As the popularity of plant-based diets increases, so does the amount of alternative protein sources hitting the shelves. From seitan and tofu to hemp seeds and quinoa, there is an extensive list of options for those looking for standard protein substitutions.
When searching the market for alternatives, you may have come across pea protein. If you’re curious to find out how a food product as small as a garden pea can carry sufficient protein content, then carry on reading OriGym’s article, where we will address the most popular searched questions, such as: ‘What is pea protein?’ and ‘How is pea protein made?’, as well as the most beneficial pea protein benefits you can take advantage of.
Before we jump right in, if you’re interested in taking your knowledge on nutrition to the next level then head over to our Advanced Sports Nutrition course page for more information! Or, download our free prospectus to find out more about our wider range of courses.
In this article we will provide you with information on the various pea protein benefits, as well as other FAQs. The contents is as follows:
- What is Pea Protein?
- Pea Protein Benefits
- How Is Pea Protein Made?
- Pea Protein Nutrition
- Pea Protein Dosage?
- Where To Buy Pea Protein?
- When To Take Pea Protein?
What is Pea Protein?
So, we should probably start by addressing the most important question for those of you who don’t already know, and that is what is pea protein?
Pea protein is a supplement that is made by extracting protein from dried yellow and green peas. This versatile, sustainable, nutrient-rich protein source is normally used to boost the protein content of shakes and smoothies, as well as vegetarian food products and has a whole range of benefits and nutritional values.
In addition to its benefits and appeal to vegetarians and vegans, pea protein is also hypoallergenic, as it is made free of the most common food allergies, such as dairy, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, gluten and shellfish.
Pea Protein Benefits
#1 High-Quality Source of Protein
Beginning our review of pea protein benefits is that it is an incredibly high-quality source of protein.
Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet and plays a vital role in helping your body build muscles, strong bones, healthy tissue and also in the creation and maintenance of every cell in the human body.
Protein is present within a vast multitude of enzymes that your body uses to produce energy, carry oxygen, and transport nutrients, among many other essential tasks needed to function efficiently; that is why you need plenty of it for your body to continue working to the optimal standard.
As the pea is a leguminous plant, like other legume seeds, it contains a high amount of protein - approximately 20-30% to be exact. In addition to its high protein content, the pea is also rich in essential amino acids.
The human body requires 20 amino acids in order to stay alive. While a total of 11 of them are produced by the body itself, the other nine must be obtained through food sources.
Within pea protein content, it contains all nine of the essential amino acids that your body cannot create, otherwise known as the essential amino acids, or EAAs. Amino acids play vital roles in the body, including healing, repairing, assisting in the creation and growth of muscles, skin, and connective tissue, amongst much more.
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As pea protein has all nine essential amino acids present in it, it is labelled a ‘complete’ protein. Other examples of complete proteins include: meat, dairy, eggs, soy, and poultry. However, pea protein is low in the amino acid, methionine, though this can be compensated for by adding brown rice to your diet.
If we’re going to quickly make a comparison between hemp vs pea protein, while both are considered ‘complete proteins’, hemp is generally higher in fat and carbs, as well as being lower in protein per serving. In a review conducted by Nuzest, which compared the protein content of hemp and pea protein, the study found that pea protein offers 90% protein content on dry weight, whilst hemp offers just 75%, making pea protein the superior option if you’re comparing the two.
Compared to other plant-based protein sources, pea protein is closer to animal-based sources of protein, such as whey, which has a very similar amino acid content.
#2 Vegan Friendly
One of the most notable and recognised health benefits of pea protein powder is the fact that it comes directly from plants, meaning it offers a great substitution for both vegans and vegetarians.
Since it is naturally vegan, pea protein comes with the added benefit of being hypoallergenic, meaning it is highly unlikely a person could experience an allergic reaction as a result of consuming it in any form, with the exception of those who possess an allergy or intolerance towards peas.
Pea protein acts as a gluten and dairy free source of protein, unlike other supplements such as whey, which contains dairy. As we mentioned previously, this form of protein also excludes the presence of the most common eight food allergens, which are: peanuts, eggs, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, and cow’s milk.
An advantage of pea protein being allergen-free is it can be easily incorporated into many specialist diets, unlike animal-based proteins like whey, though it may be worth mentioning that it does contain a slightly nutty natural flavour.
Furthermore, pea protein is cruelty free also, and possesses a lower carbon footprint than other animal-based protein supplements, allowing you to consume it with a cleaner conscience knowing no animals were harmed in the making of it.
Additionally, pea protein blends particularly well with water and has a far less ‘gritty’ or ‘chalky’ texture that is known of other plant-based protein supplements, such as hemp.
