Let’s start with what’s clear about protein: It’s an essential macronutrient—and consuming the optimal amount is important for supporting muscle protein synthesis and foundational health. While taking a “food first” approach is ideal—we should aim to meet the majority of our nutrient needs through a diversified, well-balanced diet of protein, carbs, and healthy fats—it’s not always realistic. While many people meet their protein intake requirements through what they eat, life can (and often does) get in the way. One great way to ensure you get enough on the regular can be to supplement with a quality protein powder.*
That’s where things get a little trickier. With countless formulas on the market, there’s a lot to consider (protein sources, amino acid profiles, varying nutrient levels, dietary restrictions) before making the commitment. Here, we get into the nuts and bolts of how two popular options—pea protein powder and whey protein powder—stack up against each other. Let’s get after it!
Pea vs. Whey Protein: So, What’s Actually the Difference?
First things first: Pea protein is plant-based, while whey protein comes from dairy. The biggest difference between whey protein and pea protein comes down to the source itself. Whey protein, which is often sold in powder form and includes whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate), is a protein made from cow’s milk (casein is also derived from cow’s milk)—and many whey protein powders contain dairy or lactose, making them unsuitable for those who identify as vegan or lactose intolerant (or simply want to avoid animal products and animal byproducts). Pea protein, on the other hand, is a plant protein made from legumes—often split peas—so it’s a great choice for vegan eaters and people who prefer a more plant-based diet. (Bonus: Our Essential Protein is made from regeneratively-farmed, U.S.-grown peas, courtesy of our supplier, PURIS.(9)
Gluten-Free? Opt for Pea
Pea protein powder can commonly be found without major food allergens, including gluten. This means people with food sensitivities, food allergies, and/or gluten intolerances may find the plant-based protein powder to be a better fit. (Along with gluten and wheat, pea protein can also be found without other common allergens, such as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, and shellfish. That said, each brand formulates their supplements differently, so it’s always important to do some due diligence by carefully reading the labels.)* (1)
While whey protein itself is naturally gluten-free, whey protein powders can end up containing added gluten via cross-contamination from additives like flavorings, stabilizers, and preservatives. This is where the importance of third-party testing and independent certification comes in when considering any supplement, protein-related or not. (As with all of our products, Essential Protein is third-party tested (for heavy metal and microbes), as well as Made Traceable™—the supplier, final location of manufacturing, and purpose of each labeled ingredient is on Ritual.com.