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Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein: Which Is Best for Building Muscle?

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Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein: Which Is Best for Building Muscle?

If you want to know what science says about animal protein vs. plant protein, and which is best for building muscle, then you want to read this article.

 

Are all types of protein equally good for building muscle?

It depends on whom you ask.

Many vegans and vegetarians will tell you that plant proteins are just as good as animal sources, if not better.

And most hard-shell bodybuilders will laugh that at the idea that you can get big on a plant-based diet.

“How many jacked vegans do you know?” they’ll ask. “Exactly. You gotta eat meat to gain mass, bro.”

Well, who’s right?

Is there something about animal proteins that makes them especially anabolic?

Are plant proteins inherently deficient in some way and unsuitable to muscle building?

And, bottom line, what types of protein should we be eating to gain muscle as efficiently as possible?

Let’s find out.

What Is Protein and Why Is It Important?

plant protein vs animal protein bodybuilding

Protein is a compound comprised of chains of smaller molecules known as amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of the body.

When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into its constituent parts (amino acids), which are then absorbed and used to create new protein molecules.

These newly formed proteins serve as raw materials for making muscles, ligaments, tendons, hair, organs, and skin, as well various hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals essential to life.

Your body needs twenty-one amino acids to do all of this, and out of them, it must get nine from the food you eat.

These nine are known as “essential amino acids” (EAAs), because they must be obtained from the diet. They are:

  • Phenylalanine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Methionine
  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Histidine

 The main reason you must eat protein is to provide your body with enough of these essential amino acids to do everything it needs to do.

 If you were to somehow strip your diet of all essential amino acids, you’d eventually die.

This is why people that don’t eat enough protein lose muscle faster as they age–their bodies lack the nutrients needed to preserve lean mass.

This is also why regular weightlifting and exercise increases the body’s demand for protein. It damages tissues that must be repaired, and that requires a surplus of amino acids.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

What Makes a Protein Good for Gaining Muscle?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A protein’s “amino acid profile” is a breakdown of how much of each type of amino acid that it contains.

Some proteins contain far more of certain amino acids than others, which makes them better or worse for building muscle.

Namely, proteins that have higher amounts of essential amino acids, especially leucine, stimulate more muscle growth than those with less.

There’s a qualitative aspect to protein, too: how well it’s digested, absorbed, and processed by the body.

The easier it is for your body to digest, absorb, and process a protein, the better it’s going to be for gaining muscle.

Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein: What’s the Difference?

There are major differences between many animal and plant proteins.

First, there are amino acid profiles.

For example, here’s what 275 calories of steak and broccoli will get you in terms of essential amino acids:

Essential Amino AcidsSteakBroccoli
histidine0.9750.48
isoleucine1.391.0643
leucine2.4311.05
lysine2.5831.099
methionine0.7960.309
cysteine0.3940.228
threonine1.2210.716
tryptophan0.2010.269
valine1.5161.018

As you can see, it’s not even close.

You’d have to eat a 18 freaking cups of broccoli to get the essential amino acids found in just 4 ounces of steak.

 

 

 

 

 

The story is the same for many other types of plant proteins. Calorie for calorie, they don’t contain anywhere near the amount of essential amino acids as most animal proteins.

This matters a lot when you’re trying to gain muscle, because insufficient EAA intake will hamstring the process.

Furthermore, research suggests that eating several protein feedings per day that each provide at least 3 grams of leucine is ideal for maximizing muscle growth.

Here are a few ways to get to 3 grams of leucine with animal foods:

  • ~5 ounces of chicken or beef
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt
  • Four eggs

Basically, one to two servings–an amount that anyone can easily eat several times per day.

Here’s what it takes with some of the most leucine-rich plant foods:

  • 13 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 1 pound of spinach
  • 1 1/4 pounds of lentils
  • 1 1/2 pounds of peas

Good luck turning that into a meal plan that you actually want to follow.

Anyway, my point is this:

It can be hard to get enough EAAs on a plant-only diet (but not impossible—more on that soon.)

Qualitatively speaking, animal protein is the out and away winner, too.

When scientists talk about “protein digestibility,” they’re referring to the percentage of protein in a food that your body actually absorbs and uses.

For example, if you eat 30 grams of protein and your body ultimately absorbs 27 grams, then that food has a protein digestibility rating of 90%.

Obviously, then, the higher the digestibility score, the better the protein is for building muscle.

Well, research shows that virtually all plants have a protein digestibility score at least 10% lower than animal foods.

For example, meat and fish clock in around 95%, whereas oats and whole wheat bread are closer to 85%, and rice comes in at 75%.

Now, if you’re omnivorous and eat a balanced diet that contains both animal and plant proteins, this won’t be an issue. The majority of your protein will come from animal sources, which will ensure your EAA needs are met.

If, however, you eat plant foods exclusively and don’t do anything to address their deficiencies, you’re less likely to fully meet those needs.

That’s one of the big reasons why studies have shown that omnivores tend to have more muscle than vegetarians and vegans.

It’s not that you can’t build a lean, muscular physique with plant foods alone. It’s just harder to get right than with an omnivorous diet.

That’s also why it’s generally true that animal proteins are better than plant proteins for bodybuilding.

When viewed on the whole, animal proteins contain more essential amino acids per gram, and are better digested and absorbed.

Thus, it’s no surprise that studies show that plant protein doesn’t stimulate muscle growth as effectively as animal protein.

