Written by Ben Carlisle
Last updated on: Sep 18, 2022
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Yes, pea protein powder is safe. It is hypoallergenic, lactose-free and gluten free. Additionally, it is rich in iron and contains all nine essential amino acids. Studies have found it also supports heart health. This plant based protein supplement is a great way to safely increase your protein consumption.
As the name suggests this protein supplement is made from peas but not green pea as you might expect. Pea protein powder is made from yellow peas. These peas are dried out. Then the protein is extracted from them and it is ground into a powder. The finish product is pea protein isolate.
Like whey protein this vegan alternative is a versatile protein powder. It can be used to support both muscle growth and weight loss. It helps with weight loss due to increased protein consumption promoting satiety. This means it makes you feel fuller and reduces hunger (1). Pea protein powder is most often consumed as a protein shake. It is meant to be used as a supplement to a balanced diet.
Protein is an essential nutrient which has been shown to maximise muscle growth, strength and lean body mass when combined with the appropriate training (2). Research has shown it is common for individuals to lack the required levels of dietary protein. This includes individuals following vegan diets. Using a supplement like pea protein powder can help boost protein intake and ensure daily protein requirements are met. This is especially true if you are attempting to gain muscle mass as your protein requirements will be higher.
Protein powders have grown to be extremely popular as they are a quick and easy way increase protein intake. Pea protein powder benefits from being a vegan supplement, hypoallergenic and having a complete amino acid profile. This supplement is easy to add into any diet. If you want to be adventurous and consume this product in more creative ways than protein shakes you can do so. Ways to do this include using it in the cooking process with baked foods such as pancakes, muffins and brownies. You can also add it into porridge oats, yoghurt and even mashed potatoes.
Whether a plant based protein source contains a complete amino acid profile is a common concern. The body needs nine essential amino acids through food sources as it cannot create them. Amino acids are referred to as the building blocks of protein; when you digest protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids (3).
When following a vegan diet it is important to make sure you consume a complete amino acid profile. This can be often difficult to do without consuming animal protein. The good news is pea protein does include the full range of essential amino acids our bodies need. Whilst it does have low methionine levels (4), it has an impressive amino acid profile compared to most plant based proteins (5).
To compensate for the low levels of methionine in pea protein powder you can add the following plant foods which are high in methionine into your diet: oats, quinoa, hemp and sunflower seeds.
Pea protein is high in the amino-acids arginine, leucine, isoleucine and valine. Arginine aids our bodies circulatory system and promotes hearth health. Leucine, isoleucine and valine, help the body regulate energy homeostasis, gut health, metabolism, and promotes immunity against disease (6).
Pea protein is also a great source of iron. The reference nutrient intake (RNI) for iron is 8.7 mg per day for men and postmenopausal women. For premenopausal women it is 14.8 mg per day. Studies have shown nearly 50% of women in the UK do not meet these recommended daily levels (7). A quality pea protein powder can contain as much as 8.1mg of iron in one serving. This makes pea protein an easy and effective way hit the required iron intake each day.
Pea protein powder is hypoallergenic which makes it work with nearly any diet. It is void of the 8 most common allergens; milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree-nut, fish, and shellfish (8). However, individuals who have an allergy or sensitivity to peas should avoid taking pea protein. Recent studies into the health benefits of pea protein have found it may reduce cholesterol levels and fat production. Researches discovered after 16 days of being fed pea protein powder, lab rats had a lower concentration of total cholesterol and fat production (9).
Another study found the consumption of 3 grams of pea protein hydrolysate a day for three weeks, resulted in reduced blood pressure in both human subjects and lab rats (10).
Pea protein powder is not just a great way to boost your protein intake. It can also help you to increase your muscle mass, and improve upper and lower body strength (11). Studies into the effectiveness of pea protein powder have shown it to be a good protein supplement to choose when aiming to build muscle (12). This is due to pea protein having the complete range of branched chain amino acids which helps the growth of muscle tissue (13).
Further to this, research has found for optimal results when building muscle-mass you should consume a protein within 2 hours of exercise (14). This does not matter whether it is whey protein, brown rice protein, pea protein or dietary protein.
Yes, pea protein is suitable for weight loss. Just like whey protein, it will elevate protein consumption which has been proven to increase satiety.This means it will make you feel fuller for longer. This will mean it will be easier to maintain a calorie deficit. It is important to note, no weight loss plan will be successful without maintaining a calorie deficit. Additionally, high fibre levels and resistant starch components, work to suppress appetite and glycemia (3). Further to this, pea protein powder can be used as a meal replacement. This can help keep a calorie deficit as in most cases a protein shake will contain less calories than a meal.
If you are on a diet which restricts your intake of sodium, pea protein powder may not be the best choice for you. The reason for this is because some pea protein powders have high amounts of sodium per serving.
For those with irritable bowel syndrome, pea protein may irritate IBS. Additionally, some people complain pea protein gives them discomfort or bloating. Research has found it is the added fibre found inside protein powders, which can create the feeling of being bloated (15). Plant based proteins often contain at least one of the following: beans, grains and legumes. One of these plant based proteins is often the powders main ingredient. The result is a powder high in lectins. A high consumption of lectins per day can cause bloating (16). If you encounter any bloating or discomfort check the label of your pea protein powder carefully for its levels of lectins. Remember to also carefully check how you are measuring the amount of protein powder you are consuming. This is because over consumption of any protein powder is likely to make you feel bloated or uncomfortable.
If you are on a plant based diet and encounter problems with pea protein isolate, pea protein hydrolysate may be a solution for you. This is a partially digested protein powder which could reduce any bloating or discomfort you encounter.
Whilst protein powders are a fantastic way to boost your intake of protein and other important nutrients it is important to not exceed the recommended daily intake. Guidelines recommend when taking protein powder to build muscle mass you should aim to consume 0.73 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day (17).
Researchers warn, exceeding 2.3 grams of protein per pound of body weight can be dangerous. Similarly, it is not recommended that you get more than 35% of your calories from protein. The reason for this is because recent studies have uncovered, the liver struggles to process protein quickly. The consequence of this is high levels of ammonia in the blood stream, nausea, diarrhoea and in extreme cases death (18).
Pea protein powder is safe to consume if you follow consumption guidelines. This supplement made from yellow peas is great for a range of people. Including, people following plant based diets and those wanting an alternative to whey protein (perhaps to avoid cow's milk). Pea protein is hypoallergenic, this means it is suitable for those with the 8 most common allergens. However, those with a sensitivity to peas should of course avoid taking pea protein powder.