with regard to the amount and type of protein produced and consumed in the United States. Nutrition Reviews, 77(4), 197-215.
  2. Hoffman, J. R., & Falvo, M. J. (2004). Protein – Which is Best? Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 3(3), 118-130.
  3. Mariotti, F., & Gardner, C. D. (2019). Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets—A Review. Nutrients, 11(11).
  4. McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology: JGC, 14(5), 342-354.
  5. Viguiliouk, E., Stewart, S. E., Jayalath, V. H., Ng, A. P., Mirrahimi, A., Hanley, A. J., Bazinet, R. P., Mejia, S. B., Leiter, L. A., Josse, R. G., Kendall, W. C., Jenkins, J. A., & Sievenpiper, J. L. (2015). Effect of Replacing Animal Protein with Plant Protein on Glycemic Control in Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 7(12), 9804-9824.

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