Rice is probably better known as a source of carbohydrates than as a good source of vegan protein. And though white rice contains only around 4% protein and brown rice somewhere between 5% and 9%, this can be increased significantly when it is processed into plant-based protein powder.
In this article, we’ll delve into rice protein. We’ll explain how rice protein is made, how it compares from a nutritional perspective to other protein powder options and whether you can make your own homemade protein powder from the rice in your food cupboard. First though, let’s take a look at the possible benefits and drawbacks of rice protein powder.
Rice Protein Powder: Pros & Cons
One of the main advantages of rice protein over all those that are made from animal-derived ingredients is that rice is a lot more environmentally friendly. From a vegan perspective, clearly, the fact that no animals are harmed to produce rice protein is a big plus. But how does it stack up on the protein front?
Well, pretty well, truth be told. There are various rice protein powder products on the market and some of them pack in 80g of protein per 100g of powder, which is comparable to most other vegan protein powder and indeed non-vegan options, such as whey protein.
Lysine & Leucine
Delving into the makeup of the protein content of rice protein powder and it holds up well compared to most plant based protein powder. The only amino acid that rice protein lacks in sufficient quantity is lysine. This is not a major problem for a couple of reasons: Firstly, lysine is not one of the branched-chain amino acids that are often the focus of those seeking to build muscles, and secondly, you easily gain extra lysine by mixing rice protein with pea protein, or indeed from your diet. Quinoa, lentils, many soy products, and various seeds and nuts are all good sources.
A more significant point to note is that rice protein powder contains a significant amount of leucine, which is one of the BCAAs and one that is key to muscle growth. Though it still falls a little short of whey protein on the leucine front, it is not far behind. And, clearly, vegans or those with milk allergies will be giving whey the swerve anyway, so this is a very good alternative to whey.
Generally Good for Those with Allergies
One of the big plusses of rice protein for many people is that it contains nothing that people tend to be allergic to. Having said that, those with very severe allergies should always heed any cross-contamination warnings if the rice protein has been made in an environment that handles milk, eggs or anything else to which you might react badly. For most people though, rice protein is great on the allergen front: it is gluten free, dairy free, soy free and contains no nuts.
One of the main downsides of rice protein powder is the flavour. Unlike the more subtle flavours of pea protein powder and, to a lesser extent, hemp protein powder, many people find the taste of rice protein to be somewhat chalky or even bitter. This drawback can be masked to an extent if you are mixing the powder into food or shakes with strong flavours or if it comes with flavour added. But there is little doubt that many people find it the least palatable of the protein powders derived from plants.
Another downside of rice – at least compared to some other plant sources of protein, such as peas or hemp – is that its production uses a fair amount of fresh water and creates a significant amount of methane (as the flooding of rice fields results in anaerobic fermentation in the soil). The amount of methane is vastly less than that produced by cattle, however, so when measured on potential environmental harm, rice is still far better than the likes of whey protein.
Rice & Peas: A Match Made in Protein Heaven?
Protein powder made from rice doesn’t quite offer what would be termed a complete protein as it falls a little short when it comes to one of the essential amino acids: lysine. Pea protein, on the other hand, is lacking in cysteine and methionine. Luckily, pea protein provides a good dose of lysine and rice protein is high in cysteine and methionine. So, you might be asking, why not combine the two?
Why not indeed. That’s exactly what many protein powder producers have done, either with just pea and rice protein or with even more extensive plant protein blends that incorporate some other vegan protein sources too (sometimes to boost things like omega fatty acids, as are contained within hemp protein).
Of course, there is no reason why you cannot simply create your own blend from a mix of your favourite powders, but be sure to measure the amounts so you can easily calculate how much of the various nutrients you are consuming and you don’t take in more of anything than you would like or would be useful to you.
So, if a particular pea protein has a recommended serving size of 30g and the rice protein you choose has a recommended serving size of 20g, you should combine 15g of the former with 10g of the latter to get what should be more or less a recommended serving of the combined powder. Or you can just buy a premade plant blend if you want to save the hassle.
Rice Protein Powder Nutritional Values
Here we list the nutritional data from a popular rice protein powder and a popular whey protein powder.
