Whey protein has been around for some time. Decades in fact. As has casein (typically peddled as a “slow release” protein alternative to “fast-acting” whey).
Over the last couple of years, people have begun to realize that whey isn’t the uniquely beneficial protein source that supplement manufacturers have made it out to be. A by-product of cheese manufacturing, whey is indeed a very protein dense ‘food’ – if we can call it a food – but the concentration of protein in a substance is not the only thing to consider.
Amino acid profile, digestibility, overall composition, its effects on digestion and health, not to mention its effect on the environment – these are all things we should consider when choosing a protein supplement.
And indeed people are now putting more weight on things like overall composition and health effects when shopping for supplements.
It is only in the last 5 years that you will have noticed things like rice, soy, beef, and pea protein powders appearing on the shelves at your local supplement store. Whey is definitely still king in terms of sales volumes. But these products have together taken a hefty bite out of whey’s dominance.
More and more people are opting for things like rice, beef, and egg protein supplements as more natural, effective sources of amino acids. We think this trend will continue as the positive PR for whey runs out of steam and people start to realize that there’s nothing special about cheese by-product – quite the opposite!
In this article, we’re going to take a look at pea protein.
How is it made?
How good of a protein source is it?
Is pea protein a good supplement for bodybuilders?
What are the benefits of using pea protein over other products like whey or rice?
Below you will find a run-down of the main facts you need to know about pea protein, and pea protein supplements in particular. If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know in the comments section at the end.
How Is Pea Protein Made?
The process for making pea protein is very simple. It is not a waste product of any other manufacturing process (unlike whey), and there is not a great deal of processing involved (unlike beef protein powder).
Pea protein is made by grinding dried peas into a fine powder and then separating the fiber and starch. When you have removed the fiber and starch, you are essentially left with pea protein, some leftover fiber and carbs, a little fat, and some residual vitamins and minerals.
When the concentration of pea protein in this product is high enough (and the other components sufficiently filtered out), we’re left with pea protein isolate, which can then be ground up further, mixed with natural flavors, and sold as a supplement powder.
The process is incredibly simple and straightforward. To go from fresh pea to protein isolate, we only need to take the simple step of grinding the peas and then filtering out the starch and fiber with water. You can then dry the product, grind it some more, add other stuff to it, etc., but the making of the pea protein itself is a very basic process.
So that’s how pea protein supplements are made.
But you probably don’t care about that!
What about the nutrition?
Pea Protein Nutrition Facts
The exact nutritional profile of a protein supplement will of course vary. It depends on the separation process, the peas being used, and so on. Realistically, two tubs of any protein supplement from the same factory will have slightly varying protein content. But we can get a rough gauge for how much protein we get per serving (these are usually accurate to within a gram or two).
Here is the nutritional profile of a standard, average pea protein isolate:
Here is another nutritional profile from a different product (10g serving, so multiply by 3 to compare to the above label):
As you can see, they’re very similar.
Generally speaking, 30g servings of pea protein isolate supplements will provide:
- 24g of protein
- 1g of fat
- 1g of carbs
- 0.5g of fiber
- 119 kcal
That is an excellent nutritional profile for a protein supplement. It is ideal for a post-workout shake; the lack of fat and fiber means you can consume a lot without bloating, and it will produce a big insulin spike (causing an anabolic response and an end to muscle catabolism).
How does this nutritional profile compare to whey?
Here is a comparison of two popular products from the same brand – one is a pea protein isolate, one is a whey protein isolate:
The one on top is whey isolate, the one on bottom is pea isolate.
As you can see, these nutritional profiles are very similar.
The only real difference is that whey contains more fat than pea protein, and significantly more saturated fat.
Whey also contains more sugar – an infinitely greater amount. Pea protein has 0g of sugar per serving. Whey has 1g of sugar per serving.
In terms of protein content, pea is just as good as whey, if not better!
But what about amino acid profile?
Let’s take a look!
Pea Protein Amino Acid Profile
The total amount of protein in a food or supplement isn’t the be all and end all.
It’s possible to get too hung up on the amino acid profile of a protein. It isn’t particularly important. But it is definitely something to consider if you want to optimize muscle growth as much as possible.
Here is a typical amino acid profile cited for pea protein:
That’s a very good amino acid profile if your primary goal is building/retaining muscle.
Pea protein is almost 9% Leucine by weight. Leucine is the most important amino acid when it comes to building muscle. It acts as an “anabolic trigger”; when your cells detect the presence of leucine, they begin protein synthesis. Basically, leucine tells your body to start making more muscle tissue!
We also get lots of valine, isoleucine, and glutamic acid – muscle building covered!
But how good is this compared to other protein sources?
Here is the amino acid profile of whey:
And here is the amino acid profile of beef:
In our opinion, pea is comparable to whey in terms of its leucine and isoleucine concentrations.
It appears to be significantly better than beef on both points.
SO is pea protein a good choice for bodybuilders?
Anyone who wants to suggest otherwise will have to also concede that beef and whey do not make good muscle builders.
Pea protein is a fantastic choice for anyone who wants to up their intake of anabolic amino acids while avoiding the sugar and saturated fat that comes with whey or beef proteins!