17 Aug How to Find the Best Pea Protein Powder for Your Wellness Routine
If you’re in the market for a high-quality, vegan protein powder that’s soy-free, you’re in luck. Pea protein powder is an excellent, plant-based alternative to whey protein that offers many of the same advantages. Pea protein is sourced from ground-up yellow peas and is full of essential amino acids and branched-chain aminos (BCAAs) to help build muscle and assist in post-workout recovery.
A trip to the health food store will reveal a wide variety of options. To help you choose the best pea protein powder for your needs, we’ve compiled this list of criteria to consider before you buy.
Pea Protein Powder Basics
Pea protein is derived from peas and is naturally dairy-free and gluten-free. Like beans, lentils, and some “nuts,” peas are legumes but they’re not a common allergen. As such, most people can digest pea protein without any issues.
However, if you have a peanut allergy or soy sensitivity, you might want to start small to see if you have a reaction to peas — or avoid it altogether if your allergy is severe. As always, read the ingredients label to ensure you know what’s in your protein powder.
Because pea protein is legume-based, it’s technically neither keto or paleo, even though it’s low-carb. If you’re following a keto lifestyle, it’s up to you how strict you want to be about your protein supplement.
Yellow pea protein is a high-protein source averaging about 21 grams of protein per serving. It’s technically a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids), but it’s relatively low in methionine. For this reason, many manufacturers will offer a blend of pea protein and other plant protein sources in order to more thoroughly complete the essential amino acid profile of the finished product.
Other protein sources that could be blended into your pea protein include ground chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, brown rice protein, peanuts, quinoa protein, hemp protein, or ground sunflower seeds.
Pea protein has a number of benefits. Along with being free from gluten and dairy, it’s a low-fat food that’s high in iron. As a plant-based food source, it’s also rich in antioxidants like phenols and glutathione, something that gives it a leg up when compared to animal products like whey protein or casein protein.
What Do the Best Pea Protein Powders Have in Common?
The best pea protein powder doesn’t have unnecessary additives or fillers, added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or artificial flavors. Third-party testing helps ensure quality and safety, and many companies will display their third-party certifications on the front of the container. Ideally, your pea protein powder will also taste great and absorb easily into your system for optimal bioavailability.
Many of the brands that offer premium pea protein products feature plant protein blends (as we mentioned above) to better round out the essential amino acid profile. They may also add other healthy ingredients to create a superfood meal or to improve the flavor profile of your protein shake with whole food ingredients like raw cacao, natural vanilla flavor, dehydrated or dried fruits, probiotics, enzymes, or a natural calorie-free sweetener like stevia or sugar alcohols.
That said, there are excellent unflavored options that give you the ability to create your own smoothie at home with your favorite ingredients. Let’s dig into some of the factors to consider when looking for the best protein powder.
Additives and Third-Party Testing
Reading nutrition labels is imperative, but the list of ingredients is even more critical when it comes to avoiding potentially harmful additives or hidden ingredients like sugar or artificial flavors, colorings, and sweeteners. It’s also important to be familiar with the brand you’re purchasing from and their practices as far as sourcing, testing, and certifications.
For example, Informed Sport Supplement Certification provides a third-party audit of products and production facilities. This organization tests for banned substances and audits factory practices and personnel for quality metrics as a third party. Look for the Informed Sport label on your protein powder before you purchase.
Something you won’t see on the label are potentially dangerous toxins and contaminants. Remember, protein powders are considered supplements, so they’re not regulated by the FDA. There are plenty of trustworthy, reputable supplement companies, but they don’t all have the same ethical standards, so organizations like the Clean Label Project help fill in where the FDA otherwise would.
In 2020, the Clean Label Project tested 134 products and found that a number of protein powders contain heavy metals, pesticides, or other hazardous chemicals. Contamination was attributed to poor manufacturing practices or toxic soil where the protein source was grown.
It’s worth noting that levels of these substances vary from product to product. Because pea (and other plant proteins) come from soil, they inherently have higher levels of certain minerals and metals than their animal and dairy counterparts. However, many plant products — including veggies you buy fresh in the produce section — will contain trace amounts of heavy metals, but it’s below any level of concern according to some studies.
Other certifications to consider for quality are USDA organic and non-GMO, although these are more focused on the growing process and don’t cover manufacturing practices.
Flavor Profile and Texture
Pea protein isn’t known for its delicious natural flavor. On its own, it has a grassy, nutty, or earthy taste and can even be gritty and nearly unpalatable. That said, there’s a wide range of pea protein taste options depending on how well a brand formulates. Just because you might have a bad experience with one brand doesn’t mean you should give up on pea protein powder. ioPea products have great taste reviews so far and some manufacturers will choose additional ingredients to enhance the experience of drinking this plant protein powder.
The best-tasting pea protein products usually include natural ingredients like nuts, seeds, oats, or brown rice protein to improve flavor and texture.
Bioavailability and Absorption
The protein content on the label of your favorite protein powder is only as meaningful as what your body can absorb. You want to make sure that you spread your protein intake throughout the day rather than concentrating it all on one meal. It’s also important that you time your protein shake with your workout so your body has protein when it needs it. The more bioavailable your protein powder is, the more protein per serving your body will use and take in to help with muscle growth and muscle recovery.
Peas are legumes, and legumes contain naturally occurring chemicals to protect them in the environment as they’re growing. Some of these chemicals prevent adequate protein absorption. While the manufacturing of pea protein breaks down some of these antinutrients, many companies will attempt to make their pea protein products even more bioavailable by using enzymes to further break things down before they get to your blender bottle.
That said, the science studying this enzymatic technique doesn’t show conclusively that it improves overall absorption or nutrition for the end-user. Furthermore, adding enzymes to your pea protein powder can have a negative effect on the flavor of the finished product.
However, Ingredient Optimized ioPea Protein has been studied extensively for improved absorption over non-optimized pea protein isolate. Subjects who drank ioPea protein showed a significant rise in blood levels of essential aminos and BCAAs when compared to those who consumed non-optimized pea protein.
In fact, io technology is so effective at improving bioavailability that when researchers compared ioPea to non-optimized whey protein isolate, it performed just as well, showing similar blood levels of essential aminos and BCAAs.
The Best Pea Protein Powder
When choosing a pea protein powder, it’s crucial to scan the ingredients panel for added sugars, fillers, artificial flavors, or potential allergens. It’s also worth remembering that supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so look for reputable third-party testing certifications like Informed Sport or check the Clean Label Project website for the product you’re considering before making a purchase.
Finally, look for products that contain ioPea in order to maximize protein absorption with every serving. Two products that fit the bill are Kaged Muscle Plantein (avoid if you have a peanut allergy) and Performix ioPlant.