Plants vs. Animals: Which is The Best Source of Amino Acids?

Isabelle Laker by Isabelle Laker 2 August 2017

Are animal-derived amino acids superior to non-animal (plant) proteins? The benefits of a diet deriving amino acids from non-animal-based proteins

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Plants vs. Animals: Which is The Best Source of Amino Acids?

There has long been a debate about the ability of plant-based diets to provide our bodies with enough protein to function. Do vegetarians and vegans ingest the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of amino acids? The short answer is yes.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which the body uses in all facets of life, from growth and tissue repair to bodily functions such as digestion. There are three types of amino acids: essential, nonessential and conditional.  

There are nine essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) which our bodies cannot produce on their own, and we must source from our diets.

Amino acids are produced by plants, and whether or not we obtain them through animal or plant-based diets we must ensure that we source enough protein from our diets every day.

The myth of complete and incomplete amino acids

It has long been believed that not all plants are alike, and do not comprise the same essential amino acids. As a result, protein combining developed as a strategy to ensure that we get each of these essential amino acids in every meal (such as eating rice and beans together). Fact or fiction, it is important to eat a variety of plants (vegetables, fruits and legumes) throughout the day as part of a balanced diet.

Benefits of plant-based amino acids

In 2010, Nutrition in Clinical Practice published a report that found that vegetarians typically have lower BMIs, lower total cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, among other things, than non-vegetarians. Why is this? Those eating plant-based diets usually have a relatively low intake of saturated fat and increased intake of dietary fibre compared to those eating meat.

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Selecting a protein supplement'

Whey protein (derived from dairy) is by far the most popular protein supplement on the market. So why choose anything else?  

Whey and plant-based products differ in three key areas: production process, taste and digestion.

Whey protein is derived from cow’s milk, and is a by-product of making cheese. As with any animal product, the quality of whey depends on the quality of the cow. Cows are often pumped with range of different hormones in order to maximise milk production, which wreaks havoc on their immune system and impacts the quality of their milk. Most whey is heavily processed, which degrades the nutritional value of the product. On top of that, some US whey products were found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium and lead. Even more alarming? Some Chinese BCAA is even sourced from duck feathers and human hair!

Plant-based proteins stand out in each of these areas. Natural, less processed and cleaner, plant-based proteins are also more palatable, despite most brands using little to no artificial sweeteners. These products are far more easily digested and do not contain lactose.

How does True Protein Differ?

Unlike many other companies, True Protein uses NZ Grass-Fed whey, which is widely regarded as the highest quality whey protein in the world due to New Zealands highly regulated dairy industry. For more information on NZ Grass-Fed Whey, click here

Japanese BCAA 4:1:1

For a great source of non-animal derived amino acids, check out True Japanese BCAA 4:1:1. BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acids) is great both during and after workouts to fuel muscles. As Leucine is an amino acid critical for muscle growth, the special ratio of 4:1:1 [Leucine (66%), Isoleucine (17%), Valine (17%)] is ideal.

Recommended protein intake

The World Health Organisation recommends that we ingest 0.83 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. *This varies during pregnancy and depending on how active you are. Here’s a quick way to calculate roughly how much protein you should be having:

Body weight (in kg) x 0.83 = recommended intake of protein per day (in g).

For example:
80 (kg) x 0.83 = 66.4 (g) of protein.

Different foods contain different levels of protein, so it is important to calculate how much protein you are getting from your meals.


As all amino acids originate in plants, non-animal derived protein products essentially cut out the ‘middle man’ (animals). There are positives and negatives to deriving protein from both animal and non-animal sources. However, the myth that one is superior to the other has little factual basis. The important thing is to ensure that you are having a varied and balanced diet.


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IMPORTANT INFORMATION: all content provided here is of a general nature only and is not a substitute for individualised professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and reliance should not be placed on it. For personalised medical or nutrition advice, please make an appointment with your doctor, dietitian or qualified health care professional.

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