Now, I’ve mentioned several times that none of this means that vegans and vegetarians can’t build muscle as well as omnivores can.

While the literature corroborates the idea that plant eaters are at a disadvantage here, much (if not all) of the deficit can be erased with smart meal planning.

I break down how to do it in my article on vegan bodybuilding.

I should also mention that omnivores should still eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.

While protein isn’t their strength, micronutrients are. They contain a large amount of nutrients that are essential to your health and well-being that you can’t get from animal foods.

How to Get Enough High-Quality Protein for Building Muscle

animal protein vs plant protein absorption

Regardless of what kinds of protein you eat, you need to eat enough every day to support muscle growth.

This is one of the biggest mistakes made by “clean eaters” who struggle to gain muscle. They eat plenty of fruits, veggies, and healthy fats, but far too little high-quality protein.

So, if you want to gain muscle as quickly as possible, studies show that you need to eat between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (and slightly more if you’re in a calorie deficit).

If you’re very overweight (25%+ body fat in men and 30%+ in women), then this can be reduced to around 1 gram of protein per pound of fat-free mass per day.

An easy way to get the protein you need is to make sure you eat protein at every meal, and to eat 3 top 5 meals per day (research suggests that eating protein more frequently is better for long-term muscle gain).

The best way to ensure you get enough high-quality protein, though, is to learn how to meal plan properly.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail,” right?

Well, that applies to your diet as much as anything else, and this is one of the major reasons most people struggle to gain and lose weight.

Meal plans are the solution.

They allow you to easily meet your macronutritional needs as well as monitor and change your diet to best suit your preferences and goals.

You should also consider using a protein powder (and especially if you want to stick mainly with plant proteins).

A good protein powder is loaded with essential amino acids and is digested and absorbed fantastically well. It’s also more convenient than toting around meals.

If you’re an omnivore, go with a 100% whey isolate protein powder.

 This is one of the all-around best sources of protein that you can eat. It’s extremely rich in essential amino acids (and leucine in particular), and it has a very high protein digestibility score.

If you want something plant-based, go with a rice or pea protein powder, or, ideally, a blend of both.

I like these sources because, they’re similar to animal protein in terms of amino acid profile and protein digestibility.

The Bottom Line on Plant Protein vs. Animal Protein

For gaining muscle, animal protein edges out plant protein in several important ways.

It contains higher amounts of essential amino acids and is generally digested and absorbed better.

That doesn’t mean that plant-fueled athletes can’t make gains, though.

They just have to put a bit more thought into their meal planning and choose their sources of protein more carefully.

And regardless of what types of protein you eat, remember that more important is simply eating enough every day. If you eat too little of the highest quality protein, you’ll struggle to gain muscle.

What’s your take on animal protein vs. plant protein? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Saved1973

    Unfortunately, animal protein is also the leading cause of death in the United States, & increasingly in other industrialized countries around the world.
    Don’t believe it? Check out nutritionfacts.org & see, in over 1500 short videos, the studies from medical & scientific institutions, broken down into laymans terms by a M.D. who specializes in nutrition & disease prevention.
    Also check out “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell.

    • The thing is, everything ‘kills’ us. We are ‘born to die’. I rarely eat meat anyway (only when sourced well, if ever), but still – if we live life in bubble wrap avoiding all the things the media tells us to, we’ll still die anyway. Could get hit by a bus!

      • Saved1973

        I agree, we all will die from something, unless the Lord comes back first, but why rush it? This isn’t something “the media tells us”, these are scientific facts, like what Mike gave above.
        Personally, I would much rather die quickly from getting hit by a bus, than spend several years wasting away in a wheel chair or in bed, being eaten up by cancer, have my feet amputated due to diabetes, have grotesque painful tumors growing on & in my body etc. because of my dietary choices. If I felt differently, I would smoke cigarettes, I used to enjoy smoking a long time ago.
        If you eat meat rarely I wouldn’t worry about it, I eat dairy to supplement my beans, grains nuts etc., but try to limit animal products as much as possible & try to eat the healthiest fruits, vegetables & grains etc. based on the best available science.
        I’ve done that all my adult life, & now (I’ll be 69 yrs old next week) I can still run, play volley ball, box, do BJJ, still have my 4-pack, & thanks to Mikes training advice am more muscular than at any time in my life. Wish I was built like this 30-40 yrs ago. Frequently, young women in their 20s (even a couple 16 & 17 y.o.) & up want to hug me once they see me in a T-shirt, & Nobody believes how old I am except for my white beard.
        Even if someone is not willing to restrict animal protein in their diet, that website (nutritionfacts.org) also has short videos on which fruits, vegetables, sweeteners, teas etc. are the most nutritious & are best at preventing different types of cancers etc., so that with your meat you can also get maximum nutrition. Here’s wishing you good health.

