A greater understanding of nutrition has shown us that high quality, complete protein can be found in plants. Pictures of steak, chicken breast, fish, and eggs have almost exclusively been used in advertising to be evocative of a high protein meal. While this is true, there is so much more to be understood about this macronutrient, as well as where we source it from.
Protein is not a nutrient attained solely from the bodies and byproducts of animals. Following the food chain, you will see that the origin of protein is always from plants, but is there some magical process through which being digested by an animal makes it complete?
We hate to spoil the fantasy, but there isn't. At this point, you might be wondering, then what exactly is protein, and where is the best place for me to get it? Is plant protein as good as whey? Allow us to explain!
WHAT IS PROTEIN?
Proteins are simply molecules made up of compounds called amino acids. The completeness of a protein all comes down to whether or not it contains all essential amino acids.
There are nine essential amino acids and eleven non-essential amino acids. The reason the majority of amino acids are non-essential is because our bodies can create them themselves. As long as we are getting enough of these nine essential amino acids from the food we eat throughout the day, and we don't have any significant digestive issues that may hinder their absorption, we are ensuring our daily requirement for protein is being met.
Nine essential amino acids:
WHEY VS PLANT PROTEIN
Some foods contain a better scope of amino acids than others, but when comparing whey protein vs. plant protein the answer might be slightly more complex than you previously thought.
When purchasing any protein powder supplement, the source of protein is rarely in its whole food form. Proteins are almost always isolated from foods that already contain higher levels. Removing protein from food and creating a powdered concentrate is the easiest way to up the amount you can get in a serving. With plant-based protein powders, you will often find protein combined from multiple different sources. This does not make the final product in any way less superior to a whey protein, or any other protein originating from an animal.
So, if you find yourself asking, "Is plant protein as good as whey" the answer is a resounding YES!
Plant proteins in the form of powder, as well as whole foods, contain all nine essential amino acids. A serving of beans will absolutely contain higher levels of protein and amino acids than romance lettuce, but as long as you are eating enough calories from whole plant foods, you will absolutely meet your daily requirements. If you are exercising and looking for a convenient way to increase your protein uptake, plant proteins can easily supply you with the high quality, complete sources your body needs to build and maintain healthy muscle mass.
WHY CHOOSE PLANT-BASED PROTEIN AND NOT WHEY?
Another question people ask themselves when exploring their options is why choose one over the other? Research has shown that plant-based proteins such as pea protein can be significantly easier for the body to digest and assimilate. Whey protein is often associated with bloating, gas, and general stomach upset. The greater the strain we put on our digestive system, the more energy our bodies have to use to break down food. Eating foods that agree with us and cause the least amount of irritation, will, in turn, give us greater energy and overall greater health.