The Key Benefits of Brown Rice and Pea Protein Powder

UK Fitness Pro
UK Fitness Pro
· 12 min read
A pea pod

Brown rice and pea protein powders are popular for those following a plant-based diet or who need to avoid dairy products or animal sources of protein due to lactose intolerance or other adverse effects. Below, we take a look at these two types of protein powder in terms of their amino acid profiles and the amount of protein they provide. Additionally, we'll look at the scientific evidence for these protein powders supporting common objectives among fitness enthusiasts, such as weight loss, weight gain, muscle growth, and muscle recovery from strength training. 

Brown Rice Protein Powder

Macronutrient Profile

Brown rice protein powder is made by applying select enzymes to whole-grain brown rice to isolate the protein. Unlike white rice, brown rice retains the fibre and nutrients (e.g., b vitamins) that are stripped away in white rice processing. It's usually free from common allergens like soy, lactose, and gluten.

In terms of its macronutrient profile, Myprotein's brown rice protein powder has 78 grams of protein, 3.8 grams of carbs (1 gram of sugar), and 2.1 grams of fat (0.4 grams of saturated fat) per 100 grams. Similarly, the brown rice protein powder from Bodybuilding Warehouse has 80 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of carbs (0.1 gram of sugar), and 3.5 grams of fat (1.4 grams of saturated fat) per 100 grams

​Amino Acid Profile

With regard to the essential amino acid profile* of brown rice protein powder, compared to whey protein powder (often thought of as the "gold standard" among protein powders), it is lower in branched-chain amino acids (lysine, leucine, and isoleucine), threonine, and tryptophan (1). 

However, the two protein powders are comparable with respect to valine, methionine, and histidine, and brown rice protein powder has substantially more phenylalanine. Additionally, although low in certain amino acids, rice protein powder does have a relatively complete amino acid profile in the sense that it contains virtually all of the essential and non-essential amino acids to some degree. 

Figure 1 shows how many grams of each essential amino acid rice and whey protein powders have per 100 grams of protein. 

Figure 1. Grams of Each Essential Amino Acid per 100 Grams of Brown Rice Protein Isolate and Whey Protein Isolate

A graph showing the essential amino acids in brown rice protein isolate and whey protein isolate

Given the extensive evidence that branched-chain amino acids (BCAAS) are important for athletic performance, the fact that there are relatively low levels of these in brown rice protein isn't ideal. 

However, this could easily be addressed by taking an essential amino acid supplement suitable for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet or by consuming vegan protein sources that are high in BCAAS, like lentils. You could also consider an alternative supplement suitable for a vegan diet, such as soy protein powder. While still not as high in BCAAs as whey protein powder, soy protein powder, compared to brown rice protein powder, arguably has a superior amino acid profile as it tends to be higher in all essential amino acids (including BCAAS), with the exception of methionine (1). 

On the other hand, the relatively high level of phenylalanine in brown rice protein may contribute to fat oxidation and loss (2). 

Health Benefits

  • Brown rice protein can attenuate blood-sugar spikes when consumed alongside high-sugar foods (3), which could contribute to more stable energy levels.
  • Despite their different amino acid profiles, research published in Nutrition Journal by researchers at the University of Tampa suggests that rice protein powder may be just as effective as whey protein powder for increasing lean body mass, muscle mass, strength, and power. Additionally, this research did not find differences in perceived recovery, soreness, or readiness to train between those taking relatively small amounts (48 grams per day) of brown rice or whey protein powder (4).
  • A similar study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that both brown rice and whey protein powder supplementation, in combination with resistance training, led to improvements in lean mass, bench press 1-rep max, bench press reps until fatigue, and leg press 1-rep max in young adults. Moreover, there were no significant differences in these outcomes between those taking brown rice or whey protein powder (5).
A brown rice dish

Other Considerations

  • Plant-based protein powders may be harder for the digestive system to process than whey protein powders. However, research (6) suggests that supplementing with digestive enzymes can assist with the breakdown of plant-derived materials, ensuring that amino acids become available for muscle protein synthesis (i.e., the physiological process behind muscle building).
  • While many describe Myprotein's unflavoured rice protein isolate as mixing well and having a sweet, nutty flavour, others evidently feel that what is supposed to be a neutral taste is an assault on the taste buds! Therefore, it may be best to start with a small bag to see if you like it, and be prepared to mix it with other ingredients with flavours you enjoy (e.g., it could be used to make a high-protein porridge with honey, peanut butter, and banana).

