12 Aug Plant Protein vs. Whey Protein: How Do They Stack Up?
You may have been told that whey protein was the best type of protein, but lately, pea protein has been on your radar. Perhaps you’ve seen fitness bloggers reference it and maybe you’re also curious about plant-based nutrition in general. But what is pea protein? Is it as good as whey for building muscle and staying full between meals? What’s the difference between these two protein sources?
For starters, whey is an animal protein derived from milk while pea protein is made from peas. Let’s unpack your options when it comes to pea protein vs. whey protein. You might decide you prefer one over the other, or you might keep both in your dietary supplement regimen as excellent sources of protein.
Key Features of Whey Protein
Whey protein is a byproduct of the cheese-making process, so it’s a dairy product made from cow’s milk. If you have trouble with lactose or casein (the two main allergens present in dairy), you might think that this means whey protein is off-limits for you. If you have a severe allergy to these ingredients, that’s probably true.
However, the processing of whey liquid into the powder form you get at your local health foods store removes quite a bit of the lactose and casein from the final product. In fact, whey protein isolate has a very tiny percentage of either one. As such, if you have a lactose or casein sensitivity that results in digestive upset like bloating or gas, you might still consider whey as it often doesn’t cause those symptoms due to its processing. For instance, ioWhey Protein has been clinically shown to reduce stomach discomfort compared to whey protein isolate.
Many people are concerned about the environmental impact of animal products. However, whey is a byproduct that would otherwise go to waste in cheese production, and it shouldn’t be dismissed. Using it as a supplement is actually better for the environment than disposing of it.
Important ingredient and performance features of whey protein powder include:
- Complete protein: This means it contains all nine essential amino acids, which are those that your body cannot make and you must get through your food and nutrition. Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins.
- High in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): BCCAs are the three essential amino acids known as leucine, valine, and isoleucine. They are critical to the formation of muscle mass, along with the other amino acids lysine, arginine, and methionine.
- Mild flavor and smooth texture: Whey protein powder has a very subtle taste naturally, but even unflavored whey generally doesn’t taste bad or feel gritty when you blend it into your smoothie or mix it with water in your shaker bottle.
- Ideal macronutrient profile and nutritional value: Numbers will vary based on the brand and any additives or other ingredients (such as sugar or stevia). For example, one 24-gram scoop of Nature Plasma ioWhey strawberry contains 108 calories, 3.5 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fat.
- Research supports its efficacy: Whey protein is clinically shown to help strength and muscle gain when paired with the proper training over those not taking a protein supplement.
- Easy to find: Most health food stores and supplement stores carry numerous whey protein options. It’s one of the most common types of protein powders available on the market.
- Gluten-free: Dairy products are naturally gluten-free and grain-free, so all whey falls under gluten-free.
- High digestibility: Although current measures of protein digestibility are flawed, whey protein still boasts a relatively high digestibility, with a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) score of 0.99-1.00, meaning that it maxes out this scale of measurement and is very easily digested.
Key Features of Pea Protein
Pea protein powder is made up of dried and ground yellow split peas. Peas are a type of legume. Although legumes are not a common allergen, their cousins peanuts and soybeans are. If you have an allergy to any legumes, you might want to stick to non-pea options. That said, pea protein is an excellent, high-quality vegetarian (and vegan) protein source that’s rich in a number of amino acids.
Plant-based sources of protein tend to be easier on the environment because they require fewer resources to grow. This is the case for peas.
Important ingredient and performance features of pea protein powder include:
- It’s technically a complete protein: Pea protein contains a similar amino acid profile to whey, but it’s quite low in methionine. It contains enough to be considered a complete protein, but is even better when paired with another plant protein that’s higher in methionine, such as brown rice protein. ioPea Protein shows an increase of all EAAs, including methionine.
- Moderate in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): Potencies are a bit lower than those in whey protein. However, ioPea is the first pea protein with bioavailability comparable to whey protein.
- High in arginine: While it has low amounts of methionine and lower amounts of BCAAs compared to whey protein, pea protein has high amounts of arginine — about three times higher than whey. Arginine is a non-essential amino acid that’s a precursor to a number of other amino acids. Its benefits include collagen synthesis, wound healing, and cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation. It’s a critical ingredient in healthy muscle formation.
- Nutty flavor: Pea protein has a more noticeable nutty or grassy flavor and texture than whey, but it’s easily improved when blended into a tasty smoothie mixed with water in your shaker bottle.
- Ideal macronutrient profile and nutritional value: Numbers will vary based on the brand and any additives used for flavor. For example, one 37.5-gram scoop of Plantein by Kaged Muscle protein contains 160 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 26 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fat.
- Research supports its efficacy: It’s comparable to whey in helping with muscle growth and muscle gain when paired with resistance training over those not taking a protein supplement.
- High in antioxidants: Plant foods tend to be denser in antioxidants than most animal products (excluding organ meats). Pea protein is rich in phenols and glutathione.
- Gluten-free: Like whey protein, pea protein does not contain gluten.
- High digestibility: Although current measures of protein digestibility are flawed, pea protein still boasts a relatively high digestibility, with a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) score of 0.85-0.93, meaning that it’s easily digested, but doesn’t have quite the score that whey does.
Pea Protein vs. Whey: The Results
The question of pea protein vs. whey protein results in a neck-and-neck race. The two stack up well against each other, even if some of the details differ. The clinical research on the efficacy of the two proteins building muscle shows that they are somewhat interchangeable. There are compelling benefits of whey protein powder and pea protein powder, whether you’re muscle building or simply looking for an easy meal replacement.
An additional health benefit of both — and all dietary protein — is that protein is the nutrient that keeps you the fullest for the longest (satiety). By increasing your protein intake, you can stay fuller longer, thereby eating fewer total calories, which could lead to weight loss. If you’re building muscle, it might not result in weight loss, but fat loss.
Ingredient-Optimized Whey and Pea Proteins
We covered the nutritional value of both whey and pea, but what’s inside your protein shake only matters if your body absorbs it. ioWhey Protein and ioPea Protein are scientifically designed to be better absorbed and more bioavailable than their non-optimized counterparts. In fact, ioPea is absorbed so well that it exceeds non-optimized pea and whey in clinical trials.
The Ingredient Optimized process naturally enhances the protein structure so that your body’s own digestive enzymes can more easily break it down and utilize it. So no matter which one you choose, your body will take in the nutrients more readily and more quickly when you choose ioProtein.
Pea Protein vs. Whey: It’s Really Up to You
After unpacking the various nutritional and performance features of pea protein vs. whey, it stands to reason that, barring any allergies to cow’s milk or legumes, both pea and whey are excellent choices for protein supplementation. For even better absorption, go with ioWhey or ioPea, which can be found at Performix and KagedMuscle.