From whey to hemp to rice, there’s a protein powder out there made from pretty much every food you can think of these days.
However, not all proteins are created equal—especially when it comes to your stomach. For some people, certain types of protein powders can contribute to digestive issues like gas and bloating. Not ideal—especially if you take your protein before or during your workouts.
If you want to reap the benefits of taking a protein supplement while keeping your gut in check, you’ve got to choose your powder wisely.
Protein Supplements And Stomach Issues
How well certain people digest a protein powder often depends on what that protein is made out of.
“Different protein sources have varying digestibility,” says dietitian Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That digestibility is dependent upon the structural characteristics of the protein and its amino acid profile.”
Powders made with a blend of plant proteins, for example, may be more difficult for some people to digest.
Powders containing the proteins that come from milk (whey and casein), though popular, might also be problematic for people with a dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance, Valdez says.
Related: I Gave Up Dairy For A Month—Here’s What Happened
Enter Pea Protein
That’s where pea protein comes in. Lauded as one of the easiest protein powders to digest, pea protein boasts a solid 88 out of 100 Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) score—a digestibility measurement created by the World Health Organization.
“Pea protein powder is derived from yellow split peas,” says Valdez. “The powder is often made by extracting the protein through a mechanical separation process.” Whey and soy protein powders, meanwhile, typically undergo a chemical separation process.
The mechanical separation process allows pea protein to retain some of its naturally-occurring soluble fiber. As a result, it’s easier-to-digest than some other proteins. “Soluble fiber is known to provide gastrointestinal benefits, so it’s an advantage that pea protein may have over other powders,” says Valdez
Plus, pea proteins are a great option for people with food allergies. They’re typically free of the eight common allergenic foods (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat).
If you have trouble digesting other protein powders, pea protein can be a game-changer.
Pea Protein’s Nutritional Value
Though pea protein comes with its perks, it does have some notable nutritional differences from your average dairy-derived powder.
Unlike whey (and some powders made with a blend of plant proteins), pea protein is not a ‘complete protein.’ This means it doesn’t contain desirable amounts of all nine essential amino acids, the building blocks our body uses to build tissues, like muscle.
Related: Do ‘Complete’ And ‘Incomplete’ Proteins Really Matter?
According to dietitian Jessica Crandall Snyder, R.D.N., of Vital RD in Denver, Colorado, pea protein is low in the essential amino acid methionine. That said, it’s still a suitable protein for people looking to build muscle.
In one 2019 Sports study, for example, participants consumed 24 grams of whey protein or pea protein before and after high-intensity functional training. After eight weeks, both groups saw similar gains in strength and muscle mass.
A 2015 Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition study also found that men who took pea protein could grow their biceps muscles just as much as those who took whey.
Trying Pea Protein
Pea protein powder is just as easy to blend into a beverage as whey.
“Most of my clients mix it into a smoothie with fruit and veggies,” says Crandall Snyder. (This is a great way to boost protein and antioxidants!) In a pinch, though, just shake it up with your go-to liquid base and sip away.
Look for a pea protein made with minimal, quality ingredients, like plnt brand Vanilla Non-GMO Pea Protein.
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