Pea Protein Powder

Macronutrient Profile

Derived from yellow peas, usually yellow split peas, pea protein powder has become a popular choice among plant-based proteins. 

Pea protein isolate

A sample of Myprotein's Pea Protein Isolate

In terms of its macronutrient profile, Myprotein's pea protein powder has 71 grams of protein, 6.7 grams of carbs (0.3 grams of sugar), and 1.1 grams of fat (0.1 grams of saturated fat) per 100 grams. Similarly, the pea protein powder from Bodybuilding Warehouse has 80 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbs (0.1 gram of sugar), and 6 grams of fat (1 gram of saturated fat) per 100 grams. These macronutrient profiles are comparable to those of rice protein powders and whey protein concentrate powders from MyproteinBodybuilding Warehouse, and Grenade. (At the time of writing, Grenade only has whey powders.) 

However, as shown in Figure 2, Myprotein's pea protein powder has markedly less protein than the other options. 

Figure 2. Grams of Protein, Carbs, and Fats per 100 Grams In Whey, Rice, and Pea Protein Powders from Myprotein (MP), Bodybuilding Warehouse (BW), and Grenade

A graph showing the macronutrients in whey, rice, and pea protein powders

According to the Mayo Clinic, those training for endurance events or who frequently lift weights require 1.2–1.7 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. 

Therefore, as females and males in the UK weigh, on average, 85 and 72 kilos, respectively, a male would require 102–145 grams per day, and a female would require 86–122 grams per day. A scoop of protein is usually about 25 grams, so four scoops are about 100 grams. As each of the proteins above has about 70–80 grams per 100 grams, four scoops of any would likely provide the individual with at least half of the protein they need. 

Four scoops might sound like a lot, but protein powder isn't just for shakes; there are loads of recipes that use protein powder, including those for ice creamcookiesbiscuitscakes, and even pizza!

Amino Acid Profile

As with rice protein, virtually all amino acids are present to some degree in pea protein. As shown in Figure 3, pea protein powder tends to have less of most essential amino acids compared to whey protein powder, though it has more histidine and, like rice protein, more phenylalanine (7). 

Figure 3. Grams of Each Essential Amino Acid per 100 Grams of Pea Protein Isolate and Whey Protein Isolate

 

A graph showing the essential amino acids in pea protein powder and whey protein powder

As with brown rice protein, the smaller amounts of isoleucine, leucine, and lysine (i.e., the BCAAs) in pea protein powder compared to whey protein powder isn't ideal, given that these are known to enhance athletic performance. However, as suggested above, this could be addressed by taking a vegan amino acid supplement or by consuming BCAA-rich plant-based foods. Also, although whey protein has them in higher quantities, the BCAAs are still very much present in pea protein powder. Additionally, pea protein provides a lot of glutamic acid (about 13 grams per 100 grams of protein), which may help to reduce hypertension (8).  

Health Benefits

  • Like brown rice protein powders, pea protein powders may assist with stabilising energy levels by minimising spikes in blood sugar following carbohydrate consumption (3).
  • When used alongside resistance training, pea protein powder can lead to increases in muscle growth comparable to those seen with whey protein powder (7).
  • There's also evidence that when used alongside high-intensity functional training, pea protein powder can lead to increases in strength (e.g., 1-rep max back squat and deadlift) comparable to those seen with whey protein (9)
  • Additionally, there's some evidence that pea protein powders may assist with recovery from exercise to a slightly greater degree than whey protein powder (10).

​Other Considerations

  • As with rice protein powder, the taste of pea protein powder isn't for everyone. However, Myprotein has small samples in a range of flavours (e.g., chocolate, coffee and walnut, salted caramel) that, at the time of writing, cost less than £1 each, so you could try one of these before potentially buying more of your favourite flavour. If your personal preference is to have a powder with a more neutral taste, Myprotein also has an unflavoured pea protein isolate.

