Pea Protein Vs. Whey Protein — Which Protein Powder Is Best for You? – Fitnessnacks

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    Protein is the cornerstone of many a strength athlete’s nutritional plan. Whether you’re trying to bulk up, move down a weight class, or just generally get stronger, you’ve probably considered adding a protein powder supplement to your routine.

    Adding extra protein to everything from post-workout shakes to morning pancakes is popular across strength sports. But with so many protein powders out there, how do you know which one to choose? 

    Protein powder in scoops.Credit: BLACKDAY / Shutterstock

    Two of the most popular types of protein supplements are pea and whey protein. When it’s a matter of pea protein versus whey protein, the answer isn’t as simple as, “One is plant-based and one is animal-based” (though that’s true). Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about which type of protein powder you want to add to your supplement stack.

    Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

    What Is Pea Protein?

    Part of the legume family — think: peanuts, lentils, soybeans, and beans — peas can serve as flavorful and nutritious additions to many meals, ranging from curries to pasta salads. (1) But when strength athletes talk about pea protein, they’re not talking about green peas in a pod. 

    Derived from split peas, pea protein is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that your body needs but can’t produce.

    In supplement contexts, pea protein refers to pea protein concentrates and isolates, which are made by a filtering process to maximize the protein content of the supplement. For context, plain cooked yellow peas usually contain about eight percent of protein by weight. (2) In contrast, here are the protein levels in the types of pea protein used in supplements. (3)

    • Pea protein concentrate: 60 to 70 percent protein by weight
    • Pea protein isolate: 70 to 95 percent protein by weight

    This often translates into pea protein having around 25 grams of protein per serving, along with 110 calories, 1.2 grams of fat, and one gram of  carbs. (4) 

    There may be a slight possibility that people with peanut allergies may respond allergically to pea protein supplements with especially high protein concentrations. (3) However, this form of protein is generally considered to present a very low allergic response risk. (1) 

    What Is Whey Protein?

    Whey protein is derived from milk. This non-vegan protein source is — like pea protein concentrate and isolate — refined and processed until it is stripped of most other nutritional components, leaving behind mostly protein.

    Like pea protein, whey protein is considered a complete protein, since it has all of the essential amino acids that your body can’t produce. Here’s how much protein it can offer you in its two main forms.

    • Whey protein concentrate: 70 to 80 percent protein by weight
    • Whey protein isolate: 90 to 95 percent protein by weight

    Like pea protein, whey protein may also contain around 25 grams of protein per serving, as well as a comparable number of calories (120 grams), fat (1.2 grams), and carbs (1.4 grams). (4) 

    How Much Protein Do You Need?

    If you want to gain muscle mass, you don’t want to skimp on your protein. All those sweet, juicy amino acids — the building blocks of protein — are also the building blocks of your muscles.

    Exactly how much protein you need depends on factors as wide-ranging as your activity levels and your goals in the gym. Check out BarBend’s protein intake calculator to get an idea for what your protein goals might look like.

    [Read More: How Much Protein Do You Actually Need Per Day?]

    Pea Protein Vs. Whey Protein for Muscle Growth

    Protein supplementation broadly may help increase muscle mass when combined with rigorous resistance training. (5) Taking whey protein with vitamin D may specifically help newcomers to strength training gain more muscle mass. (6)

    But don’t count pea protein out. Supplementing your training routine with pea peptides may help increase muscle thickness and the signaling of amino acids involved in muscle synthesis. (7)(8) In young cisgender men, taking a 30-gram blend of wheat, corn, and pea protein matched the muscle protein synthesis effects of taking in 30 grams of milk protein. (9)

    Pea protein by itself also fits the bill nicely for muscle growth. Combined with strength training, pea protein may help increase muscle growth and thickness to the same extent as whey protein. (8)(4)

    But as much as you want those muscles, you might want to consult a physician before supplementing with whey protein. Generally speaking, whey protein supplementation seems to be safe for athletes. (10) 

    Pea protein powder in a scoopCredit: SrideeStudio / Shutterstock

    But some research suggests that chronically using whey protein without consulting a medical professional might have detrimental effects on your kidney and liver function and your skin and gut microbiome. (11) 

    The Winner

    Pea protein and whey protein can both help lifters get adequate amounts of protein needed in their diet to fuel new muscle synthesis. As such, both types of supplements can be useful for convincing those muscles to grow, especially when you’re exposing them to new training stimuli.

