Rice protein works just as well as whey for bodybuilders
The price of whey proteins has been rising in recent years and the trend looks set to continue. Fortunately there are also plant-based proteins, such as rice protein. Right now rice protein is more expensive than whey, but in five years it won't be. And if you use rice protein in the right way you can get the same results as you would with whey protein, researchers at the University of Tampa write in Nutrition Journal.
Plant proteins, leucine & muscle building
Plant-based proteins have a bad name in the strength sports world, and not entirely without reason. The amino acid composition of plant-based proteins is not as good for muscle building as animal-based proteins.
This is mainly because plant-based proteins contain less leucine, according to researchers. Muscle cells recognise leucine and make their anabolic machinery work harder the more leucine molecules they 'see'. Animal experiments have shown that rats can build up just as much muscle mass with wheat protein as they can with whey protein – as long as the researchers add a hefty amount of leucine to the wheat protein.
The table below compares the amino-acid content in whey with that of rice protein. The quality of rice protein is not bad for a plant-based protein, but whey contains one and a half times as much leucine.
For a reasonable anabolic stimulus you need about 3 g leucine. A standard amount of plant-based protein is 20-30 g and this isn't enough to give you 3 g leucine. That's why strength athletes react less well to plant-based proteins than to animal-based proteins in experiments in which researchers generally use standard quantities.
But what happens if you give an athlete more plant-based protein than the usual 20 g? Say 48 g? Will a plant-based protein still have less effect on strength and muscle mass than whey?
The researchers tested this in an 8-week-long experiment. They got 24 students, who'd been doing strength training for at least a year, to train using a nonlinear periodization scheme, in which they alternated hypertrophy and strength days. On hypertrophy days the students trained using weights with which they could just manage 8-12 reps; on strength days they used weights with which they could manage a max of 2-5 reps.
After working out half of the subjects were given a shake containing 48 g whey isolate. The other half were given a shake containing 48 g rice-protein isolate.
At the end of the eight weeks the subjects in both groups had made the same amount of progression.
"Differences in protein composition are of less relevance when protein is consumed in high doses throughout periodized resistance training", the researchers write. "Rice protein isolate consumption post resistance exercise decreases fat-mass and increases lean body mass and skeletal muscle hypertrophy comparable to whey protein isolate."
Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:86 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-86.
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