Contrary to popular belief, it is absolutely possible to build muscle on a plant-based diet.
Not only is it possible to build muscle with plant proteins, but opting for plant proteins may be just as effective as animal proteins when it comes to body composition.
Pea protein in particular is one of the most versatile and nutrient-rich plant-based proteins that is effective in helping people increase muscle mass.
The following article will explain what pea protein is, the benefits of pea protein, as well as how consuming pea protein can be helpful for building muscle.
What is Pea Protein?
Pea protein is a powdered supplement that is made by extracting the protein from peas. It’s often added to smoothies, baked goods, and other foods to increase the protein content.
The protein found in peas is a high-quality protein, although it does not have the same amino acid content as animal proteins. This will be discussed in further detail in the following section (1).
Pea protein has other benefits too, beyond increasing muscle mass. It can help promote a healthy weight, support heart health, and even provide certain nutrients like iron (2, 3).
Protein in general is vital for repairing and building muscles, which is why it’s a good idea to consume protein – such as pea protein – after a hard workout.
Of all plant-based proteins, pea protein is one of the more easily digested plant-based proteins. Plus, pea protein works with nearly any diet. Most people experience no gas or bloating, thanks to its digestibility and lack of allergens.
Not to mention, pea protein is completely vegan and gluten-free (4).
Is Pea Protein a Complete Protein?
Pea protein does in fact contain all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that our bodies cannot create. Therefore, we must get them from our diets.
A complete protein must contain all nine of these amino acids in sufficient amounts (5).
Although pea protein contains the nine amino acids, it is in fact low in one amino acid, methionine, technically deeming it an incomplete protein.
However, this doesn’t mean that pea protein is inferior to other protein sources.
If you are consuming pea protein, it’s important to compensate by including other methionine-rich foods in your diet, such as whole grains, and a variety of vegetables.
Other methionine-rich foods include meat, dairy, and eggs, however, it’s totally doable to consume methionine from plant sources. Most people consume adequate methionine without having to think too much about it.
So, in summary, pea protein is not technically a complete protein. But, you should be able to reap the benefits of pea protein if you are eating a well-balanced diet in addition to supplementation.
Can you Build Muscle with Pea Protein?
In short, the answer is yes.
However, before understanding how pea protein can help build muscle, it’s important to briefly look at how muscle is built.
First, consuming enough protein is vital, as muscle is made out of protein, so you can’t build new muscle without it. Muscle growth happens when muscle fibers are damaged from exercise, and then repaired.
The repair process builds more muscle fibers and increases the muscle mass, along with the help of several hormones. This process is called muscle protein synthesis.
Studies show that when combined with exercise, pea protein can help build muscles and increase muscle strength (6).
When it comes to pea protein vs whey for building muscle, both can be equally effective.
Regardless of the type of protein you are consuming, you can achieve the best results when protein is consumed within 2 hours of strength-resistance exercise (6, 7).
As noted earlier in this article, pea protein contains all essential amino acids necessary for muscle protein synthesis to occur.
Pea Protein and BCAAs
What’s more, pea protein contains a high level of branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, which are important for building muscle. The three branched-chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Consuming BCAAs especially after a workout has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle soreness (8).
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to building muscle with pea protein is to ensure that you are consuming enough protein to meet your individual needs.
While the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, most active people require a bit more – especially when the goal is increasing muscle mass and strength (9).
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, current research suggests that most athletes require higher amounts of protein, between 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight (10).
How to Incorporate Pea Protein Into Your Diet
Especially for those who exercise regularly, pea protein is a great pre-workout supplement. It can boost energy levels by fueling you with nutrients, which in turn leads to a more effective workout.
Pea protein of course makes a great post-workout supplement as well to support muscle repair.
Try this Super Green Smoothie Recipe for a tasty and nourishing post-workout supplement that will be sure to nourish your body and muscles with proper nutrition.
Note that spinach is a vegetable rich in methionine, which ensures this recipe provides you with a complete protein.
Super Green Smoothie
- 2 Scoops pea protein powder
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 kiwi
- ¼ avocado
- 1 handful of spinach
- ½ cup frozen pineapple
- A few ice cubes
Blend all ingredients together and enjoy!