Regardless of what vegetarian advocates advocate, plant-based proteins are inferior protein sources and I believe there’s a reason that eluded researchers and everyone else.
In my opinion, one of the biggest misconceptions in the fitness industry, nutrition, and sports science is the concept of categorizing protein sources according to their amino acid composition. Foods, and supplements such as whey or pea protein powders, are classified accordingly. The problem with this classification is the fact it doesn’t take into account that the human digestive enzymes do not break down all the bonds between amino acids of the proteins we ingest. One well-known example is Gluten.
Any protein chain longer than a single amino acid is called a peptide. A protein chain of 2 amino acids is a Dipetipe, a protein chain of 3 amino acids is a Tripeptide, etc.
We know that Human Growth Hormone (HGH), a peptide composed of 191 amino acids, and Insulin, another long peptide have crucial systemic effects on all tissues in humans. We also know that just replacing a single amino acid in a peptide chain results in major changes in the effects, for example, insulin Aspart. Then it makes perfect sense that much shorter peptides exist and have major and different effects.
Creatine, carnitine, and glutathione, the major antioxidant in humans, to name a few, are short peptides. Research groups are regularly identifying receptors that they do not know which endogenous molecules/peptides activate them so they call them orphan receptors. Millions of dollars have been spent in pursuit of the endogenous molecules with no luck. Research groups are not doing that for the goodness of their hearts or to benefit humanity. They seek to find the molecules to publish their findings to get noticed and to get funded by big pharma. Then they’ll pursue inventing and testing similar molecules that activate or block the receptors in the hope big pharma buys a patent to make a drug.
Several plant-based molecules are the best-known activators of different orphan receptors (non-peptides) but most people won’t ever know that. The reason is: molecules found in nature can’t be patented. No one will benefit financially from the knowledge so why spread it?
Back to peptides. There’s a secret about beef. Whenever physique competitors/fitness models/actors are dieting on the traditional “cutting” diets and their performance in the gym takes a dive for several workouts in a row, the VIP coach will give the instructions for a cheat meal that includes beef. It’s usually an 8-10 Ounce beef burger with fries. The very next day the strength returns. Although the subjects are consuming high quantities of white meats with similar amino acid composition to red meat the effects of red meat on performance are different and undeniable.
It’s definitely not the additional fats or the creatine content that makes beef so effective as most of the dieters, the subjects, do consume fats and supplement with excessive amounts of creatine. I believe the secret of the performance-enhancing effect is hidden in certain undiscovered short peptides resulting from the digestion of beef. So you see it’s not the amino acid profile. Even if you mix plant-based proteins to get the same amino acid profile it won’t be equivalent to beef.
What makes chicken, fish, and beef have different texture is mostly due to the protein chains. When we ingest and digest different animal-based proteins we end up with single amino acids and an array of different short-chained peptides that may have different effects. Even amino acid supplements from beef, with bonds unnaturally broken, are not equivalent to the same amount of amino acids from beef as certain bonds stay intact in the latter. The difference becomes more pronounced when the comparison is made with plant-based proteins. 30 grams of protein from a plant-based protein powder blend will never be equivalent to 30 grams of protein from beef.
Now to answer the question, are plant-based protein powders healthy? In the best scenario, they aren’t harmful unless you are sensitive to one or more of the resulting peptides. Nevertheless, several accusations have been made in recent years claiming that plant-based peptides, especially from grains, negatively affect the integrity of the digestive tract lining with a snowball effect and ties to many diseases in everyone. Not only wheat, but also barley, oats, corn, and rice. In his book No Grain, No Pain: A 30-Day Diet for Eliminating the Root Cause of Chronic Pain, Dr. Peter Osborne goes as far as claiming that grains wreak havoc on the body by causing tissue inflammation, creating vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and triggering an autoimmune response.
My suggestion is to avoid plant-based protein powders altogether, and if you have to pick one, then stick with pea protein. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll have a definitive answer.
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