      • Blair Relf

        Will – I know where you are coming from, but this rationale is simply naive and gradually lethal. When someone is 70 and dying of cancer they think differently (I know of three people 51, 46, and 52yrs RIGHT NOW with pancreatic cancer with only 5-8 years to live, not responding well to chemo and wilting away, like Steve Jobs. CANCER is not at all uncommon! and trust me they are not saying “Oh Well!” They are terrified that this is all they get!) (Great citations Saved1973. Brave comment :- ) After this site, NutritionFacts.Org is got to be one of the best sites on the entire Web – Dr. Gregor is truly a hero!!!! Please watch a video a week from his priceless archive FREE and learn. It is SOOO important. ) Anyway, lets say you don’t get Cancer or heart disease until 70 (like a friend who just died at 82 after 7 surgeries and endless treatment, and $$millions of dollars over 10 years) Many people are living vibrantly for 20 more years, swimming, weightlifting, traveling etc and living great lives. (The most common age to live to in women is 91 and 89 for men) I guarantee you, that at 70 when you have no life left, you will not be throwing away 20 years of life willingly. You will be offering everything you have to have the gift of 20 more beautiful years. And yes people die of accidents, but VERY FEW, so that is silly. Be smart, build muscle AND ALSO look great and care about your longevity and vitality. Don’t let vanity, and I mean greedy vanity of insisting on 110% muscle growth rather than 90%, kill you 20 years early. Educate yourself. Science is proving this out rapidly in 300+ nutrition and health and disease studies around the world every day !!! SOME animal protein may make sense, but not a blind devotion to mostly animal products – THAT WILL DEFINITELY kill you! Sorry to be so blunt, but I am 54 and I did not know this stuff until the last few years. I am continuously improving on my balance of animal and plant – still learning and optimizing. I am a big fan of life, but as far as MUSCLEFORLIFE, I’d rather have 170 pounds of lean looking ripped and athletic for 95 years than 180 lbs of lean ripped, a bit bigger, and athletic for 75 years. Health and happiness to you all!! :- )

      • This is what smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts say, too.

    • Mance_Lotter

      I wonder if these studies take into account the rest of the diet. Our ancestors’ diets were high in animal protein and fats and included zero processed / refined carbohydrates. Interestingly, (and I have no idea how they know this, but they state they do), scientists say our ancestors had healthy hearts.

      I went through a year of eating paleo. High-quality meats (free-range, vegetarian-fed animals)…lots of bacon and eggs with yolks. Just had my bloodwork come back. With ZERO cardio, I have the resting heart rate and cholesterol level of a highly active mountain biker (I am nearly 40, so don’t chalk it up to youth). I eat almost NO refined sugars. My doctor says I’m the pinnacle of health inside and out. Again…next to ZERO cardio.

      Anyway, my point is a lot of variables drive health. Scientists used to think a diet high in cholesterol is bad for you. It is…if you consistently eat foods that cause inflammation. Otherwise, (like me), you’ll be just fine. Are they making the same mistake here when they say meat is the leading cause of heart disease (which is the leading killer in the US – your opening statement is a little misleading imo).

      • Saved1973

        I certainly didn’t mean to be misleading, & regret that you found it so. The top leading causes of death according to all sources I’ve read are (if my memory serves) Cancer & Heart disease, & since (again) according to what I’ve read at the 2 sources I cited (and others), both of those diseases, (in most cases) are directly caused by consumption of animal protein & fat. I still don’t understand how or why that would be misleading.

        I’ve recently learned, by the way, that the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.A. is reported to be medical errors, i.e. mistakes made by doctors or other medical personnel, either by prescribing the wrong medication or amt. of medication, or in administering the medication by hospital staff, mistakes in the operating room, such as operating on the wrong patient/organ/limb etc.
        That’s in addition to all the infections acquired during a hospital stay or by hospital employees while working there, & unfortunately many of the infections are reportedly antibiotic resistant.

        A friend of my wife, who works at a hospital, received a scratch on her leg during her shift at a local hospital, which developed into a large ulcerated wound & took a year for alopathic physicians to start to make some progress in treating it with their various antibiotics etc.

        These things are all the more reason, i.m.o., that we should be meticulous in preventing disease, through nutrition etc. rather than depend of alopathic physicians & hospitals to cure us after we’ve become ill.

        I believe we also should rely more on plants for medicine, since herbal medicines have been used reliably & effectively all over the World for thousands of years, and still are, even in what most people consider to be modern, industrialized nations.

        I understand that It’s far more difficult, if not impossible, for pathogens to develop an immunity to plants with thousands of different chemicals in their composition, than the much simpler antibiotics, used in the U.S.A., developed in large part for financial profit.

        • Mance_Lotter

          Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. Factors that contribute to heart disease are genetics, sedentary lifestyle, overconsumption of alcohol and caffeine, smoking, drugs, stress and valve defects. That’s the Mayo Clinic. Nothing about meat consumption being the leading cause of heart disease and, therefore, death in the US.

          And again, don’t commit the ad hoc fallacy: large group of people eat meat, large group of people get heart disease; therefore, meat causes heart disease. What other elements of their diet could create the link? Why did our ancestors consume high amounts of animal protein and fat and NOT suffer from heart disease?

          • Saved1973

            I guess it all boils down to ‘Whom do you choose to believe’ Mance.
            Apparently you choose to believe the Mayo Clinic, which as far as I know has always been, if not part of, at least strongly associated & influenced by the American Medical Association, which is, & again, as far as I know, always has been, in the business of TREATING disease & prescribing pharmacueticals (while receiving substantial compensation from the pharmaceutical companies) NOT preventing or curing disease.

            I choose to believe the thousands of documented scientific tests & analyses done by universities & medical institutions around the World & here in the U.S.A., that show that my original statements, based largely on the revelations of Dr. Greger, are TRUE.