It is a great option if you’re a vegan who is looking to boost your protein intake. Alternatively, our guide on the best vegan and vegetarian protein sources can equip you with more ideas for increasing your protein intake.
#3 Good For Your Heart and Kidneys
The next of the many benefits of pea protein isolate is that it carries various advantages for the health of the heart and kidneys.
Pea protein is a great source of lean protein as it is low in saturated fat. Many studies have found that just a few grams of pea protein per day is enough to help lower your blood pressure.
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Food Science, academics explored the antihypertensive properties of pea protein hydrolysate during short and long term oral consumption in spontaneously hypersentisive rats. The findings suggested that pea protein hydrolysate, a partially digested protein powder that contains smaller protein, significantly lower blood pressure levels in rats after just three weeks.
In another 2011 randomised blind study exploring the blood pressure lowering effect of a pea protein hydrolysate in hypertensive rats and humans, findings showed that three grams of pea protein hydrolysate per day lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) by six points.
High blood pressure puts an individual at a higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke, therefore by lowering this through the implementation of regular pea protein intake, it can in turn directly reduce the chances of these encounters.
In addition to the pea protein benefits for blood pressure, according to a number of animal studies, pea protein powder increases the absorption of cholesterol into cells and reduces the body’s production of fats.
To help you understand the different types of body fat, we have a thorough guide to help.
In a 2008 study that explored whether dietary pea protein stimulates bile acid excretion and lowers hepatic cholesterol concentration in rats, the researchers found that pea protein stimulates formation and excretion of bile acids, which leads to a reduced hepatic cholesterol concentration and a reduced secretion of cholesterol.
Despite this however, more studies need to be carried out to see whether pea protein can lower cholesterol in humans, though it does look promising. Having low cholesterol in your diet is vitally important in maintaining healthy arteries and preventing heart attacks.
Consuming certain types of protein, such as whey, have been proven to be damaging to the kidneys, causing side effects such as bloating, gas and other digestive problems. Some products on the market have even been known to contain damaging ingredients which over an extended period of time can cause more harm to the body. However, a number of studies have suggested that pea protein could in fact prevent or delay kidney damage in those with high blood pressure.
In fact, researchers who studied the effects pea protein had on animals with kidney diseases saw a positive increase in urine production after eight weeks of consumption, which again, is promising, however, there needs to be more studies in humans to see if the effects are the same.
It is important to note, like when consuming any protein, it is crucial that you do not exceed your recommended intake, as consuming too much of any source of protein can result in hindering the kidneys health.
So to answer your query of ‘is pea protein good for you, your heart, and your kidneys?’, in short, yes it is.
#4 Great Source of Iron
Another of the pea protein powder health benefits is the fact that it is also very rich in iron, which goes against the common misconception that vegan products are generally low in the necessary mineral.
As mentioned in our best vitamins for energy article, iron is essential for the circulation of blood and oxygen in the body and is important towards helping your metabolism.
Most pea protein powder products contain between 5-7.5mg of iron per serving, which works out between 28-42% of the reference daily intake for premenopausal women. It also contains 62-94% of men and postmenopausal women’s reference daily intake too.
However, one downside of pea protein’s rich iron profile is that iron found in plant foods is a lot less absorbable than iron that is found in animal products. But, this can be remedied by consuming pea protein with food that is rich in Vitamin C. This can increase the absorption rate by up to 67%.
Iron is essential for the body's processes, such as the circulation of blood and oxygen, as well as playing an important part towards metabolism. If someone struggles with an iron deficiency (statistics show this is more likely to affect women rather than men), this can in turn cause side effects such as: nausea, breathing difficulties, fatigue, and heart palpitations.
Iron deficiencies are particularly common amongst Indian women, therefore, a supplementation of pea protein benefits those who need additional help in receiving an adequate amount of iron.
Consuming pea protein on a regular basis has been proven to help alleviate those issues and correct the deficiency, leaving you feeling energised and reducing the chances of suffering with any of the mentioned symptoms.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan who doesn’t get iron from animal foods, pea protein can provide an important boost for you. However, it is worth highlighting that while pea protein supplements provide a great way to increase iron intake, it is highly recommended you consult a GP or healthcare professional if you feel your iron deficiency may be a result of anaemia.
#5 Helps Build and Maintain Muscle
It might be hard to believe, but another of the pea protein benefits is that it has been proven to help build muscle mass just as effectively as an animal-based protein such as whey.
Pea protein contains high levels of branched-chain amino acids, such as l-arginine, which play prominent roles in building muscle, as well as enhancing the human growth hormone. When paired with resistance training exercises, it can help take your muscle growth to the next level!
