Plant Protein Vs Animal Protein: The Ultimate Showdown?
A lot of people still believe that you can only get muscles and protein if you eat meat.
Ten years ago when I decided to start eating less meat and animal products and relying more on plant based food, I weighed all the pro’s and con’s of each and I wanted to monitor any changes to my body, wellbeing or athletic performance. There were times when my body would crave meat (a damn good burger from a place in Tokyo called Henry’s). Over time though as I became more in tune with how to nourish my body properly, the benefits of less and less meat made more and more sense, I really really love animals so it didn’t make sense that I would do anything that supports institutionalised animal cruelty (if you’ve ever seen a cow cry whilst getting slaughtered, or heard a pig scream while being slaughtered Its something you’ll never ever forget), and lets face it, no matter how much you like pepperoni on your pizza it isn’t worth causing that level of trauma and pain, no way. Eating less or no meat, quickly became effortless. After years of being raised believing we ‘need’ to eat meat, the important thing for those of us who would like to be plant based is to educate ourselves (and eachother) to make sure we have the facts about where our plant based nutrients and protein can come from and how much of it we need.
So naturally, as an athlete one of the most pertinent points to consider was a good protein source. Where was I going to get my protein from if I started eating dramatically less meat, eventually no meat and completely excluded milk and dairy products, which also meant no more whey protein after my workouts. I’d been raised to believe that animal protein made muscles because we are animals and we need it! This was going to be an interesting journey.
Now, the subject of whether meat consumption as a whole is good or bad for your health merits an entire post on its own. Here in this post though I would like to focus just on delivering some easy to digest information, no pun intended :) on protein sources and more specifically, protein supplements / powders as well as compare different protein sources to each other in order to figure out what our bodies need and don’t need without compromising the results we receive when we have a good source of protein in our diet such as healthy skin, good hair, muscle growth and recovery.
So, let’s start from the basics. Why is protein so important?
Protein is the main structural building block of our bodies. About 20% of our body is made up from protein. Muscles, for instance, are made mostly of protein. Protein, in turn, is made from amino acids. Our bodies can process some amino acids, but when it comes to another type of amino acid called‘essential amino acids’, we have to bring that into our body through the food we eat. Most general health recommendations state that for most people about 25% of the daily diet should be made up of protein. For athletes and people involved in active training (especially resistance training) it goes up to 30–35%. That means roughly 1 (for sedentary) to 2 or 2.5 (for athletes) grams of protein per day per Kilogram of bodyweight.
If you are an athlete or gym goer, reaching your protein goals every day can be super challenging. So, as we know, most people will opt to supplement with a protein shake or two each day. The most common way people make their protein shake is with a protein powder mixed into milk (preferably almond milk, you can find the reasons why here). Protein powders come in many shapes, varieties and combinations, and it can be difficult to know which one is “the best” or basically which one doesn’t taste like dirt mixed with chalk in a glass.
Whey protein is made from milk industry waste. Beef (bone) protein is made from the meat industry waste. Egg protein, made from eggs too low a quality to be sold. You get the picture right? So perhaps we should consider a cleaner, more natural source of protein for our beautiful bodies.
So, let’s get to it. Protein supplements can be divided into two rough categories based on what they are made from.
The first is animals sourced protein, which includes the most popular choice, whey protein (I talk about it in this article) which is made from milk industry waste. Beef (bone) protein is made from the meat industry waste. Egg protein, made from eggs too low a quality to be sold. You get the picture right? Super gross when you think about it.
The second is plant sourced protein, which is made from various plants, nuts, seeds and vegetables. I would like to compare these two categories point by point, and this goes for general nutrition as well as for supplementation. So this is definitely the bit to know!
For easier comparison, I’ll group all protein sourced from animals into one group, and all plant-based protein into another. As the most common animal-based protein supplement is whey, I’ll mostly focus on that.
Your Body Struggles to Digest Whey Protein
As we already discussed in a previous post, many people report difficulties digesting whey protein, myself included. Basically, anyone I know takes or has taken whey protein (or egg protein for that matter) seems to complain of digestive problems to some degree (stomach gas that could sink the titanic in summer), not the best way to boost your popularity in group training sessions that’s for sure.
Now the reason for the stomach upset is simply due to the effect animal protein supplementation has on the microbiome. Studies show that consumption of animal sourced protein can cause huge imbalances in the gut bacteria, creating unhealthy bacteria (Moreno-Pérez, et al., 2018). This can cause a multitude of symptoms from indigestion and gas to colon ulceration and irritable bowel syndrome.
This is not the case with plant protein. Plant sourced protein is gentler on the gut, and is most often paired with enough fiber to make digestion easier plus our Honest Earth performance protein powder contains a proprietary blend of enzymes, including digestive enzymes that our going to help your stomach function comfortably.
The other thing I love about plant protein is that it is slower to digest than animal protein, and therefore absorbs into your body more at a more natural pace, not causing any spikes in blood sugar. So if you want the benefits of taking a protein supplement without the stomach issues then plant protein Is probably the way to go, and no you don’t have to be a ‘vegan’ to take plant based protein instead of animal based protein powders so check it out! We offer free trial sachets of our protein powder that we can ship to you anytime you like, just click here and enter your email address. Each sachet makes one shake, try it after your next workout and see how you feel.
