Algae contains protein that is really good for your muscles

Spirulina and Chlorella are the two most commonly commercially available algae. They contain high amounts of micronutrients and are rich in protein. But not all proteins are the same, some proteins are better for your muscles than others. A team of researchers has investigated just how good algae protein is for your muscles. Spoiler alert: It’s great.

Spirulina is commonly consumed in powder form in smoothies or other foods. Image credit: Marco Verch.

The study began with ethics. More and more people are trying to reduce their intake of animal protein, it’s bad for the environment, it’s bad for animals, and it’s also bad for global warming. In fact, cutting down your meat consumption is one of the most eco-friendly things most people can do. But if you remove meat from your diet, you have to replace it with something else.

Plant-based proteins have been shown to be a healthy choice, but we need as many protein sources as possible, especially because plant-based proteins sometimes differ from animal proteins.

This is where the algae come in. Recently, algae has emerged as a “superfood”, a food that is rich in fiber, nutrients and protein, without causing any major harm. As always, you should view any “superfood” claims with skepticism, but several studies have shown that algae can be a very healthy source of nutrients.

But how good is algae for your muscles? A team of researchers from the University of Exeter set out to investigate.

green color is good

The study involved 36 healthy young adults who took part in a randomized, double-blind trial. Participants participated in resistance leg exercise and then consumed a drink containing 25 grams of protein from fungal-derived mycoprotein, spirulina, or chlorella. Blood and skeletal muscle samples were collected to assess amino acid concentrations and myofibrillar protein synthesis rates. Specifically, Spirulina showed the fastest and highest peak in amino acid concentrations in the blood after consumption.

Overall, the ability of the algae to stimulate muscle protein synthesis was quite similar to that of high-quality non-animal derived proteins such as mycoprotein. Mycoprotein is a high-quality source of protein and one of the best alternatives to meat, so this bodes well for the future of algae as a protein source.

chlorella powder
One teaspoon of chlorella powder. Image Credit: Flickr.

This similarity in efficacy, coupled with its environmental benefits, makes algae an attractive option for people committed to reducing meat consumption for ethical and environmental reasons, explains study author Ino van der Heijden:

Our work shows that algae can be part of a safe and sustainable food future. As more and more people are trying to eat less meat for ethical and environmental reasons, interest in non-animal-derived and sustainably produced proteins is increasing. We believe it is important and necessary to begin looking at these alternatives and have identified algae as a promising novel protein source.

Take it with a grain of salt

However, the study has some limitations. It focused on young adults, meaning this finding may not extend to more diverse populations. For the future, the researchers want to examine the effects of algae protein consumption in different populations, including older adults. Such research will establish the potential of algae in the context of different dietary needs and health scenarios.

Nevertheless, algae turns out to be a good protein source, and it is also environmentally friendly. Although more work needs to be done to confirm the findings, it seems that algae stands out as a viable alternative to animal proteins. Multiple studies have shown that animal protein takes up more land, uses more water, and produces more greenhouse gas emissions than basically any other option.

This research not only highlights the potential of algae in supporting muscle health, but also its role in shaping a more sustainable and ethical future in nutrition. As the world grapples with the environmental impact of traditional protein sources, algae have emerged as a beacon of hope, offering a path toward a more sustainable and health-conscious future.

The paper was published in Journal of Nutrition,

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