Have you heard about the bodybuilder who couldn’t find a source of protein? Yeah, they’d lost their whey.
But you don’t have to worry about being lost or low on protein. We’re here to help. Here’s what you need to know about pea protein vs. whey protein.
Protein powders are dry, concentrated protein sources you can mix with water (or milk). They can come from a variety of animal and plant sources.
Pea protein comes from *drum roll, please* peas. As a plant-based protein, it’s lactose-free and suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
Whey protein originates from the liquid part of cow’s milk that separates from the solid curds when manufacturers make cheese. Like milk, whey protein powder naturally contains the sugar lactose (aka milk sugar).
These two types of protein aren’t all that different in taste or texture, but you might find you have a preference.
Peas belong to the legume family. If you have any of the following food allergies, it may be a good idea to skip pea protein:
- any other peas or beans
FYI: Some people are allergic to cooked peas but not raw ones. But manufacturers generally prepare pea protein from raw peas.
Pea protein is dairy-free, so it’s safe for people with an intolerance or allergy to dairy.
What about whey? Whey protein might contain allergens like casein (another milk-derived protein) and lactose.
But even if you’re lactose-intolerant, that might not be a deal-breaker. Whey protein (especially in isolate form) has a super low amount of lactose. So it’s generally well tolerated by folks with lactose-intolerance.
Whey is not vegetarian- or vegan-friendly, since it’s derived from milk.
Both types of protein are good options for folks following a gluten-free diet.
OK, so pea protein and whey protein both have one important nutrient: protein. But what else do they have to offer? Let’s take a look.
A 20-gram serving of pea protein powder delivers:
- Calories: 80
- Protein: 15 grams
- Fat: 1.5 grams
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Calcium: 58 milligrams
- Iron: 5 milligrams
The same amount of whey protein isolate powder serves up:
- Calories: 78
- Protein: 18 grams
- Fat: 0.36 grams
- Carbs: 0.4 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Calcium: 86 milligrams
- Iron: 0 milligrams
The bottom line: Per 20-ounce serving, both options have about the same calorie count. Whey protein can provide more calcium, but pea protein might be the more appealing option if you’re looking to get more iron.
Whey protein has disease-fighting and antioxidant properties that may help you live longer and improve your physical performance.
Your body uses amino acids to form proteins. The balance of amino acids in protein impacts how easily your body can use it.
Although hundreds of amino acids exist, you need only 20 of them to make the proteins found in the human body. Nine of these amino acids are essential — that means your body can’t make them, so you need to get them from your diet.
Whey protein contains all nine essential amino acids in the correct ratios to form protein. It’s considered a complete protein. Pea protein comes close, but it’s low in one amino acid (methionine).
Building muscles, boosting athletic performance, promoting exercise recovery, and smashing fitness goals are popular reasons for using protein powder. But not everyone needs it.
Protein powder could help you get the protein you need if you’re coming up short, though.
Which type of protein should you go with? That’s totally up to you. A small 2019 study suggests there isn’t much of a difference in how these types of protein impact body composition, muscle thickness, or strength.
There aren’t many studies comparing pea and whey protein supplements when it comes to weight loss.
A small study with 30 male participants found that there wasn’t much difference in hunger levels or food intakes between people who consumed pea protein and those who consumed whey protein.
With so many options out there, it can hard to find the perfect protein powder for your needs.
Pea protein is your best bet if you’re following a vegan diet or you have sensitivities to dairy products. It’s plant-based, so it’s also the more environmentally sustainable choice.
Whey protein might be easier to find at your local supp store and typically comes at a lower price point. (Whey protein concentrate is usually less expensive and more widely available than whey isolate.)
And don’t forget about all the other great potential protein sources.
Casein protein (which is made from milk) and egg protein are some other animal-based options.
And pea isn’t the only vegan-friendly protein. There are plenty of other plant-based options, such as:
Keep in mind that these types of supplements aren’t regulated as closely as foods are. That’s why it’s a good idea to choose only products that are vetted by third-party organizations. (Look for supps that have been verified by NSF or USP.)
- Pea and whey protein powders are dietary supplements that provide similar amounts of protein.
- Protein powders are an easy, convenient way to boost your protein intake. (Just make sure to choose an NSF- or USP-verified product.)
- Pea protein is suitable for folks who follow a vegan diet or need to avoid lactose and casein.
- Whey protein is an animal protein and could be a better choice for people who have allergies to legumes like peanuts.
- There’s no difference between pea protein and whey protein when it comes to athletic performance and muscle building.