A 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers compared a sample of men who weight-lifted and consumed 50g of pea protein supplementation everyday for 12 weeks, against those who did the same but swapped the pea protein with whey products.
The findings showed that when combined with appropriate training, a supplementation of pea protein promoted a greater increase of muscle thickness when compared to the results from the placebo experiment, especially for those either starting or returning to muscular strengthening. There was no difference when researchers compared the two protein groups, meaning that vegetable pea proteins could be used as a direct alternative to whey-based supplements.
The rich amino acids present in pea protein also proves effective for repairing, rebuilding, and maintaining muscles, also.
When you work out, muscle tissue is torn and needs an immediate supply of amino acids in order to repair it and layer extra muscle fibre over the top. Because pea protein is so absorbable, it means that you can take it straight after your workout and get amino acids to the places they’re needed to be quickly.
However, it is important to note that just consuming pea protein on its own without the addition of exercising will not see you build muscle. If anything, it will see you start to put on weight if you are simply adding on additional protein on top of your current dietary habits, therefore it is vital that you perform exercise regularly if you want pea protein to benefit your muscle mass - perhaps use the OriGym guide on the best tricep exercises for muscle and strength to achieve optimal results.
#6 Helps to Deal With Appetite
Scientific studies and research have presented evidence to support that consuming pea protein supplementation can leave the body feeling fuller for longer periods of time in comparison to foods that contain high amounts of fat and carbs.
The reason for this is due to pea protein’s direct effect on lowering the levels of ghrelin in the body, also known as the hunger hormone. Studies have shown that eating high protein foods causes ghrelin levels to decrease, which in turn curbs craving and reduces appetite.
Additionally, combining pea protein with a number of fruits that possess the same benefit could guarentee a reduced appetite. If you don't know where to begin, this best super fruits article will be a helpful read.
In a 2012 study published by The British Journal of Nutrition, the research found that consuming 20g of protein 30 minutes before eating pizza suppressed the appetite in young males and reduced their calorie intake by up to 12%.
Other research has suggested that by consuming pea protein, it creates the same feelings of fullness that dairy-based protein supplements provide, such as whey and casein.
#7 Helps You Lose Weight
As a result of the previous pea protein powder benefits, by helping control the appetite this in turn will have a direct impact on weight loss.
As previously mentioned, consuming foods and supplements that possess a high protein content have been proven to reduce cravings and feelings of hunger. This will likely see a person snack less frequently and prevent them from consuming unnecessary calories, meaning that they will lose more weight as a result.
As you know, when ghrelin (the hunger hormone) is released into the bloodstream, it leaves you feeling hungry. However, with pea protein’s ability to make you feel fuller for longer the ghrelin will stimulate the growth hormones instead, which break down fat tissue and grow and build muscles. Therefore, consuming pea protein supplements will mean that ghrelin has a positive effect in helping you lose any excess weight and tone up.
In addition to its ability to curb cravings, pea protein also contains approximately 10% fewer calories in a servings when compared to whey protein. It is also made up of just two (or less in some cases) grams of carbohydrates and under half a gram of fat per serving. Therefore, pea protein provides a brilliant dose of healthy protein that does not possess any hidden calories and nutrients.
Another of the benefits of pea protein and its effect on weight loss is that it is proven to control blood sugar levels. People who consume pea protein supplements say that it reduces their sugar cravings, meaning that, again, they will be less likely to snack in times when they’re not actually hungry. Pea protein also keeps energy levels high, therefore the need for an energy boost in the form of sugary foods will not be necessary.
Of course this would all be most effective when paired with a fat burning training programme. Why not check out OriGym's benefits of medicine ball training article and see how combining this super explosive training method will benefit your pea protein intake.
As pea protein powder benefits go, the ability to help you lose weight is one of the most popular amongst users of this supplement.
#8 Easy to Digest and Easy on the Stomach
One of the other pea protein powder benefits that we have touched on previously is that the body digests it easily, therefore it is proven to be gentle on the stomach.
Labelled the ‘unlikely allergens’ by The University of Michigan, peas are known for digesting easily. As we already know, pea protein is 100% natural, meaning that there aren’t any hidden additives in it. The clean, natural ingredients mean that pea protein won’t contain any allergens or irritants either.
A lot of protein brands aren’t as natural because it's cheaper and quicker to mix them with artificial products, which is why it’s best to avoid man-made ingredients and stay organic to best achieve the results you want in as healthy a manner as possible.
Studies have proven that pea protein powder is much easier to digest, unlike casein proteins, for example, as it digests down into small particles in vitro. Casein proteins on the other hand, dissolve.
