Plant-based Protein

Protein powder is a useful tool to ensure you consume enough protein each day, it’s also a convenient and easy way to get a large amount of protein quickly.

Plant base protein powders come in many forms. Before we discuss the different forms of plant-based proteins it’s important to first understand some basics about protein supplements.

The most popular and recognised protein powder is whey protein. Whey is a byproduct of the cheese making process and is refined to remove fat and carbohydrate which leaves a high purity protein supplement. It is absorbed quickly and easily and is a ‘complete’ protein because it contains all amino acids.

Whey is generally available in 2 forms:

  • Concentrate: Approximately 70% – 80% purity.
  • Isolate: Approximately 80% – 90% purity.

Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids and there are 20 amino acids that your body uses. Nine of the amino acids are essential as your body cannot make them, so they are required in your diet.

When you consume food containing protein, your body breaks down this food into amino acids and then combines the amino acids in various ways to carry out bodily functions. Not all proteins are equal and Whey Protein (dairy based) is seen as the gold standard of protein.

There are various scoring methods for proteins, the most common are:

Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS).

This evaluates protein sources based on their amino acid content and your bodies ability to digest it.

Amino acid score

Evaluates proteins based on their amino acid content.

Biological Value (BV)

This is how readily the digested protein can be used in protein synthesis in the cells of the organism

This is an example of how these protein scores translate in the most common protein types.

Type Whey Protein Pea Protein Oat Protein Peanuts Rice Protein
Biological Value (BV) 100% 60% 55% 83% 64%
Digestibility 99% 73% 57% 52% 47%

This shows that Whey Protein is the most bioavailable source of protein. However, if you don’t consume diary is it important to consider which plant-based proteins are optimal. Plant-based proteins do have some benefits over dairy as they contain more phytonutrients and fibre.

Although these proteins may not be of the best quality in terms of their BV and digestibility, this means that they should not serve as a primary protein source. If you follow a plant-based diet you will need to consume more of these protein sources and variety in protein is very important.

As you can already see not all proteins are equal, this is one of the reasons why we suggest a relatively high daily protein intake of 2g per 1kg of bodyweight.

Amino acids explained

Amino acids have so many uses in the body. They are used to build muscle, cause chemical reactions in the body, transport nutrients, prevent illness, and carry out other functions. A low amino acid intake can cause several health issues.

The essential amino acids play different roles in the body, and the symptoms of deficiency vary accordingly. Whey protein is seen as the having the perfect amino acid profile, but by carefully combining plant-based proteins you can get an amino acid profile which is very similar in quality to whey protein.

Your body needs 20 amino acids and 9 of those are essential amino acids:

Lysine

Lysine plays a vital role in building muscle, maintaining bone strength, aiding recovery from injury or surgery, and regulating hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. People following plant-based diets can be low in this amino acid, so quinoa and pumpkin seeds are good sources.

Histidine

Histidine facilitates growth, the creation of blood cells and tissue repair. It also helps maintain the special protective covering over nerve cells, which is called the myelin sheath.

The body metabolizes histidine into histamine, which is crucial for immunity, reproductive health, and digestion. The results of a study that recruited women with obesity and metabolic syndrome suggest that histidine supplements may lower BMI and insulin resistance.

Threonine

Threonine is necessary for healthy skin and teeth, as it is a component in tooth enamel, collagen, and elastin. It helps aid fat metabolism and may be beneficial for people with indigestion, anxiety, and mild depression.

Methionine

Methionine and the nonessential amino acid cysteine play a role in the health and flexibility of skin and hair. Methionine also helps keep nails strong. It aids the proper absorption of selenium and zinc and the removal of heavy metals, such as lead and mercury.

People following plant-based diets can be low in this amino acid, so hemp and pumpkin seeds are good sources.

Valine

Valine is essential for mental focus, muscle coordination, and emotional calm. People may use valine supplements for muscle growth, tissue repair, and energy.

Isoleucine

Isoleucine helps with wound healing, immunity, blood sugar regulation, and hormone production. It is primarily present in muscle tissue and regulates energy levels.