What Non-Human Hormones are you drinking?
Almost all animal-based products contain hormones, hormones that aren’t designed for your human body. This goes especially for whey protein and similar concentrates, including beef broth protein concentrate. In a previous blog post I discussed how whey is produced and what that means for the hormone content of protein shakes made using whey protein. To sum it up, milk naturally contains hormones to help the young calf grow and develop. Whey protein is produced from the waste of the milk industry which contains almost all of the hormones from milk. These hormones have been associated with different disorders, including cancer and low sex drive. Basically, they throw your hormone balance off and just aren’t meant to be in your body. We are the only species that drinks the milk of another species and continues to drink milk after infancy, odd right?
Plant proteins on the other hand, contain no hormones that have an effect on the human health. Since plants are so far away from us evolutionarily, there is really nothing there our bodies can recognise as our own, so everything gets nicely digested without confusing your body. Your hormones stay balanced, your body has little to no inflammation and you can thank me later when you see the difference it makes to your sex drive.
Is Plant Protein a Complete Protein?
This is the big one. The most often cited argument against plant-based protein that I hear is ‘well plant protein isn’t a ‘complete protein’ only animal protein is’.
So, let me explain why this common response couldn’t actually be further from the truth.
A complete protein is a protein that contains an adequate amount of all 9 essential amino acids. As you may or may not know, essential amino acids are found in different amounts in different types of protein. Some proteins do not contain certain amino acids. Animal sourced proteins do have a more complete picture of amino acids, gram per gram, than most plant-based sources.
However, and I can’t stress this enough, there are plant sourced proteins which are complete as well, VERY complete! Soy for one, is a complete protein source, as is quinoa and some types of beans and peas. According to multiple studies, plant-based protein can serve as an equal source of amino acids compared to animal-based protein (Young & Pellett, 1994).
Almost all plant-based protein supplements are made either from a complete protein (like soy or peas) or by using a combination of different complete and non-complete protein (rice and peas) to give you the best possible mixture for maximum effect. One such product is Honest Earth’s Performance Protein. You can check it out here, if you take a look at our ingredients and nutritional information label you’ll see the carefully balanced content, made with a special emphasis on protein completeness which allows your body to get the most out of what we believe to be the cleanest and most natural protein supplement available.
Ingredients list: Pea Protein Isolate, Fat-Reduced Cocoa Powder, Natural Flavouring, HydroCurc™ Curcuma Longa Extract, Digezyme® Digestive Enzymes (Amylase, Protease, Lactase, Lipase, Cellulase), BioPerine® Black Pepper Extract, VitaShroomD® (Mushroom Powder)
Better Skin, Better Body, Better Hair and a Better Environment (Yes Please!)
I absolutely love plant protein because there are just so many health benefits, such as better-quality hair, skin, healthier body, healthier mood, its totally natural and to top it off the muscle recovery and growth equal if not better than if you were taking whey or animal protein. Yes its true!
There are huge benefits when you stop purchasing and ingesting animal-based proteins such as whey, perhaps the biggest “downside” of animal-based protein; It’s terrifying effect on the environment. I don’t want to sound like an over the top animal or environmental rights activist but I’d like to cover what I think is a point worth mentioning before I finish writing this article.
In 2006 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations released a report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow “and there it states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally, the livestock / animal industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) and one of the leading factors in the loss of biodiversity within our beautiful planet, in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”
The animal industry consumes 83% of the available agricultural land and generates only 18% of the total calories consumed by humans, and 37% of the protein consumed. It is grossly inefficient. It is polluting and destroying the environment we live and rely on. Worst of all, its products are not very good for us either because companies in the animal industry are not interested in optimising your health, they are interested in optimising their profit margins at the expense of your health in exchange for your money.
On the other hand, plant protein production uses up much less land, produces most of the protein consumed in society, and is much less impactful on the environment. A no brainer really.
I could discuss the negative effects animal protein production has on the environment until the cows come home (pun intended!) but for the purposes of this article, I think its apparent that animal protein production is much worse for the environment than plant protein production. So when all is taken into account, my decision to eat less meat and forgo animal based protein in favour of plant-based protein sources has been a fantastic one. Ive seen my physical performance improve as well as noticeable differences in the quality of my health and as a result of that….my happiness.
www.thehonestearth.com To lead a quality life, one must be nourished with quality. We make the best plant based protein powder & supplements with sustainable ingredients from around the world.
Moreno-Pérez, D., Bressa, C., Bailén, M., Hamed-Bousdar, S., Naclerio, F., Carmona, M., . . . Larrosa, M. (2018). Effect of a Protein Supplement on the Gut Microbiota of Endurance Athletes: A Randomized, Controlled, Double-Blind Pilot Study. Nutrients,10(3), 337. doi:10.3390/nu10030337
Young, V. R., & Pellett, P. L. (1994). Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,59(5). doi:10.1093/ajcn/59.5.1203s