            As far as our ancestors not suffering from heart disease, as far as I know that claim has just come out recently. I’d like to know how they determined that & see some peer review before I accept it as fact. Also, it’s commonly accepted that “our ancestors” had a very short lifespan, so how would those things even have time to develop, especially to the degree that they’d be discernible in the fossil relics we have.

            There has been substantial evidence that people living TODAY in far northern climates ALSO eat large amount. of animal protein & fat, but without much if any heart disease, & the consensus is that it’s because of the TYPE of animals they eat. Do you think that our long ago ancestors might have ALSO eaten different animals than we eat today?

            As far as “other elements of their diet” creating a “link” Those things are exactly what the The China Study controlled for, & why it was done IN CHINA. Why don’t you try reading it for yourself, instead of ASSUMING that I’m committing an “ad hoc fallacy”??

          • Mance_Lotter

            I said be careful to not commit the ad hoc fallacy.

            Also, beware of confirmation bias. Sounds like the minute you meet info that contradicts your beliefs you find a way to discount that info (e.g. oh, the Mayo Clinic is inot bed with AMA who is in bed with big Pharma who wants meat to cause disease so they can make pills for cures, etc etc)

            As for the TYPE of animal protein being a contributor of heart disease (referenced from the study of people up north), yes, I believe free-range, natural-fed, hormone-free animals (be they chicken, cow or whatever) will not hurt you as long as you keep away from inflammatory foods.

            And “thousands of studies” that back up your point of view? Thousands? And you’ve read them all to make sure the author feeding you these facts didn’t mis-interpret the data? No disrespect intended.

          • Just to chime in, what existing research can’t answer is how moderate unprocessed meat intake affects the health of people that otherwise live very healthy lifestyles.

            You know, people like us that exercise regularly, eat plenty of fruit and veg, drink minimal amounts of alcohol, supplement properly, etc.

            We’re VERY different than the average person eating an SAD.

        • Mance_Lotter

          Also, according the the Center for Disease Control (cdc.gov), the number three cause of deaths in the US is Chronic Lower Respiratory diseases – not medical errors. In fact, “deaths arising from medical complications” is not even in the top 10.

          It sounds like the source of your data is pretty agenda driven. I could be wrong, but in any case, your facts are not totally supportable and your link of animal protein = heart disease = #1 cause of death is unfounded by the Mayo Clinic and the Center for Disease Control – two of the most trusted names in this area.

          I am willing to admit I could be wrong. Can you?

          • Saved1973

            Of course there’s the possibility that I’m wrong about that. In fact, after reviewing the source for my statement, I’ll take it further, by stating the following; I was wrong, I should have said something like ‘according to a documentary aired on FOX News, the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.A. is medical errors.’

            The documentary was titled “Beware! Danger At The Doctor”, and the statement that M.E.s are the 3rd leading cause, was supported by Dr Martin Makary, a surgeon at John Hopkins Hosp.

            According to Dr Makary, his research & conclusions had been published years earlier, but were never acted on by the medical establishment, and were most recently published in a British medical journal in 2016. In them he stated that between 200 & 250 thousand people die annually from medical errors, & the report was co-authored by a Dr Michael Daniel.

            As for the source of my data being “agenda driven”, as far as I can tell, the only agenda of the physicians involved is to improve the healthcare system & reduce the number of preventable deaths.

            The only one with any possibility of an alternate agenda that I can think of is a supporting Dr. in the film by the name of Dr Fred Southwick, since he has written a book on the subject titled “Clinically Ill, A five point plan to cure health care delivery”, Dr. by Frederick K Southwick MD & also hosted an online course on the subject.

            Dr Southwick, by the way, lost a leg due to a medical error & his wife was brought to the point of death due to another medical error. Why don’t you look up the documentary online & see it for yourself, then you can decide what kind of “agenda” they have?

            Again, I guess it all boils down to ‘who you choose to believe’.

      • sistadana

        And I just met with a couple who said the paleo diet destroyed their health. Where do you get the evidence that our ancestors eight meet regularly. I mean think about it-/before they had weapons what do you think our ancestors are. at first you were likely no more than scavengers. How many of our early ancestors were getting a gram of protein per pound a day. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

        • Hey, thanks for the response. Most studies do indicate that our ancestors ate a relatively high protein diet (though that depends on where they lived and the season). The more important point is that just because our ancestors did or didn’t do something, doesn’t mean we should or shouldn’t.

          Right now, the bulk of the scientific evidence shows there’s nothing wrong with eating 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight or more. If anything, it’s linked to a number of health benefits.

          • sistadana

            Exactly. If we can eat healthy without destroying the planet or slaughtering 25 BILLION animals a year,( even if ourancestors ate meat, why wouldn’t we)

    • Sorry but those aren’t very credible sources to me, and here’s a summary of why:

      https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/death-as-a-foodborne-illness-curable-by-veganism/

      https://rawfoodsos.com/the-china-study/

      • sistadana

        Mike, i only looked at the first article. It’s like the number of studies but I can tell that the article is flawed. Number one they talk about how lacto-ova vegetarians had less heart disease then begins. Study was from 1999. Since then, with a better understanding of nutrition, we understand that if a vegan doesn’t take B 12 he’s at almost as great of risk of a heart attack as someone who consumes a meet laden diet. Add B 12 to the diet and the statistics change drastically. Also, the article talks about the health of Eskimos or in you it’s to be more accurate. The idea that Eskimos are healthy has been debunked for a number of years. They are extremely unhealthy, as are the Masai, another group That survives primarily on an abundance of animal products including blood. Please do the research on that and you will see I am correct.

