Vegan protein powders are becoming increasingly popular for a number of reasons. Obviously, more people are vegan now than at any time in history; the new generation of consumers is ethically-engaged, environmentally-conscious, and health-obsessed, so obviously many of them are ditching meat and dairy. But working out with the sole aim of building muscle is also more popular than ever before. Hence the explosion in plant-based protein powders.
One of the most popular vegan protein powders on sale right now is rice protein. Specifically, rice protein concentrates and isolates. These powders are sold as plant-based alternatives to traditional whey protein supplements. According to the manufacturers, these products can go toe-to-toe with whey in terms of their ability to promote muscle growth.
But not everybody agrees.
Some critics have argued that rice protein is less effective than the likes of whey or casein when it comes to stimulating muscle growth. They usually argue that rice is not a “complete protein”, and is therefore unable to stimulate muscle growth the way complete proteins can.
In the words of one particularly stupid critic: “The effectiveness of a protein for muscle gain or fat loss depends on its amino acid structure. If a protein is “incomplete,” then it does not have all of the amino acids your body needs. If it is complete, then your body can put all of the amino acids to fuel benefits such as muscle growth or recovery.”
Why is this statement so stupid?
Is rice protein a complete protein?
Does rice protein promote muscle growth? Is it good for gaining size and strength?
Let’s go through these questions and find out whether rice protein is a good option for bodybuilders.
Is rice a complete protein?
Contrary to popular belief, yes, rice is a complete protein source as it contains all essential amino acids.
This means it provides all 9 of the amino acids your body cannot synthesize itself.
In fact, almost every food that contains protein is a complete protein source; we cannot think of a food which contains protein that does not provide all 9 essential amino acids.
Now, brown rice is considerably higher in all amino acids than white rice. This is why all good rice protein powders use whole brown rice as their source rather than white rice; you just get more amino acids for every gram of rice.
Here is a table showing the amino acid profile of a high-quality rice protein isolate (Oryzatein-90) alongside those for soy protein isolate and whey protein isolate:
As you can see, all three of these products are complete proteins.
So why do people claim rice isn’t a complete protein source?
This is usually because of “relative scarcity”; that is, rice protein contains less of certain amino acids than whey.
For example, whey protein isolate is about 10% leucine by weight; leucine is the “anabolic trigger” for muscle growth, and is therefore the most important amino acid to consume for gaining size. By contrast, rice protein concentrate is 8% leucine by weight.
That’s a tiny difference, but it’s enough for the supplement industry shills to get in and start spreading misinformation, sowing doubt, and creating a demand for whey (which is a cheap by-product of cheese manufacturing).
Don’t let manufacturers use lies and pseudo-science to trick you: rice protein is a complete protein, and a good one at that!
Does rice protein promote muscle growth?
So rice protein is a complete protein source – great.
But does rice protein promote muscle growth like whey protein, or other vegan protein powders?
Yes, absolutely. Clinical trials have found that high-quality brown rice protein isolate stimulates muscle growth to exactly the same degree as whey protein.
For example, in this paper researchers compared the amino acid profiles of Oryzatein-80 and Oryzatein-90 to that of whey and soy isolates. They found them all to be practically identical, with only minor differences for some amino acids. The researchers noted that “a recent study comparing the effects of rice or whey protein isolate in male athletes immediately post exercise found no differences in perceived recovery or soreness between the two isolates”, before concluding:
“Oryzatein-80, an organic brown rice protein concentrate or Oryzatein-90, an organic brown rice protein isolate, may be used in place of other protein isolates or concentrates without any loss of essential nutrient value.”
That’s conclusive enough for us!
Rice protein is a complete protein, just like every other food that contains protein! The idea of a “complete protein” is a fabrication designed to sell a cheap by-product of cheese manufacturing (whey).
High-quality brown rice protein isolate is just as capable as whey protein at stimulating muscle growth and supporting muscle repair after intense training.