We all know that eating protein is important for building muscle and typically, meat, milk and other animal products come to mind when the word protein is mentioned. However, animal products are not the only source of protein. Some plant foods also contain protein, such as legumes, nuts and seeds, and soy products. But how do these plant-based protein sources stack up to animal-based proteins when it comes to building muscle? Read on to find out.

A distinguishing factor between animal and plant protein sources is the amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids. Of these, 9 are termed essential amino acids, which means we have to get them through our diet. Animal protein sources contain a complete profile and more essential amino acids compared to most plant protein sources. However, what is more important about animal protein sources is that they contain more of the amino acid leucine. Leucine is key to building muscle. Animal protein sources are also more digestible than plant protein sources. This is important for building muscles because higher digestibility means that more amino acids are available for the muscles to make new muscle. From the amino acid profile and digestibility standpoint, animal protein sources clearly win.

For those looking to build muscle, you’ll probably want to aim for 20-40 grams of protein per meal and snack, depending on your body weight. While getting this amount of protein from animal products is fairly easy, it’s more difficult from plant based sources. For instance, while having rice and chickpeas does provide protein, you would need to consume 1 cup cooked rice and 1 cup cooked chickpeas to get 20 grams of protein. This would also provide 510 calories. This same amount of protein can be consumed in 75 grams cooked chicken breast at 110 calories or 3/4 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt at 100 calories. For those looking to build muscle, and stay lean, animal protein sources may be the better option. 

Before the vegetarians and vegans start hating on me, I’m not saying it’s impossible to build muscle using a plant-based diet. Plant based eating does provide plenty of health benefits and all of this information needs to be taken in context.  This comparison was solely from the perspective of building muscle. As a reminder, you also need to be engaging in exercise to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Simply eating more protein does not magically build muscle. Many other factors come into play.

Next week, I’ll be exploring an exciting topic– the role of nutrients in building muscle. We always talk about protein, but what role, if any, do macronutrients and micronutrients play? Stay tuned to find out! To receive this newsletter straight to your inbox, sign-up here

Categories: Megan Kuikman

Megan Kuikman

Hello! I’m Megan Kuikman. I’m a Registered Dietitian with specialized training in sports nutrition. My goal is to help athletes and active individuals achieve a healthy attitude towards health, training, and food. I empower athletes to fuel properly for training in order to restore their health and enhance performance. You can get in touch with me at: hello@megankuikmanRD.ca


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