Pea Protein: The Non-Dairy Muscle Builder (that Also Boosts Heart Health)

Pea protein - Dr. Axe

Pea protein powder is becoming a fast favorite for gym-goers and health-conscious people alike — not only is it gluten- and dairy-free, but it’s been proven to be spectacular for your kidneys and heart!

Why do I recommend using a supplementary protein powder? With a balanced, superfood-rich diet, you can theoretically consume enough protein foods to keep your body in great condition. On the other hand, I know that real life has a tendency to get in the way — some days, fully preparing a protein-rich meal can be a hassle. That’s why smoothies with protein powder are a great option, augmenting protein intake with minimal prep time.

Another great reason to use protein powder is that your body has a unique window of time (about 30 minutes after working out) in which you absorb amino acids faster than at any other time. (1) Eating a full meal is not only difficult at that point in the day, but can even make you feel nauseous, while a light smoothie packed with great proteins is a quick alternative.

I suggest rotating the types of protein powders you use to make sure your body consistently benefits from each one as much as possible, of course. Let’s explore why pea protein should be a part of that rotation.

What Is Pea Protein?

Protein powder is available in several forms, most commonly as whey protein, brown rice protein powder and soy. Whey and brown rice protein have some incredible benefits, and both are very useful in their own right. On the other hand, I don’t recommend soy protein, due to its high concentration of phytoestrogens and the fact that nearly all soy in the U.S. is genetically engineered.

Although pea protein powder isn’t currently in the top three, experts foresee it drastically increasing in popularity over the next two years, with a huge surge in health-conscious individuals and an ever-growing desire for plant-based or plant-rich diets. (2) It’s no surprise, considering the amazing makeup of this veggie protein powder! Pea protein powder is among the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders, as it contains no gluten or dairy. It’s also easy on the tummy and doesn’t cause bloating, a common side effect of many other protein powders.

Whether you are allergic or sensitive to gluten or dairy, or you’re simply looking for a healthy, plant-based protein powder, pea protein is one great option! 

5 Pea Protein Benefits

Pea Protein has a great amino acid profile, including a lot of the branched-chain amino acids that are well-known for decreasing muscle breakdown after workouts. But muscles aren’t the only part of your body that benefit from pea protein! Here are give benefits you’ll reap by incorporating pea protein powder into your diet.

1. Aids Weight Loss

As with all good protein powders, pea protein is a handy tool in your arsenal of weight loss weapons. Especially if you’re looking to lose weight fast, introducing protein is one of the best ways to do it.

It’s common for people trying to lose weight to neglect protein intake — which generally means they don’t actually lose much weight. However, getting between 0.7 and one gram per pound you weigh of protein each day causes you to build muscle and burn fat faster. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should take in about 98–140 grams of protein each day.

Another great feature of pea protein is its ability to lower levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Your stomach secretes ghrelin when it’s empty to tell your brain that you’re hungry. Pea protein produces a great number of peptides that delay the emptying of your stomach and secretion of ghrelin. In fact, pea protein matches dairy-based proteins in its ability to help you feel full for longer! (2)

2. Supports a Healthy Heart

Not only is pea protein good for your weight, but it’s proven to support a healthy heart. In 2009, Canadian scientists found that pea protein lowers high blood pressure. The rats in the study showed a 20 percent decrease in blood pressure over the course of just eight weeks of pea protein treatment. (3)

In another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that intake over time of plant-based proteins, rather than animal-based proteins, decreased the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). (4) If you are at any sort of risk for heart problems, the best thing you can do is to eat foods that reduce inflammation and avoid the opposite. Inflammation is the cause of almost every major heart disease, and CHD is not excluded from that list.


Pea protein benefits - Dr. Axe


3. May Decrease Risk of Kidney Disease

The study in Canada that proved pea protein lowers high blood pressure was intended to determine the effects of pea protein on chronic kidney disease (CKD). Although they couldn’t say exactly why, researchers stated that pea protein consumption could actually delay or prevent the onset of CKD. For patients already diagnosed, pea protein’s ability to regulate blood pressure levels poses a significant benefit, because many CKD-related deaths are due to cardiovascular complications, as CKD is associated with increased blood pressure.

What’s fascinating about this particular study is that it was discovered that peas themselves do not provide these same benefits — it’s only the protein isolate extracted and activated with special enzymes that proved to be so useful.

4. Increases Muscle Thickness

A common misunderstanding about vegetable-based proteins is that they don’t have the same effect on muscle growth and muscle recovery after workouts as dairy-based whey proteins. However, that’s not true at all! A 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition proved pea protein increase muscle thickness just as potently as dairy-based proteins. (5)

The source of this muscle growth is probably the high quantities of l-arginine in pea protein, which are found in higher concentrations than in other protein products. (6Arginine — and l-arginine — is a conditional amino acid that helps you to build muscle. Conditional amino acids are those not produced by your body that aren’t necessary except in times of stress or illness. However, consuming these amino acids during healthy times certainly doesn’t hurt!

