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.

Stay tuned for my next blog on creatine! :)


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54 comments on “Animal vs. vegetable based protein

  1. rnovak57 says:

    Food for thought for sure. I’m considering you alkaline diet as less inflammation sounds good to me.

  2. Great points. What are your thoughts on whey protein supplements? Just wanted to spark the question as it is something I have had to formulate an opinion around. (There is a lot of talk out there re: “bowel toxemia” with whey… though I would think that this would only be a concern with high amounts and no variety…)

  3. Whey protein supplements typically has a lot more additives and also has acidic effects in our bodies post metabolism (as opposed to the alkaline effects of most vegetable based protein supplements). On the other hand, whey protein supplements are faster absorbed (which may or may not be a good thing)… I may be a little biased, but I think if your going to do protein supplements long term- a vegan one would be your best bet.
    Thanks for your comment :)

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  5. J. Z. Manley says:

    Thanks for liking my blog CrumbsOnMyLaptop! I like what you’re mentioning here – when I’m teaching vegan cooking classes we always have a conversation on which foods have an alkaline or acidic effect on the body. Clients are usually surprised to hear that most of the SAD foods are acidic and that cancer cells feed on sugar/acidity! Bring on the alkaline foods! Cheers :)

  6. arlene lurey says:

    Thank you! Your writing is packed with facts but still very reader-friendly. :)

  7. kvjinc says:

    Vegetable protein for me! Good blog. I like it.

  8. You make some good points here. I will check back to read more in further posts.

  9. This is so good to know…food products have all changed so much until safety is no longer a concern with some among the FDA. I agree, we must take charge in knowing and being informed what goes into our bodies. Thank you again!

  10. Dr Rick says:

    I liked this. I never considered the ph question. I don’t feel that necessarily the chemical toxins in animal products are any worse than the chemicals in vegetables. I don’t buy organic whey protein though. My 1 post workout 30 g of protein and bit of glutamine might not be significant but maybe it is! Thanks for this post. Glad your back…

  11. [...] Read more: Animal vs. vegetable based protein. [...]

  12. hey im loving these posts ! i do so much better on nonmeat source proteins.. i have added eggs and started some fish into my diet recently just because its what my body wanted.. cant wait to read more!

  13. skybunnies says:

    I’m starting to get really sick of eating meat and eggs everyday after 8 weeks, so your post has inspired me to search the vegetable kingdom for alternative sources of protein. Love the information and will be reading again soon!

  14. Thanks for the informative post. Your comment about heme iron bioavailability and anemia potential in vegans can miss the issue that heme iron has the problem that our bodies can’t regulate heme iron absorbtion like it can plant based iron. The result in many (men particularly) is excess iron. All vegans should be aware of the need to take B12 supplements – a weekly dose of 1000mcg is sufficient, or lower doses on a daily basis. Also, animal products often have other problems, take a look at our posting on changes in our food at

  15. whytfang says:

    Reblogged this on Whytfang's Blog and commented:
    Really good info for anyone who’s re thinking their diet!!

  16. T Hollis says:

    Grass-fed, pastured animal proteins don’t have the same hormone/antibiotic issues as standard meats. Also, cholesterol is a protectant to the heart.
    Soy-based veggie protein with its photo-estrogens are potentially dangerous because of the possible female cancer trigger.
    So much information to keep up with, it comes down to what works best for the individual.
    Thanks for stopping by my Post.

    • Thank you T Hollis – I couldn’t agree more!
      @Jen: Most of the “information” about meat vs. soy out there, even in reputable sources, is based on entirely flawed assumptions and poor data. The truth is that a huge majority of the commercially available vegetable proteins are from GMO vegetables. Which means that any published information about them is effectively untrustworthy, as the data can only be delivered by the source: Monsanto and CGM (do we trust them to hand on unflattering information?). Similarly, almost all of the animal protein studies are done on CAFO animals.
      The picture changes dramatically when you look at properly handled food animals, fed their natural diets.
      GMO Soy accounts for 91% of the commercially available soy. Grass-fed, pastured beef is actually easier to buy than un-modified soy beans!

