Animal Protein vs Plant Protein
Q & A with Promix Founder & CEO, Albert Matheny
“Is animal protein better for building muscle than plant protein?”
In short, it’s been my experience as an R.D. and trainer that animal protein is extremely efficient at building muscle, but that’s not to say similar results can’t be achieved with plant protein. Let’s break it down:
ANIMAL PROTEIN FOR BUILDING MUSCLE
Animal proteins are fantastic at generating muscle growth due to their amino acid composition. Amino acids are essentially the “building blocks” of protein (1). Proteins are different based on which amino acids they have and in what amounts. Animal proteins (this includes fish) are complete proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids necessary for humans to consume in their diet (2).
Aside from the amino acids (specifically branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs), animal proteins also contain creatine which will aid the creatine phosphate (CP) energy system in your body. The CP energy system is what helps you with bouts of muscular force (like power lifts or short sprints) lasting less than 10 seconds. So if you are getting an extra rep because of this, yes, you will get stronger, therefore, building more muscle thanks to those essential amino acids and creatine (3).
Finally, many animal proteins are higher in micronutrients like Vitamin A (egg yolks, for example) and Iron (liver) than any plant protein on a form level, meaning the forms these micronutrients take in animal proteins hold highly efficient digestion and conversion rates within the body. For example, plant based iron is non-heme iron, while animal based iron is heme iron. Heme iron is the form that is best at preventing or correcting anemia (which can be common in vegan endurance athletes due to the non-heme iron they are working with).
That’s not to say that you can’t get what you need from plant proteins – you simply have to educate yourself and choose wisely! There is one way that non-animal proteins are made complete, and that is by mixing two complementary proteins. A classic example of this from a dietary standpoint is beans and rice. Beans are higher in certain essential amino acids and low in others, while rice is high in the amino acids that beans are low in and low in the ones beans are high in. Put simply, they compliment each other. The issue with this is that to get ~150 grams of protein from beans and rice that a high performing athlete needs everyday to build muscle means he or she is consuming a significant amount of calories and is possibly deficient in other nutrients.
Some vegan endurance athletes who burn thousands of calories a day can get away with this much energy intake, yet could still experience deficiencies in protein, and moreover, critical micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Their thyroid hormones could be the rocks and their mood could bounce around, making it a matter of time until they develop overtraining issues, like a physical injury or a physiological setback.
I created our line of vegan proteins to solve all of the nutritional problems that face plant-based athletes so that they can still reap the benefits of more traditional supplementation. Each variety is a complete protein: 100% Organic Pea Isolate is our single ingredient, expertly sourced protein for purists. Vegan + B12 will eliminate the B12 deficiencies we discussed earlier. Raw Chocolate and Vegan Chocolate bring the flavors of organic raw cacao and organic cocoa (respectively) to quality vegan proteins, and pack big protein punches. I’ve fortified everything in the line with BCAAs for the same recovery and fat loss benefits you’ll find in our dairy proteins. I believe that elite level nutrition should be available to everyone, whether they consume animal products or not, and will continue to make more vegan protein options available to our athletes.
Have a question about Promix products or any other nutrition questions for me? Shoot me an email – I answer every question right here on this page.
Whatever your choices, whatever your lifestyle calls for, my goal is to make the perfect product for YOU.
(1) Kubala, Jillian. Essential Amino Acids: Definition, Benefits and Food Sources. Healthline Website. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/essential-amino-acids. Published June 2018. Accessed Feb 2019.
(2) Byrne, Christine. What is a ‘Complete Protein?’ Women’s Health Magazine Website. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/a23679380/what-is-a-complete-protein/. Published Oct 2018. Accessed Feb 2019.
(3) Nordqvist, Jacob. Should I use creatine supplements?Medical News Today Website. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263269.php. Published Dec 2017. Accessed Feb 2019.
(4) The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Consumption. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Website. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26224750. Published Jul 5 29 2015. Accessed Feb 2019.