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  • Writer's pictureStruan Bourquin

To Pea, or Not to Pea. How Does Pea Protein Powder Stack Up Against Whey? That is the Question!

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Pea Protein vs. Whey Protein Powder: Exploring the Pros and Cons for Muscle Building and Recovery.


When it comes to building lean muscle and optimising workout results, protein plays a vital role in our dietary choices. While whey protein has long reigned as the go-to option for many fitness enthusiasts, pea protein has emerged as a popular alternative, particularly for those following plant-based or vegan lifestyles. In this blog post, we'll delve into the pros and cons of pea protein for muscle building, comparing it to whey protein as a reference point. By examining their nutritional profiles, digestibility, allergenicity, and environmental impact, we aim to provide you with valuable insights to make an informed decision about your protein supplementation choices.


Nutritional Profile of Pea and Whey Protein Powders


Pea Protein: a plant-based protein source derived from yellow split peas. It boasts an impressive amino acid profile (see image insert below), especially rich in essential amino acids like arginine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These amino acids are essential for muscle protein synthesis, making pea protein an excellent choice for muscle recovery and growth.


Whey Protein: derived from milk, it is renowned for its high biological value and complete amino acid profile. It contains all the essential amino acids, including a high concentration of BCAAs, which are rapidly absorbed and utilised by the muscles.


The nutritional profile and BCAA Composition of Pea Protein
The nutritional profile and BCAA composition of pea protein is not far off that of whey, often matching its values if not exceeding them.

According to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, "Pea protein supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains and strength improvements during resistance training, comparable to whey protein" (Babault et al., 2015).

Flavour


It all comes down to personal preference really. Both pea and whey protein come in a variety of flavours, but in order to provide some insight on the most level playing field possible, I can comment on the unflavoured version of each.


Pea Protein: as you might expect, it tastes like dried, ground-up peas. Quite subtle but it certainly has an earthy flavour. I actually find it tastes best, or rather, tastes closest to nothing, when mixed with plain water and sent down the hatch. If added to smoothies, I find it imparts some of its earthy pea flavour which isn't ideal but this can be lessened by leaving it to rest or a good minute or two after an initial blending, then blend again for a few seconds before drinking.


Whey Protein: my preference is generally unflavoured for any protein as I find the artificial sweeteners and flavourings in most to be less than ideal and can leave an unpleasant aftertaste. I actually quite like the taste of unflavoured whey protein anyway, it basically tastes like powdered milk without any sweetness. Unflavoured whey can also be added to smoothies and shakes without imparting much flavour other than giving it a creamy, milky taste which is great.


Allergenicity


Pea Protein: Pea protein is a hypoallergenic protein source, making it an excellent option for individuals with dairy, soy, or egg allergies. It is also free from lactose and gluten, making it suitable for those with lactose intolerance or celiac disease.


Whey Protein: Whey protein contains lactose and is derived from milk, which can pose issues for individuals with lactose intolerance or milk allergies. Although there are lactose-free and low-lactose whey protein options available, individuals with severe milk allergies may need to avoid whey protein altogether.


Environmental Impact


Pea Protein: Pea protein is derived from yellow split peas, a sustainable plant source that requires less water and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to animal-based protein sources like whey protein. Choosing pea protein as a more environmentally friendly option aligns with sustainable dietary practices.


Whey Protein: Whey protein is a byproduct of the cheese-making process, but its production still contributes to environmental concerns, such as water usage and carbon emissions associated with the dairy industry.


Price

Pulsin Pea Protein on Amazon.co.uk

It all depends on where you live. For example, in the UK I find that I can find pea protein cheaper than whey protein whereas in the US or South Africa it may be the other way around. This bundle of 4 x 1kg bags of Pulsin's Pea Protein comes in at a mere £1.10/100g at the time of publishing this article, which is by far cheaper than the whey protein I can find online. The price is actually what made me try out pea protein in the first place but looking at the nutritional benefits and environmental impacts coupled with price, it makes it a pretty good option.




The Final Score


Both pea protein and whey protein have their unique advantages and considerations for muscle building. Pea protein, with its impressive amino acid profile, plant-based origin, allergen-friendly nature, and minimal environmental impact, makes it appealing if you are looking for a vegan or plant-based protein option.


However, whey protein still stands as a benchmark for its complete amino acid profile, rapid absorption, and established efficacy in muscle recovery and growth. Ultimately, the choice between pea protein and whey protein depends on individual dietary preferences, tolerances, and ethical considerations. Consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to determine the best protein supplementation strategy that aligns with your specific goals and needs. I am certainly neither a dietician nor a healthcare professional, simply a provider of information and opinion.


Cheers! 🫛🧀


References:

  1. Babault, N., Païzis, C., Deley, G., Guérin-Deremaux, L., Saniez, M. H., Lefranc-Millot, C., & Allaert, F. A. (2015). 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), 3.

  2. Gupta, V., Khan, M. I., Arora, S., & Gupta, R. K. (2019). Pea protein isolate: a potential substitute for egg white protein in food products. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 56(10), 4364–4374.

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