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Pea Protein vs. Whey Protein: Which Is Right For You?

With the recent rise in popularity of plant-based protein powders, picking which protein source is best for you can be a tough decision. We're here to help.

Pea Protein vs. Whey Protein: Which Is Right For You?

Protein. It’s one of the most talked about supplements out there, and the sheer number of protein products on the market reflects its popularity. Protein is an essential building block that every person needs in their diet. Oh, and protein is definitely not only for weightlifters!

So where do you begin? Protein supplements can be broken down into many categories, but one comparison in particular has surfaced over the past few years: pea protein vs. whey protein. With the increasing number of individuals becoming vegetarians and vegans, pea protein has erupted as a supplement. Who should consider pea protein? Is pea protein better or worse than whey protein? Read on for more details.

What is whey protein?

Whey protein is an animal-based product. Whey is derived from milk and is a byproduct of the cheese-making process. In fact, whey is one of two types of protein present in milk. Once the milk is strained, whey is present as a leftover liquid substance. Lactose is present in whey since it is derived from milk. Given its origins, whey protein is not suitable for vegans or anyone who avoids consuming animal byproducts. Whey protein powders are available in almost any store that sells protein powders because they have been the most popular type of protein powder for many years.

Benefits of whey protein

Protein selection is based heavily on personal preference. First, whey protein typically includes more grams of protein in a single serving than other protein products do. Generally, whey protein contains more protein in a serving than plant-based proteins. For example, whey protein powders may contain 30 grams of protein in one serving, whereas a comparable plant-based product may only contain 10-20 grams. Secondly, many people claim that whey protein is easier to digest and absorb. Protein powders with unnecessary ingredients can potentially result in minor stomach discomfort, so it is a relief when protein powder does not cause any problems.

Who should use whey protein?

Whey protein is a great choice for anyone without a dairy allergy. Since whey protein is derived from cow's milk, it would not be suitable for someone who has dairy allergies or intolerances. In addition, vegetarians and omnivores can benefit from whey protein powder in their diets as it provides a versatile and nutrient-dense protein source, especially when meat intake is insufficient.

Whey protein is also a great option for athletes or fitness-goers who partake in regular resistance training. Whey protein is considered the gold standard when it comes to supporting muscle growth and recovery. It has the richest amino acid profile, with an abundance of glutamic acid, which is essential for healthy muscles.

Whey protein can also serve as a convenient and nutrient-dense snack. Consuming protein shakes or smoothies is a great way to support weight management, as the protein will help keep you feeling energized and satiated.

Of course, taste is an important factor when it comes to selecting protein powders. Care/of’s whey protein is derived from grass-fed cows and offers vanilla and chocolate options. You can also add other ingredients like cinnamon and vanilla extract to enhance the flavor profile. Price-wise, the cost of whey protein can differ based on brand and quality. Take Care/of, for example: It's priced at $1.86 per serving or $28 per tub, offering both quality and value.

Recipe using whey protein

5-Minute Protein Energy Bites

Serves: 10

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup whey protein powder
  • ⅓ cup flaxseed meal
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dark chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of Himalayan salt

Instructions: 1.) In a food processor, add all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips and pulse together until well combined. 2.) Add in the dark chocolate chips and pulse a few more times. 3.) Roll the mixture into 10 small balls and place in an air-tight container. 4.) Store in the fridge for up to a week. Enjoy!

Nutrition Information: 1 energy bite

  • Calories: 167
  • Total Fat: 9.8 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 15.1 grams
  • Fiber: 3.6 grams
  • Protein: 7.1 grams

What is pea protein?

Pea protein is a very popular plant-based protein. There are several other plant-based protein powders on the market (e.g. hemp seed, pumpkin seed, soy, etc.), but pea protein is quite popular. Unlike whey protein, which is derived from milk, pea protein is derived from legumes (e.g. yellow split peas). Since pea protein is not animal-based, it does not contain lactose. Plant-based protein powders may be made solely from peas or as a combination of several plant sources.

Benefits of pea protein

Pea protein has exploded in popularity since the number of people following a vegan or plant-based diet has also increased. For those who prefer pea protein powders, two benefits are usually stated. First, pea protein is not derived from animals or animal byproducts. For those who are looking to avoid relying on animals as a food source, this often makes pea protein an ideal choice.

Second, many people claim to have fewer allergic reactions or unwanted side effects when using a pea-based protein powder. Pea protein is usually free from lactose and gluten, which can make it an allergy-friendly option. Always read labels to double-check potential added ingredients.

Who should use pea protein?

Pea protein or other plant-based protein powders are the perfect option for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet. It’s also a good choice for individuals with lactose intolerance who need a dairy-free option.