  17. Hi Jen – found you after you liked my Capt Jack blog. Very interesting information on the protein drinks, particularly on the contaminants (beginning to think we’re going to have to learn to eat nothing, since nothing seems to be uncontaminated these days. Or really really really support our livers!). I haven’t posted a lot on the Chinese Medicine view of food, but will in the future. might make for interesting conversations!

  18. This is a discussion that can get heated at times…like politics and religion, you’re brave to take it on!
    I probably shouldn’t even be commenting because I’m no professional athlete, but time and again, all over the globe plant-based proteins come out ahead as far as health and avoiding disease. Heme vs non-heme iron is a good point, but high serum iron actually increases the risk for cancers.

    The types of soy-based proteins that are in mega protein shakes are soy isolates, which are not true soy proteins, but fractionated. Chemically stripping the protein out of a beneficial plant is not the same as getting it in it’s true form. And women reduce their risk of hormonal cancers by eating whole or fermented soy (1-2 servings) and new evidence is showing that even women with a history of hormonal cancers (breast endometrial etc) can reduce their risk of recurrence by eating 1-2 servings of whole or fermented soy (NOT tofu, soy milk, or soy powders, though)

    Whole, plant-based soy, beans, lentils, hemp seeds, and fermented soy (tempeh and miso)are the best sources of protein. Eat whole or go home.

    There are plenty of vegan body builders that would agree :-)

  19. cbloving says:

    Thanks for this wisdom. Weight-lifting is a significant part of my work-out and I used to be vegan. The Savvy Sister makes some excellent points as well about soy-based protein. Being a vegan did not work well for me (I was vegan for a few years) because I was eating a lot of soy-based products — many of which were high in sodium. After I stopped being a vegan, I actually felt healthier as I eliminated all soy — and won’t touch soy protein powders now. However, I wasn’t careful about the best sources of soy protein as mentioned by The Savvy Sister. I can never be vegetarian because I don’t do most dairy. But this piece has really opened my eyes about the whey protein powders that I use on occasion. It’s right on time because I just eliminated all processed food from my diet but was going to allow organic whey protein powders. Now I want to be very careful about using them Thank you.

  20. Argus says:

    All good clean fun but I’ve never taken it that seriously — I always got by on eating good old-fashioned food …

  21. Hi Jen, you’ve got some great thoughts in here! It’s really great that you’re working to advise other vegetarians in their choices of proteins, as it is true that the reduced menu is a bit limiting. I am hoping you don’t mind a few additional suggestions, from the Paleo Chef perspective? These are non-mainstream considerations, so they’ll give you a bit extra to think about. And since we know that grain and bean proteins all come with significant issues of their own in the form of anti-nutrients (grains) and lectins (beans, soy especially), having a few more ideas should be a great addition to your Paleo vegetarian plate! Here they are:

    Mushrooms – These are often overlooked as a protein source, but they’re great. Excellent flavor and texture, easy to use often, and can often be included in nearly any dish. These are fairly low in protein though, so they need to be used quite heavily to add up to meaningful amounts.
    Sprouts (not bean sprouts, obviously) – There are a few non-bean varieties of sprouts available, and young plants have a good availability of protein. I’ve seen broccoli and clover sprouts, when looking. Also, for people who can grow their own, this opens up a huge available variety.
    Bee Pollen – I don’t see this in most forums, which is unfortunate. It’s high in protein (approximately 40% by volume) and quite tasty. It’s very easy to add to nearly any dish, and comes packed with all sorts of great antioxidants and some other vitamins and nutrients. As a downside: it’s expensive… But a great source of flavor and protein!
    Nuts (not peanuts) – These are an excellent, and well recognized source of proteins, which veg and meat eaters alike use often. My personal favorites are pecans and macadamia nuts, because they are so easy to use in food! But all of them are great.

  22. Terri Byars says:

    Thanks for the blog. This is very informative and useful. And I understood this one, lol.

