Pea Protein Powder: Benefits, Uses, Side Effects, and More

Authored by Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC

What Is Pea Protein?

Pea protein is simply protein derived from peas (Pisum sativum), a common dietary legume native to Eurasia. Pea plants have been grown domestically for over 3000 years and are naturally rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, magnesium, essential amino acids, and dietary fiber.  

However, whole peas are not a particularly dense source of protein. For example, 150 grams of green peas contain about 120 calories, 22 grams of carbohydrates (8 of which are sugar and 7 of which are fiber), and 8 grams of protein. 

But pea protein powder contains mostly protein and micronutrients found in whole peas, making it an excellent option for plant-based diets. Pea protein also provides a complete amino acid profile (like whey protein does), high bioavailability, and easy digestibility.

So, how is pea protein made? What are the benefits of pea protein powder? Keep reading and we’ll get you up to speed on the many virtues of pea protein isolate.

How Is Pea Protein Powder Made?

Pea protein is made in quite a similar fashion as whey and casein proteins made from dairy. Large batches of whole peas (usually yellow peas) are smashed to bits and turn into “pea mush,” which is then filtered to isolate the core and skins from the actual pea protein isolate fractions. The pea protein extract, which contains a bounty of antioxidants and other micronutrients, is then power-heated and dried into a powder for use in the final product.

Many useful nutrients, like fiber and vitamins, are also retained the core and skins of the peas. Hence, excess pea mush -- the stuff that doesn't go into pea protein powder -- may be used in other products that the manufacturer makes. For example, pea mush is commonly used in animal feed. 

How Pea Protein Works

Pea protein works much like any other complete protein you find in food, albeit with some distinctions. Protein is an essential macronutrient and plays a critical role in muscle development and maintenance, as well as many other physiological processes such as hormone production and bone regeneration [1].

Pea protein contains structural proteins much like whey/dairy-based protein, such as globulins and albumins. The most abundant protein in peas (and other legumes) is legumin, which is said to account for over 75% of the protein content [2]. Vicilin makes up another large chunk of the protein in peas. 

Legumin is quite similar in both structure and function to the casein protein found in milk.

Is Pea Protein a Complete Protein Source?

Proteins are made up of molecules called amino acids, the veritable “building blocks” of many bodily tissues (especially muscle). "Complete proteins" contain all nine essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis.

Pea protein is a complete protein, uncharacteristic of most plant-based protein. Arguably the biggest difference between dairy proteins (e.g. whey and casein) and pea protein is that the latter is fairly low in methionine and a tad lower in branched-chain amino acids.

While methionine is a key essential amino acid for muscle protein synthesis, it is also what gives many animal-based proteins their high acidity. In fact, low methionine content is one reason that pea protein powder is only weakly acidic and supports an alkaline state [3]. 

Since athletes and gym-goers often consume high-protein diets, the acid-forming nature of animal protein sources may slowly impair kidney function and other bodily processes. Research suggests that consuming more plant protein sources (particularly pea and rice protein) could effectively ameliorate the negative ramifications of high animal protein intake [4].

Uses and Benefits of Pea Protein

Research has continually demonstrated that protein demands are higher in active individuals and those on a plant-based diet are prone to eating less protein than they need for proper health, performance, and longevity [5]. For vegetarians and vegans, a quality plant-based protein powder can help increase protein intake easily and conveniently. 

Pea protein is among the most hypoallergenic and digestible proteins available. It has a well-balanced amino acid profile — high in branched-chain amino acids — which support lean body mass and promote fat loss [6]. 

Moreover, it is suggested that certain plant proteins, especially pea protein (which is rich in isoflavones) may play a role in reducing the risk of cancer, lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and reducing inflammation [7, 8].

Side Effects of Pea Protein Powder

Side effects of pea protein powders are few and far between. The obvious thing to look out for are ingredients in the pea protein powder(s) you’re using that may exacerbate any food allergies or food intolerances you have.

Here are two other potential, albeit rare, side effects of pea protein powder and how to avoid them:

  1. Unexpected Weight Gain – Especially for first-time pea protein users, it can be easy to get a little carried away and take in too much without really being aware of it. People tend to see results and impressive muscle gains after just a few weeks when they first start taking any type of protein supplement; in turn, they are more likely to overdo it and keep increasing their use of the supplement. Remember, protein contains calories and will pack on the pounds just like fats and carbs will.  Don’t go overboard and stay within your calorie/macronutrient needs.

  2. Joint Pain – Some of this can be attributed to unexpected weight gain. Obviously, if you gain weight, you’re going to be putting more biomechanical stress on your joints.  That said, in rare cases, people who mix protein supplements with antioxidant supplements for recovery have been reported to feel unexpected soreness in their joints [9]. If you experience this, your best bet would be to eliminate the antioxidant supplement and see if the symptoms improve. You could also supplement with collagen peptides.

Where to Buy Pea Protein

Pea protein powder can be found at health food stores, supermarkets, supplement retailers, and the like. However, be wary that many pea protein powders contain unnecessary added sugars, non-dairy creamers, and other additives that are more or less dead weight. Always read the supplement facts panel before buying a vegan protein powder and make sure pea protein isolate is one of the first ingredients on the list. 

Transparent Labs Organic Vegan protein contains two complete protein sources: organic pea protein isolate and organic brown rice protein. Pea protein powders tend to have a grainy texture and an unusual flavor that can be challenging to mask. Thankfully, the balance of plant-based protein, natural flavoring, and stevia extract in Organic Vegan yields a vegan protein powder that is uniquely smooth and delicious -- and packed with high-quality protein to boot!

Pea Protein Powder FAQs

Q: I’m lactose intolerant, can I still use pea protein powder?

A: Certainly, pea protein itself is free from lactose.

Q: I’m allergic to milk/dairy, is pea protein safe for me?

A: Pea protein is completely plant-based and does not contain milk or dairy; however, you should always read the label of the pea protein powder you’re using to make sure it doesn’t contain dairy-based additives. 

Q: Can I combine pea protein with my other powdered supplements like creatine, glutamine, etc?

A: Yes, that’s absolutely fine.

Q: Can I use pea protein in cooking/baking recipes?

A: Yes! Pea protein may be used as a replacement or additive in a variety of food recipes to add extra protein content and enhance flavor. We recommend using a quality rice/pea protein powder, like Organic Vegan, to help meet your daily protein needs and spice things up in the kitchen. Remember, rice and peas are two of the relatively few plant foods with complete protein.

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