Care/of makes a delicious and high-quality plant-based protein that contains a blend of pea, pumpkin seed, and hemp. Similar to its whey protein alternative, it also comes in both chocolate and vanilla.

Recipe using pea protein

Green Power Smoothie

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop pea protein powder (or other plant-based protein)
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 cup spinach or kale
  • ½ avocado, pitted and scooped out
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ice cubes
  • Sprinkle of shredded coconut flakes (to garnish)

Instructions: 1.) Add all the ingredients to a blender and mix everything on high until smooth. 2.) Pour the smoothie into a glass and garnish with a sprinkle of shredded coconut. 3.) Enjoy!

Nutrition Information: 1 smoothie

  • Calories: 334
  • Total Fat: 16.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 38.5 grams
  • Fiber: 8.4 grams
  • Protein: 13.7 grams

Differences between pea and whey protein

The most notable difference between whey and pea protein is that pea protein fits into a vegan/plant-based diet, and whey protein does not. There are also a few more additional differences between the two, like amino acid content, digestibility, and more. Let’s take a look at some of these key differences.

Protein content

As noted briefly above, whey protein often contains more protein per serving. Although the differences are often small between a whey protein serving and a pea protein serving (e.g. 27 grams vs. 22 grams), the difference may be a big deal for some consumers.

Protein isolates are products that contain more protein per serving but have reduced quantities of carbohydrates, fats, and some beneficial ingredients. Whey protein and plant-based proteins are available in isolate forms if you are interested solely in getting more protein per serving. As a reminder, it’s very important to read a product’s label to determine how much protein is in a given serving and how large a single serving is.

Amino acid content & profile

The second difference is the amino acid content. Amino acids are the building blocks, or subunits, of protein. You may have heard of the “essential amino acids.” These essential amino acids are the amino acids that humans cannot synthesize on their own. Therefore, we must get these amino acids from our diet.

Many whey proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, which means they are a complete protein. Pea protein contains all of the essential nine amino acids, but is too low in methionine to be considered a complete protein source. If you’re relying on pea protein for amino acids, you’ll need to get methionine from other protein sources, like oats, sunflower seeds, or hemp protein. Care/of’s plant-based protein blends pea protein with hemp and pumpkin seeds to provide a complete amino acid profile.

Alternatively, you can read product label’s to check for each of the nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Digestibility

Digestibility is an important factor when it comes to protein. Whey has a slightly higher digestibility score than pea protein. Better digestibility means that the body can more effectively utilize the amino acids it contains.

However, it’s important to not just look at the protein source; you will also want to check out the ingredients label, as sometimes other ingredients can be added to boost digestibility, such as enzymes.

Allergenicity

Those with allergies need to be especially careful when purchasing protein powders. Most whey and pea proteins are gluten-free, but it’s critical to check the labels, as there may be cross-contamination in facilities that process gluten-containing ingredients.

Additionally, although pea protein is typically a safer choice for those with many common allergies, there are rare legume allergies that exist.

Dietary compatibility

Pea protein stands out as a better choice for dietary compatibility. It caters to a wide spectrum of dietary needs and preferences since it’s lactose-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Its plant-based origin ensures that it's both vegan and vegetarian-friendly, making it a versatile protein source for many.

Taste

The taste of whey and pea proteins is subjective and varies across brands and formulations. Ultimately, the decision for which one is more palatable depends on personal preference. Whey protein tends to have a smoother texture and a more neutral flavor profile. Pea protein can be smooth and neutral, but at other times it can be considered more gritty or grassy-tasting. Each brand and protein blend differs depending on personal taste preferences

Cost

The cost of protein supplements, whether whey or pea, will vary depending on the brand, quality, and formulation. Care/of’s whey protein and plant-based protein are both $28 per tub, breaking down to a per-serving cost of $1.86.

Best for

Whey protein, being rich in amino acids, is optimal for those looking to maximize muscle growth and repair. It is good for individuals without dairy allergies. On the other hand, pea protein is a great choice for those with special dietary needs or anyone who follows a plant-based diet.

The bottom line: Should I use pea protein or should I use whey?

Given the major spike in the popularity of plant-based proteins, many companies now offer both whey protein and pea protein options. When selecting a whey protein powder, it’s important to find a product that has transparent labeling and is sourced responsibly. Similarly, when selecting a plant-based protein, you should look for a product with clear labeling that details the plant sources utilized for the protein itself.

An ideal plant-based protein powder will contain pea protein and other plant sources to increase the essential amino acids in each serving. A few other criteria to focus on when seeking a high-quality protein product (whey or plant-based) include low sugar quantities, organic ingredients, natural flavors, and no unnecessary fillers or additives.

Regardless of which one you choose, they are both superb ways to supplement your protein intake and provide you with an abundance of important nutrients.

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