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The 5 Main Benefits of Pea Protein

Published: 13th May 2018. Last updated: 21th July 2019.

Shaun Ward MSc ANutr

Staff Writer


Introduction

The current daily protein recommendation is 0.8 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight.

However, individuals with active jobs or that engage in frequent exercise have greater protein needs to compensate for the additional muscle usage [1].

People looking to gain muscle mass, or prevent muscle loss during a weight loss phase, may even require protein intakes of up to 2 grams per kg bodyweight to optimize their results [2].

These types of circumstances are where protein supplements are convenient, as achieving this amount of protein from food alone may be problematic.

In addition, while meeting daily protein macronutrient goals is of primary importance, the quality of protein consumed will also be influential to results [3].

Protein quality is generally determined by the ability of a protein to meet the demand for amino acids while considering its digestibility and utilization by the body.

In most cases, a high-quality protein is one which possesses all the essential amino acids, with a key focus on the amino acid leucine which is mainly responsible for signaling muscle protein synthesis.

Firstly, What Is Different About Pea Protein?

Most people opt for whey protein or casein protein when delving into the protein supplement market. These proteins have been consistently proven to be high-quality protein sources and are generally considered the “gold standard” of protein supplements.

However, the need for dairy-free alternatives to the protein market is essential when looking at the rise of veganism throughout modern societies.

Not to mention that a lot of people are lactose-intolerant and cannot properly digest the sugar within dairy products such as whey and casein.

However, when comparing most animal versus plant-based foods, animal products typically exert a greater muscle protein response due to their higher content and bioavailability of essential amino acids – particularly leucine, lysine, and methionine [4].

Pea protein supplements therefore aim to provide a similar effect to whey protein whilst being suitable to the dairy-free and vegan populations.

This protein is derived from mechanically extracting the protein from ground yellow split peas – as opposed to the chemical separation seen with whey proteins.

Below we've listed every potential benefit that's backed by credible research:

1. It Has a Complete Amino Acid Profile

To effectively increase muscle protein synthesis there needs to be adequate availability of all the essential amino acids.

Relative to animal sources, on average, plant-based proteins tend to lack one or more amino acids.

This may slightly compromise the muscle protein synthesis response, considering there is a dose-dependent relationship between the amount of essential amino acids ingested and muscle protein synthesis response to a meal (until a plateau is reached at 30-50 grams of protein) [5].

However, certain plant-based proteins have a relatively high essential amino acid content that is at least comparable to animal sources, such as soy, rice, and pea protein [6].

When you combine this with the fact that pea protein supplements extract and concentrate the protein from the pea in its whole form, it makes for a supplement with a similar amino acid profile compared to dairy products.

2. It Has High Bioavailability

Bioavailability is the proportion of a substance which enters the circulation and is able to have an active effect.

Whey protein is the go-to protein supplement in terms of bioavailability due to its high leucine content, rapid digestibility, and ability to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis [7].

However, a recent study reported that pea protein supplementation produces similar increases in muscular size and strength in comparison to whey supplement [8].

Other data also suggests that whey and pea proteins promote similar changes in performance, body composition, and muscular adaptation after 2 months of high-intensity training [9].

Despite the slower digestibility of pea protein, the apparent similarities between these supplements may be explained by their similar leucine contents – which is the trigger to start anabolic processes.

Unfortunately, no real data exists that compares the effects of pea protein ingestion on amino acid response and muscle protein synthesis is non-existent, but the similarities in muscle size and strength demonstrate that any differences are probably negligible [10].

This being said, one study did score a pea protein supplement 92.8% on the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scale. At the very least, this demonstrates that it is a better protein source compared to most plant sources, which generally score 50-80% [11].

3. It Is Unlikely to Trigger Allergies

Unlike many other protein powders that are made from dairy sources, pea protein is not derived from 1 of the 8 most common allergenic foods (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat).

This allows people with one or more of these allergies to still access a high-quality protein supplement without triggering allergic responses.

4. It Has Other Healthy Components

As pea protein supplements are made via mechanical separation from their original whole food source, and not chemical separation, this allows for healthier components to be retained in the supplement form, including:

  • Fiber: the main component of note is the retention of soluble fiber. Fiber is known to provide many benefits, especially towards improving cardiovascular and gastrointestinal health.
  • Non-iron heme: Pea supplements are able to retain a significant amount of non-heme iron. Iron is an essential element for blood production and is part of hemoglobin in the blood which is needed to transfer oxygen from the lungs to other tissues.

5. It Is Environmentally Friendly

It comes as no surprise that a growing world population and an increasing use of land and resources is having a negative impact on todays environment.

As a result, there is a need to look for alternative protein sources that can contribute to global protein requirements whilst being more environmentally-friendly.

In general, plant-based foods requires less land and water to produce (per gram of protein) and are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions compared with animal-based foods.

The impact of pea protein specifically is yet to be analyzed, but there have been mentions it might use fewer resources (water and fertilizer) than other proteins [12].

If proven true, this would support its sustainability and lower production costs.

The Bottom Line

For years and years whey protein has led the protein supplement industry to its success.

However, with the rise of plant-based diets and some people now looking for ways to ditch dairy, pea protein supplements offer a viable alternative.

The research behind them is not extensive enough to claim they are equal to whey protein in terms of health and performance, however they have definitely shown to be a highly bioavailable and effective plant-based source of protein.

This makes it a great supplement for anyone looking to increase muscle mass and performance whilst staying clear of dairy products.

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