​Other Plant-Based Protein Powders

If you're after a protein supplement that doesn't contain animal products but neither rice nor pea protein powders are an option for you because of dietary restrictions, there are some other plant-based options that are known for their high protein content and for the quality of the protein that they provide.

Soy protein powder 

Soy protein powder is a popular choice among those who need or want to avoid dairy protein. A complete protein source (11), soy protein powders like those from Myprotein and the Bodybuilding Warehouse often provide as much as 90 grams of protein per 100 grams. As with brown rice and pea protein powders, there's evidence that soy protein powders are as effective as whey protein powders when it comes to developing lean mass and strength when combined with resistance training (12).

Soy protein isolate

A sample of Myprotein's soy protein isolate

Hemp protein powder

If you're worried about having an allergic reaction to soy, you could instead consider a plant protein source like hemp. 

Like the other powders discussed here, hemp protein isolate contains all essential amino acids (13), and there's evidence that it can promote muscle size and strength (14). However, hemp powders tend to be relatively low in protein, so it may be necessary to consume large amounts compared to other options. For instance, Bodybuilding Warehouse's soy protein isolate has 90 grams of protein per 100 grams, whereas their hemp protein has just 50 grams, and Myprotein's version has 54 grams. 

Nevertheless, it could still help you reach your protein targets if combined with high-protein vegan foods, and it may contribute to overall health by promoting satiety (15), moderating blood sugar levels (16), and providing fatty acids for joint health (17).

You might also like to check out our article comparing hemp protein powder with pea protein powder

Vegan blends

Although hemp protein contains all essential amino acids, it's quite low in tryptophan (13). 

A vegan blend protein supplement

A sample of Myprotein's vegan blend

If you're concerned about whether the amino acid profiles of individual powders will enable you to meet your dietary needs, a better choice for you may be to use a vegan blend. By combining various protein types (excluding animal-based protein sources, of course), vegan blends have the potential to provide more complete amino acid profiles.

Myprotein's vegan blend combines barley and rice proteins to provide 74 grams of protein per 100 grams, and The Bulk Protein Company's vegan blend combines hemp, pea, and soy proteins to provide 71 grams of protein per 100 grams.

Conclusion

Far from being "incomplete proteins", both brown rice and pea protein powders represent relatively complete protein sources that can provide enough protein to significantly benefit muscle repair and increase muscle strength and recovery following exercise. Therefore, either would represent an excellent choice for anyone looking to capitalise on their efforts in the gym while avoiding other plant-based options due to food allergies (e.g., soy allergies) or animal protein due to ethical concerns (e.g., the environmental impact of producing animal-based proteins).

If you'd like to increase your protein intake by using one of the supplements discussed here but aren't looking to spend too much just yet, you could grab yourself one of these small and inexpensive samples:

Since you have an interest in plant-based protein sources, you might also like our article on how hemp protein compares to whey protein or our various recipes for high-protein, plant-based snacks, which might help you to make a more informed decision about which supplements and foods would be best to incorporate into your daily diet. We also consider plant-based powders in our articles on the best protein supplements for weight lossweight gaindiabetes, and seniors

If you're interested in supplements other than protein powders, you might like one of the following articles:

About the Author

The author

Dave Robinson is a co-founder of ukfitness.pro and has a background in psychology (BSc) and neuroscience (MSc, PhD). As well as strength training, he enjoys endurance challenges and has completed marathons and ultramarathons, cycled across several countries, and completed the Three Peaks Challenge. When writing, he draws on scientific evidence to understand the pros and cons of different diets, supplements, and training regimes. 

Footnotes

*Amino acids are what proteins are made of, so they are often referred to as the "building blocks of protein" and are, of course, vital for human health. 

References

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2. Ueda, K., Sanbongi, C., Yamaguchi, M., Ikegami, S., Hamaoka, T., & Fujita, S. (2017). The effects of phenylalanine on exercise-induced fat oxidation: a preliminary, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14, 34. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0191-x
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