Study: Vegan Protein Supports Muscle Building as Effectively as Animal Protein

Fungi-derived mycoprotein supports muscle building as effectively as animal protein, states a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Vegan Protein

Quorn Chik’n Nuggets are made with mycoprotein, a vegan protein made from fungi.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Texas Medical Branch, is the first to explore if a vegan diet rich in mycoprotein can support muscle growth during resistance training to the same extent as an omnivorous diet. Mycoprotein is the naturally high-fibre fungi that is the main ingredient of the Quorn brand of products.

The objective of the study was to “investigate whether a high-protein, mycoprotein-rich, non-animal-derived diet can support resistance training-induced skeletal muscle remodeling to the same extent as an isonitrogenous omnivorous diet.

The randomized trial was split into two phases with the first phase consisting of 16 healthy young adults who completed a three-day diet where their protein was derived from either omnivorous or exclusively vegan (predominantly Quorn’s mycoprotein) sources, whilst detailed measures of metabolism were taken. In phase two, 22 healthy young adults completed a 10-week high volume progressive resistance training program while consuming a high protein omnivorous diet or a vegan diet rich in mycoprotein.

The results demonstrated comparable increases in muscle mass and strength in response to both diets, with no significant differences between the two. The group on the high protein omnivorous diet gained 2.6 kg of whole-body lean mass, while the group on the vegan diet gained 3.1 kg. Both groups also increased the size of their thigh muscles by the same amount (8.3%) over the course of the trial.

Based on these results, the research team concluded that a vegan diet that’s high in mycoprotein can be just as effective as a high protein omnivorous diet in building muscle during resistance training.

Omnivorous and vegan diets can support comparable rested and exercised daily MyoPS rates in healthy young adults consuming a high-protein diet. This translates to similar skeletal muscle adaptive responses during prolonged high-volume resistance training, irrespective of dietary protein provenance.

This study is the latest to demonstrate the potency of mycoprotein in muscle building, with research published by the University of Exeter in 2020 finding that mycoprotein builds muscle to a greater extent than milk protein, and a 2021 study concluding that a mycoprotein-rich vegan diet supports the maintenance of muscle tissue in older adults. However, this latest study is the first to directly compare mycoprotein with an omnivorous diet, including meat, and to do this over an extended ‘free living’ period of 10 weeks of the participants’ daily life.

“It is well established that muscle building can be augmented by adhering to a high protein diet”, says Dr Alistair Monteyne, the researcher who led the trial at the University of Exeter. “However, it was previously unclear as to whether non-animal derived diets and non-animal derived protein sources, such as Quorn’s mycoprotein, could support muscle building during resistance training to the same extent as omnivorous diets and animal-derived protein sources.”

They continue: “Our study demonstrates that mycoprotein is comparable to animal proteins in terms of its ability to facilitate increases in muscle mass and strength in young adults who are regularly engaging in resistance training. We now have a strong body of evidence, perhaps more than is available for any other alternative protein source, to show that mycoprotein is an effective protein food to support muscle maintenance and growth.”

The study comes after a report involving University of Exeter researchers found that regular widespread consumption of plant-based proteins could be one of three ‘super leverage points’ that could give hope for a breakthrough on climate change through reducing emissions from livestock farming.