        • Hey, thanks for reading the article.

          You’re right that if vegans and vegetarians take extra B12 from supplements, that the risk of heart disease drops dramatically. How does the information in the article contradict that?

          Where does the article mention the Eskimos or Masai? As you said, some of the latest evidence indicates the Inuit/Eskimo diet isn’t as protective against heart disease as people once thought: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12535749

          • sistadana

            I already responded yesterday but not sure why it’s not showing up. But the issue about heart attacks and the health of Eskimos is in the first link you shared the science med link

          • Ah I see, thanks. The Science-Based Medicine article doesn’t necessarily say that the Eskimos are healthier, just that it’s another form of eating that can also be healthy. So, while their diet isn’t a complete solution for heart disease that it’s sometimes made out to be, it doesn’t seem to increase the risk much, if at all.

          • sistadana

            Uh, no, that’s not really what it says. the article, which isn’t actually a study, but someone trying in accurately to use a few studies , tries to say that vegans are the ones saying that the Inuit aren’t healthy. It is not vegans saying this, but the facts. Even in this pro meat article , it says that the average lifespan is 44 years….but it tries to blame it on diseases introduced by the Russians. As if no other society has had disease introduced into it. I will find the studies that show infact that the Inuit are not healthyand share them with you.

          • Hey there,

            I never said the Science-Based Medicine article was a study. As you said, it’s one person’s interpretation of the research.

            I’m not disputing that some level of heart disease exists among the Inuit. In fact, I’ve never heard of any population that’s completely free of heart disease. But, overall, the research does indicate that an extremely meat-heavy diet isn’t as harmful as it’s often made out to be, and depending on the quality of the diet, may not be harmful.

            I’d be very curious to see those studies, thanks.

          • sistadana

            I thought I posted them above. Look above my comment.

          • Ah, I see them now. Thanks for the links. At the end of the day, depending on what analysis you look at, it seems that the diet of the Eskimos isn’t as harmful as meat-heavy diets are often made out to be, nor is it a panacea, either.

          • PlantZoomAthlete

            I recommended taking a look at these two studies (this *may debunk the argument of a study not comparing a healthier meat eating diet to a Vegan one:

            1. Comparison of different meat diets to vegetarians and Vegans:
            https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-nutrition-society/article/longterm-health-of-vegetarians-and-vegans/263822873377096A7BAC4F887D42A4CA/core-reader

            2. Fruit, Vegetables and Lagume Intake:
            http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)32253-5/fulltext?elsca1=tlxpr

          • The first study you link specifically states that much more research is needed. The second suggests that higher intakes of fruits and veggies are good, which I fully agree with and always recommend.

            All in all, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree here.

          • sistadana
          • sistadana
  • Blair Relf

    Hi Mike – Great blog post as always. I recommend your site all the time !!! I’ve watched you earn your success over the last several years. Thanks for all you do REALLY. Such a great service. So, on the Vegetable vs. Animal Protein topic. (I am an omnivore, but gradually moving my ratios to more and more plant. I’m 183 and about 10% BF, 54 yrs of age, almost injury free after patient recovery work to heal all injuries, For 25 years, (25-50yrs of age) I could never get much above 172 and was more like 15%BF, until I started following your protocols.) Here are my questions for you for the long run: 1) If we use Veg Protein Powders can’t we take care of the calorie and food volume issue in your comparison with Brocolli and Spinach above. (by using Bean, Pea, Brown Rice, Hemp, Sprout, Soy, etc Some of each)? 2) Would the absorbtion issue be managed by simply eating 10-20% more Veg Protein. 3) What’s the best source of leucine in plant proteins? 4) If you were to use some of each Veg and Animal, where would you place/prioritize your Animal protein? Cassein at night? Maybe spread a little through the day?? 5) Might the science still not be advanced enough to have discovered other benefits of a broad spectrum and large proportion of vegetables & some fruits to other causal factors of muscle gain, like optimism, mood, energy, immune function, flexibility ROM, organ function, that may impact motivation, injury, allergies that slow you down, etc. I know some of these can’t be answered yet. Happy to have you answer any you feel you can now, and consider others to be ones to be on the look out for in the science as it progresses. Again, thanks for your awesome site. I’m a big fan of your Pulse – for workout intensity :- ) Cheers Mike

    • 熊壮

      Blair,
      Sounds like an impressive body composition at 54. You’re killing it mate.
      As someone fairly familiar with the literature on nutrition and pathogenesis, I’d summarize that eating animal protein is neither as lethal as vegans often say, nor is it as safe as is generally believed. It’s now fairly clear that a vegetarian diet reduces risk for ischaemic heart disease by about 30% (this coming from randomized controlled trials, which can show causation, and can control for confounding variables). Some of the effective is protective properties of vegetables, some, is clearly the consumption of meat.
      meat consumption tends to increase risk of diabetes Mellitus and increases blood pressure by about 5/2 systolic over diastolic, leads to more inflammation, increased urinary calcium and slightly higher risk of cancer.
      The body does quite well with either choice, given a smart and holistic approach to health, but it is fairly clear which is optimal for longevity. Just look at Martina Navratilova and Carl Lewis, destroying people far younger. Hate to allude to anecdotal evidence, but if it can prove anything, it proves that a plant-based diet is at least good enough to make you the best in the world.
      Better reason, however, is to reduce meat intake to stop hogging all the grains. If the US and China don’t do that, it’s going to be a tough decade for the developing world poor.

