Plant-based diets are on the rise. With increasing exposure on social media platforms, more and more people, including athletes, are opting for the diet. This has led to a great confusion of where plant-based dieters receive their protein?
A popular answer to this question is from plant-based protein supplements, most commonly in the form of powder. Being spoilt for choice, combined with an overwhelming amount of information displayed on social media, many people are left confused when choosing a natural and safe product that suits them and their tastebuds. Based on scientific literature, here's what you need to consider when it comes to choosing a plant-base protein powder.
What is protein and why do we need it?Protein is an essential macronutrient made up of different sequences of 20 different tiny building blocks called amino acids. Nine of these 20 are called essential amino acids (EAA), meaning that the body cannot make them and they must be obtained from the diet. Protein has a wide array of functions and is an important component of every cell in the human body.
When protein is introduced into our body from food, it undergoes complex digestive and absorption processes, that results in the tiny amino acids being broken apart. These amino acids then carry out a whole range of functions such as building and repairing muscle and other body tissues, wound healing, energy, creating hormones, and enzymes, and a whole bunch more.
Protein RequirementsUnlike carbohydrates and fats, the human body cannot store amino acids, therefore we must continually supply our body with protein from our diet. In Australia the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for adults is 0.84 grams per kilogram of body weight and 0.75 grams per kilogram of body weight for males and females, respectively (3).
For athletes or people with high levels of physical activity, infants, pregnant women during their second and third trimester, breastfeeding women and people over the age of 70, the RDI will slightly increase.
Plant-Based Protein vs Animal ProteinThere is a persistent misconception that plant protein is nutritionally inferior to that of animal protein. They may differ in terms of digestibility and amino acid profile, but plant protein can offer an abundance of extra nutrients, less nasties like saturated fats and cholesterol and generally is cheaper and safer.
Not all plant protein offer an optimal level of all of the essential amino acids. Animal protein sources contain all of the essential amino acids, while plant protein is usually limiting in one. This is a perfect example of why we are taught from a young age to eat a varied diet. When we combine two or more plant foods with an incomplete amino acid profile, they will make a complete profile and form what we call a ‘complimentary protein’. For example, legumes are limiting in the amino acid methionine and rice is limiting in the amino acid lysine. If you combine the two they make a complimentary protein. When pairing different plant proteins and ingesting an appropriate amount, its quality will become comparable to that of animal protein (8).
Amazonia’s product Raw Protein Isolate is made from pea and brown rice protein, making a complete protein that promotes muscle growth, maintenance and repair.
Choosing a Protein Powder: What to consider?The decision to use protein supplements is going to be individualistic and can be based on a number of things such as training load, goals, taste, daily energy requirements, diet, budget, medical conditions, life stages, and the list goes on.
Everyone can obtain all the protein they require from a well-planned and well-varied diet. However, protein powders can be a beneficial part of an overall nutrition plan. When selecting a form of protein, whether it be from animal, plant or supplement, it should be based on its protein quality. Protein quality is defined by digestibility and its amino acid profile.
Protein supplementation is popularly used for increases in muscle protein synthesis, to achieve greater gains in muscle mass and strength and improve overall physical performance. If this is your goal I would recommend selecting a protein supplement that has all of the essential amino acids and is particularly rich in the branched chain amino acids, leucine, valine and isoleucine. Numerous studies have shown that branch chain amino acids inhibit breakdown of skeletal muscle and promote muscle repair. Of these three amino acids, leucine has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis the greatest. If a protein has all the 9 essential amino acids than it has an excellent amino acid profile (5,6).
Another amino acid to look out for if you are wanting to improve muscle mass and strength is arginine. Arginine is an amino acid that is conditionally essential, meaning that it is essential under certain conditions. It is popular among athletes because it is involved in growth and cell-division and promotes muscle protein synthesis (5).
