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Is Mycoprotein A Good Protein Choice For Vegetarians?

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So, I read this thing…

…early this July at the ECSS, Monteyne, A.J. et al. reported on the ability of Mycoprotein to stimulate protein synthesis and speculatively, better than milk protein. While I wasn’t there—and the study hasn’t published yet for lay consumption—it hasn’t stopped the press release machines churning the benefits of Mycoprotein being more powerful than milk. Since I can’t read the study in full, (though I found an abstract via youtube) I thought we’d take a look at what is available on Mycoprotein and where it stands against milk protein.

The Short-Short On Mycoprotein

It’s a man-made fermented fungus. If that doesn’t make you hungry, I’m not sure what will. Specifically, it’s Fusarium Venenatum and its strains and fibers are used to create meat-like products by the company Quorn. 

Full disclosure, I’m a vegetarian and I eat Quorn products, and will continue to consume them. However, it should also be noted looking at the microscope fibers and visuals of how they make their “meat” kinda of ruined the yummy chicken nuggets for me.

What Did The Recent (2019) Study Say?

The most I could find was the title and abstract here:

MYCOPROTEIN INGESTION STIMULATES PROTEIN SYNTHESIS RATES TO A GREATER EXTENT THAN MILK PROTEIN IN BOTH RESTED AND EXERCISED SKELETAL MUSCLE IN HEALTHY YOUNG MEN.
Monteyne, A.J. et. al

INTRODUCTION:
Mycoprotein is a fungal-derived sustainable protein rich food source, and its ingestion results in systemic amino acid and leucine availability similar to that following milk protein consumption. We assessed the mixed skeletal muscle protein synthetic response to the ingestion of a single bolus of mycoprotein compared with a leucine matched bolus of milk protein, in rested and exercised skeletal muscle in resistance trained young men.

METHODS:
Twenty resistance trained healthy young males (age: 22±1 y, body mass: 82±2 kg, BMI: 25±1 kg/m2) took part in a randomised, double blind, parallel group study. Participants received primed, continuous infusion of L-[ring-2H5]phenylalanine and ingested either 30.8 g (26.2 g protein: 2.5 g leucine) milk protein (MLK) or 70 g (31.5 g protein: 2.5 g leucine) mycoprotein (MYC) following a bout of unilateral resistance-type exercise. Blood and quadriceps muscle were sampled before exercise and protein ingestion, and during a 4 h postprandial period to assess mixed muscle fractional protein synthetic rates (FSR), and phosphorylation status and gene expression of proteins that regulate protein metabolism. Two and three way ANOVAs were used to detect differences in plasma amino acid kinetics (grouptime) and mixed muscle FSRs (grouptime*exercise), respectively.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTCBq-ABIIA Monteyne, A.J. et. al

The 2017 Study

Obviously, not much to go on from the abstract above. When lacking new data it leaves us to look at previous data. A 2017 study out of the same university looked at mycoprotein compared to milk protein too.

In the 2017 study, they had two manners of testing:

1) 20g of milk protein against 20g mass-matched of the Mycoprotein.
2) 20g of milk protein against 40g protein matched of Mycoprotein.

They also tested higher grams of protein at 60g and 80g and noted their effects.

The results were promising for individuals looking for alternatives to dairy or animal based protein (though it should be noted for vegans, Quorn products still utilize egg albumen as a binding agent).

In mass-match, plasma amino acid concentrations were lower. This doesn’t come as a surprise because even though it’s mass matched 20g, Mycoprotein has a lower protein amount per gram and higher fiber intake. The combination of the two also lead us to consider digestion rate and total protein/calories.

The more promising outcome is in the protein matched results. They showed similar plasma amino acid concentrations.

I don’t know yet what the new study shows but previous one contribute to the idea that non-animal based protein options have a legitimate place in protein rebuilding. While the philosophical and caloric arguments of plant-based proteins will rage on, it’s possible Mycoprotein could be a promising non-animal based runner. 

While I’m not normally a fan of comparing animal based proteins to plants, in the instance of those who don’t eat animal products, this becomes relevant.  I’m curious to see how things continue to progress (not to mention the details of the new study). 

Things Of Interest To Note 

  • Mass-matched numbers provide a lower insulin and amino acid plasma. Not surprising considering it’s less overall protein and higher fiber. This information also continues the narrative of “less calories + fiber = less insulin spikes.” 
  • When protein is matched, amino acid plasma levels are comparable to milk protein. It suggests mycoprotein may be a good substitute for animal-based protein.
  • Nothing suggests in the 2017 study that mycoprotein is superior, especially by 120% as some articles have suggested. That doesn’t mean I’m not open to the results (leucine?). It’s also easy to arrive at high percentage increases depending on how we gauge the increase and that could also just be press release talk—we will see.
  • I’m also curious their method of FSR. Do they achieve steady state? What allowed such a difference in level’s between proteins? What changed from the last study? Was it the leucine matching?
  • It should be noted (because someone is going to note it) that the Quorn Company has funded the studies at the University Of Exeter previously and it appears they’ve funded this one as well. 
  • Pea protein and Soy have also had their day in the sun regarding non-animal based proteins. However, there’s still something to be said about the overall balance of amino acids and how “muscle mass” is measured. That’s a fact to be brought into the mycoprotein arena as well.
  • There’s a counter-culture against man-created foods on anti-mycoproteins larger driven by nature not create-ture. Allergies have been reported but thus far nothing reported is alarming or larger than general animal protein allergies already known. 
  • Why bother? For some individuals they have personal reasons. Other individuals focus on the environmental. I think animal rights and animal production will be a leading topic in the next few decades. Adequate protein will also be part of the debate so it’s worth getting to know some of the players even if you’re eating the real thing. 
  • Aside from the studies themselves, we should continue to look with scrutiny at articles touting excessive or new benefits of something. It’s always eye-opening, and often concerning, to see how studies can be spun in media press releases, even through reputable organizations.
  • It’s more of an extra stamp in the section labeled, “Consumer beware.” But, I’m still going to eat my Quorn, regardless.
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