Pea Protein vs Whey: An Unbiased Comparison
As you know, whey is the gold standard for protein supplements. However, many people can’t include it in their diet because it’s derived from milk. Others simply want an alternative to over-processed standards.
As a result, plant based options like pea protein are gaining popularity. But how do peas measure up to whey in terms of health benefits and muscle building potential?
In this article you’ll get everything you need to decide for yourself. Including:
The Case Against Peas
Pea Protein vs Whey Comparison
Benefits of Peas
The Best Pea Protein Supplement
The Case Against Pea Protein
The biggest argument against plant based supplements is that they’re not complete proteins.
What is a Complete Protein?
A food that contains all 9 essential amino acids in amounts necessary in the human diet.
While plant proteins are not as complete as animal proteins, peas come closer than other popular plant options like soy or hemp. In fact, a study by Maastricht University shows the essential amino acid content of peas is comparable to casein1.
Adapted from Gorissen et. al.
In addition, there is no reason that you have to consume only complete proteins. It’s more important to get enough amino acids within a 24 hour period. And you can combine multiple protein sources to make them complete.
Pea Protein vs Whey Comparison
So how does pea protein stack up to whey? First, let’s look at the Nutrition Facts. Below is a comparison of a whey protein and pea protein powder from Naked Nutrition.
For this brand, peas have less fat and carbs but more protein per serving. While the vitamin and mineral content is similar.
Next, let’s look at the amino acid profiles. Building muscle requires protein synthesis. That means your body to builds more protein than it breaks down.
Furthermore, protein synthesis depends on amino acid availability. Both the total amount and the ratio of amino acids.
BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids)
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the 3 branched-chain amino acids. They’re considered the most important amino acids for muscle mass. And leucine is king.
As a result, you should get twice as much leucine as isoleucine and valine. In addition, a good protein supplement contains at least 2.7 grams (2,700 mg) of leucine.
While pea protein has less leucine than whey, it still has the recommended 2.7 grams per serving. Also, the BCAAs are present in the recommended 2:1:1 ratio.
Therefore, pea protein is comparable to whey as a source of BCAAs.
EAAs (Essential Amino Acids)
There are 9 essential amino acids which our body’s cannot produce. That means we have to get them from the food we eat.
Moreover, studies show that the muscle building benefits of BCAAs are amplified by the presence of the other EAAs2. So getting enough is critical for people who partake in resistance training.
In this example, whey has 12.6 grams of EAAs compared to 12.1 grams for peas. Although whey has slightly more EAAs, the recommended amount per serving is 10 grams.
Therefore, pea protein is an adequate source of EAAs.
Based on the amino acid profile, pea protein should be as effective as whey. But how does this translate to actual muscle gain?
Do Peas Build Muscle Like Whey?
The short answer is yes. A study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that there is no statisical difference between pea and whey protein in terms of muscle size and strength gains3.
Other Pea Protein Benefits
The obvious benefits of pea protein are that it’s plant based and better for the environment. However, there are other benefits. Even for non-vegans and for those who still think global warming is fake news.
Increase Blood Flow
On the amino acid chart above you might have noticed arginine. With 2.4 grams, peas have 4x more arginine than whey.
Some studies suggest that arginine helps to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow4. In fact, pre-workout supplements contain similar amounts of arginine (2-3 grams).
Whey protein is a dairy product, which means it contains lactose. Up to 70% of adults lack the digestive enzymes necessary to break down lactose. Resulting in symptoms such as stomach pain and bloating.
Whereas, peas contain no lactose. So they are friendlier on your stomach. and may cause less bloating.
The cost of Naked Pea Protein comes out to $0.69 per ounce. While Naked Whey comes in at a hefty $1.12 per ounce. Of course, there are cheaper whey options available. But as the cost of whey goes down, so does quality and purity.
Naked Pea Protein Powder
Like you, I’ve been looking for alternatives to whey. After doing some research I came across Naked’s pea protein powder.
One of the things I like about it is that it’s minimally processed and has only one ingredient – peas. In addition, it’s and 3rd party tested.
One drawback is that it’s pretty chalky. That could be a deal breaker for some. But, I mixed mine with powdered peanut butter to add some flavor. This also boosts the amino acid content.
If you’re interested in purchasing it, you can click the button below to buy it on Amazon.
In conclusion, whey protein is definitely a more complete protein source. However, pea protein can make a good alternative particularily before workouts due to it’s high arginine content.
If you can get past the chalky texture, pea protein is a viable addition to your fitness nutrition plan.
1) Gorissen, Stefan HM, et al. “Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates.” Amino acids 50.12 (2018): 1685-1695.
2) Wolfe, Robert R. “Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14.1 (2017): 30.
3) Babault, Nicolas, et al. “Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 12.1 (2015): 3.
4) Fayh, Ana Paula Trussardi, et al. “Effects of L-arginine supplementation on blood flow, oxidative stress status and exercise responses in young adults with uncomplicated type I diabetes.” European journal of nutrition 52.3 (2013): 975-983.