Pea protein powder is a supplement made by extracting protein from yellow peas.
It’s typically used to increase the protein content of smoothies and shakes and is a great fit for almost any diet since it’s naturally vegan and hypoallergenic.
Pea protein is a high-quality protein and a great source of iron. It can aid muscle growth, weight loss and heart health.
This article reviews the nutrition, health benefits and possible side effects of pea protein powder.
Pea protein powder — or pea protein isolate — is made by isolating the protein from ground yellow peas, forming a beige powder.
Nutrition facts can vary between brands, but — for example — two scoops (20 grams) of NOW Organic Pea Protein Powder contains:
- Calories: 80
- Protein: 15 grams
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Total fat: 1.5 grams
- Sodium: 230 mg
- Iron: 5 mg
Pea protein powders offer a variety of nutritional benefits.
High-Quality Protein Source
Pea protein contains all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot create and must get from food. However, it’s relatively low in methionine (1).
You can compensate for this by including other methionine-rich foods, like eggs, fish, poultry, beef, pork or brown rice in your diet (2, 3).
It’s also a great source of branched-chain amino acids, especially arginine — which promotes healthy blood flow and heart health — and leucine, isoleucine and valine — which promote muscle growth (4, 5, 6).
In general, animal proteins are more easily digested and absorbed than plant-based proteins.
Still, research demonstrates that pea protein is one of the more easily digested plant-based proteins — just behind soy protein and chickpeas (7, 8).
Rich in Iron
Pea protein powders are also rich in iron.
Most products contain around 5–7.5 mg of iron per serving — roughly 28–42% of the reference daily intake (RDI) for premenopausal women and 62–94% of the RDI for men and postmenopausal women (9).
However, the iron found in plant foods is less absorbable than that found in animal products (10).
This can be improved by consuming pea protein powder with vitamin C or vitamin-C-rich foods like citrus — which boosts iron absorption by up to 67% (11).
Since approximately 10% of American women are iron-deficient, including pea protein powder in your diet could be a great way to boost your intake of this nutrient (12).
Works With Many Special Diets
Pea protein powder is naturally vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and does not contain any of the top eight food allergens — peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, cow’s milk, wheat and soy (13).
Therefore, it works with nearly any diet.
Pea protein also blends well with water and has a less gritty or chalky texture than other plant-based protein powders like hemp.
While pea protein powder works for most people, anyone with an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance to peas should avoid it.
Summary Pea protein powder is a high-quality protein rich in iron, arginine and branched-chain amino acids. It’s digested and absorbed well and works with a variety of diets.
Pea protein powder may not only be nutritionally beneficial but also good for your health.
Here are some of its main benefits.
Builds Muscle Mass
Studies show that pea protein powder can help build muscle when paired with resistance training.
In one 12-week study, weight-lifting men who consumed 50 grams of pea protein per day gained the same amount of muscle as those taking whey protein (4).
This suggests that pea protein powder is just as effective at building muscle mass as more common dairy-based protein powders.
However, adding extra protein to your diet without working out is not likely to have any effect on your muscles — it must be paired with consistent exercise (14, 15).
Keeps You Full
Research has found that protein helps people feel fuller for longer than carbs or fat (16).
This means that high-protein diets may reduce overall calorie intake and lead to gradual weight loss over time (17).
Pea protein powder offers an easy way to add protein to your diet and reap these benefits.
One study found that 20 grams of pea protein powder taken 30 minutes before eating pizza reduced the average number of calories consumed by roughly 12% (18).
Other research observed that pea protein powder is just as effective at promoting fullness as dairy-based protein powders like casein or whey (19, 20, 21).
Pea protein powder is a good option for increasing protein intake and boosting feelings of fullness after meals.
Good for Heart Health
Animal studies have found that pea protein powder can reduce some of the risk factors for heart disease, like elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Pea protein hydrolysate — a partially digested protein powder that contains smaller proteins — has been shown to significantly lower blood pressure levels in rats after three weeks (22).
A similar three-week study in humans found that 3 grams of pea protein hydrolysate per day lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) by 6 points (23).
However, regular pea protein powder that has not been partially digested does not appear to have the same effect (23).
Still, animal studies have found that pea protein powder can reduce cholesterol levels. It’s believed to work by increasing the uptake of cholesterol into cells and reducing the body’s production of fats (24, 25).
Though these results are promising, more studies are needed to see whether pea protein powder can also lower cholesterol in people.
Summary Pea protein powder has a variety of health benefits, including boosting muscle growth, increasing feelings of fullness and promoting heart health.
Potential Side Effects
Pea protein powder is generally well tolerated and has very few side effects.
Since it’s made by isolating protein from peas, it is relatively low in fiber and does not tend to cause gassiness or bloating like whole peas can for some people.
Nevertheless, pea protein powder can be relatively high in sodium — with products containing 110–390 mg per serving.
Therefore, people on a sodium-restricted diet may need to watch their intake.
Summary Pea protein powder is generally well tolerated with few side effects. However, it can contain a relatively high amount of sodium.
Dosages and How to Use It
Pea protein powder is an easy way to boost your protein intake.
It may be especially helpful for people trying to increase muscle mass, like bodybuilders or older adults.
Research shows that eating 0.73 grams of protein per pound (1.6 grams per kg) of body weight per day is the most effective dose for building muscle (26).
However, it’s important not to exceed 2.3 grams of protein per pound (5 grams per kg) of body weight per day or get more than 35% of your calories from protein.
This is because, at extremely high doses, your liver may struggle to process protein fast enough, causing side effects like high levels of ammonia in the blood, nausea, diarrhea and even death (27).
Most people who use pea protein powder add it to smoothies or mix it with juice or water as a post-workout beverage.
Other creative uses include:
- Stirred into oatmeal, wheat porridge or brown rice cereal.
- Added to baked goods like muffins, brownies or waffles.
- Whisked into plant-based milk to create a more complete protein source.
- Blended into a smoothie and frozen inside popsicle molds.
For maximum muscle-building effects, pea protein powder should be consumed within two hours of exercising (28).
Summary Pea protein powder can be added to food and beverages to increase your protein intake. To boost muscle mass, drink your protein shake within two hours of exercise — but don’t consume all of your day’s protein allotment in one go.
The Bottom Line
Pea protein powder is a high-quality, easily digested protein source made from yellow peas.
It’s rich in iron, arginine and branched-chain amino acids and offers benefits like improved muscle growth, feelings of fullness and heart health.
It works with most diets, as it’s naturally vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and hypoallergenic.
Pea protein powder is a great option if you’re looking to add more protein to your diet.
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