Given the fact that Mo Farah was the face of the brand for some years, you might naturally assume that Quorn is a great vegetarian protein source for runners. But do you know what it is actually made from? And is it really a healthy choice? We asked nutritionist Kim Pearson to give us the full picture.
Is Quorn actually good for runners?
The important thing to remember here is that processed food is generally not the healthiest of choices, even if it's a vegetarian option. 'It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that ‘plant-based’ automatically means healthy' explains Pearson 'But the same rules apply to plant products as they do to animal products – the less processed the better. Quorn is made by fermenting Fusarium venenatum, a natural fungus found in soil. Glucose, oxygen, nitrogen and minerals are added to create the conditions for it to convert wheat into protein. There is no denying that it’s a highly processed food.'
However, opting for Quorn sausages over highly-processed meat ones may nevertheless be healthier choice - as they contain far less saturated fat. Plus, there is plenty of evidence that eating red and processed meat can increase the risk of cancer, according to the World Health Organisation. Vegetarian or vegan options are also generally a more sustainable choice, using less water and land and of course not involving any animal suffering.
Which Quorn products are the healthiest?
'If you are opting for meat replacement protein sources, you are best off opting for the simplest versions with the least processing and the fewest added ingredients" says Pearson. 'These tend to be the most basic Quorn pieces rather than options such as the battered replica fish fillets and pies, for example.' So ideally, you should opt for Quorn as an ingredient in a balanced dish, rather than those products that tend more towards ready meals.
Is it better for runners to get natural forms of protein rather than products like Quorn?
'In a nutshell, yes!" says Pearson. "Vegetarians are much better opting for eggs as a protein source than Quorn, which often contains rehydrated egg whites. There are a number of more natural vegan protein sources available too. That said, while variety and focus on natural, minimally processed foods is key, if you do fancy a meat substitute every now and then, Quorn is fine.'
What are the pros of eating Quorn?
'The result of the fermentation process is mycoprotein, the key ingredient found in Quorn. Mycoprotein is a complete protein providing all essential amino acids which is rarely found in plant based protein sources. It is also high in dietary fibre, unlike meat" explains Pearson. "According to Quorn, producing mycoprotein uses 90% less land and water than producing some animal protein sources.'
Can Quorn help aid recovery?
It might seem surprisingly but recent research from the University of Exeter actually showed that mycoprotein, the protein-rich source unique to Quorn products, stimulates post-exercise muscle building to a greater extent than milk protein
The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that while those who ingested milk protein increased their muscle growth rates by an average of 60%, those who had mycoprotein increased their muscle growth rates by more than double this. So if you are organised enough to meal-plan in advance of a hard or long run, Quorn might indeed be a good choice.
What are the best natural vegetarian/vegan forms of protein for runners?
When it comes to getting enough protein in your diet as a vegetarian or vegan runner, we rounded up the best natural sources of protein here.
Pearson adds that runners should, 'opt for protein sources like eggs, pulses (like beans, chickpeas and lentils), tempeh, quinoa and seeds. Good quality vegan protein powders can be used to boost levels if needed.'
As a bench-mark, how much protein should runners be getting?
'As a minimum, runners should aim for 0.8g per kg of body weight based on the ideal weight. Athletes should often look to increase this to 1.2-1.5g, however, needs may well vary depending on your individual requirements" says Pearson.
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