Digestibility is another important factor for proteins. The digestible indispensable amino acid score (PIAAS) is a method for measuring the protein value based on the amino acid requirement of humans and their ability to digest it. Generally, plant based proteins are on the lower end of the DIAAS spectrum compared to that of animal proteins. Once again, to overcome this issue all you need to do is eat a wide-range of foods. Having an abundance of different sources gives your body a better chance to absorb the amino acids from protein. There are a number of plant protein sources that have high digestibility such as rice and hemp (7).
There is no doubt that the vast majority of protein powders available on the market today contain additives such as artificial colours, artificial flavours, and fillers. They are commonly added to help blend in liquids, make the final product palatable or to extend shelf-life. There are hundreds and hundreds of different additives today that as consumers, we need to be aware of. For more information about food additives, check out the Food Standards government page.
The best way to avoid nasty additives is be aware of them, always read the ingredients list, and select raw and organic protein powders.
Different Types of Plant-Based Protein Powders Rice protein is a popular option. A study published in Nutrition Journal found that rice protein consumption post resistance exercise decreases fat-mass and increases lean body mass, skeletal muscle hypertrophy, power and strength comparable to whey protein, the protein source considered to be the gold standard in muscle mass and strength gains. Among many benefits, rice protein has one of the highest DIAAS scores, has a low potential for allergic reactions, high in branched chain amino acids and arginine, and is a good source of vitamins D, E and K.
The downside is that it does not contain all essential amino acids and on it's own, it doesn’t taste all that great. Blending it with other ingredients helsp mask the taste, or blending with other protein powders (like pea) to form a complete protein (4).
Pea protein is extracted usually from yellow peas. It is not a complete protein, but has a good balanced amino acid profile and is particularly rich in branched chain amino acids. Pea protein is beneficial in that it is cost-effective, allergen-free and raw.
A study was conducted on 161 males, aged 18-35, to assess the effects of pea and whey protein supplementation on muscle thickness and strength after a 12 week resistance training program. The study found that pea protein had comparable results to that of whey and concluded that pea protein can be used as an alternative to whey supplement for athletes. Pea protein is more palatable than rice protein and I would recommend blending the two to form a nice tasting texture and a complete amino acid profile (1).
Hemp protein is arguably the best protein powder for a plant based diet. Hemp protein is extracted from hemp seeds that has been used to treat various disorders for thousands of years in traditional medicine. It has a full 9 essential amino acid profile, is rich in methionine, the amino acid pea protein is lacking, and arginine. Unlike any other plant based protein powders, hemp contains the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 and is a rich source of fibre and other important vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium and iron. To add to the list, hemp protein is unrefined, raw, easily digestive, easy on the tastebuds and has no known allergies. The only negative really is that it is generally more expensive when compared to other plant based proteins (2).
Amazonia Raw protein is an excellent choice. The product is raw, very low in sugars, has no synthetic or artificial nutrients and has several different proteins to choose from to meet your individual needs.
If your goal is weight management, Raw Slim & Tone Protein is the product for you. This product is made from a sprouted protein blend and greens, herbs and spices, making it low in fat, carbohydrates and calories. The sugar content is 0.3% from organic stevia (a natural sweetener). Fortified with green powders, 74 different trace minerals and herbs, it's a nutritional powerhouse and tastes delicious too. Available flavours are Cacao Macadamia, Toffee Truffle and Vanilla Cinnamon.
Made up of sprouted fermented pea and fermented wholefoods, the Raw Paleo Fermented Protein is designed to help improve gut health, and for muscle growth and repair. This grain-free protein is also very low in sugar (3%) and has an incredible taste. Salted Caramel all the way!!
The Raw Protein Isolate is my favourite. This is a complete protein source (all 9 essential amino acids are included in this blend), and it's one the whole family can enjoy... Yes, kids too. Containing 53% of the R.D.I for iron, it's a fantastic choice for anyone wanting to bump up their iron levels. Available flavours are Cacao Coconut and Vanilla.
Whatever protein source you opt for, make sure it is from quality source. You and your family deserve it!
~ Written by Stephanie Russell, 3rd Year Nutrition Student. Connect with Steph on @LinkedInReferences
It can’t be the end of October already? Not only has Winter come and gone, we are almost in the last month of Spring.
