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Pea Protein vs. Whey Protein: What are the Main Differences to Know?

Protein powders are the number 1 most popular fitness supplement on the market. These supplements can be found in both animal-sourced and plant-sourced versions.

Whey protein is one of the most common forms of protein. It is isolated from cow’s milk, which means it is an animal-sourced protein. That being said, pea protein and other plant-sourced protein powders are becoming more popular.

In this article, we’re going to compare pea protein and whey protein and offer you some suggestions for determining which one is right for you.

Comparing Pea Protein and Whey Protein

Protein powder is made by extracting protein from whole foods and then concentrating it and turning it into a powder. Depending on the supplement, manufacturers use various techniques to isolate the protein. In some cases, this may include the addition of enzymes and acid. Sometimes, additional filtration processes are employed.

One of the primary differences between pea protein and whey protein is the source of the protein.

We know that whey comes from milk. It is the liquid that is left over during the cheesemaking process. At one time, this was considered waste and thrown out. Then, manufacturers figured out its value. Since it comes from milk, most whey protein contains lactose, which is a milk sugar that some people have difficulty digesting.

On the other hand, pea protein is sourced from legumes, specifically yellow split peas. It is sourced from plants, which means it is lactose-free.

Below, we’ve listed a few of the most notable differences between whey protein and pea protein powders:

Protein Type Source Processing Flavor Texture Lactose? Gluten? Uses
Animal-sourced Milk Chemical separation Bland, milky Thin, milk-like Yes May have gluten Mix into favorite foods/drinks
Plant-sourced Yellow split peas Mechanical separation Raw, earthy Smooth, creamy No Gluten-free Mix into favorite foods/drinks

Allergens

Many times, whey protein powders contain allergens, including lactose and gluten. Pea protein, on the other hand, is free of most common allergens. This may make pea protein and other plant-sourced proteins a more viable option for individuals who have food allergies or who are following a gluten-free or dairy-free diet.

Individuals who have food allergies or who cannot tolerate gluten or dairy may find that it’s easier for their bodies to digest pea protein. They are likely to feel less bloated and gassy when they use pea-protein instead of whey.

Similarities

Though they do come from very different sources, pea protein and whey protein are not completely different. They do have a few similarities. First of all, they are both high-quality sources of protein.

Second, neither one of them really has a stellar taste or texture, but they are both versatile and can be combined with most of your favorite foods or drinks. However, the most common choice is to be mixed into a shake made with milk or water. They can also be added to smoothies, pancakes, oatmeal, muffins, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Section Summary

Whey protein is sourced from milk and is a by-product of the cheesemaking process. Pea protein, on the other hand, is sourced from yellow split peas. Both are high-quality sources of protein that can be consumed as a shake made with milk or water or combined with your favorite foods or beverages.

Nutrition Profiles

Below, we’ll take a look at the standard nutrition profile for a 1-ounce, or 30-gram, serving of both pea protein and whey protein powders.

Macronutrients Pea Protein Whey Protein
Calories 120 118
Protein 22.5 grams 27 grams
Carbs 1.5 grams 1 gram
Fat 2.25 grams Under 1 gram
Cholesterol 0 grams 0.011 grams
Fiber 1.5 grams 0 grams
Sugar 0 grams 0 grams
Sodium 15% of daily value 2% of daily value
Calcium 7% of daily value 10% of daily value
Potassium 1% of daily value 4% of daily value
Iron 42% of daily value 0% of daily value

As you can see, both whey protein and pea protein are rich in protein, but whey does typically have slightly more. Additionally, both are fairly low in sugar, carbs, fiber, and fat.

Since whey protein is sourced from milk, it has a bit more calcium and potassium. On the other hand, pea protein has more iron because it is made from yellow split peas, which are legumes. Legumes are known for their iron content.

Additionally, research has shown that some components of both pea protein and whey protein are beneficial. They may offer health benefits including acting as antioxidants in the body and fighting off disease.

At this time, it is unclear exactly how many compounds remain in protein powders after processing and how those compounds affect human health.

Protein Content

The protein content in whey and pea proteins are very close. In fact, both are high-quality sources of protein. That being said, whey protein does contain slightly more protein than pea protein powder.

