Pea Protein Vs Whey Protein. Which Is Best?

Last Updated 26th September 2019
Is pea protein or whey protein better?

Veganism is a growing trend; and as more of us than ever become aware of how our dietary choices impact the wider world, the number of people simply taking a more mindful approach to their eating habits is increasing, too. There are now hundreds of different protein shakes and products available on the health and fitness market, but few are entirely vegan.

When you research vegan protein powders, you’ll usually find them weighed up against the current, most popular non-vegan choice: whey protein. On top of this, you’ll likely find endless information on soy protein, hemp protein powder and rice protein.

Pea protein, however, isn’t quite as readily available as some others, so is often missed off the list. But don’t let this lack of detail fool you – pea protein is a superb protein option! Nutribuddy has full faith in those little green buds of goodness – so today, we’re putting pea protein to the test against the reigning champ, whey. 

You may be reading this having already consumed whey protein and found success with it, but we ask: give those peas a chance! Even if you believe that whey will always win the pea protein vs. whey protein battle, don’t underestimate the underdog. There’s lots more to peas than the defrosted little green veg portions your mum used to make you finish every dinnertime!

So, may the best protein win – let’s go! 

Women hiking and looking out into the mountains

Pea Protein Vs Whey Protein: What’s The Key Difference?

Pea protein is an organic, plant-based protein, which is suitable for those with digestive and stomach sensitivities, as well those following a vegan or cruelty-free diet.

On the other hand, whey protein is a by-product of the proteins created during cheese production, and so, contains dairy and lactose. This, for some, makes the real battle of pea protein vs. whey protein actually vegan protein vs. animal product protein – and the results may surprise you!

Pea Protein: The Lowdown

Pea protein powder is a supplement made by extracting proteins from yellow peas; so not quite the green balls of goodness you’re used to!

The peas are dried and ground into a fine powder similar to the consistency of flour, before being added to water and removed of starch. Such minor processing allows the powder to retain all of the natural vitamins, minerals and nutrients present in peas to keep them as ‘whole’ as possible. Despite being from yellow peas, pea protein powder is usually beige – yep, quite a surprise!

Peas are naturally rich sources of protein and iron, so that remains the case in pea protein powder.

Pod of green peas

Pea Protein: Nutrition

The nutritional makeup of pea protein powder is pretty impressive when you consider that it’s a plant and has had minimal processing. Many other protein powders on the market are riddled with synthetic chemicals and other man-made added ingredients to boost their nutritional profile.

The exact nutritional content varies between brands, of course – but approximately, you can expect to find the following in two scoops of pea protein powder:

  • 15g of protein
  • 1g of carbohydrates
  • 1g of fibre
  • 230mg of sodium
  • 5mg of iron.

Pea protein powder contains a good dose of amino acids too – in fact, it boasts all nine ‘essential’ amino acids. These are the amino acids that your body can’t create and so must be consumed through food, as well as of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that you’ll often see promoted by health and fitness companies. 

Yep, that’s right – while most people wrongly assume that amino acids are lacking in plant-based proteins, pea protein powder boasts all of them. Can you see why we love it so much now?!

Pea protein powder on grey plate

What are the Benefits of Pea Protein?

Despite the popular misconception that protein must come from meat and other animal products, pea protein powder bucks this and enjoys a whole host of health benefits to boot.

Aside from giving an unbeatable protein dose when compared to other vegan protein powder, those consuming pea protein powder on a regular basis can benefit from a range of natural assistance to their health.

The unique amino acid blend within pea protein powder has been proven to encourage enhanced muscle thickness in those working out, as well as to increase heart health and decrease the risk of contracting heart disease.

Pea protein powder’s high iron content is particularly beneficial to women who experience iron-deficiency and need easily absorbable sources of the mineral.

Even better, pea protein powder can help reduce the amount of calories absorbed from heavy food consumption – so you don’t need to feel too guilty about helping yourself to an occasional extra slice of pizza! And when compared to protein powders that aren’t vegan, pea protein powders have been proven to be just as effective at affecting satiety to keep the consumer feeling full.

Woman stretching her arms in the air after exercising

What are the Downsides of Pea Protein?

As with any foodstuff, pea protein powder isn’t for everyone, and so, it may not be for you. Pea protein is generally easily digested and, as the protein is isolated from the pea itself, it does not cause the bloating or gassiness that whole peas can.

Pea protein powder contains a fair sodium content, so those on specialist, low sodium diets, may need to limit their intake of it. 

Lastly, pea protein powder is (unfortunately) not yet widely available and so it may be more difficult to get hold of than traditional protein powders or vegan protein powders that are more cheaply produced. There is also little information detailing pea protein powder’s nutritional value and benefits online: although we’re aiming to change that with this article! 

Whey Protein: The Lowdown

Whey protein is actually a combination of proteins made from whey, the liquid by-product of cheese production. The protein in cow’s milk is about 80% whey and 20% casein. Ever opened a yoghurt pot to find a watery type liquid floating on top? That’s whey. It was traditionally a waste product until producers realised there was commercial value to be made.

Enzymes are introduced to the liquid to separate the whey and casein, before being filtered to remove the fat and carbohydrates. In many cases, additives and preservatives (usually artificially created ones) are then added to the mix. The (then significantly less) liquid whey is spray-dried with hot and cold air to turn it into the powder, which is eventually sold. 