5. Regulates Blood Sugar

Certain ingredients in food affect the way those foods raise your blood glucose levels. A study conducted by the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences tested the effects of pea protein on food intake, glucose levels and appetite in healthy young men. While the addition of pea protein didn’t change food intake or appetite, the blood glucose levels of subjects stayed lower than they normally would. This suggests pea protein can be considered a value-added ingredient, and when added to other foods, it can improve glycemic control. (7)

Pea Protein’s Amino Acid Profile

Because of the varied types of soy and the confusion often surrounding protein powders, there tend to be a lot of different opinions about the assortment of amino acids in different types of proteins and what is necessary. Many people think that soy is the only vegetable-based protein with a complete amino acid profile. However, that’s not the case. Brown rice protein sports a complete load of amino acids but is a bit low in lysine in comparison to whey protein, while casein protein has a lower level of branched-chain amino acids.

Pea protein has a nearly complete profile, although there are a couple of nonessential (amino acids your body already produces) and conditional amino acids missing. (8)

Does that mean you should write off pea protein? Absolutely not! That’s one big reason I think it’s important to change it up when it comes to protein powders. And remember — it’s OK to use a protein powder that doesn’t have every single amino acid. If you eat organic superfoods as a daily part of your routine, you should consume a full load of amino acids every day.

One great reason to consider pea protein in your typical rotation is that it contains about five more grams of protein per serving than whey protein — so it really can be great for building muscle, burning fat and boosting heart health.

Pea Protein Nutrition

A serving of pea protein powder is just under an ounce — 23 grams — and contains about: (9, 10)

  • 90–103 calories
  • 7 grams carbohydrates
  • 17–23.9 grams protein
  • 0.3 gram fat
  • 6 grams fiber
  • 400 IU vitamin D (100 percent DV)
  • 5 IU vitamin E (18 percent DV)
  • 5 micrograms vitamin K (6 percent DV)
  • 200 IU vitamin A (4 percent DV)


Pea protein nutrition - Dr. Axe


How to Use Pea Protein

To balance out amino acids and use a truly spectacular protein powder blend, it’s a great idea to combine pea protein with brown rice protein. (11) Pea protein fills in the small gaps sometimes noted in brown rice protein (such as low lysine levels, compared to whey protein), and neither causes the same amount of gas issues seen with other types of vegetable protein powders — not to mention that it’s 100 percent vegan.

Generally, the very mild taste of pea protein is pleasant or unnoticeable, making it a great addition to smoothies for nutritional or post-workout meals. Even nursing homes have been studied as an excellent location to introduce pea protein powder, allowing residents to supplement their daily protein intake with a tasty alternative. (12)

Pea Protein Recipes

The simplest way to get pea protein powder is to add it to your favorite smoothie. Don’t worry, I’ve done all the hard work to compile 40 healthy smoothie recipes you’re going to love — along with 23 protein shake recipes to try! Remember, you’re unlikely to taste the powder, so you can pair it with most smoothies without an issue.

Smoothies aren’t the only way to use pea protein powder. Some of my favorite high-protein snacks are chocolate chip protein cookies, and the recipe I use requires protein powder as one of the main ingredients. Another great high-protein snack with pea protein is the savory power bar, a delicious, less sweet treat to make.

Other recipes to try, subbing in pea protein powder for whichever protein powder the recipe calls for, include:

Pea Protein Possible Side Effects

There have been no proven short- or long-term side effects from pea protein powder. As with all forms of supplementary protein, you want to be sure to consume only what you need because it’s possible that long-term overconsumption of protein may contribute to diarrhea problems, although that has never been officially proven.

Pea Protein Takeaways

Protein powders can add that added protein punch you may lack from your diet alone, and pea protein powder can compliment other protein sources well.

That’s because pea protein contains a high amount of protein, of course, in addition to being low in calories and carbs. Plus, pea protein benefits the heart, supports weight loss, lowers the risk of kidney disease, build muscle and regulates blood sugar levels. In addition, there are no shortage of pea protein recipes out there, helping your muscles recover while also increasing muscle mass.

Of course, different protein supplements provide different benefits, so I highly recommend mixing up your protein powders and eating a well-rounded diet full of protein sources. And if you add pea protein to your rotation, those benefits will only make you a stronger, healthier person.

Read Next: Casein Protein vs. Whey Protein: The Benefits of the ‘Other Protein Powder’

From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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