Pea protein has become the darling of plant-based protein powders because it’s vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free, and free of the most common food allergens—tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish, eggs, cow’s milk, wheat, and soy. It’s appropriate for even the most restrictive of diets, and has a cleaner taste than grittier vegetarian protein powders like hemp. In this article, we’re covering the pea protein benefits you can count on, and offering up alternatives when pea protein falls short.
Pea Protein Benefits
Pea protein powder, otherwise known as pea protein isolate, is "isolated" from yellow peas. During the extraction process, starch and fiber is reduced, which is a perfect segue to the beneficial effects of pea protein powder.
Easy on the Digestive System
Because pea protein powder is low in fiber, it doesn’t have the gassy effects of whole peas and other legumes that can cause bloating and discomfort. With a digestion rate of 90-98%, pea protein is a gut-friendly protein powder. And when it comes to plant foods, pea protein is one of the most digestible and bioavailable, scoring 100 on the PDCAAS, the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score, which determines the quality of a protein based on how well it meets amino acid requirements and how well it can be digested.
Rich in Minerals
Research shows that pea plant protein is high in iron, an essential mineral that carries oxygen through the bloodstream. While the exact nutrition contents vary according to brands, pea protein can offer up 5-7.5 milligrams of iron per serving. That’s meeting 28-42% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for premenopausal women and 62-94% of the RDI for postmenopausal women and men.
It’s important to mention, however, that plant-based iron is non-heme iron, which the body is unable to absorb as easily as heme iron from animal-based sources. For this reason, it’s a good practice to take your pea protein as part of a protein shake with vitamin-C rich fruits, like oranges and mangos.
Pea protein is also a terrific source of magnesium, meeting 40-45% of the RDI for this mineral, which is critical to muscle and nerve function, as well as energy production.
Unfortunately, pea protein is also high in sodium at 110-390 milligrams per serving. If you are watching your sodium intake, then exercise caution with pea protein.
Helps Build Muscle Mass and Strength
A 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that pea protein benefits are similar to those of whey protein when it comes to building muscle. Participants took 25 grams of pea protein twice a day alongside a 12-week resistance training program and had equivalent gains in muscle strength and muscle thickness as participants who supplemented with whey protein (1).
There is, however, a vegan-friendly protein source that can far surpass the muscle-building gains of either pea protein or whey protein when taken in conjunction with strength training. Keep reading to find out what it is!
Promotes Weight Loss by Keeping You Full
Pea protein, like other protein powders, fills you up due to its high-protein content. And because it’s low in carbs and fat, it keeps you full for longer, thereby reducing your overall calorie intake and promoting weight loss.
But you know that muscle-building protein supplement we alluded to above? That also has fewer carbs, fewer calories, and just as much ability to fill you up as pea protein!
Lowers Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
While most of the heart-health benefits of pea protein have been verified from animal studies, a 3-week study on humans showed that pea protein has the potential to lower systolic blood pressure by 3 points (2). But in order to lower high blood pressure you have to supplement with pea protein hydrolysate, which is a semi-digested protein powder made up of smaller proteins.
It is believed that pea protein can encourage the uptake of cholesterol into cells and decrease the production of fats, but this has yet to be shown in human studies.
If you’re looking to support heart health, pea protein is an option, but there are more scientifically validated ways to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, which we will cover in a bit.
Is Pea Protein a Complete Protein?
The answer is no, so if it’s a high-quality source of protein you’re after, especially for anabolic (muscle-building) benefits, pea protein isn’t your best choice.
To be a complete protein a food has to have adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids (EAAs) that the body cannot make on its own and needs to get from food or supplementation.
While pea protein powder has all nine EAAs, with notable amounts of lysine and the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine, it is low in methionine, so doesn’t make the cut as a complete protein.
We can use data from a study published in the journal Amino Acids that compared the protein content of various commercially available plant-based protein isolates, including brown rice protein, potato protein, pea protein, and soy protein.
The amount of protein was high in pea at 80%, and the EAA content of that protein was likewise high at 30% (3). Take a look at the charts below.
Let’s dig a little deeper from there and look at the individual EAAs in pea protein. Looking at the chart below, we can see that pea protein does not meet the adult requirements for amino acid nutrition for methionine, isoleucine, or valine as determined by the WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Consultation 2007.
Fortunately, you can meet all your amino acid requirements with a vegan protein source that not only increases muscle mass and strength, but also protects against heart disease.
The Most Potent Protein Powder
Perform from The Amino Company is a vegan protein powder formulated from years of research and clinically proven to increase muscle strength and mass when taken during resistance exercise. It has also been shown to increase endurance and stamina.
It contains all the essential amino acids in the perfect ratio for muscle building and energy production, except for tryptophan, which is the precursor for serotonin and can contribute to fatigue, which no one needs more of during a workout!
Perform also has pea protein beat when it comes to arginine, an amino acid that helps to boost blood flow and relax blood vessels. Amino scientists use citrulline, a precursor to arginine, because it is easier on the stomach and better absorbed by the body.
Perform is also lower in carbohydrates than pea protein—2 grams vs. 6 grams per scoop—and only contributes 10 calories to your diet.
You can learn more about Perform and purchase it here.
If you’ve been taking pea protein for heart health, then we recommend boosting protein intake with Life, a gluten-free, vegan source of EAAs that supports muscle and heart health. Life helps maintain healthy triglyceride and cholesterol levels, encourage healthy blood flow, improve physical function and strength, optimize blood sugar levels, and is over 3 times more powerful at stimulating muscle growth and repair than any protein source.
To learn more about how Amino Co supplements deliver the EAAs your body needs to optimize wellness, click here.