For decades, dairy-derived whey protein has reigned supreme as the standard by which all other protein is measured.
It has, therefore, become a supplement staple in the cupboards of anyone who is serious about adding muscle, or for athletes who want to optimise recovery.
However, a study conducted on mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters by researchers at the Florida International University has shown that athletes taking plant-based brown rice protein during training experienced statistically similar results to those who used animal-based whey protein.
In the six-week study, led by Dr. Douglas Kalman and sports nutritionist Alison Escalante, 11 MMA athletes were given three 25g scoops per day (75g in total) of either rice or whey protein, with at least one serving after the first training session of the day.
The study participants consumed the protein supplement in the form of a traditional shake, or by mixing the protein into other food recipes, such as pancakes.
The MMA athletes then continued to follow their regular diet and intense training protocols, under the guidance of their coaches, for the duration of the study.
Their weekly training schedule included at least two MMA sessions per day for five days a week and one session per weekend, in addition to two strength and conditioning sessions per week.
Body composition was assessed before, periodically during the study, and again directly after completion, using ultrasound technology to determine lean body mass – muscle versus fat mass. By the end of the study the researchers found that both the whey and rice protein supplements used resulted in statistically similar changes to the body composition of the participants.
The results, which were published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, suggest that brown rice protein may be just as effective as animal-based whey protein for building and maintaining muscle.
More scientific support
This was not the first time these results were seen in studies. For instance, a 2013 study published in Nutrition Journal also showed that brown rice protein was just as effective as whey protein in supplementing body composition and exercise performance.
In another study conducted by researchers from the Hebrew Senior Life’s Institute for Aging Research and University of Massachusetts Lowell and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also showed that both plant-based protein and animal protein build muscle equally well.
From 2002 to 2005, the researchers observed the muscle mass, strength, and bone density of 3,000 participants with varied dietary habits in the 17 to 72 age range. They found that while higher protein intake led to better overall musculoskeletal health, the source of dietary protein – plant or animal – was irrelevant.
The real question then is, which protein fits in best with your lifestyle? Are you trying to consume less animal protein in your diet, be it for your health and digestion, or to benefit the environment? Do you suffer from digestive issues linked to dairy?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then brown rice protein seems to be a suitable addition or even replacement to your trusted tub of whey protein.
That’s because brown rice protein is a plant-based alternative to dairy-derived whey, which means it’s lactose-free. It’s also gluten-free.
These factors make brown rice protein ideal for anyone with dietary restrictions, allergies, or sensitivities. It also contains all essential amino acids, but because it’s low in lysine, it’s not a complete protein.
However, manufacturers can create a complete amino acid profile by combining complementary plant-based proteins in blended supplement products.