  23. Me&E says:

    reblogged at Thank you! a friend of mine dealing with heart disease was advised by a doctor to limit animal protein as a means of lowering his cholesterol. It’s so cool to read about exactly how that helps (and to have something to say when people suggest animal proteins are the staple of a healthy diet–which is a school of thought I don’t subscribe to). Thanks again.

  24. Desiree says:

    Very interesting. I am studying to be a doctor of naturopathy and have been an active locavore for five years now. Im always inteested in nutrition. :-) what sticks out to me in many of these supplements is the abuse caused by big ag industry, which definitely creates a lower nutrition content plus more negative vibrations. Soy protein can be very healthy, but most soy in this country is GMO, filled with very toxic chemicals. The soy bean is a seed and a GMO ssed has been stripped ofte very essence of life, it is unable to reproduce. With any of these protein supplements, I recommend an organic and sustainably sourced variety.

    Thank you for the wisdom you share in your blog and also for checking out my blog!


    • So it seems a balanced intake of animal/vegetable protein is optimal just as a balanced diet with variety is a general good heath rule. One measure I used when I pumped iron religiously was the understanding that normal intake was 10 grams per 10 pounds of body weight to be healthy. So to build bulk I would do exercises that would tear and rip muscle tissue (too much weight to swing normally) with off days for repair and increase normal intake of protein to build bulk. I think the literate related that three or four new cells grow to repair one torn cell and that builds bulk without steroids consuming more protein with absorption supplement. . Body building is different from weight lifting in that more reps are done to achieve tone and definition as opposed to bulk and does not require the mega protein increase. What is your opinion on this ?

  25. I think a lot of people forget(or just don’t know) that the average person can only burn 25-30 grams of protein in a 2.5 hour period, and the rest turns to fat, I see all this whey protein on sale at walmart advertising 56-60 grams of protein per serving. That stuff is meant for body builders, cut your servings in half(normally only requires using 1 scoop instead of 2), and you will have much better results. I lost 43 pounds and added 3/4 of an inch to my biceps in 6 weeks all naturally, just drinking Zeal(115 vitamins) and a 14g protein shake.

  26. Hi Jen, I like that you presented the facts and it was an unbiased view so you left it to readers to make up their own minds. Cool picture. My boyfriend deliberately goes winter climbing and mountaineering so I think he’s a little bonkers. I’m with you – staying warm inside!

  27. Anna Skaff says:

    Awesome post. My husband and I were talking about this topic earlier today. Now we can have a more educated discussion. Thank you.

  28. I like your blog! I’m hoping to learn more about health products and the variants in which you discussed on this blog post so I can make better choices.

  29. Once again you hit it out of the park! You are going to be so successful in whatever you attempt! Your discipline is amazing. Happy New Year to you.

  30. lkd3 says:

    I think you deliver some important information in this blog – I’m wondering if you’d recommend athletes supplementing with vegetable protein powders, but still consuming moderate amounts of natural animal protein in food for a more balanced nutrition – or do you think a vegan athlete can get enough amino acids for recovery with vegetable protein powder and vegetable protein foods, plus B12 supplements? Do vegetable protein powders have harmful additives too?

  31. kerniec says:

    Thanks for the like, great blog!!! Very well written and thought-out. I like that you leave it to the athlete to decide for herself. :-)

  32. Vegetable protein for me. Just have a look at “The China Study” to see why.
    I have completed multiple cycle rides across Australia with my last, 4 years ago, when I was 61, averaging 175 k per day and no rest days on a completely plant based diet. No sore muscles due to a build up of lactic acid and I felt stronger at the end than I did at the beginning. I’m sure this is due to my alkaline diet.
    Great blog. Love the photo’s of you climbing.

  33. Jedediah Goodson says:

    Thanks for liking my post on the Paleo Diet :)

    I’m currently looking for ways to reduce meat consumption in practical and tasty ways and I found your article here informative. I was also interested in @veganfoodpreparation’s comment about the China Study. I’ll have to read up on that.