This means hibernation is over and we are about to be thrust into that the blissful heat of Summer days, balmy nights spent having BBQs in the backyard or watching the sunset over the ocean while it’s still hot enough to bathe in the cool water.
It’s the time of year where Christmas is fast approaching and we all need as much energy as possible to get us through the pre-celebration prep of battling for a parking space at the shopping centre, making sure there's enough cutlery to serve the masses for Christmas lunch.
With all these thoughts beginning to surface in our minds, the last thing we need is for our health be thrown on the back burner, so here's 3 simple things that you can start doing today that will help you to successfully take on the silly season.
1. Eliminate soft drinksWe have all felt it, the craving that hits when you’re outside on a Summers day in Perth, the cooling sensation of an ice-cold bubbling beverage trickling down our throat but beware, this may be what your body wants but it is definitely NOT what your body needs. The list of baddies that are present within soft drinks is astronomical but let’s discuss the high levels of sugar first.
Not only can sugar affect teeth and gum health it promotes fatty acid and the lipids found in your blood to multiply and accumulate as fat throughout the body (5). There are a number of alarming additives that are present in soft drinks that should not be consumed by the human body such as Bisphenol A which is a hormone disruptor, Phosphoric Acid which impacts on how our body’s use calcium (which we need for healthy bones and teeth) and harmful sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup that contains no essential nutrients and is easily converted to fat (5).
The bubbles present in soft drinks are a combination of phosphoric acid and carbon dioxide which results in a very acidic environment. This level of acidity affects the sensitive lining of the digestive system organs as it passes through however its most negative impact is upon arrival into the stomach. This is where the soft drink competes with the hydrochloric acid in the stomach which is not good news for digestion.
If the levels of Hydrochloric acid in our stomach are compromised this is where we begin to see indigestion, gassiness and bloating (5). Simple ways you can eliminate soft drinks is increasing the amount of water you have which will quench your thirst and leave your cravings at bay. If you want to spruce up your water, add ice and a slice of lemon.
Or you can get a bit more creative and whizz up a fresh smoothie. Smoothies make for a fantastic meal - they are so quick and easy to make and they are packed full of essential nutrients.
And did I mention how delicious they are too?
2. Go green, baby!An acidic body is not a happy or healthy one. The human body optimally operates at a slightly alkaline state which is maintain through our kidneys. Some of the signs of having too much acid in your body are feeling sluggish, heavy, feeling tired after a good night’s sleep or having cravings that get in the way of eating healthily (1).
When we eat too many acidic foods, the Kidneys have a hard time keeping up and they start to accumulate acid in our body. Our bodies can also become too acidic through lifestyle factors such as stress, toxins, pollution, tobacco, lack of sleep and medications (1). Eating diets high in animal products, refined foods and processed foods contribute to our pH levels becoming acidic.
So, easy ways that you can help to Alkalize your body is by following the 80/20 rule of eating Alkalising foods 80% of the time and acidic foods 20% of the time.
Alkalising foods to eat:
3. If you must have dessert, eat FRUITThere is no denying now that consumption of sugar increases the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Science has proven that reducing the amount of sugar in one’s diet decreases weight and has a positive effect on body composition (2).
Gut health is important for all functions of the human body, now widely believed that the gut is a second brain. Sugar is a massive gut microbiome disrupter which means that sugar has a negative impact on our immune system, blood sugar levels, absorption of nutrition and calming our emotions. The world of sugar can be a confusing one so let me break it down for you:
Even ice-cream can be made out of fresh fruits - like this Raw Banana Split. So easy and so delicious!
Don’t let the fact that Summer and Christmas are around the corner stress you to the core. If you start implementing these simple tips today you will have begun to prepare yourself for the silly season ahead in good spirits. And if you need a bit of motivation, well we've got you covered - 'All I Want For Christmas is Health' is a Real Food Workshop focused on how to create your healthiest Christmas feast yet, using raw whole foods. The next one is running on December 1st at Coode St Cafe - check out the Course Outline for details.
Written by Jemma McKean, 2nd year Nutrition Student.