If you’re thinking about taking protein powder, you may be wondering which one is right for you. Two popular powders are Pea Protein and Whey Protein. Here’s what sets them apart from the rest:
- They both have all the essential amino acids required for human well-being and health.
- They are both used by health aficionados to build muscle, enhance performance and promote overall health.
However, there are also some notable differences between them. We’ll compare pea protein vs. whey protein powders to help you evaluate which better suits your lifestyle and health needs.
What Is Protein?
Protein is an essential element of nutrition. It is found in both animal and plant sources that we use as food. Animal proteins come from meat, fish, eggs, poultry, milk and other dairy products. Plant proteins come from nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and grains. There are differences in the amounts and types of proteins in each source.
Proteins are made of chains of amino acids. The human body requires 20 amino acids that combine in different sequences to perform critical functions, such as digesting food, transmitting neural signals, synthesizing hormones and building muscles. Our bodies make 11 of these 20 amino acids. Nine, called essential amino acids, cannot be made by the human body. Instead, they must be taken through food sources. The amounts of essential amino acids vary in each source.
The nine essential amino acids are:
Three of those (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are branched-chain amino acids that build muscle tissue and support muscle metabolism. Isoleucine is important in muscle metabolism. Leucine and valine help repair and grow muscle tissue. They are quickly assimilated, an advantage for targets such as muscles and the brain.
Foods that contain all the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Animal proteins contain all nine essential amino acids. Only a few plant sources, primarily soybeans, soy products, buckwheat and quinoa, are considered complete proteins. Yellow split peas contain all nine. However, the amount of methionine is low.
Nuts, vegetables, fruits and most grains, such as wheat, rice and legumes, contain some, but not all, essential amino acids. These are called incomplete proteins. Vegetarians and vegans must combine foods to get all nine essential amino acids through diet. Traditional combinations of foods, such as beans and rice or hummus and pita bread, provide complete proteins.
If you want to supplement or boost your protein intake, protein powders are an effective way to do that. They are easy to use, do not affect the taste of foods and contain essential micronutrients.
Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein powder is 100% vegetarian and vegan, derived from yellow split peas, or Pisum sativum. It does not contain any animal derivatives, lactose or gluten. Mature peas are harvested, dried and mechanically ground into a powder. The powder is then mixed with water to remove the starch and fiber and extract the protein. Finally, it is again dried to create a fine powder. No chemicals are used in processing. For more details on the production process, check out this article.
Although nutrient and caloric values vary between brands, pure pea protein powder is low in calories, fat and sodium. A 30 gram serving contains approximately 120 calories and 25 grams of protein. It contains important micronutrients, such as calcium, iron, copper and vitamins B2, B3 and B6.
Plant-based proteins generally have lower bioavailability than animal-based proteins, which means the protein and nutrients are not as easily absorbed as animal proteins. However, pea protein powder has a higher bioavailability than most plant proteins and is easy to digest.
Pea protein powder has a low association with allergens, making it easy to tolerate for those who react to dairy, shellfish or gluten. Its high water-solubility makes it easy to add to foods and drinks.
Although pea protein powder contains all nine essential amino acids, it is low in methionine, which helps in tissue growth, detoxification and mineral absorption. In contrast, it contains high amounts of leucine, isoleucine and valine, the three branched-chain amino acids that stimulate tissue repair, muscle growth, coordination and mental acuity.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder comes from milk. When enzymes are added to milk, the milk separates into solids and liquids. The solids, curds, are used to make cheese. Whey is the liquid protein byproduct. To make whey protein powder, the liquid is purified and filtered, which removes most of the fat and lactose. The remaining protein concentrate is dried. The nutrients and protein remain intact in a powdered form.
Whey is gluten-free, ideal for those who cannot tolerate gluten. Because it is made from milk, it is not vegan. Although processing removes most of the lactose, many whey protein powders still contain some. Those with allergies to dairy products may wish to avoid whey protein powder for this reason.
Whey contains all nine essential amino acids, including high values of the three branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. Whey powder delivers approximately 27 grams of protein per 30 gram serving. It also contains calcium and potassium. In addition, it contains vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that is not common in plant-based proteins. Because whey is an animal-based protein, it has higher bioavailability. It is mild tasting and easily assimilated into drinks and food.
Pea Protein vs. Whey Protein Powder: Which Is Best for Me?
If you are looking for a protein powder to use as a dietary supplement, both pea protein and whey protein powders deliver high-quality proteins. If you want a protein powder that enhances athletic training, studies suggest that both pea and whey protein powders have approximately the same effect on muscle growth. However, whey contains slightly more protein and higher values of all nine essential amino acids. In contrast, pea protein powder contains less methionine. Both contain the three branched-chain amino acids important for neurotransmission and muscle health.
The primary difference between the two is the source of protein. If you observe a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, pea protein powder does not contain any animal byproducts. In contrast, whey protein powder comes from milk, an animal product.
As you consider pea protein vs. whey protein powders, it is important to examine the contents and quality of each product. Some brands contain sugar, flavorings, fillers and added vitamins. Zen Principle offers several varieties of certified organic, vegan and gluten-free protein powders.
If you need additional information about protein powders, please contact us. We’re always happy to answer your questions!