The variety of plant-based protein powders is constantly growing, which is great news for vegans and vegetarians! However, too many options can lead to confusion and indecision. Even if you manage to narrow it down to two popular options – pea protein vs. soy protein – how do you know which one is best for you?
You want a product that tastes good, provides the nutrients you need for your goals, and doesn’t cause any negative side effects. To help you make the decision, we will compare these two options so that you can determine which one is best for you.
How is Pea and Soy Protein Powder Made?
To produce protein powder, manufacturers extract the protein content from foods. In the case of pea protein and soy protein powder, they grind yellow peas or soybeans and transform them into powder through either dry separation or wet processing, explained registered dietitian and certified athletic trainer Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC.
In dry separation, the fine protein powder is separated from the coarse starch powder, resulting in a protein concentrate. In wet processing, the plant protein is turned into a water-based solution and passed through a centrifuge, resulting in a protein isolate.
The difference is that isolate is richer in proteins and contains very little or no carbohydrates or fat, while concentrate contains slightly less protein and more carbohydrates and fat, explained White. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, isolated protein consists of at least 90% protein by weight, while concentrate consists of at least 70% protein by weight.
Pea Protein Nutrition vs. Soy Protein Nutrition
Although the exact nutritional value may vary from brand to brand, here’s how pea and soy protein powders stack up against each other.
Quite similar! The most important difference to note here is the type of protein each one provides. Soy is a complete protein, while pea is an incomplete protein. When a protein is complete, it provides all nine essential amino acids in sufficient amounts.
Can Pea Protein Help with Muscle Building?
Even though pea protein is an incomplete protein, it can still help you effectively build muscle.
Overall, the amino acid profile of pea protein and soy protein is quite comparable. According to a 2018 study, both contain branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that help with muscle building and maintenance.
In general, your body needs protein to build muscles. And research shows that pea protein can be effective in muscle building, particularly due to its high leucine content.
Whether you prefer peas or soy, you can still use plant-based protein powders to reach your goals.
Side Effects of Pea Protein vs. Side Effects of Soy Protein
Everyone reacts differently to protein powders, not only because of the basic ingredients, but sometimes also due to other potential ingredients like sugar alcohols, which can cause bloating.
There is no scientific evidence that pea protein powder is inflammatory, according to White. Some find pea protein to be easily digestible, but as long as you don’t have a soy allergy, most people also find it easy to digest soy, says White.
Then there are isoflavones. Whole soy contains these organic molecules that can have positive effects on health maintenance.
But soy protein powder does not provide many isoflavones. In the processing of isolated soy protein, up to 80 to 90 percent of the isoflavones can be lost.
What Should You Use?
Both pea protein and soy protein are good options for plant-based protein powders. However, peas have a slightly higher content of certain amino acids and may be easier to digest for some.
Soy and pea powders contain comparable amounts of protein and fiber, and if you are not allergic to soy, there’s no need to completely avoid it.
„Both are excellent plant-based options. Everyone tolerates protein powders differently, so it comes down to personal preferences and tolerability,“ says White.