A New Study Reveals That Plant-Based Protein Is Just As Good as Whey for Building Muscle

man deadlifting in gym

According to a new study published in the scientific journal Sports Medicine, vegans who use plant-based protein powder grow the same amount of muscle as omnivores who use whey. The goal of the study was to see how different dietary protein sources (all plant-based versus a mixed omnivorous diet) affected muscle mass and strength improvements in healthy young men who strength train.

The study, led by Hamilton Roschel, PhD, of the University of So Paulo’s Applied Physiology and Nutrition Research Group, included 38 males, 19 of whom were omnivores and 19 vegans, with an average age of 25. For three months, the individuals were placed in a supervised weight-training program that included two weekly training sessions.

The participants ingested 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight during the training program, with vegans taking a soy protein supplement and omnivores taking a whey protein supplement. Throughout the trial, dietary consumption was assessed every four weeks. Lean muscle mass, entire muscle, and muscle fiber cross-sectional areas, as well as leg press at one repetition maximum, all rose considerably in both groups, with no difference between vegans and omnivores, according to the findings.

The research found that a plant-based diet rich in whole foods and soy protein supplementation is just as efficient as an omnivorous diet rich in mixed whole foods and whey protein supplementation in terms of muscle growth and strength. The findings may persuade folks who strength train to switch to plant-based protein supplements.

“A high-protein, exclusively plant-based diet (plant-based whole foods plus soy protein isolate supplementation) is not different than a protein-matched mixed diet (mixed whole foods plus  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 researchers concluded.

Plant-Based Protein

The findings refute the idea that a plant-based diet is less effective in supporting muscle growth than a diet that includes animal products. Whey protein has long been thought to be the best protein for muscle growth; however, researchers have recently shown that animal-derived protein is not better than plant-based protein.

According to a 2017 research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, plant-based protein is no different than meat-based protein. Higher protein consumption corresponded to greater overall musculoskeletal health across 3,000 individuals with varying dietary patterns, regardless of whether the protein came from plants or animals.

“We know that dietary protein can improve muscle mass and strength… However, until now, we did not know if one protein food source was better than another in accomplishing optimal results,” lead researcher Kelsey M. Mangano, PhD, RD, said in a statement. 



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