Plant-based proteins have grown strong, stable roots on grocery store shelves. While athletes and active consumers load up on products made from old standbys including pea, rice, hemp and soy, newer unique proteins including sacha inchi, quinoa and water lentil are appearing with greater frequency in protein blends. Yet their efficacy for supporting muscle building isn’t clear.
Plant proteins are giving animal-based proteins a run for their money. However, plant foods typically contain less protein per serving and the protein is often of lower quality (1Amino Acids. 2018;50:1685-1695). Yet processing can improve both the protein content and quality of plant protein powders. Protein quality is a measure of both the amino acid content and bioavailability of those amino acids, according to a paper from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations(UN)/World Health Organization (WHO). Most plant proteins fall short in one or more of the nine essential amino acids (EAAs),1 which are necessary for protein synthesis in muscle. When one or more EAAs is in short supply, muscle protein synthesis (MPS) will not be sustained at the same rate (Amino Acids. 2010;38:1533-1539). Also, plants naturally contain antinutrients, nutrients that bind other nutrients, including amino acids, rendering them less bioavailable. When protein is separated from the plant, it is also separated from many, if not all, of these antinutrients. Processing also increases the amount of protein, and therefore amino acids, per serving compared to the whole food form.
Old standbys: Pea, rice, hemp, wheat and soy
A handful of plant-based proteins have penetrated the mainstream market, gaining consumer acceptance and increasing the opportunities for less-familiar protein sources to follow.
Pea protein comes in several forms, including isolates, concentrates, and wet or dry textured. Pea protein can be used in a number of applications, including cheeses, dairy-free milk and ice cream, processed fish, meat alternatives, hot and cold cereal, pasta snack bars and baked goods.
Although pea protein is low in methionine and cysteine, consuming two to four times the amount of pea protein can make up for this shortfall. Also, a 50/50 blend of pea with rice, corn or hemp can be used along with increasing the total protein content by 10 to 90% to ensure all EAA needs are met.1
The above content was excerpted from the Sports nutrition: Protein – digital magazine. To finish reading, click the link.
Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., CSCS, is a nutrition communications expert whose work has appeared in popular press magazines, e-zines and nutrition-industry trade publications. She has been an expert guest on NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates on the East Coast. For more information, visit mariespano.com.