Written by: Brian Henneberg, Physiotherapist
In recent years, an increasing number of people have chosen to replace all or part of their animal-based diet with plant-based alternatives. It can be for climate reasons, ethical reasons or just personal preferences. In this article, we will look at what to pay special attention to if you are vegan and want to get the most out of your workout .
The quick overview
- Studies show that plant protein can be very effective in building muscle
- Plant-based diets can help prevent cardiovascular problems and kidney disease. At the same time, a cholesterol-lowering effect and a positive influence on diabetes and inflammation are seen
- Plant-based diets are often filling and are therefore suitable if you are trying to lose weight , want to keep the weight off or struggle with overeating.
- It can be an advantage to supplement your diet with vegan protein powder or protein bars - preferably with a mixture of e.g. pea, soy, hemp, oat and rice protein
- Vegan protein powder usually has a lower carbohydrate content than other plant-based protein sources
- Recent studies show that creatine and beta-alanine supplements may be beneficial for vegans
The Game Changers
You may have seen the Netflix documentary 'The Game Changers,' in which athletes such as Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger discuss how much better they perform on a plant-based diet.
The Game Changers tells a series of athletes' stories and case studies, and the film states clearly that a vegan diet and strength training go hand in hand.
However, The Game Changers is very sensational and far from objective, which unfortunately causes many to reject the plant-based diet. It's a shame because plenty of studies with good evidence show that switching to a more plant-based diet is a good idea.
The positive effects of a switch to a plant-based diet
E.g., we know that there is a link between eating red and processed meat/protein and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature death. Conversely, several studies show that protein from plants, nuts, and seeds does not affect health in the same way. There may be health benefits associated with switching to a plant-based diet, e.g., concerning cardiovascular problems and kidney function.
Eating a more plant-based diet has been shown to lower cholesterol, improve diabetes and inflammation, and reduce the risk of gallstones. There seems to be no one who doubts that red meat, in particular, is one of the most significant dietary climate sinners. A plant-based diet often also provides a superior supply of fiber.
Special precautions for vegans
A vegan diet often becomes deficient in vitamin B12, calcium, iodine, zinc, and omega3 fatty acids. However, it is easy to adjust with simple supplements of these substances here. Since we get a large part of our iron through red meat, you can also run into iron deficiency as a vegan. Here, it is mainly younger women who are at risk. However, iron is not something you have to start supplementing with but something you have to get measured by your doctor.
Problems getting enough calories and protein
One of the benefits of a vegan diet is that it is often quite filling. Therefore, it is very convenient if you are trying to lose weight, want to keep the weight off or struggle with overeating. However, it can be problematic if your goal is to gain muscle mass.
If you want to grow muscle mass as a vegan athlete, you'll have to push yourself to eat more than you want. It might be challenging to get enough calories inside, but acquiring enough high-quality protein can also be challenging if you are vegan and exercise frequently. Mainly because plant-based protein, like its amount, is more difficult to absorb. The amount of essential amino acids is lower than in animal protein.
Vegan protein powder
One solution to the challenges of a vegan diet in terms of vitamins, minerals, fat, and protein is to supplement your diet with some fatty fish, eggs, or dairy products. It will provide iodine, calcium, vitamin B12, and omega3 fats. Suppose you do not want to do this. You can also supplement with a vegan protein powder - preferably one that consists of a mixture of several different protein sources, for example, pea, soy, hemp, oat, and rice protein.
Many legumes that vegans eat to get protein have, e.g., not a very high content of the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Conversely, oatmeal has a low lysine content, but combining several protein sources, such as those mentioned above, can easily cover all needs.
Vegan protein powder also provides a large amount of concentrated protein without carbohydrates when eating plant-based protein sources. Furthermore, it is quicker to consume than, say, a large number of beans.
How much protein should I consume per. day?
If you do strength training and want to gain muscle mass, You should consume around 1.8 g protein/kg body weight/day. However, if you are vegan, it makes good sense to consume up to 2.2. g protein/kg body weight/day, precisely because the amino acid composition of plant-based protein is generally slightly inferior to animal sources, while the protein may be more challenging to absorb.
Big muscles on a vegan diet?
The short answer is yes. This study, for example, shows that people who ate pea protein in connection with strength training achieved as good gains as people who ate whey protein. Same result in a study with soy protein. There is nothing to prevent you from attaining just as much muscle growth with plant-based protein compared to animal protein if you take into account whats mentioned in the section above.
Creatine and beta-alanine
As a supplement, a recent study also wonders whether an extra intake of creatine and beta-alanine can be particularly beneficial for vegans.
It's known that a vegan diet will often result in lower levels of creatine and carnosine (which we get primarily through the meat).
These will be explosive lifts, such as those performed during a standard strength training session, which will undoubtedly benefit from creatine and beta-alanine supplementation.
https: //www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov / pmc / articles / PMC4307635 /