Pea protein as plant-based alternative to whey

April 11, 2018


Lately, there are more protein powder options offered than ever before, including plant-based sources, but are they as effective as animal-based powders? Although all animal-based protein isolates (whey, casein, caseinate, milk, egg) meet well above the amino acid requirements, Whey protein has the highest essential amino acid content. Whey, derived from milk, is shown to have a positive impact on muscle hypertrophy due to its complete amino acid profile, significant content of leucine, rapid digestive kinetic, and therefore is considered to be the gold standard of protein powders. Although plant-based protein sources may not surpass the contents of Whey, pea protein is among the better plant-based options for optimal muscle maintenance and growth despite being plant-based. Pea protein isolate is an option of highly bioavailable protein that could be used by those with dairy intolerances and allergies, or those who practice a vegetarian/vegan diet lifestyle. 


How is Pea Protein made?

Pea protein is extracted from split yellow peas, which is then dried and ground into a fine flour. The flour is then rehydrated, followed by the removal of pea starch and fiber. The pea protein is then purified through coagulation and dried once more to become pea protein isolate.


The resulting pea protein isolate is comprised of:

85% Protein

7% Fat

3% Carbohydrate

5% Ash (Dry matter) 


Benefits of Pea Protein

Amino Acid Content

Although plant-based, pea protein is rich in essential amino acids, particularly branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs; leucine, isoleucine, and valine). Leucine is the amino acid that is most related to stimulating muscle protein synthesis to maximize muscle mass and repair. Therefore, pea protein may be used as an effective supplement to spare and build muscle for those who prefer or are looking into using a plant-based source of protein powder.


Pea protein is lactose-free and a safe option for those who are triggered from common allergens that may be included in other powders including dairy, eggs, wheat, and soy. Therefore, pea protein is generally easier on the digestive system.


As the world population continues to grow, the demand for protein simultaneously increases. When it comes to sustainability, the focus is on the use of energy and water for production. Using plant-based protein sources can help to meet the increased demand while also serving to be an environmentally sustainable option. Plant-based protein sources require less land and water for production. It has been shown that the water footprint per gram of protein derived from animal-based sources such as milk is 1.5 times larger and up to 6 times larger in beef compared to legumes. Both the reduced need for land and water help to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the environment and promotes sustainability. Pea protein, specifically, presents a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms which allows it to acquire atmospheric nitrogen into soil, and therefore reduces the need for energy-intensive chemical fertilizers. 


Conclusion & Considerations

Resistance training supplemented with pea protein could serve to be efficient in promoting muscle building and repair, somewhat relative to the effect shown through supplementation with Whey protein. However, although pea protein is complete and rich in almost all amino acids, it is only adequate in methionine. Methionine needs can further be met by mixing pea protein with a source high in methionine, such as rice protein, in order to complete the amino acid profile. Needs may also be met consuming foods such as soy, nuts, and beans in addition the using pea protein. Lastly, pea protein tends to have a gritty texture, therefore it may be more enjoyable blended in a smoothie with other ingredients that could help mask the texture.

Need a nutrition consult in the Houston area? Schedule an appointment with one of our dietitians at Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute by phone 713-897-7912 or email ( Follow us on Facebook!



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