With that in mind, it’s important to note that the exact protein content varies from one brand to the next and depends on the scoop/serving size suggested by the manufacturer. You will find this info on the nutrition facts label of your favorite protein powder.

Additionally, though both are packed with protein, the types of protein are different. As a general rule, animal-sourced protein, such as whey is easier for the body to absorb and use to build muscle. How quickly and how well your body absorbs and uses the protein is related to the amino acids it contains.

Amino Acids

Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 21 amino acids, with 9 of them being considered essential. This means that your body does not produce them, they must be obtained through your diet.

Whey protein is known as a complete protein because it contains the 9 essential amino acids. It contains exceptionally high levels of BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, which are valine, isoleucine, and leucine. When it comes to essential amino acid content, whey protein is definitely the superior option.

While pea protein does contain all 9 essential amino acids, it only contains small amounts of methionine, which is one of the 9. Therefore, some pea protein powders may not be considered a complete protein.

However, when compared with other plant-sourced proteins, pea protein is a high-quality source of essential amino acids. In fact, it has more phenylalanine and histidine than whey protein does.

If you prefer pea protein powder, but you’re concerned about not getting all of the essential amino acids, you can combine it with other plant-based protein powders that also contains the 9 essential amino acids.

Section Summary

Most of the pea protein and whey protein powders on the market contain 20+ grams of protein per serving, with varying levels of the essential amino acids. Whey protein is higher in potassium, cholesterol, and calcium. However, pea protein is higher in iron and fiber.

What Are These Protein Powders Used For?

People have a variety of reasons for using protein powders. Some of the most common reasons include building strength, maintaining muscle stores, and repairing tissue. In addition, some people use them as meal replacements to facilitate weight loss while increasing protein consumption. Below, we’ll look at the effectiveness of protein powder for muscle gain and for weight loss.

Muscle Gain

When it comes to muscle gain, protein powders are most effective for individuals whose diets lack adequate protein consumption. However, if you are already consuming enough protein, you are not likely to notice significant changes in your muscle mass.

When determining which is more effective for muscle building, whey seems to come out on top because of its amino acid content. That being said, multiple research studies over the years have discovered that the outcome for muscle mass and recovery for pea protein and whey protein is very similar when consumed following HIIT workouts and resistance workouts.

Weight Loss

One small study involving male participants indicated that whey protein and pea protein had a similar effect on appetite and food consumption. That being said, there were a few noticeable differences.

On the other hand, there are some studies indicating that whey protein has very little effect on weight loss. Older studies indicate that pea protein may have a stronger influence on appetite and feelings of satiety than whey protein. In theory, both of these factors can have an effect on weight loss. Other studies indicate that pea protein does not have much effect on appetite.

One of the primary reasons that pea protein may help with satiety is the fiber content, which is higher than whey protein.

In order to fully understand the effects of whey protein versus pea protein on things such as weight loss and muscle gain, we need more research.

Section Summary

When it comes to muscle gain, protein powders seem to be most effective in individuals who do not get much protein in their diet. More research is required when it comes to using protein powder for weight loss.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

While research does not indicate that pea protein is more effective for weight loss or muscle building, it may offer other advantages to certain groups. For example, pea protein is an ideal source of protein for those who are following a vegan diet– whey protein is not suitable.

Also, some people believe pea protein is more sustainable than whey protein because growing peas doesn’t seem to have as much of an impact on the environment than raising dairy cows.

Unfortunately, pea protein is much more difficult to find than whey because it is not as commonly used. You may have to special order it. Also, pea protein is often more expensive than whey because it is so rare.

Of course, just like other supplements, both pea protein and whey protein vary from one brand to another. Always make sure to choose a high quality product that limits the additives.

Section Summary

If you are a vegan, have allergies, or are focused on using more sustainable products, pea protein may be your best option. However, if you prefer a reliable, affordable option, whey may be your best choice.

Conclusion

As you can see, both pea protein and whey protein are useful for individuals who don’t get adequate protein in their diet or who have high protein needs. Each type of protein powder offers decent amounts of protein and most of the 9 essential amino acids.

If you need help choosing between whey protein or pea protein, there are a few things you’ll want to consider: dietary restrictions, budget, and personal preferences.

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