Hemp Protein – Is It Really Better than Whey Protein?
If you’ve never heard of hemp protein or its benefits, that’s quite okay. I have been heavily involved in health and fitness for 25 years and thought I knew most of the important things about diet and nutrition.
After all, I’ve talked constantly to everyone from bodybuilders to tennis players, Major League Baseball players, and top college and NFL football players about working out and nutrition for most of those years and rarely hear about anything anymore that really makes my ears perk up and gets me excited.
One of those rare moments came last night, after 3-1/2 hours of hard core tennis. (That followed a few hours of helping my mother-in-law move furniture, so I’m really feeling things this morning). My wife and I were having a well deserved spot of Mexican with our friends we’d just finished playing tennis with. This couple is in their 40’s, and are both quite health conscious and athletic.
The conversation turned to diet, and the guy asked me what kind of protein I used. I responded that I typically used whey, because it was so bio-available. He asked it I’d ever heard of hemp protein. Now, the only kind of hemp products I’d heard about before were fabric, rope, and the stuff the kids smoke out on the hill past the high school.
The concept of hemp based protein, especially in terms of a dietary supplement, was a new one to me. Now let me state right up front that hemp protein has nothing to do with pot, and you aren’t going to get a buzz from taking it.
He explained that he wasn’t sure exactly why hemp protein was so much better for you than whey protein, but it had something to do with digestibility problems people experienced with whey, and the nutrient balance of hemp. He indicated that as he understood it, hemp protein gave your body things that whey simply could not, and prevented some serious problems you can run into if you use too much whey. He was pretty emphatic that there was really something to this hemp protein stuff. He’s very into organic and whole foods, and typically knows of what he speaks, so I tend to listen.
Although he couldn’t tell me exactly what I wanted to know, it made me darn curious about exactly why hemp, and specifically organic hemp protein was so much better for you than whey protein. After all, if the professional and elite level college athletes I’ve been around use mostly whey protein , than surely that must be the best stuff to use, right?
Well, not so fast! I did some more in depth checking, made a couple of calls, and dug up some more dirt. Here’s what I discovered………
Why Hemp Protein?
As you’ve no doubt deduced, hemp based protein is plant derived. Now, in most cases animal based protein sources
such as egg and whey, tromp all over plant based sources, in terms of amino acid balance and bio-availability. Before getting into whey vs. hemp, lets’ take a quick look at what makes hemp protein, and specifically 100% organic hemp, so good for you.
1) It is a pure, natural food. It’s not loaded with the artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners, so your body is not stuck with trying to process a veritable chemistry set worth of dubious compounds. However, I’m the first one to admit that “natural” doesn’t always mean good. After all curare is one of the world’s deadliest poisons, and it’s 100% natural, too.
2) Hemp protein is a very complete protein source, with all 8 of the essential amino acids that your body needs, but can’t manufacture on its own, plus some others. If you’re on a vegan diet, that’s huge, because it’s much more difficult to get complete protein when eatin’ vegan.
3) It is very soluble and digestible. Unlike many other protein sources, it is very easy for your body to completely digest and extract all the nutrients from (see #4). Don’t like that bloated, ass tootin’ feeling you can get from other protein supplements? Me, either!
4) The right kind of hemp is cold processed so the nutrients are active and not destroyed by heat during heat processing. This means that you actually get to take advantage of all the enzymes that are so vital to your health. It allows all of the protein, enzymes, and micro-nutrients to easily pass through your intestinal wall so our body can use them. They are completely digested and do remain in the intestine (not healthy), or pass completely through it (a waste of your hard earned money). It also means you have to read the label carefully or trust the guy behind the supplement store counter knows what he’s talkin’ about.
5) It is high in several protein nutrients that you need to maximize your body’s health, efficiency and metabolism. Basically, you need them to promote muscle gain and fat metabolism. One of these is globulin edistin, which is a simple protein. There a 7 classes of simple proteins and globulins are one of them.
Why does this matter?
Edistin is a biologically active protein, meaning that it is transformed into other vital compounds. It is composed of long peptide-chains, and is a precursor for biological proteins essential for life. In fact, it is much high in this than any other plant source.
What does that mean, exactly? After some of this, and a little of that, they are transformed into hemoglobin for your blood, antibodies for a healthy immune system, enzymes for promoting vital reactions in the body, and hormones that your body needs to function.
Now, your body can actually make this globulin from any protein you eat, but it takes work. It is much easier to just obtain it from your diet, which eating hemp protein facilitates nicely.
The importance of edistin as related to protein syntiesis in the body was recognized as far back as the early 1920’s, when the first in-depth medical studies were done on it. The upshot of all this is that the high levels of edistin actually helps your body promote protein synthesis, which means that the combination is potent, indeed.
6) Organic hemp protein is high in Omega-3s and has close to the optimum balance of Omega-3 / Omega-6 ratio of 3 to 1. Most foods tend to be higher in Omega-6, which means that your body needs plenty of the opposite to bring your diet back to the optimum ratio. Even better, much of the Omega-6 that it does contain is Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is actually an Omega-6 fatty acid, but one of the most difficult for you to get in your diet, and valuable for your body.
One reason that it is important to get more Omega-3 than Omega-6 is because the Omega-6s cause inflammation, while Omega-3s help prevent it. GLA may be one of the few Omega-6s that actually does not exhibit this effect on your body, because it is converted into DGLA, which is an inflammation fighter.
