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Plant-based protein powder … as effective as whey?

Plant-based protein powder … as effective as whey?

A few weeks ago we published an article on protein powders and muscle mass. We had planned a 2nd article on plant proteins and it seems that this one is eagerly awaited! But first, allow us to come back to the role of post-workout protein.

Proteins are popular. Why?

This nutrient plays a key role in repairing muscle fibers that were put to heavy strain during the workout. In terms of quantity, we usually aim for 15-25g (0.3g / kg bodyweight) immediately after training. In addition, it is suggested to consume it regularly throughout the day, about every 4 hours, so that our muscles are constantly supplied with amino acids. Over a full day, we therefore aim to distribute our intakes totaling 1.2-2.0 g / kg of body weight depending on the sport practiced.

Whey protein or plant protein?

Pea protein, hemp protein, soy protein, etc. It is normal not to know which one to choose! The question you are asking yourself (and probably why you chose to read this article): is vegetable protein as effective as whey protein?

To answer this question, you should know that the properties of protein powders depend on 2 characteristics:

  • Digestibility
  • The content of essential amino acids

1) Digestibility

Studies show that proteins of animal origin, in particular whey protein, are more digestible than vegetable proteins, that is to say that a greater number of amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream (1). This means that more amino acids (the molecules that make up proteins) will be available to muscles for muscle synthesis (the creation of new muscle fibers).

2) Amino acid content

Among other things, it is the high content of leucine, an essential amino acid, which is responsible for the better capacity for muscle synthesis of “whey”. See in this figure (2) the leucine content of different foods.

Since plant proteins contain less leucine (6-8% compared to 8-13% in whey), they are found to be less effective for the synthesis of muscle mass (3). Warning ! That doesn’t mean they don’t work at all!

Indeed, in protocols on soccer players where we studied the impact of soy protein and whey protein on movement recovery and muscle pain, the two types of protein had a similar beneficial effect. (4). Several other studies confirm these data.

So plant protein can be an alternative to animal protein in post-workout, however, daily rations will need to be increased slightly to achieve a similar effect. So, instead of taking 1 scoop of 35g of whey protein, it would be possible to take 1 scoop of 60g of oat protein for example (5).

Finally, to obtain better results, it would also be possible to mix different kinds of proteins to obtain an optimal amino acid content. Several brands already offer this option, including the Vega brand and the ATP LAB brand, to name a few.

Food or supplement ?

The sports supplement industry is fierce in this universe, with miraculous, and sadly too often misleading, promises. The watchword: be vigilant and educate yourself properly before getting any. We strongly suggest that you favor real foods, both as a post-workout snack and as a meal, as these will give you more than just one nutrient!

However, if you choose a protein supplement, choose products certified with the logos below. These are laboratory tested to certify that they are free of contaminants and doping agents, and that they contain exactly what is listed on the product labels.


(1)  Tang JE1, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol 107:3:987-92, 2009.

(2)   Excerpt from : https://www.mysportscience.com/post/2017/11/03/what-is-the-best-protein-source-for-building-muscle

(3)  van Vliet S, Burd NA, van Loon LJ. The skeletal muscle anabolic response to plant- versus animal-based protein consumption. J Nutr. 145:9:1981-91, 2015

(4)  Kritikos, S., Papanikolaou, K., Draganidis, D., Poulios, A., Georgakouli, K., Tsimeas, P., Tzatzakis, T., Batsilas, D., Batrakoulis, A., Deli, C. K., Chatzinikolaou, A., Mohr, M., Jamurtas, A. Z., & Fatouros, I. G. (2021). Effect of whey vs. soy protein supplementation on recovery kinetics following speed endurance training in competitive male soccer players: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), 23. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00420-w

(5)  Gorissen, S. H., Horstman, A. M., Franssen, R., Crombag, J. J., Langer, H., Bierau, J., Respondek, F., & van Loon, L. J. (2016). Ingestion of Wheat Protein Increases In Vivo Muscle Protein Synthesis Rates in Healthy Older Men in a Randomized Trial. The Journal of nutrition, 146(9), 1651–1659. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.116.231340


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