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Plant-Powered Proteins: Considerations for the Athlete

Plant-powered eating can support overall health without sacrificing high-quality protein.

Silk Ultra Soy Protein

The New Year is often a time for reevaluating dietary patterns and adopting better habits. As we look for new ways to optimize diet for ourselves and our athletes in 2022, there are more reasons now than ever to educate and advocate for a plant-based diet and understand the benefits.

While there is no universal definition of what a plant-based diet is, it is generally accepted that a plant-based diet is largely based on plants but may also include eggs, dairy, poultry, fish and meat in small amounts. Diets built around plants provide rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, water and phytochemicals.

Promoting plant foods and reducing animal protein in an athlete’s diet does not mean sacrificing protein quality. With appropriate planning, plant protein can provide adequate protein quantity and quality to help support fitness goals. In fact, on its own, soy is the only plant-based complete protein containing all the Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) in adequate quantities. Soy foods such as edamame, tempeh, tofu and soy beverages can be easy, protein-containing nutrient-dense foods to recommend to athletes who need high-quality protein.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein in average adults is 0.8 g/kg/day but for athletes, recommendations are higher to support fitness, strength and muscle mass (NHANES 2011-2012). The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend 1.2–2.0 g/kg of protein to optimize recovery from training and to promote the growth and maintenance of lean mass when caloric intake is sufficient (Thomas, Erdman & Burke 2016). That being said, recommendations do vary depending on sport and training. A recent meta-analysis suggests the average amount of protein required to maximize lean mass is about 1.6 g/kg, and some people may need upwards of 2.2 g/kg (Morton et al. 2018).

When promoting plant-based protein to our athletes, it’s vital to know that plant protein can support muscle synthesis, and soy protein has been shown to be just as effective over the long-term at improving lean mass as whey protein. A meta-analysis compared the effect of supplementation with soy protein to animal protein on strength and lean body mass (LBM) in response to resistance exercise training (RET) and results indicated that soy protein supplementation produces similar gains in strength and LBM in response to RET as whey protein (Messina et al. 2018).

One easy way to ensure you and your clients are consuming high-quality protein is with Silk ULTRA. Containing 20g of complete, plant-based protein per serving, Silk ULTRA helps support muscle maintenance and repair. It’s an excellent source of Calcium and Vitamins A, B2, B12 & D, and can be enjoyed on its own, in smoothies or shakes, and in your favorite recipes anywhere you would use dairy or another plant-based beverage.


NHANES 2011-2012

Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(3), 543–568. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852

Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. T., McKellar, S. R., Schoenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., Aragon, A. A., Devries, M. C., Banfield, L., Krieger, J. W., & Phillips, S. M. (2018). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British journal of sports medicine, 52(6), 376–384. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608

Messina, M., Lynch, H., Dickinson, J. M., & Reed, K. E. (2018). No Difference Between the Effects of Supplementing With Soy Protein Versus Animal Protein on Gains in Muscle Mass and Strength in Response to Resistance Exercise. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism28(6), 674–685. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0071

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November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

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