Whey and casein used to monopolize the protein department when it came to sports products like protein powder and bars. Now there are a whole slew of plant-based protein sources included in our sport foods! I often get the question – which one is really best? Most easily absorbed? Healthiest? Like so many areas of nutrition, the answer is highly individual.
For athletes that process dairy products well, whey and casein are good options. Plant-based proteins do not contain milk, and pave the way for easier digestion for those who don’t process dairy efficiently. Many of the vegetarian proteins are also gluten free and soy free (except soy protein?). Are these plant-based proteins as efficiently utilized in the body as the animal proteins? The answer depends on the specific type of protein in question, but oftentimes the answer is yes.
Here is a breakdown of several animal and plant-based proteins included in sports products. All of these proteins can limit muscle breakdown and facilitate muscle repair/rebuilding post-workout:
SPROUTED WHOLE GRAIN BROWN RICE
Reduced gluten through the sprouting process, making for easier digestion. Contains insoluble fiber, which helps to prevent elevated cholesterol. It can be paired with other plant-based protein to be considered complete.
Complete vegetarian protein, but shouldn’t be used exclusively as there are drawbacks (i.e. can cause gas and bloating due to the action of trypsin, linked to breast cancer). Soy protein isolate is higher protein than soy protein concentrate.
Barring a dairy allergy or vegetarian/vegan diet, the milk proteins are perfectly fine to use for protein replenishment. However, the plant-based proteins are “easily digestible and have been proven to fight inflammation and reduce muscle soreness more effectively than dairy-based proteins”, according to Brendan Brazier the creator of the Vega product line. I recommend trying different protein sources and seeing which works best. And always remember… real food first, sports products only when truly necessary.