We’re told for muscle growth you need to eat enough protein, but how important is the type of protein?


I’m aware of essential and non essential proteins, but pretty ignorant beyond that. For example, what proportion of your intake needs be essential protein?

In: Biology

Unless you have a very restricted diet (for health or palate reasons) then you don’t have to worry about it. By eating commonly available sources of protein (eggs, meat, chia, hemp etc) you will be eating complete proteins in sufficient quantities by default.

If you do have a restricted diet, i.e. a strict vegetarian and you dislike a lot of foods and you don’t have time to prepare food that blend enough protein types to make your overall intake ‘complete’..then you should be getting some multi-vitamins and some protein supplements to mix into smoothies.

Bottom line, if you focus on overall protein intake as a percentage of your diet calories, and eat a varied menu, then you don’t have to overthink it.

Edit: added in chia and hemp as examples, as many people had mentioned them in the thread.

It’s more about the amino acids (building blocks of proteins) than the specific proteins-


>An essential amino acid, or indispensable amino acid, is an amino acid that cannot be synthesized from scratch by the organism fast enough to supply its demand, and must therefore come from the diet.

All other amino acids, and the proteins built from them, our body can cobble together just fine on its own.

So, you generally should have these in your diet occasionally, but fortunately it’s easy to do- rice & beans covers them all, for example.

You need to research nutrition elsewhere than reddit especially if you’re going to be vegan. After years of being a vegetarian but a diet that included fish, dairy and eggs, I followed advice and thought I was getting enough iron. I became so anaemic after my periods became very heavy that I was 24 hours away from needing a blood transfusion.

Anemia destroyed my hair and its never been the same and restoring iron levels took over a year. Moral of the story: do not be casual about altering your diet. Read both the pros AND the cons of veganism so you can not only make an informed choice but also to be aware of the potential dangers that come if one isn’t disciplined enough to cook nutritious meals.

TL;DR: [This link](https://examine.com/guides/protein-intake/) is a fantastic guide to protein intake for all types of diets, goals, and body types. The whole site is built around synthesizing and analyzing **actual** scientific studies (not just ones bought and paid for by supplement companies).

So to begin, being an ELI5 question, beware you’re going to get a lot of pseudo-science/bro-science answers here. So far, what I’m seeing in this thread is mostly correct for a normal diet regime, i.e. just eating healthy. However, you mention muscle growth in your title and I see you talking about the gym in a few comments, so “just eat rice and beans” is not going to cut it for you specifically. Why? Read on.

It’s very well-proven that to gain muscle with any sort of speed you need to do two things: 1) eat more calories than you burn (yes this means you will gain some fat as well), and 2) make sure these calories are comprised of a minimum of 1.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight (or 0.7g per lb). So if you’re a 70kg/154lb person, you’d need to eat about 105g of protein. Adjust as necessary to your weight.

Red beans, a non-meat, relatively high-protein source, have about 24g of protein in a 100g serving (EDIT: 100g of dry beans, that is. 100g of cooked will have less). Obviously this is an extreme example and no one actually eats this way, but it’s illustrative to see that you’d have to eat almost *500g* of dry beans to get your daily protein. Prepare your rectum.

So what to do? You will have to add protein supplementation, but since you’re vegan that means the two best “complete” proteins–whey and egg– are out. Complete means it contains the whole range of essential amino acids, which are primarily what your body use to build muscle. Protein in and of itself doesn’t build muscle – it’s your body’s breakdown of it into amino acids that does the work. If a particular protein doesn’t have the aminos in the right amounts/ratios, it’s less optimal for muscle growth.

The drawback with non-meat proteins (beans, soy, some veg, grain, etc) is that they have a much lower bio-availability of their proteins. Bio-availability is just how much of the particular element your body can actually access. With animal proteins, bio-availability is about 95%; with non-animal proteins it’s about 70%. This is true for protein supplements made from plant sources as well. So either you need to eat ~25% more of it than compared to animal protein (whey, milk, meat, fish, etc), or you need to supplement the protein with EAAs (essential amino acids). These are easy to find in powder form. They are bitter so are best mixed in a berry smoothie or something like that.

All of this is to say, at the end of the day your body is an amazing machine and will more or less adapt to whatever you put in it and give you its best possible result along the way. I’m not saying that the only way you’ll ever build muscle is to follow my advice. I’m just trying to lay out a simple and easy way of thinking about how to maximize your efforts.

