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Notes on protein derived from plant-based nutrition and its biodiversity from essential amino acids

From March 2019 to November 2019 I trained for a marathon while only consuming plant-based nutrition. This was largely inspired by the book "The China Study" which outlined a comprehensive point of view on the benefits of plant-based nutrition. As I enter December 2019, I am finding myself injured more often with recovery time taking much longer than expected. Metatarsalgia(pain in the ball of both feet) has been an ongoing issue since October 2019. Despite this, I did run the Coastal Trail Marathon in November 2-2019.

Perhaps the issue is related to an inadequate quality of protein consumption over the past year. Note I am consuming approximately 130 grams to 150 grams of plant-based protein (peas, lentils, hemp, tempeh, etc) per day. Further research indicates plant-based property has limited biodiversity related to essential amino acids needed for muscle protein synthesis and collagen production.

From 11/22/19 through 12/12/19 I will perform 30-day study of replacing plant-based protein with chicken (while remaining at 150 grams) and track results. Note this is not an endorsement for or against plant-based protein, but rather an ongoing experiment related to maximizing my physical health and wellbeing. I eat 5 times a day, and the animal protein will be consumed at meal to and meal 5. I will also take a collagen supplement with meal 2 to see if additional collagen consumption can help in the resolution of muscle, tissue, and ligament pains.

Target macronutrient consumption is: 250g carb, 100g fat, 150g protein ~ 2500 calories.

Collagen and muscle recovery

The specific point of view i'm trying to understand is the role of collagen and muscle recovery. Collagen is derived from the non-essential amino acids glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine, as seen in the amino acid table below.


Non-essential means that our bodies have the ability to produce these amino acids, but as we age, collagen production decreases. Furthermore, collagen production requires lysine, an essential amino acid. Lysine cannot be produced by our body and must be consumed via food. My thought process is since i'm consuming plant protein in a combination which is "not biodiverse" e.g. lacks all essential amino acids, transitioning to animal sources for protein which contains all essential amino acids AND simultaneously consuming collagen supplements may help in the resolution of pains from my forearm via repetitive stress movements as well as injuries sustained from running. Results to be determined from the aforementioned 30 day test.

What's interesting is that there are multiple studies on the positive impact collagen has on muscle recovery:

  • The Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University found that individuals who took collagen as part of a controlled trial saw "lower muscle soreness" 48 hours after working out compared to the control group.
  • The Department of Sports Medicine at Ruhr University Bochum conducted a 12-week study and concluded individuals who took collagen saw a "significant increase in fat-free mass". The Department demonstrated improved body composition in men with collagen supplementation combined with resistance exercise training.
  • A follow-on study by The Department of Sports Medicine at Bochum found that the use of resistance exercise training with collagen peptide supplementation resulted in an increase in both body mass, fat-free mass, and muscle strength than just resistance exercise training alone.

What I find interesting about collagen is that it is considered an incomplete protein because it is missing the essential amino acid tryptophan. This is usually disclosed very poorly in commercial collagen products, usually saying something like "contains 8 of the 9 essential amino acids", or maybe a loose disclosure in the typical amino acid profile label, example below.


8 out of 9 sounds good right? In the context of amino acids that is not the case, because (using the Protein Digestibility-corrected Amino Acid Scoring method, PDCAAS) protein quality = 0 if atleast one of the 9 essential amino acids are missing. Yet in a 2019 study, researchers determined that up to 36% of an individuals daily protein consumption can be replaced with collagen while ensuring "essential amino acid requirements are met". The guidance given was a collagen supplement no greater than 15 grams. The researchers stated that since collagen is never taken as the sole or primary source of protein, its nutritional contribution must always be evaluated in the context of a mixed protein diet.

The point of view given from the research team states that a typical American consumes 16% in excess of the required daily allowance of protein. This means that if one or more of the essential amino acids are present in excess of the requirement, it is either converted to dispensable amino acids or oxidized, thus justifying the replacement of ~15grams / daily with collagen.

Finally, it is worth noting that despite collagen being classified as incomplete protein (via the lack of tryptophan), it is a source of physiologically active peptides and conditionally essential amino acids that have the potential to optimize health and address the physiological needs posed by aging and exercise.

A 30-day study is being conducted from 11/22/19 to 12/22/19 to determine the potential implications of supplementing my daily macronutrient consumption with collagen protein while converting to chicken and turkey as the primary source for protein.

Peer reviewed studies on protein quality and plants

"Protein Adequacy Is Primarily a Matter of Protein Quantity, Not Quality: Modeling an Increase in Plant:Animal Protein Ratio in French Adults."

Interesting observation on quantifying at what point do we experience 'protein quality inadequacy'. The study concludes that once humans replace 50% of animal protein with plant protein, there is a potential risk of inadequate protein quality via the lack of lysine (an essential amino acid).

Vegan diets: Practical advice for athletes and exercisers

Provides an exceptional overview on macro and micronutrient guidance for vegan athletes with specific recommendations. Paper concludes that most vegan athletes are not consuming enough: complete protein (poor protein digestibility), vitamin b12, RDA/DHA.