During the production process of pea protein powder, a lot of the fibre is removed which means that the risk of bloating or gas is greatly reduced.
Similarly, L-Glutamine is another supplement which can improve gut health, too!
Compared to other legumes, peas more often than not tend to be lower in compounds that can cause digestive upset, such as phytic acid, which is a substance that impairs the absorption of calcium, zinc, and iron, and can promote mineral deficiencies.
The fact that it can be digested easily and there is little to no risk of pea protein consumption causing illness or bloating afterwards makes this yet another great example of the pea protein health benefits!
#9 Next to No Side-Effects
So you’re aware of all of the pea protein powder benefits, but now you’re probably wondering questions along the lines of: ‘is pea protein isolate bad for you?’, ‘what are pea protein dangers?’, ‘what are pea protein side effects?’.
Well, you’ll be very glad to know that there are next to no side effects or dangers discovered through research that are caused by a regular consumption of pea protein.
However, we’re going to run through some of the potential pea protein side effects, just to cover all of the grounds, though be reassured that there is an incredibly slim chance that anything negative can come from taking pea protein supplementation.
Starting with the most obvious, if you’re allergic to peas, then stay away from pea protein. That part is pretty self-explanatory.
One of the pea protein health benefits is the fact that it’s high in sodium. It’s estimated that we need around 500mg of sodium every day to help maintain the balance of water and minerals in our body. However, if you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, perhaps pea protein and its high sodium properties won’t be the best protein option for you.
As previously mentioned, if you do not perform exercise regularly, pea protein could lead to you putting on involuntary weight (unless this is your objective), and like all proteins, too much of it could potentially lead to kidney disease.
Aside from this very short list, there are no other notable pea protein dangers that you should be aware of.
Pea Protein Dosage
Pea protein powder is an easy way to boost your protein intake.
It may be especially helpful for people trying to increase muscle mass, like bodybuilders or older adults.
Research shows that eating 0.73 grams of protein per pound (1.6 grams per kg) of body weight per day is the most effective dose for building muscle.
However, it’s important not to exceed 2.3 grams of protein per pound (5 grams per kg) of body weight per day or get more than 35% of your calories from protein.
This is because, at extremely high doses, your liver may struggle to process protein fast enough, causing side effects like high levels of ammonia in the blood, nausea, diarrhea and even death. However, you will find this is the case, even amongst all the products in our report of the best cheap whey protein powders.
Pea protein is most commonly incorporated into diets and lifestyle in the form of shakes and smoothies, or mixed with juice or water following a workout. However, if you're looking for alternative ways to consume ea protein, we've included a couple of our favourites below:
- Mixed into oats or wheat porridge
- Added into baking recipes, such as brownies, cakes or muffins
- Blended into a smoothie and frozen
How is Pea Protein Made?
The pea protein extraction process involves both dry and liquid phases. The outer shell of the pea, which mainly consists of insoluble fibres, is removed by a mechanical process.
After grinding and milling, the pea is turned into a flour that retains proteins, starches, fibres, vitamins and minerals. The protein is then predicted to its isoelectric point, meaning it now contains no electrical charges. What’s left after this process is a fine powder of purified protein that can be used as part of our nutrition. This powder is pea protein isolate!
It is important to note, however, that pea protein has more benefits to it than simply boasting as a 100% natural plant-based supplement and the number one vegan protein source, as you’ll soon find out! This article will explore the pea protein’s benefits, nutritional values, and possible side effects.
Pea Protein Nutrition
Depending on the brand and supplementation, pea protein nutrition values can vary, however, if we refer to Holland & Barrett’s Pulsin Pea Protein Powder for reference, the nutritional values in one 10g serving are as follows:
- Calories: 35
- Protein: 8.2g
- Carbs: 0.32g
- Fiber: 0.24g
- Total fat: 0.17g
- Sodium: 0.15g
Where to Buy Pea Protein?
As the popularity of vegetarian and vegan alternatives continue to increase and more people are opting to neglect meat and animal-based products from their diet, it acts as a huge advantage for pea protein, as it means it is rapidly becoming higher in demand, therefore is becoming as widely available as that of standard whey protein.
Due to this, acquiring pea protein is very accessible, with most sports and health specialist stores now stocking it. Lile with any supplement, we would always encourage buying from a brand that holds a trusted reputation, that way you know what you are getting.
We would personally recommend buying peal protein from the likes of Holland & Barrett, supplement retailers MyProtein and The Protein Works and global online retailer Amazon.
Pea protein can also be found in supermarkets such as Asda and Tesco.
When to Take Pea Protein?
When to take pea protein falls under the exact same bracket as the frequently asked question of when to take standard/whey protein.
