Animal protein beats plant alternatives for sustaining muscle, study finds

When it comes to sustaining the muscles you built up during your younger years, a new study has found that animal-sourced proteins are more effective than protein from soy and wheat, the two most popular plant alternatives. The findings were recently published at The Physiological Society's Future Physiology 2020 conference. The goal of the study was to evaluate the gram-for-gram muscle-sustaining potential of plant proteins compared to animal products.

Plant-based diets have exploded in popularity over the past few years as the public turns to more environmentally-friendly food alternatives. These types of diets have been associated with a number of potential health benefits, including lower odds of developing certain cancers, a lower risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes, reduced inflammation, and more.

Some controversy exists over the potential long-term consequences of following an entirely plant-based diet, however, with some studies finding that it's ideal to eat some eggs and fish in addition to ample veggies and fruit for sustainable health. Is plant protein as effective as animal proteins for building and sustaining muscle?

The answer is complicated. As a person ages, they slowly lose muscle mass, something generally associated with lesser amounts of the muscle being built from the amino acids one consumes. In order to get amino acids, you must eat protein, something that has, for most of human history, primarily depended on animal products.

Though plant proteins can be used to build muscle, the new study reports that it takes much more of this plant-based protein to see an increase in muscle mass compared to animal proteins. As a person ages, the study reports, they're more likely to lose muscle mass if they switch from an animal to a plant-based diet without increasing the amount of protein they consume.

Because of this, the study notes that it would be better to eat a diet that contains both plant and animal proteins in order to preserve muscle mass during aging. However, the study was limited to wheat and soy, meaning there is the potential that some other plant-based proteins may be more effective.