Animal vs Plant proteins

Hybrid Performance Method
October 4, 2019

By Alex Usategui

Read time: 2-3 minutes

Key points

  • compare and contrast animal vs plant protein sources
  • clear up the confusion around the term “complete protein”

Is animal protein better than plant protein or vice versa? Well, to understand the basics of protein, you need to understand that there are 20 amino acids that make up the proteins in the human body. In order to make any protein structure in the body, your body uses the different amino acids to structure each different protein, whether that be skin, muscle, hormones, enzymes, or any other protein found in the body. If you have sufficient amino acids, you can make the given protein. Of those 20, only 9 of them are essential, which means that you must eat them because your body can’t make them. So the role of the diet now becomes to ensure that we feed ourselves sufficient amounts of amino acids to continue to produce all of the proteins that our bodies are trying to make. 

Protein Structure and Function: An Overview. Proteins are polymers of amino acids, connected by dipeptide bonds. Amino acids play central roles both as building blocks of proteins and as intermediates in metabolism. There are 20 common amino acids found in proteins, and depending on their sequencing, and the overall protein structure (which we learn about in our second protein lecture), they convey an vast array of chemical properties.

Once the specific amino acid is in our body, it does not matter how the amino acid got there, we can use it for the same purposes. For example, if we have the amino acid Glutamine in our blood, it does not matter if it came from a chicken or if it came from lentils, at that point glutamine is glutamine. So from that perspective animal protein vs plant protein becomes an even draw. As it turns out, animals also have essential amino acids that they can’t produce on their own as well, they need to consume them as well. So the protein and nutrients found in your steak all originated from what the cow ate, which points towards the plants. So you can eat the cow, or get it from the source of where the cow got his protein which is the plants directly. Basically, the amino acids in animal protein are not superior to the amino acids in plants and vice versa. 

The human body is an amazing machine that is constantly making, breaking down and recycling proteins to reuse the amino acids that we have already consumed in the past. So when your body needs a specific amino acid, there is no urgency to seek out and consume that specific amino acid, in fact, the body recycles 90 grams of protein per day in order to obtain and reconfigure the proteins it is breaking down and to create the proteins it needs. So in reality, we do not actually need to seek out these complete proteins because your body already handles the work for us. As long as you consume a calorically sufficient balanced diet, you do not need to go out looking for specific “complete” proteins or “complementary” proteins to try to achieve your daily protein needs. 

This topic can be further be expanded to speak on which protein source contains more nutritional value, better digestibility, greater effect on muscle protein synthesis and other such topics that I will look to discuss in future posts. 


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