Because of the significant role that protein plays in muscle growth and repair, it’s important for anyone who’s active to have an adequate intake.
Whilst guidelines vary, as a rule of thumb, it’s recommended that you consume 1g of protein per lb of body weight. Some individuals will need more than this, and others may even get away with less – depending on the frequency and intensity of your training, your goals, and body composition. Reaching this figure, however, can be challenging through food alone; even more so if you have particular dietary requirements.
This is where protein supplements come in: they can help to make life that bit easier by providing a convenient approach to nutrition. Whilst whey remains a top contender, owing to its superior quality and rate of absorption, it isn’t a viable option for those with certain allergies or intolerances. For example, an allergy to milk protein, or an intolerance to lactose, would (sometimes) render whey unsuitable. Soya protein powder, made from soya beans, is an example of an alternative to whey.
Unfortunately, soya protein has received quite a bit of bad press in the past; it’s been viewed as an inferior protein source, and has also been linked to ‘feminisation in males’ – i.e. breast growth (!), and reduced testosterone levels. This is most likely linked to the isoflavones that are naturally present in soya, which are a type of phytoestrogen (female hormone). Soya has also been associated with other issues, such as low energy levels, and digestive interferences.
However, more recent studies indicate that soya may not have quite the detrimental effect on hormone levels as previously thought. Moreover, it could offer a nutritional advantage over other types of plant-based proteins. The soya bean – a type of legume – is classed as a ‘complete’ protein, providing a full-spectrum of amino acids (unlike many plant proteins). It’s also naturally rich in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine, isoleucine and valine, thus supporting muscle development.
Similarly to whey, soya protein powder is available as concentrate or isolate; the latter providing as much as 90% protein. Soya is also a good source of nutrients like zinc, iron, potassium, and several B vitamins. If you’re of the vegan persuasion, for example, or it’s necessary for you to avoid milk protein-based products, soya can be a good choice.
Ideal for use around training, many brands will deliver over 25g of muscle-building protein per scoop, which can be consumed throughout the day. Some varieties are made using non-genetically modified (GM) soya beans to help improve their overall quality, as well as their impact on the environment. The unflavoured sort can be used to fortify a range of foods, sweet or savoury.
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