There are many opinions that have formed over the years about plant-based protein. Some opinions are legit while others are flat-out wrong. The myths that plant-based protein sources are high in carbs, can’t build muscle, are of low quality are just a fallacies that float around nutrition circles. As plant-based proteins become more widely used around the world, more is uncovered about this viable and powerful source of amino acids. However, as it becomes more popular so do the myths about its ineffectiveness and subpar quality.
Whether your goal is to get lean, build muscle and strength, or just supplement your current eating plan, plant-based proteins can play an effective and important role.
Here are seven common myths about plant-based protein and why they are wrong. Let’s uncover the shroud of misunderstanding, look at the facts, and shed some light on how plant-based protein is beneficial.
1. Incomplete Proteins Are of No Benefit
A complete protein is one that includes all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. In order to properly recover, build tissue, and subsequently build muscle and improve performance, you must have complete chains of amino acids in order to build protein to be synthesized. Many will argue that many plant-based proteins do not contain all nine essential amino acids and are deficient, making them useless and ineffective as a viable protein source. This is true. Many plant protein sources lack specific amino acids that deem it an incomplete protein. But there’s more to the story.
Why this is wrong: Two points must be made on this subject. One, by combining different sources of plant proteins you can easily create a complete amino acid profile. This act of combining different sources is referred to as complimentary eating. One source may be deficient in one amino acid but by combining it with another source, they complement each other and form a powerful complete protein. Two, there are plenty of complete plant-based options available. Hemp seed is not only complete it’s also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Quinoa is another complete source that contains essential fatty acids along with being gluten-free. Finally, pea protein also contains all nine essential amino acids, and that makes it a simple and easy choice for getting in more protein in supplement form.
There are many myths out there about plant-based protein, but you may very well benefit from their use.
2. Plant-Based Proteins Are High in Carbs
Many will argue that plant-based protein sources are normally high in carbohydrates and thus higher in calories. The reason most people want to add protein to their existing diet is for the added nutrients without the overabundance of added calories. Also, if you want more carbs, it’s better to eat a whole food source than get them via a supplement. Rice, quinoa, and other grain-based plant protein sources are good examples of foods that bring more carbs into the picture while trying to increase protein intake. But there are ways to circumvent this challenge without adopting a high-carb diet just to eat more protein.
Why this is wrong: Many protein supplement manufacturers process plant-based proteins in such a way that most of the carbs are eliminated while actually improving the amino acid profile. Since most whey protein powder supplements contain a few grams of carbs anyway the playing field is fairly even. However, many plant-based protein powders also provide an array of crucial nutrients so you are left with a reduction in carbs with a high quality complete protein making plant protein a good choice.
3. You Can’t Get Enough Protein from Plant-Based Sources
Another common myth is the false belief that you can’t get enough protein from plant protein sources to support building muscle, losing fat, or improving performance. People generally think they need a ton of protein each day in order to be healthy, active, and progress in their workouts. But this initial belief is flawed to begin with. They also tend to think plant protein doesn’t yield the quantity of protein they need to support their needs.
Why this is wrong: As stated earlier, many plant-based protein supplements contain comparable amounts of protein per serving to whey among other sources – around 20 grams or so. Additionally, the myth of having to eat heaps of whole food protein every two hours is one of lore. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends 50 grams of protein for a daily 2000 calorie diet. This may seem a bit too low especially for those who are active or highly athletic, but even doubling this amount still doesn’t have you eating infinite amounts of protein. For this reason plant-based protein is a credible, viable, and ample source of high-quality protein to fulfill your daily needs.
4. There Are No Complete Plant Proteins
Yes, there are many plant sources that are incomplete in nature. Additionally, there are still many that are slightly deficient in specific amino acids. But deficient according to whom? Many people will argue that there just aren’t any complete plant-based proteins available. Plants, as we’ve been told since childhood, are simply not complete proteins. Therefore they must be inferior to animal protein sources right? With some deficient and others void of essential amino acids, plant proteins must be ineffective and can’t be relied upon as viable protein sources.
Why this is wrong: First and foremost, there are many plant-based proteins that are sufficient in the essential amino acids. Just because they are low in specific areas doesn’t relegate them to inferior status. Remember the act of combining plant protein sources? This complimentary process ensures that complete, strong amino acid profiles are met. There also plenty of complete plant-based protein sources available. Quinoa, hempseed, amaranth, soybeans, buckwheat, chia, peas, and plant-based protein supplements all contain plentiful complete proteins—they include all nine essential amino acids to make a complete profile.
5. Plant Protein Can’t Build Muscle
Somewhere along the way, someone decided that plant-based protein doesn’t build muscle as effectively as animal-based protein. For some reason people can only believe that animal meat is somehow translated over to our bodies to build real muscle tissue. You must eat meat in order to build meat, right? Visions of bodybuilders scarfing down pounds of beef, chicken, and turkey fill the heads of young, aspiring lifters yearning to pack on muscle as they toil tirelessly away in the gym or on the field. This notion of plant proteins not being good enough isn’t true and has absolutely no scientific backing.
Why this is wrong: Athletes, average Joes, and the local lifter can all benefit from plant-based protein because you can get the same complete proteins from plant foods as you can from traditional animal sources. One of the best protein sources is antioxidant-rich plants due to their alkaline-forming abilities because they contain chlorophyll. This benefits the athlete by combating inflammation, reducing stress, and protecting bone health. Additionally, plant-based protein is often easier to digest and absorb than animal products which sometimes can cause digestive discomfort. With so many new plant-based protein supplements now available, the number of athletes switching to plant-based proteins is growing rapidly.
6. You Must Combine Foods Get Complete Proteins
Some plant-based protein sources need complimentary foods in order to be considered complete. Many athletes believe you need this combination at all times in order to elicit any form of recovery from training. It is believed that if you don’t eat to get the greatest amino acid profile possible that protein synthesis (the body’s reaction for building muscle) simply won’t happen or won’t be optimal enough. You need to combine foods every time you eat. Well, not exactly.
Why this is wrong: The body works more on a daily basis rather than an hourly one. Simply put, it matters more that you eat a variety of foods throughout the day rather than one or two meals being the deciding factor. Consider these two factors: One, your body will do a fine job of combining amino acids throughout the day to put together the nine essential amino acids—and two, most plant-based protein supplements are fortified with ample amounts of complete protein profiles. By supplementing, you’re getting all the protein you need.
7. Plant-Based Protein Is Low Quality
Another misconception is that plant protein is of inferior quality. Somehow the amino acids in animal-based protein are somehow more effective, of higher quality, and will enable you to recover faster. Plant proteins, some think, are weak, fragile, and not strong enough to facilitate recovery from hard training. Plant protein is for vegetarians only and is better suited after yoga classes, Pilates, and organic eaters.
Why this is wrong: Your body actually collects amino acids over the course of the day and binds them together as needed. With a balanced diet, variety of foods, and supplementation if warranted, you can recover, build muscle, and lose fat with plant proteins.
There are many myths out there about plant-based protein, but you may very well benefit from their use. With easier digestibility and absorption, superior added nutrients, and less of an environmental impact, you have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
More on protein options: