According to recent research published in the journal Nutrients potato protein can help to increase the rate of protein production in the muscles to help develop and maintain muscle mass; findings may be important with an increasing number of people transitioning towards plant based diets to improve physical health, environmental sustainability and exercise performance capacity among other things.
People often draw a distinction between the quality of animal based and plant based protein. According to another review in the journal Nutrients plant based diets provide health and environmental benefits but few of these sources offer all the beneficial amino acids that are associated with a protein source.
Additionally some plant based protein can be more difficult to digest, losing some of the potential nutritional value in the process. Animal based proteins on the other hand contain all of the amino acids humans require and they are generally easier to digest in contrast.
More and more people are turning towards following a primarily plant based flexitarian diet as it is more environmentally sustainable and in general more healthful than a diet that is heavy in meat and dairy according to a growing body of scientific evidence.
The journal Advances in Nutrition published an article in which the authors say, “…[w]orldwide, the burden of morbidity and mortality from diet-related chronic diseases is increasing, driven by poor diet quality and overconsumption of calories.” “At the same time, the global food production system is draining our planet’s resources, jeopardizing the environment and future food security. Personal, population, and planetary health are closely intertwined and will all continue to be vulnerable to these threats unless action is taken.”
In this study the researchers explored the effects of protein derived from potatoes; while predominantly a starchy food they contain protein and extracting it can generate enough protein to be significant in human consumption. “…[w]hile the amount of protein found in a potato is small, we grow lots of potatoes and the protein, when isolated, it can provide some measurable benefits,” notes lead author Sara Oikawa of McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada.
Typically animal based protein requires more land and other resources than plant based protein; according to one study “plant-based replacement diets can produce 20-fold and twofold more nutritionally similar food per cropland than beef and eggs, the most and least resource-intensive animal categories, respectively.” As such understanding the role of plant protein such as that derived from potatoes is important to human health.
Women in their early twenties who consumed the recommended daily amount of protein were recruited to identify the quality of potato protein. The group was split into two with one group being given protein derived from potatoes to double the amount of protein they were intaking, and the other group staying maintaining the recommended daily amount of protein. Findings revealed that those who consumed the potato protein supplement had increased muscle protein synthesis while the same results were not observed in the control group. The researchers suggest that based on this finding plant based proteins can be valuable in helping to maintain and develop muscles.
“This was an interesting finding that we did not expect. But it is one that shows the recommended daily allowance is inadequate to support maintenance of muscle in these young women,” said Oikawa.
To examine whether plant based protein had any effect on developing muscles when actively weight training the women in both groups were asked to perform exercises on only one of their legs using leg press and leg extension machines. Although slightly unconventional, according to Professor Stuart Phillips this method allowed the team to see the effects within the same person without having to recruit additional people who were exercising.
Findings showed that those taking the potato supplement did not make any difference to muscle gain during training, but this is unlikely to be due to the protein coming from potatoes. Professor Phillip explains, “…[t]hat finding, which some may find disappointing, is in line with the rather small effect that protein has compared to exercise itself. In other words, exercise is just such a more potent stimulus for making new muscle proteins compared to protein.”
Oikawa suggests that the importance of these findings is that plant based protein can be high quality and it can contribute to human health and that: “This study provides evidence that the quality of proteins from plants can support muscle,” Oikawa concludes. “I think you’ll see more work on plant-based protein sources being done.”