06 Aug Pea Protein Benefits: A Complete Guide to This Plant-Based Supplement
If you’ve been on a health and wellness journey for any length of time, you know that getting adequate daily protein is key. Dietary protein provides fuel to build muscle, keeps you full longer, helps keep your bones healthy, and can aid in weight management. But what about the benefits of pea protein?
While there are plenty of ways to get protein into your diet through whole foods, supplementing can be an easy way to ensure you’re getting enough every day. By starting your morning with a high-protein smoothie, you can fuel up for the first part of your day — and have one less meal to prepare. By drinking one after exercise, you’re providing your body with the optimal ingredients to build muscle and get fit. (Chances are, you don’t want to eat a steak the minute you leave the gym.)
The challenge to find sustainable complete protein sources beyond animal-based proteins is one we all face as climate change continues to impact the world. Along with having a diverse diet of colorful fruits and vegetables, it’s crucial to focus on alternative sources of protein beyond beef, chicken, and pork — for example, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and crucifers like broccoli.
By choosing a vegan protein powder such as pea protein instead of the standard whey protein for your morning smoothie or post-workout fuel, you’re contributing to environmental sustainability and providing your body with what it needs to thrive.
Let’s explore pea protein benefits, both for your body and the planet.
What Is Pea Protein?
Pea protein is a vegan protein source made from yellow peas. It offers about 25 grams of protein content per 100-calorie serving, depending on the brand. It’s also very low-carb, with about one gram of carbohydrates per serving. Pea protein can be powderized and made into a protein supplement that you can buy at health foods stores or even your local supermarket. It’s also an ingredient in meat alternatives like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods.
There are two main ways for processing hulled peas into usable protein: dry and wet. For the dry method, the peas are ground into a powder. For the wet method, which is how you get pea protein isolate and pea protein concentrate, yellow peas are soaked in an acid solution. In some cases, the peas are further processed through fermentation using enzymes or a starter culture. This second process helps remove potential digestive irritants like phytates and oligosaccharides, a type of FODMAP that can cause gas and bloating for some people.
The soaking process makes the mineral content of the peas more bioavailable and also separates out the carbohydrates, leaving a high-quality plant protein isolate behind. This protein is a great source of iron and is a highly digestible source of protein, according to research. It’s also naturally hypoallergenic, gluten-free, and dairy-free, and it doesn’t contain any of the other most common food allergens (such as peanuts, soy, or eggs).
Once the soaking process is complete, the soaked peas are then dried again and ground into a powder that can be added to your morning smoothie or pre- or post-workout shake.
The flavor profile of your protein powder will depend on the brand you choose. Pea protein is naturally earthy but mild. ioPlant by Performix is a tasty option that uses ioPea Protein as its main ingredient. Mix it with water, milk, nut milk, or juice to fuel your workout or as your morning breakfast.
Pea Protein Benefits at a Glance
Pea protein offers a number of health benefits beyond building muscle (although that is one significant benefit we’ll delve into). In a short trial that included both rat and human subjects, pea protein lowered blood pressure by as much as six points.
Another rodent study from 2010 also showed that yellow pea protein can lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels when compared to casein, an animal protein. These findings — in addition to the high level of certain amino acids that pea protein offers — suggest that pea protein supports cardiovascular health.
Pea protein is also high in iron, which we know is an important mineral in hemoglobin, a blood constituent that transports oxygen through the body via the vascular system. Iron is also important for cognitive function, immunity, and work capacity.
How Does Pea Protein Stack Up Against Other Types of Protein?
Pea protein is full of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) — leucine, isoleucine, valine — and arginine. Arginine is especially helpful with blood flow and cardiovascular health, and BCAAs are critical for building muscle, enhancing performance, and possibly weight loss as well.
There are nine essential amino acids, which make up a complete protein source. Animal proteins like whey, casein, eggs, fish, cheese, and meats are all sources of complete protein. Very few plant-based protein sources contain all nine essential amino acids. However, there are some exceptions, such as chia seeds, soybeans, and hemp seeds. But that doesn’t mean incomplete plant proteins aren’t useful when it comes to building muscle and staying fit.
Sports nutrition has come around to the idea that as long as you combine foods throughout the day that amount to the full nine, you’re doing OK. In other words, not every meal has to have every essential amino acid at one time. What’s most important is that you’re getting adequate protein intake overall and are choosing high-quality protein.
While pea protein is just shy of being a complete protein — it’s a little short on methionine and lysine — studies have shown that it holds up well against animal protein and other plant-based protein sources.
Pea Protein vs. Whey Protein
When compared to whey protein and casein (another milk protein), research shows that pea protein not only provides similar benefits as far as muscle growth but an even stronger benefit for weight loss and prolonged satiety.
These results seem to be mostly due to the high levels of BCAAs and the fact that pea protein takes a bit longer to digest, respectively. Furthermore, because pea protein is plant-based, it’s lactose-free and dairy-free. ioPea is optimized for increased bioavailability to compete head-to-head with whey and even outperforms whey on a number of metrics, according to research.
Pea Protein vs. Soy Protein
One of the most common vegetarian protein powders is soy protein. On the surface, soy seems to have a leg up on pea protein because it’s a complete protein on its own. But soy is also a natural source of phytoestrogens that are great for some and not so great for others. Your individual hormonal composition can help determine whether you should be adding significant amounts of soy to your diet — or you can skip the whole question by choosing another legume like peas.
How to Choose a Pea Protein Powder
With the myriad of choices at your local health foods store, you might be wondering how to choose the best pea protein powder. As with any other packaged food, the label is your friend — specifically, the back of the label. You’ll want to make sure that your pea protein contains top-quality ingredients without fillers, additives, preservatives, artificial flavors, colors, or any other unnecessary ingredient. Certified organic is also a good option.
It’s not always immediately evident how a product was manufactured or if the producer sourced all the ingredients. However, when companies volunteer this information either on their packaging or on their website, you can feel good about the purchase.
Benefits of Pea Protein for the Planet
We hinted at some ecological benefits of switching over to plant-based proteins — or at least reducing your consumption of animal products — for the sake of the planet. Farming and ranching are industries that feed people around the world, but these industries can negatively impact the environment, particularly when it comes to water usage.
Water is a natural resource at risk, and its increasing scarcity as the planet warms could have catastrophic consequences to human health and viability in the future. By choosing high-protein foods that have a low water footprint now, you’re doing your part for environmental sustainability.
Peas have a low water footprint of 595 liters of water to produce one kilogram of peas (71 gallons to produce one pound). Compared to soy, it’s a no-brainer — 2,145 liters of water per one kilogram of soybeans (257 gallons to grow one pound). In fact, whey does better than soy but still has a higher water footprint than peas at 647 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of whey (78 gallons per one pound).
Choose the Best Pea Protein for Your Lifestyle
Now that you better understand pea protein benefits, it’s time to put your knowledge to work. Your body needs adequate daily protein intake to sustain your daily activities, whether you’re running, doing resistance training, rock climbing, swimming, skiing, or taking your dog for a walk every day.
Pea protein powder can be part of any balanced diet, even if you’re not planning on going entirely vegan tomorrow. What’s important is that you know your options, how they impact your health, and how they impact the planet.
By choosing pea protein, you can get high-quality fuel for muscle-building, overall fitness, and heart health. Plus, you’re doing your part to reduce your impact on our planet. Take it a step further by choosing products that include ioPea for better bioavailability and superior quality.