Rice Protein Isolate Nutritional Data
|Typical Values||Pulsin Rice Protein (per 100g)||Pulsin Rice Protein (per 10g serving)|
|Energy||1819kJ / 435kcal||182kJ / 43kcal|
Whey Protein Isolate Nutritional Data
|Typical Values||Impact Whey Protein Powder (per 100g)||Impact Protein Powder (per 25g serving)|
|Energy||1740kJ / 412kcal||435kJ / 103kcal|
Note that the specific nutritional values will vary from product to product and the above data is offered to give a rough idea of what to expect. Also, please note that the servings sizes are as per the maker’s suggestion but the per 100g information is of more use for a like-for-like comparison.
Rice Protein Powder vs Whey Protein Powder
On the face of it, there is not a great deal of difference between whey and rice protein in the general nutritional information. Rice can sometimes (though not always) have a slightly higher fat and/or carb content, but it contains more fibre, which aids healthy digestion (though most vegans will consume plenty of fibre anyway).
As you can see from the information above, rice protein powder competes well with whey on the basic quantity of protein contained within. In part because of rice protein’s significant leucine content, it also compares well with whey in terms of its effectiveness as an aid to building muscle tissue. Research published in Nutrition Journal studied two groups of participants for eight weeks, one group having consumed rice protein, the other whey protein. They found “no differences” between the groups when it came to body composition and exercise performance.
As mentioned earlier, rice protein does fall a little short on the lysine front, but this can be remedied by mixing it with pea protein to give a comparable amino acid profile to whey (and without the need for animal harm or exploitation!). Anyone seeking to avoid dairy allergies that whey might trigger would do well to consider rice protein too.
How to Choose the Best Rice Protein Powder
As with other vegan protein products, whether powder, bars, shakes or anything else, there are a few factors worth considering when deciding what (or indeed if) to buy. These will differ depending on your particular goals. For instance, some people will want to maximise protein content and minimise carbs and not be too bothered about the flavour. Other people will put more emphasis on flavour and mouthfeel and could forgive a little more sugar or other ingredients. How “clean” the product happens to be is a concern for many too.
In short though, when considering protein products we suggest always buying from reputable producers or retailers (such as those we feature on this site). It’s also a very good idea to do a bit of cursory research on the products in question, even if that amounts to simply checking the ingredients.
Often with plant protein this is very simple as the ingredients might simply say 100% hemp/rice/pea/soy protein. But sometimes there are other ingredients listed and it is worth understanding what they are. We go through the main ones in our article on the best vegan protein powders.
What Is Rice Protein Powder?
There are no prizes (sorry!) for deducing that rice protein powder is made from rice. Yep, that same rice that is eaten around the world and is indeed the most consumed staple on the planet. There are lots of different varieties of rice and it comes in various colours, including white, brown, black and red. We won’t got into much detail about the rice itself (though we do delve into the subject in more detail in our Is Rice Vegan? article… and it is vegan, by the way!).
How Is Rice Protein Powder Made?
Rice that you might buy in the shops is high in carbohydrates (anything from around 20g per 100g of rice up to around 80g per 100g of specialist varieties such as pudding rice or risotto rice). Clearly, that simply wouldn’t wash with those attempting to use protein powder for muscle gain or weight control.
To get rid of most of the unwanted carbs, rice destined for protein products is treated with enzymes (biological catalysts) that allow the carbohydrates to be stripped away. This leaves a protein-rich substance that is comparable to both vegan and non-vegan protein powders.
Some rice protein powder products also undergo further processing (for example, with the use of acids or alkalis or both) to maximise the protein content and eradicate as much of the unwanted carbs and other substances as possible. To get details of the specific processes used, contact the customer support team of the brand in question.
Can You Make Your Own Rice Protein Powder?
It is just about possible to make a reasonable protein powder out of crushed and sieved hemp seeds. But if you just crush rice, it would be almost impossible to remove the majority of the carbohydrates contained within the grains without the use of specific enzymes.
As such, unless you have the requisite chemistry skills and equipment, not to mention the inclination and time, we would strongly recommend simply buying your rice protein powder readymade.
Rice Protein Conclusions
Rice protein powder is an excellent option for vegans, those seeking to avoid allergens (such as dairy, soy or nuts) and indeed for people who would prefer a more environmentally sustainable option than whey. There are some minor drawbacks, as noted above.
Primarily, these revolve around the flavour, which some people simply can’t get on board with, and the low amount of lysine. On the latter point, combining rice protein with pea protein creates an excellent plant protein powder that ticks all the amino acid boxes.