Pea vs Whey Protein Powder: Which is Better for You?

UK Fitness Pro
UK Fitness Pro
· 10 min read
A bag of pea protein isolate

I've been a whey guy for years.

When I started using protein powder, there weren't that many options. Now there are loads. And many powders made from plant proteins have really good macronutrient and essential amino acid profiles. Pea protein powder, made from yellow peas (specifically, yellow split peas), is one of them. 

Below, you'll find some info about the aforementioned profiles and about the effects of pea protein and whey protein on muscle building and health. 

Pea Protein vs. Whey: Essential Amino Acids

If you know that whey protein powder is often referred to as the "gold standard" among protein powders, it'll come as no surprise that whey protein supplements (e.g., whey concentrate and whey isolate) contain all essential amino acids. Additionally, whey protein powder is known for its high leucine content, which is important as leucine has been linked to increased muscle protein synthesis (Garlick, 2005; Mobley et al., 2015) and improvements in power and endurance (Crowe et al., 2006). 

But what about pea protein powder? The graph below shows how pea protein compares to whey protein. 

Grams of Essential Amino Acids 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 you can see, pea protein contains all essential amino acids and so is a complete protein (Babault et al., 2015). Although not quite as much as whey powders, pea protein supplements also have a lot of leucine. Additionally, they have a little more phenylalanine, which has been linked to fat loss (Ueda et al., 2017). 

Pea Protein vs. Whey: Grams of Protein

Here's how pea protein isolates compare with whey protein powders in terms of their calories and macronutrients:

Calories and Macronutrients in 100 Grams of Pea and Whey Protein Powders From Myprotein (MP), Grenade, and Bodybuilding Warehouse (BW)

SupplementCaloriesProteinCarbsFats
BW Pea Protein Isolate3958036
MP Pea Protein Isolate388802.65.5
MP Whey Concentrate405778.37.1
MP Whey Isolate359814.61.1
MP Diet Whey34961134.1
Grenade Whey Protein370781.91.8
BW Whey Concentrate375804.75.7
BW Whey Isolate374901.01.0

In terms of how much protein these supplements have, the pea protein isolates (top two rows) have at least as much protein as most of the whey protein options. 

If you're interested in how pea protein compares to other plant-based alternatives, check out my articles on pea and soy protein, pea and hemp protein, and pea and rice protein

Pea Protein vs. Whey: Weight Loss

  • Pea protein: An article in Current Developments in Nutrition suggests that pea proteins can reduce hunger, potentially aiding individuals in lowering their calorie consumption and weight (Hawley et al., 2020).
  • Whey protein: Whey protein can significantly improve body composition and reduce fat mass in overweight individuals (Flaim et al., 2017).

​You might also like my article on the best protein supplements for weight loss.

Pea Protein vs. Whey: Muscle Growth

  • Pea protein: A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that men taking 25 grams of pea protein twice daily during a 12-week weightlifting programme significantly increased bicep muscle thickness, comparable to the effects of whey protein (Babault et al., 2015).
  • Whey protein: Research published in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry indicates that taking whey protein immediately before and after resistance exercise over 12 weeks effectively increases muscle mass and strength (Park et al., 2019).

You might also be interested in my articles on pea, soy, and whey proteins and plant-based and whey proteins for bodybuilding

Pea Protein vs. Whey: Strength Training

  • Pea protein: One study showed that pea protein supplementation enhances strength similarly to whey protein when taken during an 8-week high-intensity functional training programme (Banaszek et al., 2019).
  • Whey protein: One randomised controlled trial found that, during a 10-week resistance training programme, male bodybuilders supplementing with whey isolate experienced a significant increase in lean mass and strength (Cribb et al., 2006). Additionally, whey protein supplementation aids in restoring contractile function and muscle recovery within 24 to 96 hours after resistance training, as shown in a meta-analysis of 13 randomised control trials (Davies et al., 2018).

Pea Protein vs. Whey: Health Benefits

  • Pea protein: Pea protein can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension (Li et al., 2011). Additionally, research with rodents indicates that pea protein isolate may reduce cholesterol levels (Stilling, 2020), which could have a positive effect on heart health. This may be particularly beneficial for older adults as the risk of heart increases with age (Rogers et al., 2019).
  • Whey protein: Similarly, whey protein has the potential to decrease blood pressure and lessen arterial stiffness (Fekete et al., 2013), which can improve blood circulation throughout the body. Also, taking whey protein with carbohydrates may help stabilise blood sugar levels (Smith et al., 2022). If you're interested in this topic, you might like my article on the best protein supplements for diabetics.

