Vegan Protein As Effective As Whey For Building Muscle, Study Finds

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New research into the effectiveness of vegan and animal-based protein sources has confirmed no difference between the two. The data show that men who eat plant-based protein and supplement with soy can bulk up as much as those who include meat and whey in their regime.

The study was conducted in 2021 in Brazil with findings published in the science journal Sports Medicine. It featured 38 men with an average age of 25. Half were vegan, the other 19 omnivorous. All were asked to take part in a prescribed weight-training programme, supervised at the University of São Paulo. Results were recorded over three months with final conclusions determining that vegan protein is just as effective for building muscle as animal alternatives.

Controlling the conditions

The study was conducted to analyse the impact of dietary protein on strength training results. The team of scientists instructed participants to eat 1.6 grams of protein for every kilo they weighed. The vegans used soy supplements, the omnivores stuck with whey. At the end of the observation period, both groups had shown significant improvements in lean and whole muscle development, as well as gym performance. There was no difference between the two groups leading to a declaration that plant-based and animal-based proteins are equally effective.

“A high-protein, exclusively plant-based diet (plant-based whole foods + soy protein isolate supplementation) is not different than a protein-matched mixed diet (mixed whole foods + whey protein supplementation) in supporting muscle strength and mass accrual, suggesting that protein source does not affect resistance training-induced adaptations in untrained young men consuming adequate amounts of protein,” the study concludes.

Challenging preconceptions

Whey has traditionally been the protein source of choice for strength training. Now, increasing numbers of people are switching to plant-based sources, including soy. Coupled with confirmation that animal-free protein is no less effective at building muscle, the purported benefits of ‘clean’ vegan protein are creating a shift.

Other data have also suggested that a vegan diet encourages a glut of healthy bacteria to assist in better digestion and more effective absorption of fuel. Heart health is a known benefit of plant-based eating, with foods containing no damaging cholesterol. This leads to steady blood pressure and less risk of exercise-induced health issues. 

An earlier study, conducted in the U.S. in 2017, concluded that meat is no better for maintaining musculoskeletal health than vegan protein. Findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study found that higher protein intake was linked to better health, but the source of the protein was irrelevant. 

A number of professional athletes and bodybuilders have stepped forward to confirm that removing animal products from their training regimes did nothing to impact them negatively. Venus Williams famously claimed that a vegan diet “changed her life” and improved her game. Similarly, Lewis Hamilton enjoyed his transformation so much that he has invested a portion of his earnings in his own vegan burger chain, Neat Burger

Most pertinent to the world of bodybuilding, Iranian-born strongman Patrik Baboumian, now retired, secured world records, all while training on a vegan diet. Baboumian famously appeared in Netflix’s The Gamechangers documentary. He has just announced the launch of his GREENFORCE vegan meat range. It looks set to be a sustainable alternative to animal meats, with products being sold in powder form, ready to be mixed with water and cooked. 


All images courtesy of Unsplash.

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