Plant protein has been creeping into the limelight with growing awareness that it could be as good as high quality animal protein for powering muscles. Now potatoes are confidently taking the stage.
No, it’s not an Irish joke – researchers suggest that not only we can get all the essential amino acids from potatoes but that they can help build muscle as effectively as dairy milk protein.
What’s the evidence?
In a recent study, a team from the Netherlands recruited 24 healthy males aged 20-28 to take 30 grams of protein concentrate derived from potatoes or milk at rest and during recovery from a session of resistance training exercises.
Blood samples and muscle biopsy results showed similar increases in amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in both groups – whether it came from potatoes or milk. While it was previously thought that plant protein is inferior to animal protein, they found that the amino acid profile was very similar.
They are not the first to explore this. Another group of researchers in the US tested the impact of potato protein on muscles in young women a couple of years ago.
After ensuring that the women’s diets provided the recommended daily allowance of protein (0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight), they gave them either additional protein derived from potato concentrate or placebo.
Results showed that the potato group (which had doubled their intake to 1.6 g/kg body weight) increased their muscle synthesis of new proteins. Lead author Sara Oikawa said the finding was unexpected, and showed that “the recommended daily allowance is inadequate to support maintenance of muscle in these young women”.
This supports suggestions that current recommendations for protein intake are not high enough.
Investigating further, they asked the women to exercise just one leg and compared its muscle gain with that of the other leg. There was no difference, which the researchers say highlights the fact that exercise is by far the best way to build muscle.
So, can I eat chips to get strong?
Before gorging on potato chips, it bears noting that whole potatoes only contain 1.5% protein, so concentrated powder is the best way to derive their muscle building benefits. The good news is that, being the world’s third most popular crop, the concentrate can be extracted from leftover residue otherwise used for feed or wasted.
Other sources of plant protein include legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and hemp, which along with animal proteins such as eggs, dairy, fish and meat become increasingly important with aging to prevent osteoporosis, sarcopenia and falls.