PROTEIN POWER

What’s the better source of protein for building muscle – meat or plants?

New research on whether animal- or plant-based protein sources are better have been severely misrepresented.

Do vegan bodybuilders have the edge? A recent study was reported as showing plant-based protein was more effective for building muscle than that from animals.

The higher environmental impact of eating a diet rich in meat and dairy products could also provide a reason for gym enthusiasts to switch to a plant-based diet. In fact, most of the protein eaten worldwide (58%) actually comes from plant sources such as soy, cereals, pulses and potatoes, with the rest coming from meat, fish, dairy and eggs, (although these proportions are reversed in Europe and the US).

Unfortunately – as is all-too-often the case in the field of nutrition – the headlines that portrayed the new research in this way not only took the findings out of context, but also were inaccurate and misleading. So are plant proteins really better at building muscle?

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at how consumption of six different plant and animal-based food groups related to muscle mass in around 3,000 primarily middle-aged volunteers. The groups were organised on the basis of the volunteers’ preferred protein source and were classified as red meat, chicken, fish, low-fat milk, fast foods and full-fat dairy, and fruit or vegetables.

This excellent research revealed two main findings. First, and consistent with previous research, the study showed people who ate the most protein were more likely to have the greatest amount of muscle mass. Second, there was no relationship between the amount of muscle mass the volunteers had and their most commonly eaten protein source. So, in contrast to the sensational headlines, this study (like others) doesn’t support the claim that plant protein is “better” than animal protein for building muscle.

Context needed

Like any other credible research, these study findings must be placed into context. So it might not be appropriate to apply these findings about middle-aged people to other groups such as the elderly or young gym goers.

Around 80% of these middle-aged volunteers met or exceeded the recommended total daily protein intake. Eating so much protein means the potential for different sources to have different effects would have been less important for overall muscle mass.

By contrast, older people are at a greater risk of not getting enough protein because they tend to eat less food overall. So, selecting the best protein source for muscle building is likely to become more important as we get older and struggle to meet protein targets.

Despite these limitations, there is some evidence that supports the idea that animal proteins are more effective for muscle building than plant proteins. Studies that have compared animal protein sources to plant sources on a gram-for-gram basis generally demonstrate that animal protein sources promote a greater muscle-building response.

Studies in older adults have also shown that to switch on muscle building you need a lower amount of an animal protein such as whey than a plant protein such as soy. As such, we can view animal proteins as more “efficient” at prompting a muscle-building response than plant proteins.

In trained young men of around 85 kg body mass, our own study and others have shown that 20 grams of whey protein is enough to maximise muscle protein synthesis, although this may be closer to 40 grams after certain types of exercise. Based on what we know about the efficiency of plant protein, we can presume you would need more of it to get the same effect (in young adult gym enthusiasts). So these findings from controlled laboratory studies actually suggest that animal proteins are better for muscle building than plant proteins.

High-quality protein

The reason why animal proteins are generally considered “higher quality” when it comes to building muscle is down to the type of amino acids they contain. Amino acids, in particular one called leucine, are thought to be key to driving muscle protein synthesis. In general, animal proteins have a higher proportion (9%-13%) of leucine than plant proteins (6%-8%).

Plus, animal-based proteins usually contain all nine essential amino acids whereas most plant-based proteins are missing one or more of these amino acids.

There are exceptions such as maize protein, which boasts a 12% leucine content, and quinoa, which has a full complement of all essential amino acids. So it may be that certain plant proteins are just as effective as so-called “higher-quality” animal proteins.

We can potentially increase the “quality” of a plant-based proteins by fortifying them with extra leucine, combining different sources to make sure the food has all essential amino acids, or simply increasing the recommended amount of a plant protein source. As a note of caution, the latter option could require as much as 60 grams of certain plant proteins (for example seven large potatoes) – a dose that some people may struggle to consume.

The search continues for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly source of protein that can offer similar muscle-building potential to animal proteins. But based on currently available evidence, vegan bodybuilders will have to pay particular attention to their diets to achieve the same results.

Oliver Witard, Senior Lecturer in Health & Exercise Science, University of Stirling; Kevin Tipton, Professor of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, University of Stirling and Lee Hamilton, Lecturer in Sport, Health and Exercise Science, University of Stirling.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.