For most of us, protein makes our worlds go around, and protein not only helps us in packing on mass, but it also helps us stay strong, helps in weight loss (controlling body fat), acts as a meal replacement, and allows for the body’s basic functions to take place.
It’s interesting then when we think of something like rice protein.
Both white rice and brown rice contain high amounts of carbohydrates, which allows our bodies to be energized and run smoothly. However, for those on keto diets, rice is a big no-no.
We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be like that anymore. It turns out that rice has a significant protein content as well, making it an amazing candidate for your protein powder needs during the post-workout. While it comes with a number of benefits over traditional choices, there are a few things to keep in mind next time you’re out hunting for a new protein powder to boost your gains.
Before we can gauge the pros and cons of rice as a protein powder, let’s first give ourselves a quick refresher on the baselines we’ll be using.
As we mentioned above, protein is a necessary component in the function of a healthy human body. The list of things
It aids in a wide variety of functions including (but not limited to):
Muscle growth and maintenance: Combined with resistance exercises and general fitness routines, protein allows you to not only build muscle but also maintain it as you age.
Appetite control: Eating a high protein diet will leave you fuller, for longer.
Weight management: Tied to the above, eating a high protein diet will keep you satiated for longer, meaning that you’ll be less inclined to indulge in unhealthy snacks. It’ll also help you maintain muscle mass as you also go for fat loss.
Improving strength: Much like building muscle mass, protein combined with exercise will turbocharge your strength gains.
Recovery: A high protein diet will allow your body to heal faster after exercises, and even after injuries.
Improving your immune function: Perhaps most importantly, proteins are essential when it comes to your immune system. This is because proteins are the building blocks of antibodies.
Protein continues to be studied every year and there are always new things we’re finding out. The nutritional benefits of protein are long—but that’s probably not a surprise to you. But when looking into rice protein, its biggest variations come when we look at the things that make the foundation of a good protein.
We don’t want to nerd-out too much, but it’s useful to look at the composition of proteins—since this is where the biggest difference between rice protein and other proteins lies.
All proteins are not built equal, and one of the main aspects of this inequality is in the “completeness” vs. the “incompleteness” of the protein in question. What does this mean?
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are building blocks that can be put together in different ways inside of your body to serve different functions. Your body uses a grand total of 20 amino acids. Seven of these are non-essential acids since your body can create them by itself—you don’t have to worry about these for the most part. There are four that are conditionally essential. This means that your body is usually able to make them, but that might change if you’re sick or have just completed a tough workout.
The last nine are the essential amino acids (EAAs). Your body can’t create these and therefore, you have to eat specific foods in order to get them. These EAAs are essential for a number of different bodily functions, including muscle growth, hormone control, and building enzymes and neurotransmitters.
We’ll talk more about this later, but rice protein powder—along with other plant-based protein powders such as pea and hemp protein—are categorized as incomplete. This means that they’re lacking in their amino acid profile.
This will also come into play when talking about rice protein, so keep it in mind. 20-40 grams of protein per day, which is 1 to 2 scoops of protein powder, is a good amount of protein for most people. The upper limit is about 3-4 scoops (80 grams), but of course, this depends on the individual and their goals.
The reason that this is the upper limit is because the benefits stop keeping up with the increased intake. While it’s not necessarily harmful to eat more protein than this, it does displace other whole food sources that are necessary for other vitamins, nutrients, and minerals.
Now that we have some sort of baseline on what protein is and how it interacts with our bodies, let’s dive into some of the benefits of rice protein powder.
Along with the benefits of traditional animal-based proteins that we outlined above, there’s also a number of plant-based and rice specific benefits that are useful to keep in mind when thinking about pivoting your protein intake to rice.
The first and most obvious benefit is that it’s a friendly protein source for vegetarians and vegans. We’ve looked at vegan diets before and their increasing popularity, so it makes sense that vegan protein powder such as pea and hemp is gaining in popularity.
There is a conception in the fitness-sphere that plant-based proteins just aren’t as good as animal-based. This has been called into question already, but if you’re still not a believer, consider this.
While plant proteins are on average absorbed slower than their animal counterparts, the amino acid leucine is actually absorbed faster with rice than with whey protein powder. Furthermore, leucine happens to be the most important essential amino acid when it comes to building muscle. This surprising (at least to some of us) benefit of rice protein is by itself a worthy reason to seriously consider it next time you’re shopping around for supplements. But it doesn’t stop there.
Not only vegetarian and vegan-friendly, but rice protein is also a hypo-allergenic food and gluten-free. Taking this into account, it trumps a lot of other plant-based proteins such as soy and hemp protein powder. Pea protein is also a popular choice; however, it often contains significant levels of sodium. So, if you’re trying to control your sodium intake, it’s better to stick to rice. Taking everything into account, rice comes out on top in a lot of specific cases. If none of these apply to you, consider its digestibility.
Unlike whey, rice protein doesn’t cause any bloating or other gastric discomforts. Furthermore, it’s also easier to digest than whey at a 90% digestibility rate. When it comes to bioavailability, however, rice doesn’t quite shine as brightly as whey. Nevertheless, it’s still comparable to pea protein and better than soy protein.
