There’s protein in beans, soy, and all sorts of vegetables, but there's a reason why chicken, eggs, and whey protein powder have been athletes' staples for so many years. When it comes to your body’s ability to digest, absorb, and leverage what you consume, all proteins are not created equal. You will never absorb 100% of the protein you eat, but some sources have been proven to be more effective than others.
Protein does more than just promote muscle growth, it’s also responsible for maintaining your immune system, bone health, and metabolic functions. Protein performs a similar function in plants and animals. Studies have shown that when you consume protein from sources that are similar to what your body requires, you will see more efficient utilization. Since we’re all just a bunch of animals, we get the most efficient results from animal-based sources.
The Science of Protein
There are 3 macronutrients that make up everything we eat (save for alcohol); these are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. In the same way that there are many different (and delicious) types of carbs, there are also different types of protein. The composition of these nutrients, at the molecular level, affects the way that your body uses them.
The components that make up protein are called amino acids. Our bodies require a unique combination of 20 different amino acids to survive. Unfortunately, only some of these can be naturally produced, and we must get the rest from the food we eat. So, when you consume protein, your body must first break it down into its component parts, and then use these components to construct a unique combination that meets the requirements of the human body. If the food you’ve chosen contains protein that's similar in composition to what your body needs, absorption will be a lot simpler.
Amino Acids: A Lego Example
Imagine amino acids like blocks of Lego. In order to build something, you need to find a particular set of blocks. Sure, you can find the blocks you need individually, or by combining pieces from different packages, but it’s much easier to buy a specific set for the thing that you’re trying to build. Protein works in the same way. If you consume protein that mimics the profile of what your body requires, it’s much easier for your body to put it to use. Animal proteins are very similar to human proteins and contain all of the amino acids we require. So when you consume protein from animal sources (dairy, meat, fish, etc), it’s like purchasing a complete set of Lego – everything you need is in the same place and it's very easy for your body to use.
What About Whey?
Because whey protein is a dairy product, its amino acid profile is very similar to what humans require. Whey protein provides your body with everything it needs to build and maintain muscle. Because it’s in powder form, it’s also easier to digest, and can reach your body more quickly than complex sources, like red meat.
Plant-based proteins, save for a few, typically don’t contain the complete set of the amino acids that our bodies require. This means plant proteins need to be broken down and stored so that its amino acid components can be later combined with those from other food sources. When you consume plant-based protein, you have to rely on food variety to ensure you’re collecting the necessary amino acids. In our Lego analogy, this is more like buying a few different sets of Lego and combining blocks with the hopes of building something entirely new. As you can imagine, this isn’t the most efficient process, as there will most likely be a few pieces left over when you’re done.
Are Plant-Based Proteins Bad?
Just because plant proteins aren’t complete doesn’t mean that they're useless. Rather, all it means is that if you rely solely on a single source of protein, it will not be sufficient to support your core functions. As long as you eat a variety of different vegetables, you’ll be able to combine amino acids to create something your body can use. If you’re not concerned about the timing of your protein consumption, these work great. It's also worth noting that you’ll likely absorb less of the total protein you’ve consumed because of the matching process that needs to occur.
Suppy does not yet offer a plant-based protein powder. While we’d love to offer a complete supplement stack right out of the gate, we’re focusing on creating the best possible whey protein powder. As we continue to grow, we’ll look towards creating a premium-quality, plant-based power for all of our vegan friends. Bur for now, check out our locally-sourced whey protein powder.