  34. robinspr says:

    Thanks for this post, I totally just learned something. No idea casein was a beef product.

  35. greenandclean says:

    I’m not a professional athlete or anything but my job of mom to two boys is definitely demanding. I feel and function better on a vegan (and mostly raw) diet. However, we do eat grass fed beef occasionally. I leave a little meat in the diet for the boys. Still not sure about this, though. It’s a process.

  36. amikk24 says:

    AHH, thank you for breaking this down so clearly! Protein powders can be seriously baffling.

  37. This was a great post – thank you. I am actually going to link to it from my next blog post. :)

  38. [...] to spreading proper knowledge. It is a post from a fellow blogger, who liked my Day 6 post. It talks about the scientific differences between animal and vegetable based protein. It just states the facts and is not slanted one way or another, which I really appreciate! Thank [...]

  39. Tom M says:

    Hi Jen – liked the post. Per comment: “Animal proteins are associated with higher saturated fats and cholesterol which may increase the risk for heart disease.” As someone who was diagnosed with high cholesterol (and kicked this) – I have found this often repeated statement to be quite false. At the end of a long journey I discovered high-blood sugar is the biggest risk for heart disease. Carbohydrates is the dietary culprit for high blood sugar. Saturated fats and cholesterols found in animal based protein are a non-issue in proper proportions, e.g. as a 200+ lb male, I don’t eat more than 5-ounces of protein in a meal. I candidly don’t know the right answer, I have found dietary science and guidance to be all over the place- it would be nice to understand the value of protein in the context of both the body’s hormonal response to consuming it AND the associated essential micronutrients we need which protein is a good source.

    • G’day Tom,
      All I can say is read “The China Study” by Colin T Campbell and you’ll get the information you require from a brilliantly crafted study as well as from a huge library of other peer reviewed studies which Professor Campbell refers to.

      • Tom M says:

        Paul – thanks! I just read the overview on Amazon and am ordering it now!

      • I would value your thoughts after you’ve read it Tom.

      • Tom M says:

        Wil do!

      • Tom M says:


        As promised I ordered and read the China Study. The only conclusion I accept out of it is the correlation that environmental drivers can influence one’s long term health and/or the advent of Cancer, etc.

        If you apply the same logic the author provides for reviewing other studies, I find I can’t draw the absolute conclusion of absolutely not eating meat. The study does support my view that we should not be eating a lot of meat in our daily diets, but we should eat meat.

        Now my subjective bias against the author is that he doesn’t live a robust lifestyle, i.e., celebrate the awesome gift he has been given by physically exerting himself.

        My anecdotal experience perspective has been that it is extremely hard to feel good just eating plant-based chow and grains make me fart a lot. The best diet I have adopted for performance and feeling good (have energy, don’t get sleepy, not flatulent, not constipated, good blood chemistry) has been a healthy zone diet. I eat relatively small proportions of animal-based proteins compared to veggies. I find the best results are from eating more green stuff than fruits also. I also have observed that I can eat poultry/fish as my primary protein source 7-days a week, but red meats at high frequency, not so much (I call red meats and fatty pork my weekend meats).

        What I know is fact – eating right, being physically active, sleeping enough, and not being an asshole are the core things in life we can do to promote good health. I food log, weigh myself daily, and make note of how my diet and behavior correlate to how I feel, what I’m able to do, and my annual blood chemistry checks.

        I’m not Paleo, but I like that lens – I don’t believe Paleo Man was living on steaks. Hunting is hard as hell, even with a rifle – so having a bounty of steaks and bacon with sticks and stones doesn’t seem likely. Plus wild animals are extremely lean and you can starve eating lean animals (thus all the marrow consumption) of meat eating predators. So Paleo folks ate a lot of plant-based chow and supplemented their diet with meat when they could.

        Thanks for the referral – interesting read in general.



  40. bigfootmarty says:

    Thanks for the info and the article.

    I love all the debates about protein.

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