Hemp vs Pea Protein Powder: Which One is Better?

UK Fitness Pro
UK Fitness Pro
· 19 min read
An image representing hemp and pea protein powders.

Although animal proteins from dairy products, such as whey protein powder and casein protein powder, can support various athletic outcomes, these may not be an option for those on a vegan diet or with certain food allergies (e.g., lactose intolerance). Fortunately, there are numerous vegan protein powders that represent excellent sources of protein. Here, we focus on two plant-based protein sources—pea and hemp protein—and look at the scientific evidence on how much protein they provide, whether either is a complete protein source, and their potential health and fitness benefits. 

What Are Pea and Hemp Protein Powders?

Pea protein isolate is produced by processing yellow peas or yellow split peas to remove the carbohydrates and fibres, resulting in a concentrated form of protein known as pea isolate (or pea protein isolate). 

Hemp powder requires comparatively minimal processing and is made by grinding hemp seeds into a fine powder, retaining most of the seeds' nutritional content, including protein, fibre, and essential fatty acids. Thus, food manufacturers may require more energy to produce pea protein, so its environmental impact could be greater. 

Nevertheless, as plant-based proteins, the production of both pea and hemp powders is likely more sustainable than the production of milk-based powders (1).

How Much Protein?

How much is enough protein? 

According to the Mayo Clinic, someone who lifts weights frequently or who is training for an endurance event should aim for a daily protein intake of 1.2–1.7 grams per kilo of body weight. For instance, a 72-kilo individual (the average weight of a woman in the UK) would aim for 86–122 grams of protein per day, while an 85-kilo individual (the average weight of a man in the UK) would aim for 102–145 grams. The top three rows of the table below show how many calories and how much protein, carbs, and fats hemp and pea protein powders have per 100 grams. 

The rows below contain the same information for other types of plant-based protein powders (rice, soy, vegan blends) and for whey protein isolate (a popular milk-based powder). 

Table 1. Calories and Macronutrients in Plant-Based (Hemp, Pea, Soy, Rice, Vegan Blend) and Whey Protein Powders

Supplement TypeCalories per 100gProtein (g per 100g)Carbs (g per 100g)Fats (g per 100g)
Pure Hemp 504064716.013.0
Bodybuilding Warehouse Pea Protein Isolate3958036
Myprotein Pea Protein Isolate388802.65.5
Myprotein Rice Protein Powder423783.82.1
Myprotein Soy Protein Powder360901.81.5
Myprotein Vegan Protein Blend3667111.02.5
Bodybuilding Warehouse Vegan Blend337716.52.5
Myprotein Whey Protein Isolate359814.61.1

As you can see, the pea-based protein powders both have 80 grams of protein per 100 grams. Taking the example of the 85-kilo man who would need up to 145 grams to meet their daily nutritional needs, they would need about 180 grams of pea protein powder per day, which works out to six 30-gram scoops. If this sounds like a lot, remember that there are lots of ways to consume protein powder—it's not just about protein shakes—and some of your protein needs will be met by eating the types of high-protein whole foods mentioned towards the end of the article. 

The table also shows that Pure Hemp 50 protein has 47 grams of protein per 100 grams. Again, taking the example of the 85-kilo man, they would need to have a little over 300 grams of hemp protein powder to reach 145 grams of protein, which works to about ten 30-gram scoops. Therefore, it may be easier to reach your protein targets with a pea protein powder than with a hemp protein powder

You can also see in the table that whey protein (the "gold standard" among milk-based proteins) has a similar amount of protein to pea protein, but substantially more than hemp protein. To learn more, check out our article comparing hemp and whey protein. You might also like our articles comparing soy concentrate and isolate and comparing soy and pea proteins

Amino Acid Profile

Amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of protein as they're what your body uses to make proteins. How well a protein source can provide these building blocks depends in part on its amino acid profile—that is, on how well each of the amino acids is represented. 

Figure 1. Grams of Essential Amino Acids per 100 Grams of Hemp and Pea Protein Isolate

Figure showing essential amino acid profiles of hemp and pea protein isolates

As shown in the figure above, compared to hemp protein isolate, pea protein isolate provides more of all the essential amino acids (2*), with the exception of methionine. 

