Potato protein can be as effective as animal-derived milk in building muscle, a new study found. Conducted by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and published in scientific journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the study hypothesized that because potato protein and animal milk protein share a very similar amino acid composition that both might have a similar effect on muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or the body’s way of making amino acids into skeletal muscle protein. 

To test this hypothesis, the researchers conducted a double-blind study that consisted of 24 healthy males between the ages of 18 to 35 and took place between April 2018 and February 2020. Participants were assigned to exercise on a leg press and then randomly chosen to either consume 30 grams of milk or potato protein. The researchers then measured how each of the protein sources affected MPS and found both to be comparable. 

“Ingestion of 30 grams of potato protein concentrate increases muscle protein synthesis rates at rest and during recovery from exercise in healthy, young males,” the study concluded. “Muscle protein synthesis rates following the ingestion of 30 grams of potato protein do not differ from rates observed after ingesting an equivalent amount of milk protein.”

The researchers acknowledged that some of their limitations included the small study size, the fact that all participants were young, and that they did not account for all genders. A portion of this study was also funded by potato industry group Alliance for Potato Research & Education. 

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Building muscle with vegan protein

The Dutch study follows recent research conducted in Brazil and published in January in the scientific journal Sports Medicine. This study focused on identifying the effects of dietary protein sources (exclusively plant-based versus a mixed omnivore diet) on changes in muscle mass and strength in healthy young men who strength train.

Findings here demonstrated that a plant-based diet composed of whole foods and soy protein supplementation is as effective as an omnivorous diet composed of mixed whole foods and whey protein supplementation for supporting muscle-building and strength. 

“A high-protein, exclusively plant-based diet (plant-based whole foods plus soy protein isolate supplementation) is not different than a protein-matched mixed diet (mixed whole foods plus whey protein supplementation) in supporting muscle strength and mass accrual, suggesting that protein source does not affect resistance training-induced adaptations in untrained young men consuming adequate amounts of protein,” the researchers concluded.

Another study published in 2017 in the scientific journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dietary protein derived from plant sources is no different than that from meat sources. Among 3,000 participants with varied dietary habits, higher protein intake led to better overall musculoskeletal health, and the source of dietary protein—plant or animal—was irrelevant.

Taken together, the results of these three studies may encourage those who strength train to consider using plant-based protein supplements instead of animal-derived sources, particularly whey. 

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Animal-free whey comes to market

When it comes to whey, new technologies have made it possible to create the popular muscle-building supplement without the need to exploit animals—or harm the environment. California-based Perfect Day is a food-technology company that cracked the code for creating animal-free whey using precision fermentation where a DNA blueprint is introduced into yeast microflora that then act in place of the cow to produce whey protein. Making whey in this way reduces water consumption by 99 percent, greenhouse gas emissions by up to 97 percent, and energy use by up to 60 percent.

While the technology was developed mostly to provide a functional base for remaking dairy products such as ice cream, cheese, and milk using animal-free whey, Perfect Day’s innovation has applications in the world of fitness and nutrition. 

One brand that is showcasing the power of Perfect Day’s animal-free whey is Natreve which recently launched its MOOLESS product in Vanilla Bean Cupcake, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Cookies and Cream, and Strawberry Shortcake flavors at 690 locations of The Vitamin Shoppe. “Our mission of becoming the most sustainable wellness brand on the planet is an ambitious one that is now being realized through the launch of MOOLESS,” Natreve CEO Roland Radu said in a statement. “With MOOLESS animal-free whey protein powder, Natreve now provides even more options for people to invest in their health while protecting the health of our planet.”

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