The long-drawn argument of plant based protein sources being less anabolic than animal protein sources has taken an interesting turn…

Until now, short term studies have suggested that animal sources of protein elicit a greater anabolic and muscle building response when compared to its plant based alternative – typically whey vs soy protein.

This is mostly due to the low(er) amount of essential amino acids (EAA) found within plant based sources of protein. I.e. meat = rich in EAA, plants = low in EAA.

Knowing this, further research and recommendation suggest that plant based athletes need to eat more protein per meal than omnivores in order to consume the same level of EAA and therefore have the same anabolic response.

However, what happens when we zoom out and look at the diet on a whole for 12 weeks, instead of the typical 24 hour studies that have currently shaped guidelines?

Hevia-Larrain et al (2021) recruited 19 young male vegans and 19 young male omnivores to undertake a 12 week lower body training programme. As these individuals were untrained, they typically followed a low protein diet.

Therefore, they were provided with either a soy protein supplement (vegans) or whey protein supplement (omnivores) to ensure they hit the minimum recommended amount of 1.6g/kg day to support muscle growth.

Throughout the study, the participants consumed roughly the same amount of calories and protein; therefore any noticeable changes would be a result of food types and preferences.

Upon completion, both groups retested their strength and body composition to determine which diet was superior.

And the answer…neither. Both groups gained benefits from higher protein intakes and lifting some weights.
It appears that once protein amount is adequate to support muscle growth (~1.6g/kg), it doesn’t matter too much where the protein source comes from.

You might argue this may not be the same outcome if protein intake was less than 1.6g/kg/day as EAA quantity would have been too low in the vegans. That being said, why would you eat less protein if you were looking to gain size?

With the assistance of protein supplementation, both groups were able to hit the recommended 0.4g/kg anabolic (protein) threshold at every meal – and therefore EAA was adequate to trigger muscle protein synthesis.

So, neither diet is superior, neither diet was inferior. Just eat some protein…

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