    • Thanks Blair! 🙂

      1. Yes, you can get the job done with food alone.

      2. Yes, you generally need to eat a bit more plant protein than animal protein to get enough EAAs.

      3. Hmmm pea and rice protein are good sources.

      4. Whey after workouts and probably something slow-burning before bed (I prefer food for this, though, in the form of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese).

      5. Definitely, and the bottom line is everyone should be eating 2 to 3 servings of both fruit and veg every day, regardless of everything else they do for their health. It’s really that important.

      Thanks again for all the support. You rock.

  • 熊壮

    Ceteris paradise, how much of an effect would increased Leucine levels have? Would it amount to 1 additional pound of muscle gains in a first year lifter? 2? 6? 0.3?
    Give us a ballpark, if you could

    • 熊壮

      parabis* autocorrect…

    • That’s really hard to say, honestly. Quite a few variables in play (training experience, genetics, other dietary conditions, etc.).

  • Nicole

    Mike you are the best! Thank you!

    I recently went from a omnivore diet to full vegan a couple of months ago. I am still eating a low fat (15%) , high protein (1g/pound) diet, and I still count my calories, but man! My energy level has gone through the roof!

    My lifts have gone up by 5, 10, 15 pounds after having been stuck for months, and I am looking leaner than I ever have. I also can now do a 20 min cardio session after weight lifting, which I was unable to do before since I was exhausted.

    You absolutely can be a vegan bodybuilder, just plan like this article says! I drink a plant protein (blend of brown rice / pea protein) shake before and after my workouts, then my meals are chickpeas & veggies, a tofu salad and lentils & veggies with fruits and extra veggies as snacks. (Also oatmeal)

    I am that girl in the gym that can lift more weight than some guys. (I can squat 170lb x10 – pretty decent!)

    Yes, looking good is great, but I want to be a bodybuilder when I’m 85, not just at 33. 🙂

    I second that nutritionfacts.org site, but just read the book “How not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger as it’s easier.

    • Nice! Glad to hear you are making it work well for you through forethought and planning. Excellent job 🙂

    • Saved1973

      If my memory serves, Dr Greger recommends a full spectrum of B vitamins rather than just B-12.
      Thanks for the great post.

  • DVR

    I eat 4,000 cal per day and the only meat protein I eat is shrimp for dinner. My other protein comes from powder and the small bits in other foods I eat. At 4k per day, I get to 1g protein per lb of bodyweight with the sum of my veggie based proteins (amount in bread, pastas, potatos, rice, etc). I’m doing it wrong? I should definitely be eating more meat protein to be safe? So, do I eat over 1g per lb bodyweight?

  • iMarie

    Hey Mike- great article! Just curious: I know you’re not a huge fan of BCAA’s, but in the case of a vegan diet, it seems that it could help to boost leucine levels and increase protein synthesis. Or do you think it’s still a waste of money?

    • Good question!

      I guess it could have some value in that context, but better would be just adding straight leucine to your protein-containing meals (supplement with 3 grams 3 to 4 times per day, with your meals).

      Better than that, though, would just be eating the right types and amounts of protein in general.

  • Kat Olli

    Seriously, you are incredible, I have always been super fit, but as a ballerina and gogo dancer I have such a hard time gaining weight. I used to always envy the lean strong curvy girls, no matter what strength training I did I couldn’t seem to build a body like that. My brother gave me “thinner, leaner, stronger” and this book has changed my life and quickly too! Changing just a few things in my diet and training has helped me go from a scrawny weak 115lbs to 135lbs, still lean and thin but strong! I finally have a womanly figure!! Thank you for your info and tips I’m hooked

    • Awesome! Glad to hear you picked up a copy of TLS and have made such great gains 🙂

      Keep up the great work, and thanks for your support!

  • Hey Mike, just a couple questions here.

    I generally eat about 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and I’m on a bulk. (I weigh about 152 and eat 210, which comes out to about 1.3g per pound.) But you say 0.8-1 grams on a bulk. Am I eating too much? And should the number of protein grams you cite all be from animal proteins (i.e. not counting plant proteins)? I find when I eat only 1.5 grams (1x my body weight), it doesn’t leave me a lot of room for dinner protein…unless we don’t count plant-based proteins in that number.

    Also, you mention we should eat 3-5 meals per day, but I picked up somewhere that it doesn’t matter when or how often we eat (aside from pre- and postworkout meals); we just need to get our macros in. I generally eat only preworkout, postworkout, and dinner. My preworkout/postworkout meals are my breakfasts, and I’m not a lunch guy. And sometimes I do intermittent fasting on those nonworkout days. I’m just wondering if I’m limiting my muscle growth.

    Thanks!

  • mdellyd

    Garbage article by a MORON just trying to sell books. Pea and Rice protein combined is just as good as Whey, better even.

  • amos

    Hey Mike and Roger! Got 2 quick questions for ya!

    At what range should you be getting your complete and incomplete protein from in terms of ratio?

    And is 0.8-1g/lb have to consist of complete protein or combinations of both? Thanks!

  • Joe

    I swear, I’m constantly being pulled in two directions when it comes to nutrition. Almost everywhere I go for fitness advice seems to recommend the same amount of protein for muscle growth, more or less, and also that animal protein is the best to do it. However:

    On the flip side of that, I’m seeing more and more documentaries and articles about how animal protein in such high amounts can cause heart problems over time, increase blood cholesterol, increase risk of cancer, extra stress on your kidneys and liver, and plenty of other really terrible sounding long-term ailments.