Pea Protein vs. Whey: Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of producing plant-based proteins is generally lower than that of animal-based proteins (Bryant, 2022), though there are differences between plant proteins. For instance, producing peas likely has a lesser effect on climate change (Cellura et al., 2022) and uses less water compared to soy.

Pea Protein vs. Whey: Heavy Metals

An analysis of 133 whey and plant protein powders published in Toxicology Reports found that the heavy metal levels in the powders did not pose increased health risks, with hazard indices below critical values and blood lead levels well within safe limits (Bandara et al., 2020). It's common for peas (and other plants) to contain small quantities of heavy metals, which are present in soil and absorbed through plants' roots (Adeferati et al., 2017)

Types of Whey Protein

The main types of whey protein are whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate, the latter being a purer form of protein. For instance, Myprotein's whey protein concentrate has 77 grams of protein per 100 grams, whereas their whey protein isolate has 81 grams. 

A scoop of whey protein powder

To learn more about how whey protein supplementation compares with other protein sources and supplements, check out my articles comparing whey to collagen protein, essential amino acids (EAAs), mass gainers, creatine, eggs, casein, hemp, and branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Plant-Based Protein Powders

Here's how pea protein powders compare to other types of protein powder suitable for those on a plant-based diet:

Calories and Macronutrients in 100 Grams of Plant-Based Protein Powders From Myprotein and Bodybuilding Warehouse

SupplementCaloriesProteinCarbsFats
BW Pea Protein Isolate3958036
MP Pea Protein Isolate388802.65.5
BW Soy Protein Isolate3689061
MP Soy Protein Isolate360901.81.5
Pure Hemp 504064716.013.0
MP Rice Protein Powder423783.82.1
MP Vegan Protein Blend3667111.02.5
BW Vegan Blend337716.52.5

As you can see, pea protein powders tend to have more protein than vegan blends and hemp and rice protein powders, though a little less than soy protein powders

If the idea of a protein shake doesn't thrill you, consider getting some of your protein from plant-based protein bars:

Calories and Macronutrients in 100 Grams of Plant-Based Protein Bars From Myprotein

Supplement TypeCaloriesProteinCarbs (Sugar)Fats
Vegan Carb Crusher3942731 (3.0)17
Pea-Nut Square4662427 (17)27
Vegan Double Dough Brownie4032142 (8.3)15
Vegan Gooey Filled Cookie3301849 (4.0)11

Food Sources

Protein powder can be a great way to get extra protein in your diet, but it's important to also eat real high-protein foods, as these contain micronutrients that aren't found in protein supplements. 

If you're on a vegan diet, the BBC Good Food website highlights various vegan whole foods rich in protein, including quinoa (4 grams per 100 grams), lentils (9 grams per 100 grams), various beans (7-10 grams per 100 grams), oats (10 grams per 100 grams), and broccoli (4 grams per 100 grams). 

For ideas on integrating these into your meals, see our guide to high-protein, plant-based snacks.

How Much is Enough Protein?

For those who train often (e.g., lift weights, run), the Mayo Clinic recommends a protein intake of 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilo of body weight per day. For instance, an 80-kilo person would need 96 to 136 grams of protein per day. 

Other Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Better Option for Me?

As discussed above, there aren't any significant differences between these types of protein. Both have a lot of protein and all of the essential amino acids, and both have been linked to increases in strength (Banaszek et al., 2019; Cribb et al., 2006) and muscle (Babault et al., 2015; Park et al., 2019) when combined with physical activity (especially resistance exercises). The biggest difference (obviously) is that one comes from milk (and so may not be suitable for those with certain dietary restrictions or dairy allergies), and the other is a plant-based powder.

How do They Compare in Terms of Their Nutritional Value?

As protein powders are intended to provide relatively pure forms of protein, they tend not to contain many nutrients other than lots of protein (and the amino acids that are the basis of protein). Check out the Food Sources section above if you're interested in protein-rich foods that also provide important micronutrients. 

​Conclusion

If you have lactose intolerance and need to avoid dairy products, pea protein could be a great option. Its excellent amino acid profile makes it a high-quality protein, and its consumption has been linked to weight loss (Hawley et al., 2020), muscle gain (Babault et al., 2015), increased strength (Banaszek et al., 2019), and reduced blood pressure (Li et al., 2011) and cholesterol (Stilling et al., 2020). If you don't have food allergies that require you to avoid products made from cow's milk, whey protein is an excellent choice for anyone looking to increase their protein intake to recover and grow between training sessions. 

You might also like my articles comparing protein bars and powders and on the best protein supplements for weight gain and seniors

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 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 during a bike trip

​References