Ask a Dietitian: Is Animal Protein Better Than Plant Protein?

Hi Charlotte, Are animal based proteins better than plant based? If yes or no, how so?

Man drinking protein

For a long, long time it was thought that plant-based proteins were inferior to animal-based proteins and that this inferiority was a big deal. A lot of this was based on mechanistic data, which came to the conclusion that most plant-based proteins were less bioavailable than animal-based proteins, and animal-based foods typically contain a higher percentage of protein and have more of the branched chain amino acids that are important for muscle growth. 

This is all still largely true, but recent human studies have shown that animal-based proteins, at best, have only a slight edge over plant-based proteins.

It may be slightly harder to hit protein targets on a plant-based diet, but I think this is blown out of proportion considering there are so many high quality plant-based protein powders now, including Huel Complete Protein (I rarely plug Huel products here so allow me this one). 

We also have meat alternatives which make it even easier. Plant-based proteins missing essential amino acids or not being complete protein sources is also pointed to. 

However, there are complete plant-based protein sources such as soy, and a mixed diet is going to ensure you get enough of all these essential amino acids anyway. No one is just chugging pea protein everyday. 

I think for most people when we talk about plant or animal-based protein, we are majoring in the minors. Focus on getting enough protein regardless of the source first – both at each meal and daily – then train consistently, managing your calorie intake, get enough sleep, and spread your protein intake throughout the day. Then maybe you can look at where marginal gains can be made. 

You also need to take a look at the broader picture; there appears to be additional health benefits to consuming plant-based proteins over animal.

In short, I don’t think plant-based proteins are inferior to a point where you should care. Work out a suitable diet and training plan that works for you and watch the results come your way.


In the real world, not really. It’s also important to consider that having a higher proportion of plant-based protein in the diet is likely to lead to other health benefits.  

Written by: Dan Clarke, RNutr

Reviewed by: Charlotte Marie Werner, MS, RD, CDN

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