High-Protein Plant-Based Diet Versus a Protein-Matched Omnivorous Diet to Support Resistance Training Adaptations: A Comparison Between Habitual Vegans and Omnivores



Acute protein turnover studies suggest lower anabolic response after ingestion of plant vs. animal proteins. However, the effects of an exclusively plant-based protein diet on resistance training-induced adaptations are under investigation.


To investigate the effects of dietary protein source [exclusively plant-based vs. mixed diet] on changes in muscle mass and strength in healthy young men undertaking resistance training.


Nineteen young men who were habitual vegans (VEG 26 ± 5 years; 72.7 ± 7.1 kg, 22.9 ± 2.3 kg/m2) and nineteen young men who were omnivores (OMN 26 ± 4 years; 73.3 ± 7.8 kg, 23.6 ± 2.3 kg/m2) undertook a 12-week, twice weekly, supervised resistance training program. Habitual protein intake was assessed at baseline and adjusted to 1.6 g kg−1 day−1 via supplemental protein (soy for VEG or whey for OMN). Dietary intake was monitored every four weeks during the intervention. Leg lean mass, whole muscle, and muscle fiber cross-sectional area (CSA), as well as leg-press 1RM were assessed before (PRE) and after the intervention (POST).


Both groups showed significant (all p < 0.05) PRE-to-POST increases in leg lean mass (VEG: 1.2 ± 1.0 kg; OMN: 1.2 ± 0.8 kg), rectus femoris CSA (VEG: 1.0 ± 0.6 cm2; OMN: 0.9 ± 0.5 cm2), vastus lateralis CSA (VEG: 2.2 ± 1.1 cm2; OMN: 2.8 ± 1.0 cm2), vastus lateralis muscle fiber type I (VEG: 741 ± 323 µm2; OMN: 677 ± 617 µm2) and type II CSA (VEG: 921 ± 458 µm2; OMN: 844 ± 638 µm2), and leg-press 1RM (VEG: 97 ± 38 kg; OMN: 117 ± 35 kg), with no between-group differences for any of the variables (all p > 0.05).


A high-protein (~ 1.6 g kg−1 day−1), exclusively plant-based diet (plant-based whole foods + soy protein isolate supplementation) is not different than a protein-matched mixed diet (mixed whole foods + whey protein supplementation) in supporting muscle strength and mass accrual, suggesting that protein source does not affect resistance training-induced adaptations in untrained young men consuming adequate amounts of protein.

Clinical Trial Registration

NCT03907059. April 8, 2019. Retrospectively registered.

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We appreciate DUPONT for donating both whey and soy protein supplements. We also thank Liliam Takayama (Bone Metabolism Laboratory, Rheumatology Division, University of São Paulo) for DXA assessments and the study subjects for participating in this study.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hamilton Roschel.

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This work was supported by Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) (Grant no. 2016/22083–3).

Conflict of interest

SMP reports personal fees from Enhanced Recovery, equity from Exerkine, personal fees from Dairy Farmers of Canada, personal fees from US National Dairy Export Council, grants from Alliance for Potato Research and Education, grants from US National Dairy Council, outside the submitted work; In addition, SMP has a patent 3052324 issued to Exerkine, and a patent 16/182891 pending to Exerkine. VHL, BG, IL, SG, ALF, LARC, RMRP, GGA and HR declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethics approval

This study was performed in line with the principles of the 1964 Helsinki Declaration. Approval was obtained from the local Ethical Review Board (No. 54014116.9.0000.5391).

Consent to participate

Each participant provided written consent after being informed of the purpose of the study, experimental procedures, and potential risks.

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Not applicable.

Availability of data and materials

All data supporting the results of this study may be made available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Author contributions

The authors’ contributions were as follows: Designed research: HR, SMP, BG, RMRP, GGA, and VHL; Conducted research: VHL, IL, SG, ALF, and LARC; Provided essential materials: RMRP; Analyzed data/Statistical analysis: VHL, HR, SMP, BG, SG, and GGA; Wrote paper: HR, SMP, BG, GGA, and VHL; Primary responsibility for final content: HR. All authors: read and approved the manuscript.

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Hevia-Larraín, V., Gualano, B., Longobardi, I. et al. High-Protein Plant-Based Diet Versus a Protein-Matched Omnivorous Diet to Support Resistance Training Adaptations: A Comparison Between Habitual Vegans and Omnivores. Sports Med (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01434-9

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