Of course, because whey protein comes from cheese, it is unsuitable for vegans or those following a dairy or lactose-free diet. For those people, the battle of whey protein vs. pea protein will always be won by the latter! 

Cows sitting in field on a sunny day

Whey Protein: Nutrition

There are four widely available types of whey protein, which are concentrates, isolates, hydrolysates and native whey.

Each has a different nutritional profile, and many brands add ingredients such as refined sugar to their blends. For the avoidance of doubt, therefore, the following refers to isolates (most commonly sold as a health and fitness product) with no additives included.

Approximately, you can expect to find the following nutritional value in one scoop of whey protein powder:

  • 20g of protein
  • 5g of carbohydrates
  • 5g of carbohydrates
  • 5g of carbohydrates
  • No iron.

Whey protein powder contains all nine essential amino acids and a good dose of BCAAs, which you’ll see regularly mentioned in the marketing of such products. In particular, whey protein contains high levels of leucine and cystine. Leucine is a growth-promoting amino acid, or as it’s called medically, anabolic – but this word is rarely used, due to its unpleasant association with illegal steroids. Cystine helps promote antioxidant production in the body; specifically glutathione, which reduces cell damage.

Women with weight drinking strawberry pea protein shake

What are the Benefits of Whey Protein?

There’s no doubt that proteins including all nine essential amino acids are the most beneficial for health and muscle growth, and whey, like pea protein powder, includes all of them. 

The health benefits of whey protein in terms of its amino acid content are the same as the health benefits of pea protein powder, so the section on that above covers this off. 

However, whey has also been proven to be particularly effective at stimulating growth in humans. Take breast milk, for example, which is often lauded as the most powerful and versatile milk – you might be surprised to hear that it’s actually 60% whey!

Whey protein is extremely quickly absorbed into the body, so noticeable effects can be enjoyed quickly. 

What are the Downsides of Whey Protein?

Whey protein is a by-product of cheese, and so is not suitable for those following vegan or lactose-free diets.

The taste of whey protein alone is pretty unpleasant and strong enough that it can flavour other food and drink. You’ll usually find, therefore, that whey has other artificial flavourings added to it in order to mask it. These flavourings are frequently synthetic, so if you’re looking to maintain a diet containing only whole foods or organic material, you’ll need to avoid most commercial whey protein powders.

Of course, additives and ingredients vary hugely between producers and brands, so you’ll need to read up and understand the ingredients list to gauge exactly what you’re consuming.

The scientific results of whey protein, when put through performance tests, remain mixed. Clinical trials suggest that whey protein is only as effective as carbohydrates in helping build muscle as a dietary supplement. 

In 2010, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) investigated into the marketing claims around health benefits made by manufacturers and promoters of whey protein powder. The conclusion was that the marketing claims made were not adequately supported by evidence.

Women exercising in fitness class on yoga mats

Pea Protein vs Whey Protein: Which is the Reigning Champion?

Whey protein is a long term market favourite, but contenders are flooding in, many of which are packed with plant-based, vegan goodness. Of course, whey has its place, and those of you who have used it and enjoyed success as a result, should stick to it if you feel it’s the right choice for you.

As a company who promotes plant-based power, however, for us, the battle of pea protein vs whey protein is won by the former! Pea protein powder has been proven time and time again to be just as effective as its non-plant-based counterparts. On top of this, it’s cruelty-free, suitable for all kinds of specialist diets and is easy to digest.

The Nutribuddy High Protein Sculpting Shake, for example, is 100% vegan, cruelty-free and includes gluten-free oats with no stabilisers, emulsifiers or thickeners. It contains rice and pea protein and boasts the rich blend of amino acids and nutrients you’d expect as a result. There’s no better or purer healthy vegan protein shake on the market – and the inclusion of pea protein powder is a huge building block of its power!

Additionally, if you’re struggling to stay on top of a balanced diet and can’t always find the time to create a delicious and nutritious meal, the Nutribuddy Shake Complete may be the plant-based protein product for you. Rather than a standalone protein shake, it’s a full meal replacement and can be used in place of a ‘proper’ food meal up to twice a day. This too includes a blend of rice and pea protein powder, so is vegan and enjoys the perfect mix of macro and micronutrients, to give your body everything it needs in one beverage. Even better, it takes under 20 seconds to make, so the convenience certainly beats sourcing, preparing and cooking a full meal when you’ve got a hefty schedule on your hands.

Nutribuddy Shake Complete natural ingredient list with pea protein powder
Nutribuddy Shake Complete’s natural ingredient list by Laura Lucas

There’s a place for all proteins and everyone has their own preference, but in the battle of pea protein vs whey protein, pea protein is our champ. Not only is it effective, but it’s suitable for those whom traditional proteins aren’t, so you can enjoy it no matter what your dietary requirements, sensitivities or intolerances. Pea protein reigns supreme in a future which we hope will be cruelty-free, healthy, nutritious, and great-tasting, too!

Stock image credit: UnsplashPexels & Pixabay

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nutribuddy Ltd.

Author Bio!

Post by Lex

I’m a full-time Marketing Manager and Copywriter but also a qualified yoga teacher and keen runner; so I know a thing or two about maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a good dose of fitness! My previous roles include marketing and social media for the likes of the household names including the Cabinet Office and Aviva. Outside of work, I’m a Mum, passionate social rights campaigner and bookworm.