Amino Skepticism & Weightlifting

Hi everyone,

I’m new to weightlifting and want to take advantage of my increased muscle building capacity as well as have optimum recovery between sessions. Ethically I’m vegan and used to only get ~20g protein per day (not enough). I found I feel better when I get at least 60 when not training, but now that I’m training I don’t know how much I actually need of gross protein vs. amino acids.

What I mean is that many vegetables and plant foods fill up my amino acid needs without adding significantly to overall protein & I don’t understand if I really need to eat this much protein if I hit aminos.

Where do the amino acid recommendations come from? Would they change with resistance training/activity increase? Does protein help exercise recovery (weightlifting) or just carbs?

For reference- I’m a small person so at maintenance if I aim for 1g/lb LBM I end up consuming ~40% calories from protein & 40% carbs so I’m not sure if that’s maximizing recovery...

Thanks for any reading advice or responses. (& I’m comfortable reading research if anyone has any)



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    Carbohydrates fuel your muscles with glycogen and give you energy. I’m sure you have heard you can learn to burn fat, also true but it’s less efficient for most according to the literature in edurance athletes. Being able to burn fat is best. Some strategies are varying working out fasted (no carbs night before, no breakfast before workout) alternating with good carb breakfast before workout. (Or whatever meal comes before workout).

    Protein on the other hand repairs muscle and promotes muscle protein synthesis. Protein is made up amino acids. Better to just eat complete protein than supplement but you can do both. Leucine is especially important for building muscle. If you are vegan you are eating protein sources with less leucine like quinoa for instance. You would have to eat 1,000s of calories or quinoa to get the leucine in 4 oz of chicken. In terms of sports nutrition it’s EASIER to get what you need being an omnivore but high five for being vegan for ethical reasons.

    Eat as nutritious as you can trying to hit 2g pro per kg of body weight with vegan protein sources and add one scoop of high quality vegan protein powder after your workouts to round out your amino acid profile.

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    I have some expertise on this topic as a Registered Dietitian, a vegan, and an athlete. Protein is found in many different foods but it may not be of high quality (meaning that it's low in various amino acids important to humans. For this reason, you can absolutely meet protein requirements but be low in various amino acids. On a vegan diet, the most important amino acid to meet is lysine; if you're getting enough of this amino acid, then you're getting enough of other amino acids.

    When it comes to protein needs, vegans need ~10% more than non-vegans. Someone who is recreationally active should aim for around ~1.2 g-1.5 g of protein per kg of body weight and ensure they are meeting lysine needs. Protein needs will stabilize in someone who is trained and maintaining mass. Leucine can be a useful nutrient for mass-building but can be easy to get with soy protein.

    You can read more about amino acid and protein requirements here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234922/

    Protein is also important with recovery and ideally, your intake should be spread throughout the day (with high quality protein like soy or seitan consumed after a strength-based workout).

    Kind regards,

    Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD
    Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
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