And the last great benefit of rice protein is its sustainability and the fact that it’s cruelty-free. Whatever your thoughts are on eating meat or not, it can’t be denied that the meat industry is questionable (to say the least). This is especially true when it comes to dairy and beef. And, as we all know, whey is a by-product of the former.
Rice offers a cruelty-free, ethical, and more eco-friendly option than its whey counterpart. If that’s not necessarily something you look at when considering how to beef up your gains—your wallet will also thank you for choosing rice over whey.
As we mentioned above, probably the biggest downside of rice protein powder is that it’s not a complete protein. An incomplete protein means that it’s either missing, (or low), on one or more of the 9 essential amino acids. Neither hemp nor pea protein contains the necessary amounts of all 9 of the EAAs, which are: tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine + cysteine, phenylalanine + tyrosine, valine, and histidine.
Animal-based proteins (whey, eggs, beef, etc.) don’t have much of a problem reaching the necessary amounts of all these amino acids, which is why plant-derived proteins usually get a bad rap. While this is true, it’s worth diving into the nuances in order to get a better picture of the situation.
And just to re-iterate, a protein might contain all 9 of the EAAs yet still be deemed incomplete if it doesn’t meet them in large enough quantities. When it comes down to rice protein, it does provide all 9, but it doesn’t quite reach the adequate amount of lysine (the proper amount being 51mg per gram, with rice protein having 31mg per gram).
Lysine is essential when it comes to promoting calcium absorption and retention, along with collagen. Helping in wound healing, it also has the surprising benefits of aiding your fatty acid metabolism, maintaining cholesterol levels, reducing anxiety, and protecting against and treating cold sores. There’s also some evidence that shows that lysine helps against cancer growth, eye health, blood pressure, and diabetes.
So, all in all, a pretty important EAA. But don’t let that turn you off of rice protein just yet.
The good news is that lysine can be found in large quantities in other commonly eaten foods. This includes a variety of meats, cheeses, fish, eggs, soybeans, and tofu—along with other foods. If you’re thinking, “well, eating these foods goes against many of the benefits of rice protein”, you’d be correct.
But vegetarians, vegans, and special diet requirements shouldn’t despair—there’s another plant-based protein that contains more than enough lysine.
Pea protein is also a protein that’s technically incomplete because it’s missing adequate amounts of a single amino acid. But mixed with rice protein, the combination provides a full complex of all 9 essential amino acids. If you’ve been browsing the plant-based protein powder market already, you’ll probably have noticed that many powders already mix pea and rice protein together—for this exact reason.
Which might be another downside for some people. While rice protein is allergen-free, mixing it with pea protein might change its balance. As we mentioned before, pea protein powder sometimes has higher amounts of sodium, which is something to watch out for if you’re trying to beef up rice protein powder with its pea-derived counterpart.
Hopefully, by now you have a fuller picture of rice protein and what makes it a serious contender when looking at various protein powders. However, if you’re still on the fence there’s probably one question you’re asking yourself: How does it compare to whey? And specifically, how do they measure up when it comes to gains in the gym?
Well, there’s one EAA in the subgroup of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that stimulates muscle growth on its own, leucine. Therefore, it’s the best benchmark to look at when trying to compare different protein powders. For a protein to be complete, it needs at least 55mg per gram. Whey contains 104mg per gram. Rice? 80mg per gram.
You’ll either look at this and think that both options are good because they’re significantly higher than the 55mg cut-off, or you’ll see that rice’s 80mg can’t possibly compare to whey’s 104mg. The truth, as with most things, is somewhere in the middle.
It comes down to the fact that after a certain amount of leucine, the benefits towards muscle mass gain don’t scale. It takes about 0.7 to 3 grams of leucine per serving to stimulate muscle growth. Less than this won’t get you as many gains as you could otherwise, but more doesn’t really help you much either. This amount of leucine translates to 1 to 2 scoops of almost any powder on the market.
When comparing whey and rice, getting to the top of this range (3 grams) would take about 2 scoops of rice protein for the equivalent of 2 scoops of whey.
If you take into account the fact that leucine is absorbed faster through rice protein as a vector, then the whey vs. rice protein discussion in terms of muscle gains looks to be on fairly even grounds.
When taking everything into account, then it’s worth trying rice protein powder out—especially if what’s been keeping you on the fence is potential lost gains. That shouldn’t be something to worry about, especially if you’re eating healthy, whole foods, in order to boost the amount of lysine you consume
Rice protein has a distinct flavor to it, relatively sweet compared to other protein powders. Even with the taste, however, you can still get a variety of flavored protein powders just like with whey.
If you’re not a fan, the flavor can be easily masked by using it in protein shakes or smoothies. It’s even possible to add it to a range of foods and drinks throughout the day in order to supplement your diet. A good idea is to make energy balls or some type of bars with it—a tasty, nutritious treat that won’t make you feel guilty for indulging.
Rice protein powder comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks that might make it the perfect protein powder for you, but it’s definitely worth trying!
You shouldn’t worry about leaving any gains on the table if you’re mindful of how much you’re taking. Furthermore, if you’re eating whole foods complete with plenty of calories, then rice protein would be a great supplement for you to try.
There’s always the option of buying a plant-based protein blend that has all the benefits without the drawbacks of lactose intolerance. As with all things when it comes to fitness and your body, it all comes down to your body and how it reacts to foods like dairy.