Take everything we say with a grain of salt. I’m not omniscient and neither is anyone else (or science for that matter). Start with something reasonable, try different regimes, and see what makes you feel (and look) the best. What works for me may not work as well for you. Ultimately, if you’re able to stick to regular exercise and maintaining quality food intake, that’s the real victory. Good luck my friend.

OBLIGATORY “THIS BLEW UP” EDIT: Thanks to everyone for the awards and follow-up comments. Just to add two things:

1. Several users have rightly pointed out that if you are overweight or new to weight training, you can gain a decent amount of muscle and be in a caloric deficit at the same time. This is the idea behind “noob gains.” But as you get more trained / lose more weight, this will eventually plateau and you will need to add calories again. There is also the idea of “body recomposition” where you are simultaneously losing fat and gaining muscle. Outside of having gifted genetics, this generally takes a lot longer to build muscle than just eating a surplus. It also requires a more strict monitoring of your calories and macros. But by all means give it a shot.
2. You’ll notice there is an inherent bias in what I’ve written – it’s from the perspective of someone who has trained for a long time and is of a normal weight. It’s impossible to give advice to every person of every type of diet, age, weight, goal, etc in one thread. I’m simply trying to give a general overview of what I’ve found that works, but please don’t just take my word as gospel. Find a regimen that you enjoy and can stick with and then once you do it enough you too can pass along what you’ve learned to strangers on the internet for super valuable internet points.

I’m vegan and work out quite a lot. (I also teach biology, so I have at least some professional insight into the biochemics behind it). I don’t pay any special attention to my protein intake, it’s all a bit overblown. Just make sure you eat a variety of foods, and you’ll get all the essential amino acids you need. 🙂 Lentils, chickpeas, lots of veggies and you’re golden. 🙂 Protein deficiency isn’t really a thing.

Do take care about B12 though, usually B12 is supplemented into animal food, so you get it when you eat meat that has eaten B12 fortified food. Just supplement it directly and don’t worry about it too much.

There are some great explanations in the thread, so I’m trying one for a five year old.

Proteins are like lego sets. You can build a lot of different things with the same bricks. Your body has 20 types of bricks (amino acids) with which it builds all protein the body.

When you eat protein, you disassemble (digest) one set and use the pieces to build your own sets (proteins).
The more similar the 2 sets are, the easier is it to build. If you want to build a starship (your muscles), it’s best to disassemble a similar looking starship (animal muscle aka meat). If you eat castles (plant protein) you need to disassemble more castle sets to get all pieces you need for your starship.


I’d check out this article if you have a chance because it talks in great detail about all the benefits you can expect from a plant based diet and has a section dedicated to protein. It also tells you which foods have particular nutrients that vegans need to include in their diet.

As long as you’re eating a balanced healthy diet, you should have no problem getting your protein. I’ve been vegetarian for 11 years and vegan for the past 2, I’ve never had any problems meeting my protein needs. The other commenters emphasizing the protein source being insignificant are correct. Also, all plant protein contains all the essential amino acids, they only vary on the amount of each amino acid. Again, this is something you shouldn’t worry about as long as you’re eating a variety of healthy foods.

What is more important is making sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals that vegans can tend to be deficient in. There are vegan supplements that contain all of these essential nutrients, or you can just ensure you’re eating foods that contain sufficient quantities and foods that are fortified with these ingredients. Almond milk is typically fortified with B12. Nutritional yeast is a vegan must if you don’t use it already, as it is fortified with B12 and other vitamins.

In general you want a mix of amino acids that your body needs for optimal muscle growth, so serious athletes should stick to eating human flesh, preferably of fellow athletes. This is the idea behind feeding livestock trimmings to the same species of livestock (cattle eat cattle, poultry eat poultry), to accelerate their growth. The practice with cattle has been banned in areas that have had outbreaks of mad cow disease, which could infect cows who ate nervous system tissue from infected cattle. The same risk exists with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, so you shouldn’t eat peoples’ brains, and should trim around spinal columns.

since you’re apparently a vegan, [here’s a vegan weightlifter](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5fsqg6aJOI) with some of his thought on the topic

From a biochemical view:

Proteins are basically chains of small molecules (like chain links). As those chain links are different, the combination and sequence of those molecules make up the different proteins.
When you eat any food with proteins your body doesn’t go “Hey, that’s the protein i need, i’ll take it and throw the rest away”.