7) Hemp proteins can help bring your body back to a beneficial acid – alkaline balance which is essential for good health and easier muscle development. Increasing muscle mass is one of the best and easiest ways to increase your basal metabolic rate and thus, burn more calories 24/7. Many weightlifters and bodybuillders reach plateaus, where all progress stops, not matter how hard they train. Many times this is due, at least in part, to the fact that their body’s PH balance is skewed toward the acidic, rather than the slightly alkaline balance necessary for maximum growth and optimum health.
Your normal PH balance is 7.35 to 7.45. Since completely neutral PH is 7, than means that your body’s natural, and optimal PH balance of slightly alkaline. Sadly it seems that many people’s balance tends to break the other way, and is at least slightly acidic. Although many of the protein powders used by athletes and bodybuilders would pull the body toward the alkaline state, the heavy levels of artificial sweeteners and flavorings they contain actually serves to shift their effects on the body and cause it to enter more of an alkaline state. With organic hemp protein powder, you’ll have none of these effects.
What About Hemp vs Whey Protein?
No doubt about it, whey is very popular out there. I have a 6 pound bag of it myself. However, maybe there is a better protein source for you… if you want to maximize fat loss, athletic performance, and muscle gain. Here’s why:
First of all, if you do the research on hemp vs whey, you’ll find claims that hemp is more “electrically charged” than whey is. I couldn’t verify that either hemp or whey is actually more ionic than the other, outside of the sales letters and marketing materials for some of the supplements in question. The other question is whether that electric activity really makes a difference or not.
Cold vs. Heat in Protein Powder Processing
One claim you’ll find against whey is that because of the heat used in it’s processing, the nutrition is removed and your body is unable to extract anything from it. According to that theory, that means that when you take it, much of the residue sits in your intestinal tract and basically rots, instead of passing through or into the body.
That theory sounds great, but you definitely get dietary protein from eggs and meat, both of which you cook before eating, and you surely get beneficial protein from those foods, even after cooking, right? The problem is that while they definitely supply your body with protein. those foods are harder for your body to digest and extract nutrients from than is pure supplemental protein.
I can’t verify the claims about the efficacy of cold processed supplements, but it is proven that excessive heat does denature protein, rendering it far less nutritious than if it cold processed. Although some of the whey protein supplements you’ll find on the market are actually cold processed, most of it is not. On the other hand, 100% organic hemp protein is virtually all cold processed. If you’re trying to increase the bio-available protein in your diet, it makes perfect sense that using cold processed products would be better than hot processed ones.
Naturalness (is that even a word?)
Organic hemp protein is free from chemicals, additives, and artificial ingredients, and commercially available whey protein products just can’t make such claims with a straight face. That means two important things; you need to take smaller portions of hemp, because part of the volume is not full things other than protein. Obviously it is healthier too, if for no other reason than your body isn’t trying to process all the artificial garbage in the whey supplements.
Hemp’s Digestibility and Absorption
Hemp is soluble and easily digestible, while most whey is not as easy for your body to absorb. That means you’re not getting all of the benefit you’re paying for. Wouldn’t it be nice to take just a small scoop, instead of the big one you typically need with the commercial whey powders out there?
Allergic to Whey Protein?
People who have milk allergies on any level are also going to be allergic to whey protein, because milk allergies are actually an immune response to whey protein in the milk. Note that this is not the same thing as lactose intolerance, which is a digestive problem with the sugars found in milk. Although this does happen to adults, only about 1% of the population has any level of milk allergy, so it relatively uncommon. If you are one of that 1% however, the relative rarity is small consolation.
Hemp’s Taste, or….
Well, there’s no question that most whey protein powders taste great! After all, you can get them in all manner of delicious flavors, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, banana, and more than a few others I’m probably forgetting. On the other hand, hemp protein powder takes some, uh, getting used to. As someone who regularly eats a mixture of oatmeal and golden flax seed meal cut with nothing but a bit of fruit, I’m probably easier to please in that regard than many people. I can imagine though, that some folks will have trouble getting used to this stuff.
Whey Protein’s Achilles Heel?
Have you ever heard of myostatin? Maybe not, but you’ve probably seen those pictures of hugely muscled animals or seen stories of those little kids that are 3 times as strong as the others kids in their kindergarten class.
The reason for this is that their bodies block or they have a deficiency of myostatin , which is a muscle growth inhibitor. If you keep myostatin levels down or block your body’s myostatin receptors, you get the kind of huge muscle growth that these people and animals exhibit. Obviously you want to regulate this or you’ll end up looking like a total freak, but inhibiting it too much will make it very difficult to increase your lean muscle mass.
There is a relationship between whey protein and myostatin that is exactly what you would not want if you’re taking a protein supplement to help increase your lean muscle mass and burn fat. In 2007 a Finish research study conducted at the University of Jyväskylä discovered that myostatin decreased after heavy resistance exercise, but not when taking a whey protein supplement. That means that despite you taking it to promote lean muscle growth, whey protein is actually sabotaging your efforts because it increases the activity of a myostatin binding protein called FLRG. That alone is a reason to switch to hemp, and not the kind you smoke!
What Does it All Mean?
All the other things that hemp protein has going for it versus whey protein, coupled with my friend’s hearty endorsement, is enough for me to try the stuff. I’ll let you know how it works out. If you have any experience with organic hemp protein, please leave a comment and let me know about it.