    Now what I don’t understand is, how are people supposed to be gaining muscle when the usual recommendation is 1-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight a day??? It seems to me that if animal protein leads to so many problems, that it’s scary to wanna continue eating it. Almost the ONLY protein I eat comes from chicken breast, some egg whites too. I was always under the assumption that was pretty healthy.

    My question is basically, what do you think about all of the negative effects I listed concerning animal-based protein? Am I at risk of cancer/heart problems/etc i continue with this kind of diet for decades?

    • Hey Joe, a lot of these documentaries are sensationalized and contain misleading info. Their claims are overblown. Check out this article I wrote on red meat, for example: https://www.muscleforlife.com/is-red-meat-bad-for-you/

      There are ways to increase your protein intake via non-animal sources, though. Check this out: https://www.muscleforlife.com/vegan-bodybuilding/

    • Karlheinz

      These claims are accurate and based in science. There are literally hundreds of studies who back it up.

      Studies

      Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts
      Abstract:

      >Vegetarian diets confer protection against cardiovascular diseases, cardiometabolic risk factors, some cancers and total mortality. Compared to lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, vegan diets seem to offer additional protection for obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular mortality.

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24871675

      Twenty questions on atherosclerosis
      >Is atherosclerosis a disease affecting all animals or only certain animals?

      Atherosclerosis affects only herbivores. Dogs, cats, tigers, and lions can be saturated with fat and cholesterol, and atherosclerotic plaques do not develop (1, 2). The only way to produce atherosclerosis in a carnivore is to take out the thyroid gland; then, for some reason, saturated fat and cholesterol have the same effect as in herbivores.
      Are human beings herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

      Although most of us conduct our lives as omnivores, in that we eat flesh as well as vegetables and fruits, human beings have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores (2). The appendages of carnivores are claws; those of herbivores are hands or hooves. The teeth of carnivores are sharp; those of herbivores are mainly flat (for grinding). The intestinal tract of carnivores is short (3 times body length); that of herbivores, long (12 times body length). Body cooling of carnivores is done by panting; herbivores, by sweating. Carnivores drink fluids by lapping; herbivores, by sipping. Carnivores produce their own vitamin C, whereas herbivores obtain it from their diet. Thus, humans have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1312295/

      Effects of fat on Cholesterol
      Dietary lipids and blood cholesterol: quantitative meta-analysis of metabolic ward studies.
      RESULTS:
      Isocaloric replacement of saturated fats by complex carbohydrates for 10% of dietary calories resulted in blood total cholesterol falling by 0.52 (SE 0.03) mmol/l and low density lipoprotein cholesterol falling by 0.36 (0.05) mmol/l. Isocaloric replacement of complex carbohydrates by polyunsaturated fats for 5% of dietary calories resulted in total cholesterol falling by a further 0.13 (0.02) mmol/l and low density lipoprotein cholesterol falling by 0.11 (0.02) mmol/l. Similar replacement of carbohydrates by monounsaturated fats produced no significant effect on total or low density lipoprotein cholesterol. Avoiding 200 mg/day dietary cholesterol further decreased blood total cholesterol by 0.13 (0.02) mmol/l and low density lipoprotein cholesterol by 0.10 (0.02) mmol/l.
      CONCLUSIONS:
      In typical British diets replacing 60% of saturated fats by other fats and avoiding 60% of dietary cholesterol would reduce blood total cholesterol by about 0.8 mmol/l (that is, by 10-15%), with four fifths of this reduction being in low density lipoprotein cholesterol.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9006469

      Diet and serum cholesterol: do zero correlations negate the relationship?
      > In this paper, the authors show, using both a mathematical model and referring to empirical data, that if certain variances are sufficiently great, even when there is cause and effect, correlation coefficients close to zero would be expected from the actual data of a cross-sectional study. Cross-sectional designs are therefore not suitable for studying this relationship.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/313701

      A Plant-Based Diet, Atherogenesis, and Coronary Artery Disease Prevention
      Conclusion:

      Elevating levels of blood polyphenols and lowering blood TMAO levels by eating a plant-based diet may promote health of VECs and prevent atherosclerotic CADs by at least three different proposed mechanisms.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315380/

      Reverse Artritis with nutrition
      Controlled trial of fasting and one-year vegetarian diet in rheumatoid arthritis
      Abstract
      Fasting is an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, but most patients relapse on reintroduction of food. The effect of fasting followed by one year of a vegetarian diet was assessed in a randomised, single-blind controlled trial. 27 patients were allocated to a four-week stay at a health farm. After an initial 7-10 day subtotal fast, they were put on an individually adjusted gluten-free vegan diet for 3.5 months. The food was then gradually changed to a lactovegetarian diet for the remainder of the study. A control group of 26 patients stayed for four weeks at a convalescent home, but ate an ordinary diet throughout the whole study period. After four weeks at the health farm the diet group showed a significant improvement in number of tender joints, Ritchie’s articular index, number of swollen joints, pain score, duration of morning stiffness, grip strength, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, white blood cell count, and a health assessment questionnaire score. In the control group, only pain score improved score. In the control group, only pain score improved significantly. The benefits in the diet group were still present after one year, and evaluation of the whole course showed significant advantages for the diet group in all measured indices. This dietary regimen seems to be a useful supplement to conventional medical treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1681264

      Effects of a very low-fat, vegan diet in subjects with rheumatoid arthritis
      CONCLUSION:
      This study showed that patients with moderate-to-severe RA, who switch to a very low-fat, vegan diet can experience significant reductions in RA symptoms.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11890437

      Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet
      Conclusions:

      >The use of indexing systems, estimating the overall diet quality based on different aspects of healthful dietary models (be it the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans or the compliance to the Mediterranean Diet) indicated consistently the vegan diet as the most healthy one.

