If you find that it’s nearly impossible to turn down a french fry or that you have a daily craving for potato chips, you’re in for some good news. A new study just found that the protein in potatoes can build muscle as effectively as the protein found in dairy. But before you order a side of fries, or dive into a bag of Sea Salt chips, here are the details.
Researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands set out to examine how animal milk protein compared to the protein in potatoes when it comes to helping the body build muscle. They were struck by the core similarities in the amino acid composition of both protein types.
In the study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the researchers had predicted that the two types of proteins would have a near-identical muscle protein synthesis (MPS) processes – the method in which the body converts amino acids into muscle protein. They were correct.
The study, titled “Potato Protein Ingestion Increases Muscle Protein Synthesis Rates at Rest and during Recovery from Exercise in Humans,” found that when comparing muscle protein synthesis rates following the ingestion of 30 grams of potato protein versus 30 grams of milk protein at rest and during recovery from a single bout of resistance exercise in healthy, young males, the two proteins were identical.
“Muscle protein synthesis rates following the ingestion of 30 grams of potato protein do not differ from rates observed after ingesting an equivalent amount of milk protein,” the researchers found.
Plant Protein Builds Muscle as Effectively as Animal Protein
The participants who consumed 30 grams of potato protein concentrate exhibited the same MPS levels as those who consumed 30 grams of milk protein concentrate. The study’s results disproved the idea that you need animal protein to build muscle, and supported the theory that plant-based proteins are just as effective when it comes to building muscle.
“The anabolic response to exercise depends on the exercise stimulus and the postprandial increases in circulating amino acids,” lead study author and professor of physiology of exercise and nutrition at Maastricht University’s Medical Centre Luc J.C. van Loon, Ph.D. wrote.
“In general, plant-derived proteins are considered to have lesser anabolic properties, due to their lower digestibility, and incomplete amino acid profile. Our results show that ingestion of 30 g potato-derived protein will support muscle growth and repair at rest and during recovery from exercise.”
Testing Potato Proteins vs. Dairy Protein and Effects on Exercise
The researchers enlisted 24 healthy males between the ages of 18 and 35 to analyze how protein supplements altered their muscle building.
The researchers took a preliminary measures of the participants before eating the protein supplements. Following the trials, the research team conducted two additional measures to examine the MPS rates at rest and recovery periods.
The study used a double-blind data collection where the participants would exercise on a leg press machine, randomly consuming either 30 grams of potato or milk protein. Following the exercises, the researchers recorded comparable MPS levels. The research team was able to effectively examine both exercised and non-exercised muscles to reach this conclusion.
“The [study’s] main outcome is that potato-derived protein ingestion can increase muscle protein synthesis rates at rest and exercise and that this response does not differ from ingesting an equivalent amount of milk protein,” van Loon told Medical News Today.
Eating potatoes alone will not provide enough protein to realize the full benefits. Potatoes only contain 1.5 percent protein of their fresh weight. The study, however, uses potato concentrates from juices from potatoes that will be discarded or used for feed. The researchers noted that more studies assessing the dose relationships will need to be conducted in the future.
The study was funded by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE), but the organization revealed it had no hand in the design or execution of the data analysis.
Building Muscle with Plant Protein
The Dutch study joins an extensive portfolio of research determined to prove that plant-based protein can benefit the body as much as animal-derived protein sources. This January, the University of Sao Paulo’s Hamilton Roschel published a study in the scientific journal Sports Medicine that analyzed muscle development of omnivores and vegans.
During the study, the omnivores and vegans each consumed 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to build muscle. Over a three-month period, the researchers concluded that the plant-based participants showed no significant difference in muscle fiber, whole muscle, or muscle mass.
“A high-protein, exclusively plant-based diet (plant-based whole foods plus soy protein isolate supplementation) is not different than a protein-matched mixed diet (mixed whole foods plus whey protein supplementation) in supporting muscle strength and mass accrual, suggesting that protein source does not affect resistance training-induced adaptations in untrained young men consuming adequate amounts of protein,” the researchers wrote at the time.
Most plant-based proteins used in exercise protein powders are pea protein, soy protein, rice or other plant-based sources, the authors wrote, but few people have studied the protein in potatoes.
A medium potato has about 4.3 grams of protein, which means that it’s not practical to get your full amount of protein (or even 30 grams) from potatoes, so the study was not meant to suggest you only eat potatoes and expect to build muscle.
The study’s conclusions were meant to provoke thought about the source of protein for athletes who rely on milk proteins, to re-evaluate the need for animal versus plant sources of proteins in their diet.
For more foods to help muscle development, check out The Beet’s top sources of plant-based protein.
The Top 20 Veggies with the Most Protein
Everyone who contemplates going plant-based has the same question: where do I get my protein? Simple answer: Vegetables! Contrary to the popular belief that you have to eat animal protein to get enough into your diet, one of the best ways to get protein is by eating vegetables. Animals provide protein because they’re fed a diet of plants that are high in protein, so if you cut out the middleman — or middle cow or middle chicken in this case — you can get the same protein just by going direct-to-the-source.