You'll have noticed the greater use of pea protein within protein powders recently. Whey has been the go-to for so long, so why the switch to pea protein? Once you know how effective pea protein is at building lean muscle - not to mention the other health and environmental benefits - it's easy to see why
How much protein is in a pea?
You'd be surprised! A typical 30g scoop of pea protein powder contains 20-25g protein. That’s the same as most animal based alternatives.
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Why the switch from whey to plant-protein?
Plant-based protein sources are growing in popularity and pea is at the heart of this movement. The reason for this is twofold:
- There’s an increasing understanding of the negative health and performance impact of whey (which we'll address later)
- There’s an increasing awareness of both plant-protein's muscle-building ability and associated health benefits
This leaves plant-protein sources like pea in a strong position, so let’s explore the main benefits of pea protein.
Pea protein benefit #1: It’s a complete protein
A ‘complete’ protein is one which contains all nine essential amino acids – those which the body cannot manufacture itself and thus need to be consumed within the diet – in roughly equal proportion.
Who’d have thought the humble pea could be such a big player in the protein world?
Pea protein contains all nine, in similar proportion, including the BCAAs leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which support muscle growth and repair.
Pea protein benefit #2: A muscle building maestro
The outdated school of thought held that only animal-protein sources were effective at building muscle. Finally that's been put to rest by multiple studies over the past few years, such as these two:
- One in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition compared the impact of whey vs pea vs placebo on muscle growth. They found pea protein “promoted a greater increase of muscle thickness as compared to Placebo especially for people starting or returning to a muscular strengthening” and that there was “no difference” between whey and pea when assessing muscle development
- Another concluded that "whey and pea protein produce similar outcomes in measurements of body composition, muscle thickness, force production, workout performance and strength following 8-weeks of HIFT [High Intensity Functional Training]”
Pea protein is just as effective at building muscle as whey. Give the additional benefits, the choice is obvious
The bottom line is that pea and whey are just as effective as each other at building muscle.
Pea protein benefit #3: It’s healthy
The health benefits of pea protein are well documented and supported by research, but they include:
- Reduces cholesterol
- Decreases blood pressure
- Stabilises blood glucose levels
- Rich in iron
- Reduces inflammation
When reaching for a protein shake, you’ve probably never pondered whether it’s healthy for you too, and justifiably only focused on the grams of protein. That’s fair enough, but when you realise you can have both – a good dose of protein and health – then the choice is obvious.
Pea protein benefit #4: It’s easy to digest
Dairy-based proteins like whey cause inflammation, bloating and abdominal pain, largely due to the fact that 65% of us suffer some level of lactose intolerance.
With some fibre and lack of lactose, peas are easy on the gut
In contrast, pea protein is a legume containing a healthy dose of fibre which aids digestion meaning you’ll absorb all the nutrients…unless you have an allergy to peas, of course.
Pea protein benefit #5: It’s low GI
The glycaemic index ranks foods on a scale from 1-100 in order of how quickly they’re digested and converted to sugar within the body. High GI foods – white bread, sugary drinks etc – convert quickly and deliver a spike in energy followed by an inevitable dip. This plays havoc on blood sugar levels and is the root cause of many chronic diseases.
Thus, excessive consumption of high GI foods is to be avoided.
Pea protein sits low on the GI scale, meaning the carbs within any pea protein powder will be absorbed easily but steadily, mitigating against any spikes in blood sugar level.
The downsides of whey
Whey contains a lot of sugar
While the benefits of pea protein are clear, we do need to recognise that whey is still used - albeit less frequently – in some protein powders. The main reason is that’s it’s very, very cheap. But the drawbacks of whey are many and include:
- It’s highly processed – the process is complex but certainly worth a Google if you’re interested (be warned though, it might put you off!)
- Unwanted ingredients – whey protein uses sweeteners and preservatives to improve what is a pretty grim taste and extend shelf life
- Hard to digest – unsurprisingly, given a degree of lactose intolerance affects ~65% of the population
- Lacks nutrients – have a look at any whey protein powder nutritional information. It may be high in protein, but little else of value
- It’s high GI – again due to added sugar and sweeteners, a rise in blood glucose levels is common after a whey protein shake
- Disastrous health consequences – whey has been linked to increased occurrence of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
A nod to the environment
We’re passionate about doing our bit to minimise our impact on the environment – whether that’s using recyclable packaging, sourcing ingredients as close to home as possible and using the most environmentally friendly production methods – and the use of pea protein fits with this mission.
Even if you’re not looking to build muscle – I’m looking at you marathon runners and endurance cyclists! – protein is fundamental for recovery and training adaptations
Pea protein is derived from ground yellow split peas which - unlike the chemical separation techniques used in the production of soy and whey proteins – is mechanically extracted. This means it not only retains its soluble fibre which we know is linked with a range of health benefits but also has less of an impact on the environment.
It’s also worth noting that, unlike the wasteful and ethically questionable production of whey, pea protein production uses considerably fewer resources and thus has a reduced environmental impact.
Pea protein conclusion
Ultimately it depends what you’re looking for in a protein powder. If you’re solely looking for muscle building and have no interest in the other factors at play, then both pea and whey work.
However, if your health, the ease of digestion, nutrient density and the environmental cost are also important to you, then there's only one choice: pea protein.
Given what you’re about to read, it’s no surprise pea protein is the foundation of our award-winning Premium Protein powder