Essential amino acids are those that the human body can't make itself and that need to be obtained through foods (or supplements). As hemp provides some of all of these, it could be considered a high-quality protein source and a complete protein

Nevertheless, perhaps the main difference between pea and hemp proteins is that the former provides substantially more of the majority of the essential amino acids. 

Figure 2. Grams of Non-Essential Amino Acids per 100 Grams of Hemp and Pea Protein Isolate

Figure showing non-essential amino acid profiles of hemp and pea protein isolates

Compared to hemp protein isolate, pea protein isolate also provides more of all of the non-essential amino acids (2*), with the exception of cysteine (both provide just 0.2 grams per 100 grams). 

However, as hemp protein provides some of all of the amino acids, do these differences matter? Let's look at how much of each of the amino acids you need to achieve fitness-related outcomes. 

Differences in Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The BCAAs consist of the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine and have been linked to a wide range of athletic outcomes

  • Leucine: Leucine is important for muscle protein synthesis (3), which is the process through which amino acids are incorporated into muscle cells. Supplementing with just a few grams of leucine per day (about 3.7 grams for an 85-kilo person) has been linked to improved power and endurance (4). You'd need about 140 grams of hemp protein (almost five scoops) or 65 grams of pea protein (about two scoops) to hit this target. Therefore, getting enough leucine from either is possible, though pea protein would be a better option if five scoops of a protein powder supplement sounds like a lot.
  • Isoleucine and Valine: There's not much evidence that either of these amino acids in isolation influences athletic outcomes. For this reason, BCAA supplements usually have more leucine than isoleucine or valine. For example, common ratios include 2:1:1 and 4:1:1 (leucine: isoleucine: valine).
A BCAA supplement

My BCAA supplement. A good option if you're concerned about low levels of BCAAs in your protein supplement. 

Differences in Other Essential Amino Acids 

  • Phenylalanine: Supplementing with 3 grams of phenylalanine per day has been linked to fat loss (5). You'd need about 165 grams of hemp protein (five and a half scoops) or 80 grams of pea protein (about two and a half scoops) to get 3 grams of phenylalanine. Again, therefore, hitting this target with either wouldn't be unrealistic, though it would be easier with pea protein.
  • Histidine, Lysine, Methionine, Threonine: There's not much evidence that suggests that supplementing with any of these essential amino acids in isolation can improve athletic outcomes.

Differences in Non-Essential Amino Acids

  • Arginine: Research (6) suggests that supplementing with 10–12 grams of arginine per day can improve anaerobic performance (e.g., lifting weights) and supplementing with as little as 1-5–2 grams per day can improve aerobic performance (e.g., running). A large scoop of either hemp or pea protein would get you the 2 grams that may be needed for the aerobic enhancements, so about six large scoops of either would be needed to hit the grams that may be needed for the anaerobic enhancements.
  • Cysteine: As little as 0.5 grams of cysteine per day can minimise exercise-induced muscle damage (7). However, as both pea and hemp proteins contain very little cysteine, you'd need 250 grams (over eight scoops) to get 0.5 grams of cysteine.
  • Glutamic Acid: Supplementing with glutamine, a derivative of glutamic acid, has been linked to a reduced risk of infection following endurance events (8) and improved recovery (9). There's also evidence that strength, power, and lean muscle mass can be improved by supplementing with 0.35 grams of glutamine per kilo of body weight per day (10), which works out to about 30 grams for an 85-kilo person. Even if all the glutamic acid you consume was converted into glutamine, you'd still need some 400 grams of hemp protein (13 or so scoops) or 230 grams of pea protein (almost eight scoops). Therefore, you'd probably want to try to hit this target with additional plant-based sources of glutamic acid, like spinach and cabbage.
  • Serine: There's little evidence that serine supplementation by itself influences athletic outcomes, though one study found that a supplement containing 3.6 grams of arginine, 2.2 grams of valine, and 0.2 grams of serine could reduce feelings of fatigue during exercise (11)About 170 grams of hemp protein (less than six scoops) or 80 grams of pea protein (less than three scoops) would be needed.
  • Tyrosine: Supplementing with 0.15 grams of tyrosine per kilo of body weight has been linked to increased endurance (12). An 85-kilo individual, therefore, may require about 13 grams of tyrosine to experience this benefit. This works out to an unrealistic kilo of hemp protein (over 33 scoops) or a half kilo of pea protein (almost 17 scoops)! To help, you could incorporate some tyrosine-rich foods into your diet, like peanut butter and almond butter.
  • Alanine, Aspartic Acid, Glycine, and Proline: There's not much evidence that supplementing with any of these non-essential amino acids in isolation can improve athletic outcomes.