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967195/

      Hormones and diet: low insulin-like growth factor-I but normal bioavailable androgens in vegan men
      Results:

      Vegan men had on average 9% lower IGF-I levels than meat-eaters (P < 0.01) and 8% lower levels than vegetarians (P < 0.01); adjustment for BMI made little difference to these values. Prior to adjustment for BMI, SHBG levels in vegans were 16% higher than in meat-eaters (P Aetiology confronts two distinct issues: the determinants of individual cases, and the determinants of incidence rate. If exposure to a necessary agent is homogeneous within a population, then case/control and cohort methods will fail to detect it.
      https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/30/3/427/736897/Sick-individuals-and-sick-populations

      • Hey,

        The studies you referenced only really show that people who eat a vegan diet are healthier and live longer than people who eat the standard Western diet (and often partake in other unhealthy behaviors, like smoking). One of the studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1312295/) wasn’t a study at all, but an opinion piece that cites largely outdated and disproven conclusions about heart disease.

        As to the idea that humans are designed to exclusively eat plants because we don’t have sharp teeth or claws, that’s an interesting theory, but that’s all it is. That idea also hasn’t been backed by any solid evidence.

        • Karlheinz

          The adventist health study is one of the hightest quality studies out there because of the relative healthy life style of the adventists. So that the results from the comparison of vegans to the Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet is much more relevant.
          The results clearly showed that vegans have the lowest risk of chronic diseases. In fact, the a whole food plant based diet is the only diet to proven to reverse hearth disease. Show me any other diet which can do that, there is none.
          The fact that you are so biased that you can’t see the evidence clearly shows that you shouldn’t give dietary advice to anyone.

          • Hey, you’re right that there are plenty of studies showing that, in general, plant-based diets are healthier than omnivorous diets, assuming those people are eating the standard Western diet. That’s not a very high standard, though, and there is evidence that eating a moderate amount of lean meat, in the context of an otherwise healthy diet, can be perfectly healthy, too.

        • sistadana

          So where’s the evidence we are meant to eat meat? You can convince me we are able to process meat–that gave us a survival advantage. But that we are meant to eat it, or that it is optimal to eat it, I’m not sure I buy that. Additionally think about our ancestors–how much protein do you really think they got on a daily basis? You think they got a gram of protein for every pound?? Really. I’m sure whoever created us didn’t do so knowing that one day we’d have meat and animal products available to us everyday. I mean, think about it. I’m 56 years old and have had no problems maintaining muscle with no animals in my diet.

          • Hey, that’s great you’ve found a diet that works for you. There aren’t any studies proving definitively humans are “meant” to eat meat, since, well, you can’t really prove something like that. That said, the majority of evidence does show it’s safe and can offer some health benefits. If you prefer not to, though, that’s fine, too. As long as you’re happy and healthy, that’s what matters.

          • Victoria Adamo

            WATCH ON NETFLIX (WHAT THE HEALTH) YOU WILL SEE YOUR ANSWER AND SO MUCH MORE, PLEASE PASS IT ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Victoria Adamo

      STOP EATING ALL ANIMAL PROTEIN, IT CAUSES CANCER AND LOTS OF OTHER NASTY STUFF I AM 6 DAYS VEGAN, TOTAL VEGAN AND WOW IS ALL I CAN SAY, YOU ARE KILLING YOURSELF, AND ALL THE BIG CORPRATIONS KNOW IT, AND ALL THE CANCER ASS.,, THESE PEOPLE ARE SPONCERED BY ALL FOOD COMPANYS THAT SELL ALL THIS SHIT FOOD, ITS ALL FOR MONEY, WATCH ON NETFLIX(WHAT THE HEALTH), YOU WILL BE ANGRY AND SICK TO YOUR STOMACH, I AM GETTING THE WORD AROUND AS MUCH AS I CAN, PLEASE WATCH, I AM A MOM OF 3 KIDS AND AM SOOOOO ANGRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Greg Holden

    Hey mike I have a question macro tracking and protein intake. As you mentioned above meat and dairy protein have a greater deal of amino acids than those found in vegtables and nuts ect. However when I track macros the protein from vegtables gets added to the those from the meat and dairy I eat. I Ussually get between ten and 14 vegtable servings in a day (lots of green veg as I am currently cutting and as you know this helps with satiety) which adds to between 20 and 30 grams of protein when I track my macros. Should I include this protein in my macro tracker even though is sub optimal in terms of the Amino Acid profile? Currently have 187 grams of protein to hit in a day.

    • Hey Greg, good question! Yes, you include protein from all sources in your total for the day. The veggies count 🙂

  • I think the most important is to find a balance between these two and also this will work differently for each person depending on metabolism

    • Get the majority of your calories from nutritious, mostly-unprocessed foods, and beyond that, do what works for you 🙂

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