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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Hemp Protein for Sports & Fitness
Hemp protein is an alternative for vegan athletes and those who have dairy allergies or sensitivities. While hemp protein is often touted as a complete protein like whey, its lysine content is too low to prevent deficiency, making it an incomplete protein. Additionally, hemp protein is relatively low in leucine, one of the branched-chain amino acids needed for muscle building and repair, and may therefore not provide the same benefits as other protein supplements. Vegetarians and vegans who use hemp protein should also include beans and lentils in their diet to ensure adequate intake of lysine.
Some fitness advocates promote hemp protein to boost the protein intake of vegetarians and vegans. Because most hemp protein is made without heat or chemicals, it is also a good choice for people who eat a raw food diet. Lightly-processed hemp protein supplements provide more fiber and healthy fatty acids, including a variety of polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, than other protein supplements. Additionally, the seed fiber does not appear to have phytic acid, a compound that can reduce the absorption of some medications and nutrients. Hemp seeds are unlikely allergens compared with dairy, eggs, and soy. They don't cause symptoms in people with lactose intolerance, and unlike many soybeans, are not genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Many people experience digestive upset after taking protein supplements. Hemp protein appears to break down more easily than some other types of protein,1 but whether this translates into fewer digestive side effects is unknown. Typical hemp protein supplements are relatively high in fiber,2 which may add health benefits but can also cause digestive symptoms in some people.
Some people are concerned that taking hemp protein regularly could cause urine drug tests to be positive due to the presence of low levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound in marijuana. One study showed that people given the same amount of THC as would be found in 300 grams of shelled hemp seeds per day for 10 days did not have high enough urine THC levels to cause a positive drug test result.3 Since THC is found in the oil of the hemp seed, hemp protein supplements have even lower amounts than shelled hemp seeds and should not cause positive drug test results.
Although rare, allergies to hemp seeds have been reported.4
Last Review: 06-05-2015
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