Animal vs. vegetable based protein

Long time! Sorry guys! Midterm season caught me off guard and I had to take a bit of a break from blogging, but theyre done and over with! Wohoo!  Lots of change for me within the last month; my sister married her boyfriend of about a decade- so happy to have another brother in law annndddd I got a nutrition job!! :):)  Climbing outside is getting hard given the temperature and my sissyness in the cold lol :p, I guess I’ll have to make do with indoor climbing for the time being until I can get some time off of work to head back south!

Annyways, my blog today will be about protein supplementation- in particular, animal based verses plant based… some controversial views- hope you enjoy! :p And let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns! Negative or positive, I’m always happy to get feedback :)

Protein intake that exceeds the recommended daily allowance is widely used by athletes. Many athletes look to protein supplements in order to decrease recovery time and increase gains from their workouts; this in turn will increase their performance ability. Which protein source for a supplement is the best choice for athletes? Animal based or plant based? This is a question that has been hotly debated for years with factors such as absorption, completeness and alkalinity playing major roles.

Common sources of animal protein for supplementation include whey protein and egg protein; both are fast-absorbing. Casein protein is also an animal based product; it comes from beef and is slow absorbing.  Vegan options include soy and hemp (among others); both are of moderate absorption. Animal and plant protein supplements both provide complete amino acid profiles; animal based proteins have higher sulfur amino acid concentrations than plant based proteins, which may or may not be a good thing. Are the variations in absorption rates something we really need to concern ourselves with? Recent work has indicated that absorption rate of protein supplements is not of dire importance for a faster recovery in athletes. In my books, in terms of absorption and amino acid profile, vegan and animal supplements both serve their purpose well.

So what are some other considerations we should take in determining which source of protein is better for athletes? Drug Administrations allows certain concentrations of chemicals into our foods which have resulted in the allowance of many contaminants into protein powders including cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury. The amounts may result in toxicity, predominantly in the liver, if users consume more than one serving per day, like many athletes do. Obviously an athlete who is straining their liver with toxin metabolism will not be able to reach a maximum performance. Animal based proteins show the highest concentrations of these chemicals, although that’s not to say that people who consume animal based proteins are on a path towards liver failure (just ones that are consuming way too much). With additives aside, how would an additive free animal based protein supplement compare to a vegan one?

Animal proteins are associated with higher saturated fats and cholesterol which may increase the risk for heart disease. Vegetable based proteins have no cholesterol, lower saturated fat and higher fibre content which are shown to improve glucose tolerance and risk for heart disease. That said, the above facts do not seem like something an athlete would have to concern themselves with. On the other hand, animal proteins also have higher amounts of sulphur containing amino acids, which contribute to increased acidity within our body. Our body must then waste energy to correct this! Enzymes cannot function at their full capacity when the pH is not that of a healthy, physiological pH and therefore athletes with acidosis will not be able to reach their full performance potential. On the flip side, vegan proteins are alkalizing which helps athletes remain at a normal physiological pH.

Alkaline diets promote recovery, decrease inflammation, and decrease muscle and joint pain and stiffness. That decreased recovery time means that athletes will be able to train more and as a result see quicker gains. The removal of stress from poor nutrition also means that athletes will be able to sleep better which is another factor for promoting recovery as well as managing sugar and caffeine cravings. A healthy athlete will be more likely to have a longer career and increased energy to train and compete.

Although vegetable based protein supplements may be a healthier option for athletes, they are deficient in a few things that would be beneficial to athletes. Heme iron for example is not present in vegetables, although non-heme iron is. Non-heme iron is not as bioavailable as heme iron and, since athletes require more oxygen delivery to their active muscles, non-heme iron may not be sufficient enough to sustain a healthy iron status. Iron deficiency anemia is a common problem, as well as anemia due to vitamin b12 (which is also only present in animals), in vegetarian and vegan athletes. Creatine is also lacking in vegetables, which is important in power during performance. With all of that said, the above can be supplemented into vegan athletes’ diets which will provide ample amounts of the above nutrients. Also, omnivore athletes will have these nutrients in their diets through other sources and therefore they wouldn’t be an important factor in which protein supplement is better for them.

Now it’s your turn to decide for yourself which protein source is better! Knowledge is power; instead of listening to mainstream marketing, take your health into your own hands and educate yourself to become the informed consumer we should all be.