In the fitness world, whey protein is king. It’s rich in amino acids like leucine and glutamine that help maintain lean muscle mass and burn fat. There is one drawback: whey protein contains dairy, which is not an option for many, due to dairy sensitivities.
Thankfully, we have another option: pea protein.
Until very recently our vegan protein sources were limited to rice or chia seed and we didn’t really know how effective vegan proteins were for our metabolism and body composition.
Research at Duke University showed that pea protein can powerfully stimulate key metabolic receptors in the gut, reducing cravings and improving insulin sensitivity.
The results of a more recent study should get us even more excited about pea protein: it’s as effective as whey at improving muscle protein synthesis. That is because pea protein is rich in the branch-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine.
French scientists randomly assigned 160 subjects to a 12-week, three-times-per-week,
high-intensity interval training program including two protein shakes daily (one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon).
To tease out which protein offered the greatest increase in muscle protein synthesis, the researchers gave 1/3 of the subjects a placebo drink, 1/3 a 20-gram protein shake, and the other 1/3 a 21-gram whey protein shake.
Both strength and muscle size were assessed. An ultrasound machine was use to measure the circumference and thickness of the biceps muscle.
Although strength and arm thickness increased in both pea protein and whey protein supplemented groups after 12 weeks of training, the greatest increase in muscle thickness was noted in the whey protein group. This is likely due to the high slightly higher glutamine and leucine content of the whey protein.
As a reminder, when it comes to protein and maintaining muscle health, supplementing with either pea or whey doesn’t seem to make much difference so long as the amount of leucine is high.
Timing or when protein is ingested is key. Research shows that ingesting leucine-rich protein immediately after resistance training is the best way to increase muscle repair and muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
Babault, N., Païzis, C., Deley, G., Guérin-Deremaux, L., Saniez, M.-H., Lefranc-Millot, C., & Allaert, F. A. (2015). Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 3.