What’s the difference between animal and vegetable protein?

What’s the difference between animal and vegetable protein?

Today, we’re going to answer a question that often plagues fitness lovers about protein consumption: which is best, animal or vegetable protein?

Protein quality is measured by its biological value, i.e. the composition of its aminogram, if it contains all essential amino acids.

Protein is responsible for muscle hypertrophy and increases in muscle strength, but it’s also responsible for repairing and healing the micro-injuries produced in the muscle myofibrils during physical effort.

We’re going to focus on the differences between animal and vegetable proteins.

Which is better: animal or vegetable protein?

Generally speaking, the amount of protein consumed will be equal to the source of protein.

Some people justify consuming protein of animal origin because it’s of high biological value, and this is true.

Buuut, you also get elite athletes who are vegan.

Remember that of the 20 amino acids used for the synthesis of more complex structures, it is the essential amino acids that must be supplied through food.

Which is better, vegetable or animal protein

As we can’t synthesise them ourselves, we need to consume them through different sources of protein.

And it is precisely at this point that the debate on which type of protein is best could be “ended”:

In a diet as variable and rich as possible – if you’re not following a restrictive – both vegetable foods and foods of animal origin should be incorporated.

This is a sure-fire way to get a high quality “protein concentration”: the amino acids from all sources we eat during the day will work together, they don’t have to be in the same meal.

Protein dose recommendations by person type

GroupAge [years]Protein [g/kg]
Babies7-12 [months]1
Children1-30.87
4-80.76
Men9-130.76
14-180.73
> 190.66
Women9-130.76
14-180.71
> 190.66
Pregnant women0.88g
Breastfeeding women1.05
Endurance athletes1.2-1.8
Strength athletes1.8-2.5

Source: Institute of Medicine. 2005. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Vegetable vs animal protein

Protein of vegetable origin has limiting amino acids, or put another way, certain components of the essential aminogram are either missing or in very low amounts.

Resultantly, vegetable protein is said to be incomplete compared to animal protein (which would be a complete protein because it has all the essential amino acids).

Does this mean that if I consume vegetable sources, I won’t be able to gain muscle mass? Don’t worry, it doesn’t work that way.

Our body doesn’t just use the amino acids that we’ve ingested in a meal, but will “accumulate” throughout the day in successive meals.

Vegetable vs animal protein

It’s what’s known as an “amino acid pool.”

For example, we can eat a handful of nuts mid-morning – where there is a deficit of some amino acid – and then eat meat or fish, or legumes with rice later on… and we’ll complete the protein (the amino acids will be combined).

Primary differences

Some of the main differences between animal and vegetable protein:

  • Complete vs incomplete aminogram: protein of animal origin is complete, and protein of vegetable origin lacks or has a low proportion of essential amino acids.
  • Macronutrient intake: the vast majority of vegetable foods will always provide at least protein and carbohydrates, while we’ll find lean protein sources or sources with a saturated fat content only in animal foods.

Soy Protein Isolate

Soy Protein by EssentialSeries.

Soy protein, despite being a vegetable source, is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids, meaning it’s equal to an animal protein source.

Examples of vegetable protein

We can obtain a “complete protein” from vegetable sources:

vegan sources infographic

Using a vegetable source combination, we can obtain a complete aminogram.

For example:

  • Lentils + Rice.
  • Chickpeas + Rice.
  • Oats with Walnuts.
  • Hummus (chickpeas + sesame seeds).

Benefits of animal protein

Among the main benefits of animal protein:

  • Protein of high biological value: as we have seen, it’s a complete protein, so you don’t need to combine it with other sources.
  • Lean sources: some sources provide protein only, with hardly any other macronutrients, which may be of interest for certain nutritional strategies.
  • Vitamin B12 intake: present exclusively in foods of animal origin.
  • Omega-3: The main sources of this essential fatty acid are oily fish.

    Benefits of vegetable protein

    For its part, vegetable protein has the following benefit:

    • It’s often rich in nutrients such as fibre or antioxidants that provide important health benefits.
    • Generally, it provides fewer calories per 100g serving than protein of animal origin.
    • As it often has a very low saturated fat content, for those with cholesterol problems, it’s an excellent alternative.

    Risks of consuming protein

    Among the arguments against animal protein consumption, especially red meat, which can be found in a lot of news and studies of late:

    • Presence of saturated fat: the muscle fibre in red meat contains saturated fat, which is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
    • High cholesterol content: red meats contain an excess of cholesterol that increases plasma levels and the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
    • Increased chronic diseases: meat protein consumption can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes (DMT2) and high blood pressure.
    • High purine content: the puric bases of meat triggers metabolic disorders such as gout, kidney and urinary tract lithiasis.

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    About Javier Colomer
    Javier Colomer
    "Knowledge Makes Stronger", Javier Colomer's motto, sets out his clearest statement of intentions expressing his knowledge and fitness experience.
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