Protein supports performance, this much we know. It can boost glycogen storage, reduce muscle soreness, and helps repair and strengthen muscle tissue. Over the last few decades, we have learned a lot about the role of protein and its effects on our body. For instance, we know that it is not simply the quantity of protein consumed, but also the quality of that protein that dictates its effectiveness. Not all protein is created equal, and not all protein will perform the same for you. To find out what’s right for you, you first need to take a step back and look at what protein is made of and the different types. Understanding how much protein you should be taking, why the quality of protein matters, and when you should be consuming protein will also help you make an informed decision on what’s right for you.
What is Protein?
Protein is a fundamental part of all living cells. It serves both functional and structural roles within the body. It helps to repair tissue and build bone, muscle, cartilage, enzymes and skin. Protein in the body is in a constant state of turnover, in which protein is broken down and reassembled. As a result, it is essential to get enough high-quality protein in your diet.
Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and are strung together to form polypeptides, which join to form protein molecules. There are 20 amino acids found in protein, some of which the body can make (non-essential), others which must be consumed in the diet (essential).
What Are BCAA’s?
Of the essential amino acids, Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are crucial when building lean muscle. These are the branched-chain amino acids. Leucine is considered the muscle-building powerhouse and when combined with resistance training, activates mTOR, a receptor responsible for triggering muscle building.
There are four levels of protein structure.
The primary level consists of a string connected amino acids called a polypeptide. The sequence in which the amino acids are assembled dictates the secondary structure in which the polypeptide chain folds into alpha-helix or beta-sheets. There can be many alpha-helical structures and beta sheets in one polypeptide. How they interact and fold together forms the tertiary structure. Some proteins are made from several different tertiary structures creating the quaternary structure. The protein structure dictates function (muscle, enzyme, blood cell) and digestibility.
How Can I Get More Protein in My Diet?
Protein is found in almost all foods and in particularly high concentrations in meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, tofu, chickpeas, and beans. It’s recommended to obtain protein from whole foods in the most unprocessed form possible. However, we live busy lifestyles. It is not always possible to prepare a meal in a rush while on the way from the gym to work. You may have to turn to protein powder supplements. The most popular forms are whey, soy, pea & rice.
How Is Protein Digested?
After ingestion, protein is denatured (broken down from its Tertiary to Primary structure) in the stomach due to the acid environment. In its primary structure, a protein can be broken down further (cleaved) into smaller peptides and free amino acids by enzymes in the stomach (Trypsin, Chymotrypsin, elastase, etc). These smaller peptides and free amino acids are absorbed in the gut and travel through the bloodstream throughout the body.
How Can I Assess the Quality of Protein?
Not all protein powder is created equal, and protein quality is essential to consider when you are performing and more importantly, to recover.
Protein quality is based on:
- Amino Acid Profile- What quantity of essential amino acids does the protein contain.
- Digestibility- If you consume 30g of protein, how much can your body digest and therefore absorb (a function of the Tertiary Structure).
- Taste and mouthfeel.
Is Plant Protein as High Quality As Animal Protein?
The amino acid profile of animal protein powder is similar to humans and is more easily broken down and absorbed. However, with improved extraction technology, processing, and product formulation, plant-based protein has become comparable to animal sources.
- Extraction technology is the ability to extract protein from the starting material (Peas). This is achieved by removing the carbohydrate, protein and fibre, concentrating the protein portion. Plant-based sources now have comparable protein contents per 100g as Whey protein, on average +80g/100g.
- Processing- Some proteins from plant-based sources have tertiary structures that cause the mouthfeel to be gritty or sandy and resist digestion in the stomach. By further processing the concentrated protein powders into smaller peptides and free amino acids the mouthfeel and digestibility can be improved. (similar process to what the stomach does)
- Formulation- Plant-based proteins have been criticised for having incomplete amino acid profiles. However, this can be worked around with innovative formulations utilising the complementary action of the protein. By combining pea protein (low in Methionine and high in Lysine) with rice protein (low in Lysine and high in Methionine), you can create an amino acid profile similar to human muscle.
What are the Environmental Impacts of Protein?
There is more than protein’s quality to consider when choosing what protein is right for you. The environmental impact also must come into play. For every 100g of protein from milk (whey), 9.5kg of carbon dioxide equivalents are produced. Compare this with pea protein in which 0.44kg of carbon dioxide equivalents is produced. On a global scale, this makes a huge difference. Making a shift to plant-based protein not only can support a healthy natural support system for you, but also support the environment.
Does Plant Protein Provide Fast and Sustained Release?
From a digestibility standpoint, it is important to have fast and slow-digesting proteins for fast and slow release. Hydrolysed Rice Protein provides the fast release amino acids, it is high in leucine so can activate mTOR at speed. Pea protein is more slowly digested and provides a sustained release of amino acids to the muscle. In a manner that does not overload the kidneys.
Is Purity Plant Protein Right For Me?
At Purity Plant Protein we are incredibly proud of our delicious tasting plant protein. It’s innovative formulation of organic pea protein and hydrolysed rice protein offers your body a complete amino acid profile. This plant-based protein is smooth and creamy thanks to organic golden peas, organic coconut milk powder, organic stevia and natural flavours. For good measure, we have thrown in a heat-stable probiotic (bacillus coagulans) to support your digestion and immune system. Every ingredient is ethically and sustainably sourced, so you can take care of the planet as well as your body.
Confused about which protein powder is right for you? Considering moving to a plant-based protein? We’ve pulled together everything you need to know to help you choose the right vegan protein for you.