People following plant-based diets can be low in this amino acid, oats and pumpkin seeds are good sources.

Leucine

Leucine helps regulate blood sugar levels and aids the growth and repair of muscle and bone. It is also necessary for wound healing and the production of growth hormone.

Leucine deficiency can lead to skin rashes, hair loss, and fatigue.

People following plant-based diets can be low in this amino acid, oats, peas and pumpkin seeds are good sources.

Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine helps the body use other amino acids as well as proteins and enzymes. The body converts phenylalanine to tyrosine, which is necessary for specific brain functions.

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is necessary for proper growth in infants and is a precursor of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, mood, and pain. Melatonin also regulates sleep. Tryptophan deficiency can cause a condition called pellagra, which can lead to dementia, skin rashes, and digestive issues.

People following plant-based diets can be low in this amino acid.

Ultra Nutrition’s plant-based protein has a blend of 5 different plant-based proteins to get the best possible plant based amino acid profile which is similar to that of whey protein. The proteins used are:

  • Pea protein
  • Brown rice protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Pumpkin seed protein
  • Quinoa protein

Ultra Protein whey

As you can see from the above table the amino acid profiles of Ultra Nutrition whey protein and plant-based proteins are reasonably similar to ensure the best possible plant-based protein.

Pea protein

Pea protein contains all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot create and must get from food. However, it’s relatively low in methionine. You can compensate for this by including other methionine-rich foods, like eggs, fish, poultry, beef, pork or brown rice in your diet

It’s also a great source of branched-chain amino acids, especially arginine,  which promotes healthy blood flow and heart health,  and leucine, isoleucine and valine , which promote muscle growth.

Research demonstrates that pea protein is one of the more easily digested plant-based proteins, just behind soy protein and chickpeas.

Brown rice

Brown rice is not a complete protein because rice has such a low amount of protein in it. However, when brown rice protein is extracted, which is usually how it’s added to certain foods and supplements, it has enough protein to be looked at further.

The second aspect of a complete protein is the balance of essential amino acids.

Like many grains, brown rice protein is low in lysine, that’s why it’s often paired with good plant-based sources of lysine like legumes when used in protein powders.

Brown rice is almost a complete protein (a bit lacking in lysine as noted in a comment below).

It contains all the essential amino acids, and its amino acids are well balanced, even more so than dairy milk.

Hemp protein

Hemp protein is the protein content of hemp seeds. The total proportion of essential amino acids in hemp protein isolate, is also significantly higher than that of soy protein isolate.

Hemp is so close to being a complete and it has a decent quantity of all essential amino acids.

But as long as you’re not getting 100% of your protein from hemp, it’s a non-issue.

Considering leucine and isoleucine are both essential amino acids, that’s not great for hemp. But overall, hemp is a high-quality protein source with a solid amino acid profile.

Pumpkin Seed Protein

In their whole form, pumpkin seeds are relatively high in protein and healthy fat. When made into powder, most of the fat is removed, which reduces calories, it’s not a complete protein.

Quinoa protein

Quinoa is a grain crop that is grown for its edible seeds.

Quinoa is one of the best plant protein sources there is, as far as protein quality goes.

Most importantly, it’s a complete protein. This means that there is a significant amount of all essential amino acids.

Ultra Nutrition plant-based blends.

Both Ultra Complete and Ultra Protein plant-based use the above plant-based protein sources to ensure there is a fantastic amino acid profile. There are no artificial sweeteners or flavourings in any of the products.

One of the advantages of blending plant proteins is that it can provide optimal levels of all essential amino acids in a single product. For example, pea protein may be combined with rice protein. The pea protein supplies lysine, in which rice protein is low while rice protein supplies methionine, in which pea protein is low.

Quinoa protein is commonly used in combination with other plant proteins, too. It’s one of the few complete plant proteins.

Our advice would be to mix both types, use Ultra Complete and Ultra Protein in a variety of flavours and mix between them. This will help you to ensure you get the benefits and you won’t get bored of the taste.

Whey protein is absorbed more easily, but plant-based proteins contain more phytonutrients and fibre.

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