In the protein powder world, “blends” are trendy. Sadly, there are many misunderstandings about single source plant proteins being enough for the body, but studies have shown that single source may be the way to go. Protein blends make sense on many levels, from amino acid ratios to price, and consumers seem to love the bonus nutrients; but there is plenty of room on the retail shelf for pure protein sources and here’s why:
Only One Protein Source is Needed
When plant proteins emerged into the marketplace, the fitness industry (mostly), rejected them in favor of animal-based whey protein citing they were not “complete.” The completeness of a protein is based on an old standard of the ratio of amino acids found in animal-based whey protein. Since, we’ve discovered that plant proteins have all the same amino acids as whey, and in some cases more of the branch chain amino acids, which are used for muscle building. It turns out that the branch chain amino acids just appear in a different ratio.
Another factor was cost. When working with high-priced protein sources such as whey or animal-based proteins, the average cost per gram (even of whey) can be blended down thereby reducing the overall cost of a food item.
So, how did the supplement industry bridge the difference? They blended two or more plant proteins to compensate for that ratio difference. For example, by blending one plant protein (which maybe low in lysine, but high in cystine and methionine amino acids) with another which is the opposite, the ratio of 20 amino acids can more closely mirror whey protein.
Amino acid ratios aside, what’s important in looking at a single source protein is whether it provides the same desired effects as whey protein and acts like a complete protein on its own.
Consumers want to know if they will get the same muscle development strength from single plant-based protein. They’re also keenly interested in the advantage of quicker recovery from exercise. Until today, there were a lot of questions about use of plant protein, such as rice protein and if it could be used to obtain these objectives — and the answer is a resounding “yes.” This is based upon third party clinical research done in 2013 that showed Oryzatein® rice protein can have the same muscle development and recovery benefits as whey — despite the difference in amino acid ratios.
Balancing Amino Acids
We should consume multiple sources of protein each and every day to balance out the amino acids we need to build and maintain our bodies. The good news is that the average American does consume a balanced ratio, and our super smart bodies work on a 24-hour clock. It doesn’t matter if you consume rice protein in your morning shake, a salad with chicken and quinoa at lunch, and a bean and lentil soup with dinner; our bodies will do all the work absorbing and putting those amino acids to work. Somehow, somewhere our bodies just want a good ratio of the 8 essential amino acids it can’t produce internally.
More Combinations and Permutations
It is physically beneficial to get your protein from multiple sources, and single source protein powders are the key to needed variety both in amino acids and food-integration options. For example, if you buy 3 single source protein powders; let’s say a rice, pea and hemp — you now have 7 protein and blend options and significantly more options when you start changing the ratio of one protein to another. One day you can have any one of the 3 alone, the next you can mix any two and the next you can mix all three.
Is Whey Going Away?
Why is the gold standard of whey waning? What happened to soy protein that was once so popular? Today, food allergies are a major problem in the world and both dairy and soy have been identified as 2 of the top 8 major food allergens, according to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). Whey contains lactose, which according to the FDA (Food & Drug Administration), is a major food allergen. Might it be that whey has been known to cause digestive problems? Does seeing a bodybuilder with cut muscles and a bloated gut sound familiar? In addition to fluctuating raw material costs that can run high, many whey options are also burdened with cholesterol, sodium, hormones and antibiotics. As for soy, the issues that have scared consumers are the phytoestrogens; the possible dangers of which have been up for debate. A noxious issue with soy protein, sadly, is that it is extracted with a petroleum-based chemical called hexane.
It’s Easier to Add Than Remove
Why choose single source over a blend? Well, try to imagine pulling the calcium out of a multi-vitamin because you have a kidney disorder. Not so easy. Consumers like taking charge of their own health and the trend has moved into single source supplements of all kinds. There are massive benefits for a consumer being able to customize, single nutrient by single nutrient – based on their personal needs. It’s a complicated world. We have so many disorders, diseases, intolerances, food allergies, plus so many dietary lifestyle choices from vegan or flexitarian, and Paleo to Engine 2 Diet – one blend cannot possibly fit all. It’s so much easier to personalize a nutritional plan using pure ingredients and leaving the blending up to each individual. It’s the old fashioned idea of the apothecary or compounding pharmacy coming back into fashion – but in the world of food supplements.
It’s interesting to note that despite the fact that vegans and vegetarians are a very small percentage, still, of the American population (under 5%), Google Trends has noted the growth tripling in the last 3 years. According to some of our celebrity trainer friends, celebrities (and their regular clients) are choosing plant proteins over animal-based products, whether they are vegetarians or not. Interesting, right? Plant based proteins have taken off in popularity and are relatively less expensive while providing the same quality of protein needed by the human body.
A Cook’s Best Friend
When integrating protein powder into recipes from high-protein pancakes to pasta sauce, the single source protein sources tend to work best from a flavor profile and functionality. Remember, protein powder isn't just for shakes anymore. The flavor profile of a chocolate pea protein is perfect for baked brownies, while original rice protein is perfect for pasta sauce. On the other hand, a blend can be more challenging from function to flavor when integrating into a variety of high-protein recipes.
At the end of the day, there is space for both blends and pure plant proteins, as the protein segment continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Fueling that growth is the advancement of extracting protein out of everything from cranberries to sacha inchi and hemp seeds. This exciting phenomenon will continue to bring us more and more multi-benefit proteins thus not needing to blend them with other nutrients, and thus the choices of single source proteins will only continue to grow. Why limit your choices?
David Janow is the CEO of Axiom Foods.