Is Pea Protein Isolate ‘Complete’?

Is Pea Protein Isolate ‘Complete’?

Amino acids that make up the proteins in our diet provide the ‘building blocks’ for the creation and maintenance of all cells and tissue.

Of the 20 amino acids that the human body uses to create protein structures, nine need to be provided from the diet as they can’t be synthesised within the body.

These nine Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Two of these: methionine and phenylalanine, are closely correlated with ‘conditionally essential’ amino acids (cysteine and tyrosine respectively) and so are often grouped together with these when discussing functional requirements.

It is commonly considered that the vegetable proteins are ‘incomplete’, or in other words that they don’t provide all essential amino acids (in contrast to the animal derived proteins that are considered to be complete). This is not factually correct though as some quality proteins such as high-quality pea protein isolates contain all essential amino acids, and in greater than, or near-equivalent amounts to those recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for growth and development of the human body. In a functional sense the concept of ‘complete proteins’ may also be flawed as it is not necessary to consume all amino acids required for human metabolism in one sitting.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) compiles evidence from all available scientific sources to determine the necessary amounts of nutrients for health. According to this information amino acids should be present in the following quantities per gram of protein:



One can see that a high quality pea protein (Clean Lean Protein by NuZest) exceeds all amino acid requirements for the healthy functioning of the human body as defined by the WHO except for a methionine and cysteine in which it is only fractionally under the recommended amount (by 1g in total). This amino acid profile also compares very favourably with the recommended amino acid pattern proposed by the Institute of Medicine of the United States National Institutes of Health* (Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients), 2005).  

One serve per day provides around ¾ of someones base amino acid requirements for health:

The concept of consuming protein with the recommended rations of amino acids in every meal has been a concern for vegetarians and vegans in particular, however it is now considered unnecessary to combine protein types in order to provide all essential amino acids at all meals as a mixed diet (including one based solely on plant foods) can supply all necessary amino acids and encourage optimal protein status (Craig & Mangels, 2009;Young & Pellett, 1994) Other indicators of protein quality (such as allergen potential), absorption and total protein content are probably more important when evaluating protein supplements.

Functional Properties:

Pea protein exhibits gastro-ilial uptake of over 89% (Gausserès et al., 1997) and is therefore an extremely absorbable protein type.

In a functional evaluation of pea protein isolate vs. whey protein both protein types of protein elicited near same increases in muscle thickness when compared with placebo (Babault et al., 2015), demonstrating that pea protein is equally beneficial for muscle growth to whey protein and offers a viable alternative to whey for vegans, vegetarians and for those not tolerant to dairy or other proteins.

* The Institute of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health is an independent, peer-reviewed, non-governmental organisation that provides unbiased information on issues relating to biomedical science, medicine, and health to policy-makers, professionals, and the public.


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