Amino Acid Score

Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS)

The DIAAS is a technique for assessing protein quality by measuring the digestibility of essential amino acids in comparison to a reference protein. A score greater than 100 signifies that the protein fulfils or surpasses the necessary essential amino acid needs. A study published in Food Science and Nutrition (13) found that hemp protein had a score of 54 and pea protein had a score of 70. For comparison, eggs and whey protein have scores of 101 and 85, respectively, and soy has a score of 91. 

Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) 

The PDCAAS is a method that evaluates the quality of a protein based on its amino acid content adjusted for its digestibility and its ability to supply essential amino acids in accordance with human requirements. One study calculated that the PDCAAS for a hemp protein isolate was approximately 43 (14), whereas another calculated that the PDCAAS for a pea protein isolate was about 85 (15). 

Muscle Growth

Evidence indicates that both hemp and pea proteins can be used to increase muscle mass. 

Hemp protein: One study (16) explored the impact of hemp protein supplementation on muscle growth and strength during resistance training in young adults. Participants, both males and females, received 40 grams of hemp protein per day over eight weeks of resistance training. The results indicated sex-specific benefits, with hemp protein increasing muscle thickness in females and preserving muscle performance under fatigue in males, suggesting hemp protein may support muscle growth and endurance during resistance training.

An image representing muscle growth related to pea and hemp protein consumption

Pea protein: Another study investigated the effects of pea protein, compared to whey protein and a placebo, on muscle thickness and strength in males aged 18 to 35 years undergoing a 12-week resistance training regimen, with participants consuming 25 grams of their assigned supplement twice daily. The findings indicated that pea protein supplementation, particularly in individuals with initially lower strength, significantly increased bicep muscle thickness compared to placebo and performed comparably to whey protein, suggesting pea protein is a viable alternative for muscle growth promotion during resistance training.

While there's little evidence linking these supplements to weight loss, they may indirectly promote weight loss, given that muscle mass is correlated with metabolic rate (i.e., you burn more calories with larger muscles). 

Overall Health

In addition to promoting positive athletic outcomes, hemp and pea protein powders may contribute to aspects of general health. Below, we look at how other aspects of their nutritional profiles—besides their amino acid profiles—may affect your body. 

Blood Pressure

There's evidence that supplementing with a pea protein concentrate can reduce high blood pressure (17), which may facilitate more effective blood flow. It seems that equivalent research testing hemp protein with humans hasn't yet been published, but evidence from rodents suggests that it may also help to reduce blood pressure (18). 

Heart Health

Studies with rodents also suggest that pea protein isolate can lower cholesterol (19), which suggests that it could help to reduce the risk of heart disease in people. Since the risk of heart disease increases with age (20), pea protein may be an especially good option for older adults. 

An image representing heart health related to pea and hemp protein consumption

There's also evidence that hempseed oil can reduce cholesterol in people (21). Hempseed oil contains a high concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), including both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (aka "healthy fats"), in a ratio considered optimal for human health. These fatty acids can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and improve the ratio of HDL (good) cholesterol to LDL cholesterol. However, if these fatty acids are partially removed when creating hemp protein powder, it may not have an influence on cholesterol levels. 

Gut Health

Bioactive peptides derived from pea proteins may stimulate the proliferation rate and metabolic activity of beneficial bacteria in the intestine (e.g., Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria), which may contribute to the overall health of the gut environment (22). There's also evidence that hemp seed consumption can increase the abundance of certain bacteria that have been linked to positive health outcomes (23), but it's unclear whether such increases would also be observed following the consumption of hemp protein powder. 