The easiest way to answer this is it depends solely on a person's health and fitness goals. Depending on whether someone is using protein to lose weight, preserve or build muscle will generally affect the time of day you will incorporate pea protein into your diet.
Below we have broken down the best times to take pea protein based on the desired goal.
Protein is considered one of the most important nutrients for fat loss. This comes as a result of research showing that following a high-protein diet can raise the body’s metabolism, as well as reducing appetite.
Protein plays a role in decreasing appetite by reducing the body’s levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone), whilst simultaneously increasing levels of appetite-reducing hormones, such as peptide YY (PYY), cholecystokinin (CCK) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1).
Due to this, it is recommended to those who are looking to lose weight to consume high-protein snacks (such as a pea protein shake) between meals as it will in turn lead to you consuming fewer calories later in the day. Pair a protein shake with our full-body kettlebell workout for any fitness level and watch your progress reveal itself in no time.
When to consume protein for the purpose of building muscle is a hugely controversial and widely debated topic within the fitness industry.
Fitness enthusiasts and gym-goers have long held the opinion that consuming a protein-rich supplement or snack 15–60 minutes after exercise is most effective. This time frame is known as the ‘anabolic window’ and is believed to be the best time for gaining the most out of nutrients such as protein.
On the other hand, research conducted over the past few years has argued that the anabolic window is much larger, suggesting that consuming protein any time up to two hours following a workout is perfect for building muscle mass.
For an effective workout plan that will enable you to further the benefits of pea protein, check out our guide on how to get bigger arms fast.
Preventing Muscle Loss
Maintaining muscle mass becomes increasingly important as we age. On average, people lose approximately between 3-8% of their muscle mass each decade after the age of 30, this in turn is directly linked to shorter lifespan as well as higher risk of fractures.
For this particular purpose, researchers recommend intaking protein evenly throughout the day to help prevent muscle loss with age, with a recommended amount of 25–30g of protein per meal.
Exercise Recovery and Performance
When we’re focusing on endurance training, it has been suggested that pairing high protein snacks/supplements with a source of carbohydrates both during and after exercise may lead to improved performance, as well as recovery and reducing pain/soreness.
Similarly, protein can help improve both performance and recovery of resistance training, however this does not have to be paired with carbs for optimal effectiveness.
For most people, eating enough protein is more important than timing protein intake. However, athletes partaking in resistance training can benefit from taking protein either immediately before or after a workout.
It is vital that you do not dismiss the importance of rest days and how many you need in order to achieve optimal results consistantly.
This general guide would apply for most types of protein supplementation also, including soy, casein, hemp, whey, etc.
With all this in mind, is pea protein good for you? Bottom line, yes. There are a few potential side effects, but for the most part, pea protein is very much one of the safer protein supplements on the market.
With pea protein’s nutritional value and the benefits that come from consuming it, as well as having next to no side effects, that makes it one of the safest proteins available today.
Whether you're looking for a relaxation aid, a boost for your iron levels or an overall supplement to support your heart and kidneys, this vice has it all.
Alternatively, you can download our latest course prospectus for more information!
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- Smith CE, Mollard RC, Luhovyy BL, Anderson GH. The effect of yellow pea protein and fibre on short-term food intake, subjective appetite and glycaemic response in healthy young men. Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 1:S74-80. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512000700. PMID: 22916818.
- Banaszek A, Townsend JR, Bender D, Vantrease WC, Marshall AC, Johnson KD. The Effects of Whey vs. Pea Protein on Physical Adaptations Following 8-Weeks of High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): A Pilot Study. Sports (Basel). 2019;7(1):12. Published 2019 Jan 4. doi:10.3390/sports7010012
- Nuzest USA. n.d. Pea Protein Vs Hemp Protein: Which Protein Is Better?. [online] Available at: <https://nuzest-usa.com/blogs/blog/pea-protein-vs-hemp-protein>
- Girgih, A.T., Nwachukwu, I.D., Onuh, J.O., Malomo, S.A. and Aluko, R.E. (2016), Antihypertensive Properties of a Pea Protein Hydrolysate during Short‐ and Long‐Term Oral Administration to Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats. Journal of Food Science, 81: H1281-H1287. https://doi.org/10.1111/1750-3841.13272
- Li H, Prairie N, Udenigwe CC, Adebiyi AP, Tappia PS, Aukema HM, Jones PJ, Aluko RE. Blood pressure lowering effect of a pea protein hydrolysate in hypertensive rats and humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Sep 28;59(18):9854-60. doi: 10.1021/jf201911p. Epub 2011 Sep 2. PMID: 21854068.
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