Recently published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers compared a vegetarian and milk-based protein source head to head for muscle building potential (1). Specifically, they sought to determine whether pea protein could duplicate the muscle-building benefits widely observed with whey protein.
The study divided 161 healthy young males into three groups who received either 25 grams of whey protein, pea protein, or a placebo twice a day while undergoing resistance training for 12 weeks. The overall results of the study found there was no significant difference between whey and pea protein consumption affecting muscle thickness of the subjects. This finding suggests that pea protein has muscle protein synthesis effects comparable to the gold standard: dairy-based whey protein.
The benefits of pea protein reported in this study are likely due to the product chosen for the study (85 percent protein by weight), which was rich in those essential branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs; leucine, isoleucine and valine) required for muscle building (2). Increased levels of leucine particularly favors muscle building and its effects on muscle are greater alongside the other amino acids found in pea protein (3).
Previously a scientific review reported that leucine stimulates protein synthesis required to replace muscle protein damaged by resistance exercise and that protein synthesis is 20 percent higher after consuming leucine combined with protein and carbohydrates, compared to ingestion of carbohydrates and protein alone (4). Taking pea protein after intense exercise can help maximize muscle mass gains during the recovery period of training.
Overall, this study suggests the possibility that pea protein may be a comparable alternative to whey protein—and superior compared to other plant-based proteins like soy—for athletes of different performance levels and sports. In addition, the amino acid arginine is high in pea protein and plays many different beneficial roles in the body including ammonia detoxification and supporting heart health (5). The study is also good news for those individuals seeking a source of high-quality plant-based protein for muscle building that is allergen free unlike soy.
While this latest study highlights the muscle-building properties of pea as a source of plant-based protein, it may not necessarily act as a replacement for all of whey’s benefits. Whey protein is used especially in Isagenix products due to health-promotion properties that reach beyond muscle maintenance. Recommendations are to use a combination of the company’s products containing either whey or pea protein for a diversity of benefits.
In Isagenix® products, pea protein is included along with hemp protein in the plant-based Natural Berry Harvest IsaLean® Shake. The complete meal replacement has a total of 22 grams of protein per serving and is formulated to have a similar amino acid profile to whey-based IsaLean Shake for muscle maintenance.
- Babault N, Pazis C, Deley Gl et al. 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 2015;12:3.
- Stark M, Lukaszuk J, Prawitz A, Salacinski A. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012;9:54.
- Balage Ml, Dardevet D. Long-term effects of leucine supplementation on body composition. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 2010;13:265-70.
- Koopman R, Saris WH, Wagenmakers AJ, van Loon LJ. Nutritional interventions to promote post-exercise muscle protein synthesis. Sports Medicine 2007;37:895-906.
- Cylwik D, Mogielnicki A, Buczko W. L-arginine and cardiovascular system. Pharmacol Rep 2005;57:14-22.