Were you one of the 250,000 people who signed up to Veganuary this year? This record number of participants is an all time high for, what some might label, a faddy January trend. However, the increasing popularity of veganism and the rise in plant based products means that for now, this trend is here to stay.
But now that January is over, how many of you have been converted and are continuing to eat a vegan diet? Or perhaps instead you are one of the many who are taking a more flexible approach and have adopted the aptly named flexitarian diet (predominantly vegetarian but will eat meat every now and again).
Either way, one thing we all need to be careful of is that we continue to include the right amount and variety of nutrients in our diets to ensure our bodies function in the best way possible and to optimise our health. And this is even more important if you are someone who regularly works out, training for a particular event or if you are looking to gain muscle.
Plant Based Protein
Protein is an essential nutrient – it is something that is needed by literally every cell in our body. The body uses protein to build and repair tissues as well as to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals and is also an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. As you can see it’s a proper powerhouse and so it’s vital we make sure our body gets enough of it.
Traditionally, protein comes from things like meat, fish, eggs, fish, dairy; all of which come from animals and therefore no good to vegans. However, there are options for vegans such as seeds, nuts, beans, legumes and soy products like tofu, which should be included as part of their daily diet. Many people wrongly assume that a vegan diet is a healthy diet, but no diet is healthy unless it is balanced. The vegan ready meals and meat alternatives that you see in the supermarkets may well look as though they’re geared towards healthy eating, but it is always worthwhile looking at the food labels, as looks can be very much deceiving.
Is Plant Protein As Effective As Building Muscle as Animal Protein?
Protein is protein whichever way you look at it and as long as you’re getting enough of it then the answer is that yes you can still build muscle when consuming a plant based diet. That being said, animal protein is a complete protein (it contains all essential amino acids), whereas plant protein lacks one or two of them. This isn’t necessarily a problem so long as you plan out your meals to make sure you are getting as many of the right nutrients and a variation of plant protein in your diet as possible.
To help explain how you can still build muscle on a plant based diet, Scitec Nutrition have put together some useful advice which we are going to share with you today:
Calories – If you want to build muscle it’s important to work out how many calories you need to consume, especially as plants generally contain less calories than animal products. Think of it in terms of Goldilocks – eat too little and there won’t be enough to give you energy, eat too much and your body will store the excess as fat, but eat the right amount and everything is just right. Do your research and remember planning is everything!
Variety – A varied diet equals a diet rich in nutrients and the more colourful your plate the bigger the range of essential vitamins, minerals and other good stuff. Keep the phrase ‘eat the rainbow’ in mind when you plan your meals.
Legumes – Legumes such as soy, beans and peas are great sources of protein and when eaten alongside whole grains such as rice, quinoa, buckwheat and millet they will provide you with the essential amino acids your body needs to build muscle.
Nuts – Nuts are a fantastically versatile source of protein that you can eat as part of your meals or for healthy snacking on the go. Not only are they high in protein, but they also contain heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, which help to lower bad cholesterol. Despite being good for you, nuts can be high in calories and so a little can go a long way.
Supplements – Sometimes your diet may not be providing you with everything that you need nutrition-wise. This could be for a variety of different reasons, for example maybe you struggle to find the time to cook from scratch, or you are a little bit fussy with your food and therefore your diet is somewhat limited. If this is the case then it would be wise to consider taking a daily supplement to help boost your intake of vital nutrients you may be missing out on. Many of the good nutritional supplement manufacturers now offer plant-based proteins, BCAA’s and multi-vitamins so do your research and find one that suits your fitness goals.
Should I Become Vegan?
Listen, just because every other person is jumping on the vegan bandwagon does not mean you have to too. We live in a world where we have choices and we are incredibly fortunate that we have such a wide choice when it comes to the food we have access to and what we eat. Some people choose to become vegan due to how they feel about the treatment of animals. Some do it because of their concerns over environmental issues. Some people do it for health reasons, others because they prefer the taste of plant products over animal products and some do it to save money – mean can be hella expensive right!?! But one reason you should never become vegan for is simply because it’s fashionable, and that just because everyone else is you should too. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, especially if your diet is part of an overall health and fitness plan. The rule is simple – balance, everything in moderation, and variation.