Diabetes

Some research suggests that pea and hemp protein may have benefits for those with certain chronic diseases like diabetes. For instance, studies have found that consuming pea or hemp protein powder alongside a carbohydrate drink can moderate blood sugar levels (24, 24)If you're interested in this subject, you might like our article on the best protein supplements for diabetics

Taste

Plant-based proteins like those made from peas and hemp are often described as having an earthy taste, and they appeal to some people more than others. 

Reviewers of Myprotein's pea protein isolate describe it as "savoury" (in reference to the unflavoured version). Therefore, some mix it with sweeter ingredients (e.g., they have it in a banana smoothie), while others embrace its savoury taste by mixing it with vegetable soup. 

Similarly, some enjoy mixing hemp protein into porridge and having cinnamon on top. 

As taste is obviously a matter of personal preference, you could consider picking up a few small samples in different flavours. For example, Myprotein has pea protein isolate samples in chocolate, coffee and walnut, salted caramel, and strawberry, which currently only cost £0.60 each

The author's pea protein isolate

My sample of Myprotein's Pea Protein Isolate. 

I've only tried the strawberry flavour so far. I didn't have high expectations as peas and strawberries isn't exactly a classic combination, but I was pleasantly surprised. It does have an earthy taste but is sweet without being too sweet, and it mixes really well (I had it with oat milk). 

Other Popular Plant-Based Protein Powders

What about other plant sources of protein?

Brown Rice Protein

Figure 3. Grams of Essential Amino Acids per 100 Grams of Hemp, Pea, and Brown Rice Protein Isolate

Figure showing essential amino acid profiles of hemp, pea, and brown rice protein isolates

As you can see in the figure, brown rice protein has more of each essential amino acid than hemp protein and has a similar amino acid profile to pea protein. However, it has substantially less lysine and substantially more methionine, though there's not much evidence that supplementing with either of these amino acids influences athletic outcomes. 

You might like to check out my article comparing brown rice protein powder with whey protein powder

Figure 4. Grams of Non-Essential Amino Acids per 100 Grams of Hemp, Pea, and Brown Rice Protein Isolate

Figure showing non-essential amino acid profiles of hemp, pea, and brown rice protein isolates

Similarly, brown rice protein has more of each non-essential amino acid than hemp protein and has a similar amino acid profile to pea protein. However, it has three times more cysteine, which has been linked to reduced muscle damage following exercise (7). 

To find out more, check out our article comparing pea and brown rice protein

Soy Protein

Figure 5. Grams of Essential Amino Acids per 100 Grams of Hemp, Pea, and Soy Protein Isolate

Figure showing essential amino acid profiles of hemp, pea, and soy protein isolates

With the exception of methionine, which hasn't been linked to athletic outcomes, soy protein has more of each essential amino acid when compared to hemp protein. Soy protein's essential amino acid profile is quite similar to that of pea protein, though it has a little less of each essential amino acid, especially lysine (not linked to athletic outcomes).

Figure 6. Grams of Non-Essential Amino Acids per 100 Grams of Hemp, Pea, and Soy Protein Isolate

Figure showing non-essential amino acid profiles of hemp, pea, and soy protein isolates

Compared to hemp protein, soy protein has more of each non-essential amino acid, with the exception of cysteine (they have the same amount) and arginine (soy has a little less). Its non-essential amino acid profile is very similar to that of pea protein, though it has about 20% less arginine, which has been linked to improved aerobic and anaerobic performance (6). 

Plant-Based Protein Snacks

If you don't like the idea of consuming your protein in powder form, you could check out one of these snacks made from plant proteins:

Table 2. Comparison of Myprotein's Plant-Based Protein Snacks With Respect to Their Calories and Macronutrients 

Supplement TypeCalories per 100gProtein (g per 100g)Carbs (g per 100g)Fats (g per 100g)
Vegan Carb Crusher394273117
Pea-Nut Square466242727
Vegan Double Dough Brownie403214215
Vegan Gooey Filled Cookie330184911

I've only tried the Vegan Carb Crusher so far. I made a note of my impressions at the time: "Quite chewy, with a bit of a crunch. Good, but quite sweet." If you don't want to commit to a box, you can get a sample Vegan Carb Crusher for about £1.20.