Your body disassembles the protein chains into it’s links and reassembles those links into the proteins your body requires. Many links can’t be produced by your humans, but animals and some plants can, that’s why need to eat them.
By that the very type of protein for muscle growth in general is not important, but i bet there are tiny differences bodybuilders will tell you about.

TLDR: Proteins are chains and get disassembled into their links and reassembled into the proteins you need; therefore the type of protein doesn’t matter

Someone has probably cited the 1.5g protein/kg bodyweight guideline. That’s a good place to start.

Animal protein will generally be more “complete” than plant sources, in that they’ll contain the full spectrum of amino acids, including the EAAs (essential amino acids).

In general, though, splitting hairs over the details isn’t helpful. If you’re trying to gain muscle, ensure each meal has two palm-sized serving of high-quality protein. Chicken breast, fish, etc. I wouldn’t make it more complicated than this until you have a specific goal that requires it. [Good source here] (https://www.precisionnutrition.com/calorie-control-guide).

Protein isn’t the whole story, though. If muscle growth is your main goal, carbohydrates are a crucial element, as well, as they initiate the insulin response that causes muscles to take up the nutrients that need to grow. In addition to the two palms of your protein of choice, have a handful or two of some sort of carbohydrate, ideally:
– Rice, quinoa, or a similar grain
– Potatoes or other tubers
– Fruits

… Etc. This is also discussed in the link above.

Finally, people are sure to mention EAA and BCAA supplements, as well as nutrient timing (ie, post-workout meals, etc.)

To this, I’d say, the supplements are _supplements_. If your meals include enough high quality protein from food, feel free to add the supplements — they may aid in recovery. If your meals are regularly missing protein, the supplements are unlikely to make up the difference. Takeaway being: Focus on your *food*. Supplements will only make a meaningful difference if your diet is in place. And, if you choose to use them, I recommend EAAs over BCAAs, as they’re more “complete”.

As for timing — it’s definitely true that consuming carbs and protein immediately after a workout helps your body use the nutrients more effectively. If you can eat your normal meal within two hours of your resistance trainings, do so. Alternatively, the common “post workout shake”, and a meal later, works just as fine.

Again, though, “when” will be much less important than “what”. Make sure your meals contain the right amount of protein an carbohydrates for your goals. When your meal composition is consistently on point, fine-tune the timing.

More “advanced” strategies are useful for specific situations, but nailing the above _consistently_ goes a long way. Ultimately, there’s no “best” strategy for everyone (that we know of). Consistent meal composition and consistent progressive overload in your training will get you where you want to go, but I wouldn’t stress much over precision unless you’re a figure athlete, competitor, or have some other specific reason to do so.

If you’ve got a food log or representative sample of how you eat on a given day, we can probably give some more specific notes. No worries if not though!

Good luck on everything!

I will say this. My sister works at a gym. A long time ago when she was trying to build muscle it felt like she hit a wall. She started eating meat again and no longer had issues. She is very much into health, nutrition and fitness. Might be part of the reason we don’t talk anymore.

As a dietitian I’m actually happy to see the way this turned out. Top answers aren’t bro science

When it comes to being vegan, knowing your proteins AMINO ACID profile is number 1. Beans are not a complete protein and need to be eaten with brown rice. Same thing with lentils, must be eaten with brown rice. I also lift weights and build muscle on a vegan diet, and eat my body weight in in grams of protein.
Edit: From the research I’ve done and based off my own metabolism, I am on a 30/30/40 split. 30% fats, 30% carbs, 40% protein. 1 smoothie with protein powder a day, all other protein sources come from various plants. Every meal will consist of 2/3 types of protein as well.

* histidine cauliflower, bananas
* isoleucine spinach, blueberries, apples
* leucine kidney beans, apples, blueberries, bananas
* lysine kidney beans, black beans, tomatoes
* methionine broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, apples, bananas, blueberries
* phenylalanine black beans, kidney beans, bananas
* threonine spinach, kidney beans, broccoli
* tryptophan spinach, apples, oranges, bananas
* valine spinach, broccoli, apples, blueberries, oranges