If you're a vegan or vegetarian, you're probably all too familiar with the question, "Where do you get your protein?" The popular consensus is that muscle = protein, and protein = meat. So it's not really a surprise that when it comes to fitness another common question that pops up for those on a plant-based diet is if it's suitable for building muscle.
"The biggest myth around building muscle on a vegan diet is that it’s a lot harder without meat protein in your diet," Sassy Gregson-Williams, a plant-based certified personal trainer, ballerina and founder of Naturally Sassy, an online workout studio and app. "This may ring true if you’re looking to body build professionally, but for most of my clients who are looking to tone up (build muscle and lose fat) a vegan diet does not hold them back."
If you're eating plant-based and looking for some major #gains, here's what you need to know.
"It’s important to educate yourself on good sources of vegan protein which include beans, pulses, grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, tofu, and other substitutes," says Gregson-Williams. "Making sure to include several sources in your meals and snacks will help you reach your protein goal for the day."
So how much protein should you consume? It depends on the person.
"The quantity of protein required in your diet will vary depending on your body composition and exercise regimen," Michael Henri Lalonde, a plant-based physiotherapist and online health coach, tells Organic Authority.
According to Lalonde, our bodies require 0.36g of protein for every pound that you weigh. When active, says Lalonde, the body requires double that amount to repair and build new muscle tissue.
"Anywhere between 0.5-0.72g for every pound that you weigh is ideal. When bodybuilding, the optimal range increases to 0.8-1.2g for every pound," he says.
The good news is that almost all plant-based foods have protein in it, says Lalonde, therefore eating a vegan with a lot of variety will provide a sufficient accumulation of all the essential amino acids or proteins your body needs to bulk up.
Feed Your Workout
"After your training session, this is the time where your muscles are screaming for nutrients," says Lalonde. "So make sure your meals are well-balanced and contain higher amounts of quality proteins from whole food sources."
Lalonde's top sources for high-protein include beans, lentils, split peas, and peanut butter.
However, says Lalonde, it's important to remember, when it comes to protein and plant-based diets, the protein needs of the body don’t change in comparison to a meat eater.
Also, it's important to note that contrary to popular belief, you don't need to combine proteins on a vegan diet. If you're eating a balanced diet, your body is perfectly capable of getting all the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that it needs.
But building muscle doesn't mean you just overdo it with the protein.
"Just like meat eaters, vegans need to get a balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein in their every day to support their body building muscle," says Gregson-Williams.
While you need to eat enough protein to gain muscle mass, you need a sufficient amount of carbs because building muscles require you to fill your muscles with glycogen. Active gym rats should aim for one to three grams of carbs per pound of body weight. Which means if you weigh 130 lbs, you should eat at least 130 grams of carbs per day.
Vegans can get their carb fix from a variety of tasty foods, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, beans, pasta, and rice.
When it comes to fat, a good rule of thumb is to have 25 percent of your total daily calories from fat. This will mean taking your total daily calorie intake and multiplying it by 0.25 (this will give you the total number of calories to consume from fat) and then dividing it by 9 (since fats contain 9 calories per gram) to find the actual gram amount.
To help keep track of your macronutrients, Gregson-Williams suggest downloading an app to help track your food intake for a few days,
"This will allow you to increase a food group as you need and make sure you give yourself the energy to perform well in your workouts and life," she says.
This is the best part. Because gaining muscle means eating more than what you're used in comparison to, say, an endurance runner. In order to build muscles, you need to be in calorie surplus rather than a calorie deficit.
This means it's totally okay to increase portion sizes as well as having more smaller meals during the day. However, it's important you're eating whole nutritious foods so that you're not only keeping your body at optimal health but also building lean muscle mass.
To up your calories, include more healthy starches, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, lentils, and peas, into your diet, which will help you stay fuller longer and give you the energy to get through a tough lifting session.
So next time someone asks you if you can lift and maintain a plant-based diet, you can tell them, "Hell yeah!"
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