Article at a Glance
- Pea protein is a highly digestible form of protein
- Pea protein does not have any unwanted gastrointestinal side effects
- Pea protein is just as effective at muscle building as whey
- Pea protein is nutrient rich with a good source of manganese, iron
- Pea protein promotes weight loss due to the release of the hormone ghlerin which signals satiety.
The little green legumes are having a moment in the plant-based fitness world
According to the food pyramid of our elementary school days, protein is red, brown, and beige: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts. But peas, in all their bright-green glory, may have been misplaced the whole time. Peas are legumes, like lentils and chickpeas, and they’re a standout source of protein. Lately, they’ve trickled into the protein supplement aisle and popped up in everything from vegan cheeses and meat substitutes to shakes, yogurt, milk, and bars. There’s good reason, too – pea protein is incredibly nutritious, a good option if you have sensitivities to common allergens and easy to digest.
“Pea protein offers a good profile of micronutrients like manganese, folate, copper, phosphorus, vitamins B6 and B2, niacin, and molybdenum,” says Liz Fusco, sports dietitian for the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Rowing. They’re also high in fiber, which can aid in digestion and enhance fullness, she says.
Pea protein comes from yellow split peas, and unlike some other plant proteins, such as rice or beans, it’s a complete protein. Pea protein is a good option if you’re allergic or sensitive to whey or soy; it’s also an alternative protein source for vegans or vegetarians. Pea protein can be commonly found in protein powders and lately in new bars like Real Food Bars.
Check out our comparison of pea protein versus whey protein here.
Fusco emphasizes that variety is key to a healthy diet, so even if you’re dietary restriction–free, it could be worthwhile to incorporate pea protein into your diet alongside more traditional sources of protein.
Fusco notes that it’s preferable to choose whole food over supplements whenever possible, but athletes need ample protein distributed throughout the day. Sometimes the best way to make that happen is with a portable, supplemental protein source—and pea protein powder or as a bar is a superior option. Look out for pea protein powders that may also contain other ingredients such as flavorings or additives. You might also find powders in the form of pea protein isolate. What is pea protein isolate or a protein isolate? Protein isolates are the most common form of protein powders. A protein isolate undergoes more processing than a concentrate which includes cooking, filtering and separating the protein portions to collect the purest protein fractions.
While fresh peas are a good source of fiber, thiamine, folate, manganese, and vitamins A, C, and K, one cup of green peas contains 8.6 grams of protein, less than half of what you’d get from a serving of some of the most common pea protein powders. “You would have to eat a lot of peas to get the same benefits,” says Kelly Pritchett, a nutritionist and assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University.
Peas are considered a low bioavailable protein source, meaning your body is able to absorb less protein from them than other forms of protein, but they may be easier on the stomach than whey, Pritchett says. This is a huge bonus for the many people suffering from autoimmune related diseases or have experienced the unsavory side effects of whey protein gas.
If you do opt for pea protein, you’ll need to take more of it than whey, because pea protein contains less of the amino acid leucine per serving. Leucine is the most important amino acid for initiating and signaling pathways that stimulate muscle protein growth and recovery, Pritchett explains. You need around 35 grams to get the same amount of leucine as you would from 20 to 25 grams of whey, Fusco says. However, eating a varied diet with protein distributed throughout the day is always recommended (the average adult doesn’t need to “bulk up” on protein).
One study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that, despite their differences, pea and whey protein have roughly the same effect on muscle growth.
As a whole, pea protein is an excellent option for virtually any diet. Looking for a good pea protein option? Check out Real Food Bars, a tasty option filled with 15g of pea protein in three great flavors: Cacao Sea Salt, Cherry Cashew and Peanut Butter.