    Pea Protein Vs. Whey Protein for Recovery

    For older adults engaging in long-distance walking (upwards of 10 miles), whey protein may have an edge over pea protein at fighting off exercise-induced muscle damage. (12) However, muscle soreness seemed to remain the same in that context with both supplements. (12)

    In another study of younger cisgender men who were new to strength training, research also suggested that whey protein may have an advantage over pea protein at easing muscle recovery, including alleviating soreness. (13)

    Whey protein supplementation has been found to improve muscle recovery when consumed the morning after strenuous training. (14) Consuming milk-based protein immediately after a workout and 24 hours after a workout seems to help with recovery and soreness more than supplementing before a workout. (15)

    If you’re aiming to preempt muscle damage from an intense morning workout by taking protein supplements the night before, you might want to reverse your process. Research suggests that taking protein supplements — of any kind — the night before a strenuous workout may not protect against muscle damage. (16)

    The Winner

    When you just want your muscles to hurry their recovery along so you can get back to heavy lifting, whey protein might win the day. There hasn’t been too much research done on the effects of pea protein on muscle recovery. But the studies that do exist suggest that whey protein seems to have the edge.

    But keep in mind that if you’re prone to liver and kidney issues, you might want to consult a physician before turning to whey protein as your go-to supplement. (11) You may also choose pea protein if you’ve got any concerns there.

    Pea Protein Vs. Whey Protein for Strength

    If you’re looking to increase your strength, you’ve got to be training heavily at low volumes. But you might also be hoping to procure some extra advantages by upping your protein intake with some handy dandy supplements.

    When accompanied by high-intensity training, both pea and whey protein supplementation have been found to have similarly positive impacts on force production, athletic performance, and max strength. (4) 

    But not all studies have deemed these two types of protein to be equal in the strength realm. Taking whey protein in combination with a strength training program seems to help increase strength in the squat, bench press, overhead press, and pull-up for well-trained cisgender male athletes. (17)

    However, research is mixed as to whether protein supplementation necessarily improves strength outcomes. Some research suggests that when athletes of different genders train and supplement with whey protein, muscle mass may increase more than control groups (with no supplementation), but strength levels stay the same. (18)

    The Winner

    Protein supps may not be your number one choice for gaining strength. Instead, you might want to turn to creatine. But if you’re taking protein anyway and want to choose the best option to give an extra edge in the strength department, some research would suggest whey over pea protein. That said, other research says the two have similar impacts on strength.

    This might be one of those moments where it comes down to personal preference, including whether or not you prefer vegan supplements.

    Other Factors to Consider With Pea Protein Vs. Whey Protein

    It’s not all about the research. Factors like cost, convenience, and the needs of your body all intimately inform nutritional choices. 

    Dietary Needs

    This one may be pretty obvious, but it’s worth noting anyway: if you’re vegan, pea protein is the option for you. Whey protein is derived from milk and is therefore dairy and animal-based. The coolest part about pea protein is that it has all nine essential amino acids — the ones your body can’t produce on its own — making it a complete protein.

    Gastrointestinal Needs

    Some athletes might find that one type of protein agrees with their stomach better than others. If you tend to feel bloated after ingesting pea protein, consider opting for whey. The same holds in reverse. 

    Research suggests that both whey and pea protein isolates can be highly digestible, so the ultimate choice may be down to personal feelings and preferences. (19)


    Check out how much your favorite brand of whey and pea protein cost compared to each other. You might find that one fits your budget better than another.

    And if you’re looking for blends that are just protein without any additives, you might find yet another cost difference to contend with. Check in with your wallet before making your purchases, especially if the relatively small evidence-backed differences between pea protein and whey protein don’t make much of a difference to you.

    Your Takeaways

    Figuring out which protein powder is best for you depends on a combination of factors. Fortunately, there isn’t necessarily a scientifically superior protein here. Use the following factors to help you determine the best option for you.

    • Pea and whey protein powders are both commonly available in the form of either concentrates or isolates, which are filtered versions of pea and whey (respectively) with very high levels of protein.
    • If you’re vegan, pea protein is the option that will suit your needs best, as whey is derived from milk.
    • Your level of activity, goals, and other factors impact how much protein you need each day. Supplements can be an efficient way to help you reach those intake levels.
    • Supplementing with either type of protein may be able to help you gain muscle and increase strength by helping fuel your muscles.
    • Whey protein might have an advantage over pea protein when it comes to aiding in muscle recovery.
    • Taking protein supplements after a workout seems to be more beneficial than taking these supplements before training.
    • Overall, research suggests that whey protein supplementation is generally safe for athletes. But people prone to liver and kidney issues may want to check with a physician before starting supplementation.

    More Nutrition Content

    With all of the conflicting information out there, figuring out the best nutritional choices can be tricky. In the debate about pea protein versus whey protein, there’s no clear hero or villain. Both types of supplements can help get you where you want to go, though whey protein may have a small advantage in terms of recovery. That said, pea protein is where it’s at if you’re vegan.

    Want to dive deeper into nutritional strategies that can help you maximize your gym performance? Check out these BarBend nutrition articles to fuel your next session.


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