Plant Protein Power

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Protein powders supply your body with essential amino acids needed for muscle repair and growth. We look at four exciting new options.

When choosing a protein powder, the first ones you might come across may be whey-based. Whey is a common by-product of commercial cheese production. However, if you are allergic to dairy products, whey will not suit you. Some people with a mild dairy intolerance may find that whey protein triggers flatulence, bloating and even diarrhoea.

Plant-based is better

Plant-based protein products, such as pea, soy, hemp, brown rice and sunflower, chia, sacha inchi, pumpkin and watermelon seed, are all great alternatives to whey protein. Plant-based proteins are highly bioavailable and the different varieties work just as well, if not better, than whey protein to preserve and build lean muscle mass, as well as to support fat-burning, boost immunity, gain strength, aid post-workout recovery and regulate appetite.

Plant-based protein is much easier for the body to digest than dairy-based whey, so it will not have the same unpleasant side effects. Plus, they tend to have a milder, more neutral flavour, which means that they do not require the hefty doses of sweeteners found in some whey protein products. Pea protein has a complete amino acid profile, while other individual plant-based proteins tend to contain some, but not all amino acids. However, this is easily addressed by choosing a plant-based protein powder supplement that contains a blend of different plant proteins that, taken together, provide a full complement of amino acids.

Further advantages which may be enjoyed from choosing plant-based protein products include: they are suitable for vegans; hypoallergenic; naturally gluten-free; low on the glycaemic index (GI); rich in plant-based iron and low in carbohydrates. Look for a brand that has the addition of enzymes, to help you digest the product, as well as the use of sprouted or fermented plant proteins. Sprouting and fermentation may help to increase the absorption of beneficial phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals; these processes may also help break down ‘antinutrients’ like phytates that might interfere with the absorption of amino acids, minerals and other nutrients.

If you’re looking to speed up your progress towards your weight-loss and fitness goals while improving your nutritional intake, choosing plant-based protein will help. Let’s take a look at four of the hottest new plant-based protein ingredients.

Belgian pea protein

This is made from high-protein yellow split peas, rather than the more common sweet green peas. Pea protein is the only vegan protein to have a complete amino acid profile – it is rich in all nine essential amino acids and also contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which play an important role in protein synthesis and are necessary for powering muscles and improving the body’s ability to maintain and build muscle. About 20 per cent of the amino acids in pea protein are BCAAs, compared to 25 per cent in whey protein. Research shows that taking pea protein is also associated with reductions in blood pressure and increased satiety, which helps with both heart health and weight management. Plus, pea protein is exceptionally high in lysine, the amino acid that is responsible for building connective tissue like skin, cartilage and bones.

Pumpkin seed protein

Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, have long been favoured by the health-conscious, because they are packed with protein, along with the important minerals magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc, as well as antioxidant carotenoids, vitamin E, folate, fibre and anti-inflammatory healthy fats. Pumpkin seeds provide a range of important health benefits, including improved heart, liver and bladder health, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, increased HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, and a reduction in the risk of breast, lung, stomach, prostate and colon cancers.

Brown rice protein

Brown rice protein powder is a good source of protein and BCAAs to support muscle building and weight training. Choose a brand that is derived from organic rice, because some commercial brands may have arsenic contamination. Brown rice protein is a great partner for pea protein – the pea protein supplies lysine, which is a little lower in rice protein, while the rice protein provides methionine, which is slightly lower in pea protein.

Watermelon seed protein

Watermelon seeds are a nutritional powerhouse, being rich in protein, folate, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium and potassium, along with good quantities of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The protein in watermelon seeds contains the amino acid arginine; this is very beneficial for heart health because it is a vasodilator, which means that it helps to regulate blood pressure.

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