Not all protein is the same. If you go to a supermarket, you will be able to read the breakdown of fats and carbohydrate on a typical nutritional label – but for protein you won’t. It just says – protein in grams. What does this tell us? Not very much. After all, you would not place equal value to a high fructose corn syrup/ other refined sugar and glucose from rice for example. Similar concept can be applied to protein.
Proteins are chains of amino acids, and not all amino acids are the same. There are around 20 of them (depending on the literature) out of which 7 is essential, meaning the body can’t synthesise them on it’s own.
There is one that is of particular importance, when it comes to building / maintaining muscle tissue and this is – Leucine. Leading researchers have shown that that we need constant triggering of a protein called mTOR, throughout the day, to maximise muscle protein synthesis (muscle building processes). It has been shown that for this to happen we need around 2-3g of leucine every 3-4h. This has been shown to equate to 20g-30g of protein in early age, and as high as 40g for people over 40g.
Now, do all proteins contain Leucine? No.
All proteins have different amino acid profiles; therefore, they cannot be deemed as equal. Only if we know characteristics of all amino acids, and what processes they stimulate in the body, can we determine which proteins are more favourable than others.
For purposes of MPS, animal proteins are more favourable than plant- based ones.
The deficiencies of the latter can be diminished by:
- combining different source and/or supplementing.
- Ingesting a higher amount of protein (20g animal = 35g of plant based)
And this leads us to the last major drawback when it comes to pant based protein.
The total caloric consumption of a vegan dieter will naturally significantly increase, if he is successful at optimising the amino acid profile in his diet. To get the same amount and quality of protein from 200g chicken, you would need to eat around 800g of quinoa. Do you see the problem here?
Whist there is no doubt that some people can thrive on vegan diets (even though this data is mostly anecdotal) we cannot say that this is due to the protein quality. What we can say is that animal proteins do indeed contain better amino acid profiles, especially when it comes to building lean tissue, and that vegan dieters can overcome this, but it isn’t going to be an easy task, and it will come at an expense of higher carbohydrate and caloric intake.