You might also like our article comparing protein bars and protein powders

Myprotein's Vegan Carb Crusher

If you'd prefer a plant-based protein supplement you can make a sandwich with, you could instead check out one of these vegan nut butters:

Table 3. Comparison of Myprotein's Nut Butters With Respect to Their Calories and Macronutrients 

Nut Butter TypeCalories per 100gProtein (g per 100g)Carbs (g per 100g)Fats (g per 100g)
All-Natural Peanut Butter615301248
All-Natural Almond Butter644246.457
All-Natural Cashew Butter637201853
All-Natural Triple Nut Butter622251350

Whole Food Sources of Plant-Based Protein

Peas

It depends on the variety (26), but the peas in my freezer have 6 grams of protein, 11 grams of carbs, 0.4 grams of fat, and 84 calories per 100 grams. 

This means that a cup of peas (165 grams) contains 9.9 grams of protein, 18.2 grams of carbs, 0.7 grams of fat, and 138.6 calories. Therefore, as a whole food source, you'd need about two and a half cups of peas to get as much protein as there is in a single scoop of pea protein isolate

Nonetheless, peas are a valuable source of other essential nutrients like potassium (26) and vitamin E (27). Potassium plays a crucial role in the nervous system and in muscle contraction, while vitamin E is an important antioxidant (i.e., it neutralises molecules that may otherwise cause damage to cells). 

Hemp Seeds

According to Web MD, 30 grams (three tablespoons) of hemp seeds contain 9.5 grams of protein, 2.6 grams of carbs, 14.6 grams of fat, and 166 calories. Therefore, you'd need four and a half tablespoons of hemp seeds (about 250 calories) to get as much protein as there is in a single scoop of hemp protein powder (about 120 calories). However, as mentioned previously, the good balance of polyunsaturated fats in hemp seeds (28) could promote positive health outcomes, such as reductions in cholesterol (21). 

Other Foods

The BBC Good Food website discusses other vegan whole foods that supply a good amount of protein, such as quinoa (4 grams per 100), lentils (9 grams per 100), beans (7–10 grams per 100 depending on the variety), oats (10 grams per 100), and broccoli (4 grams per 100). To learn how to incorporate foods like these into your diet, check out our list of high-protein, plant-based snacks

Conclusion

So, what are the pros and cons of these two plant-based options?

Pea Protein

Pros:

  • Contains 80 grams of protein per 100 grams, making it easier to meet daily protein intake needs with fewer scoops.
  • Provides more of all the essential and non-essential amino acids compared to hemp protein, with the exception of methionine and cysteine.
  • Requires only about two scoops to meet the daily leucine target for muscle protein synthesis, and about two and a half scoops for phenylalanine (linked to fat loss).
  • Associated with significant increases in muscle thickness and strength during resistance training, comparable to whey protein.

Cons:

  • Lower in methionine compared to hemp protein.

Hemp Protein

Pros:

  • Considered a complete protein as it provides some of all essential amino acids.
  • May help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, contributing to heart health, although more human studies are needed.
  • Consumption may increase the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria.

Cons:

  • Less protein. It contains only 47 grams of protein per 100 grams, requiring higher consumption to meet daily protein needs.
  • Provides less of the essential and non-essential amino acids compared to pea protein, requiring about five scoops to meet the daily leucine target.
  • May not be as effective in achieving fitness-related amino acid targets without consuming large amounts.

Therefore, both pea and hemp protein powders serve as great options for those following a plant-based diet or looking for alternatives to animal products, representing high-quality protein sources. Pea protein, with its high protein content and comprehensive amino acid profile, is probably a better choice for meeting your protein requirements and for supporting muscle growth. However, hemp protein is still a good source of protein and could be used effectively to meet protein targets among those engaged in less strenuous exercise. 

If you're interested in finding out more about plant-based protein supplements, they're covered in our articles about the best types of protein powders for seniors, weight loss, and weight gain. You might also like our articles on whey, pea, and soy protein powders, plant and whey powders for bodybuilding, how pea protein compares to whey protein and how protein supplements compare to essential amino acid supplements

About the Author

Dave Robinson, a co-founder of ukfitness.pro, has a background in psychology (BSc) and neuroscience (MSc, PhD). As well as strength training, he enjoys endurance challenges and has run 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. 

The author riding a bike

Foot Notes

*This paper doesn't provide information about tryptophan or aspartic acid.

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