Back in 2013, Mark Cuban from the show Shark Tank invested in a company that sold bars made with cricket protein powder or flour. What Mark was interested in wasn’t in selling the bars as much as supplying cricket flour. This can be used like regular protein powder in recipes, replacing a portion of the flour to increase the amount of protein in whatever you’re baking.
We already have protein powder. Why bring in a new source? And is it a high-quality bioavailable protein? If it can be shown to help us build muscle better than a whey protein isolate, then I can guarantee guys who lift aren’t going to care it came from insects.
In January, the World Economic Forum met in Switzerland, and one of the items on their agenda was on how eating insects could reduce climate change. I’m not going to go into everything. Still, they brought up an interesting projection stating by 2050. The earth will have nearly 10 billion people on it, and the demand for protein will exceed our ability to acquire it.
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Not enough protein to support our gains now that’s a problem, I’ll be 85 in 2050, but I’m still going to be lifting. Whoop paw! Whoo paw? Whoop paw!
This is where insects come in; they can be farmed using fewer resources than traditional meat sources, and with their short life cycle and high reproductive rate, a female cricket lays close to 3000 eggs in her lifetime. Making it a very sustainable food source.
But back to my 85-year-old gains. Will insects be as effective in helping me build muscle as current protein sources?
At this time cricket powder seems to be the most marketable product. I looked for a cricket protein isolate so I could compare it to whey isolate, and as far as I can see, they currently don’t sell this product, or it’s not readily available.
I did find a study that compared the bioavailability of amino acids between Whey, soy and lesser mealworm protein isolate. They had the same 6 men on different days receive one of the three proteins and took blood samples one before ingesting, then right after and again at the 20, 40, 60, 90 and 120-minute mark.
They looked at essential amino acids, branched-chain amino acids, and leucine. Whey protein had the greatest concentration of amino acids, and at the 60-minute mark, both whey and soy protein ingestion peaked.
With insect protein not peaking until 120 minutes, making it a slow-releasing protein, its concentration of amino acids was comparable to soy isolate. (Show this in the study, it’s found in the discussion section) This isn’t bad. When you look at where soy is on the protein quality score, it’s not that much lower than whey.
If you are taking protein throughout the day, the fact it’s slow digesting shouldn’t matter. But if you’re training fasted and are looking for a quick protein source after your workout, mealworm isolate wouldn’t be it.
The researchers had thought the insect protein should have rated higher and hypothesized it was because of chitin which is found mainly in an insect’s exoskeleton and negatively affects the absorbability of protein.
There shouldn’t be much chitin in an isolate. But in a cricket flour or powder? There will be guaranteed.
Remember this as we move into the next portion of our discussion, where we compare insects to beef, chicken and pork. For many of us workout guys, chicken and beef is the foundation of our protein intake.