So you only want to eat plants… but you also want to look lean and mean?
If this cow could be as jacked as it is simply from living on a plant-based diet, I’m sure you can too!
In order to retain muscle mass and build more lean muscle, you need to have enough protein in your diet. Whether or not you’re trying to lose weight simultaneously; in a caloric surplus or caloric deficit, you need to prioritize your protein intake. But how do you do that if you’re a vegan or even vegetarian?
A common misconception that’s had among many is that you NEED meat in order to meet your recommended daily protein intake (1-2g per kilogram of body weight, depending on your level of activity). It is admittedly easier with meat in your diet, but definitely not impossible without it.
Proteins are made out of 20 different amino acids. These are used by our bodies to build muscle and to basically keep the lights on. 9 of these cannot be produced by our bodies, so we get them through food.
Getting all 9 of these missing amino acids is very important as they each help to build and repair muscles – something highly essential in strength training – and also keep our metabolism running. Meats have all 9 in them. So if you eat a piece of chicken, you’re getting all 9 in your system. Plants or other non-animal sources (also known as incomplete protein sources) generally are missing 1 or 2. How then do we make up for it?
The above can be overcome by making good dietary choices and eating a variety of food. For example, having complex, unprocessed carbohydrates like beans, brown rice, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes along with a diverse amount of fruits and vegetables will definitely have you covered. So as long as you meet your daily caloric requirements with these plant-based foods, you’ll get all your necessary amino acids in your body. That’s right, with REAL FOOD – cookies and candy bars aren’t going to work the same way.
All in all, vegans and vegetarians alike can get plenty of protein in their diet. It just depends on what they are eating.
But why are we so focused on prioritizing protein in our diets? Because, my dear, muscles.
How does one pack on muscles on a plant-based diet?
Everyone needs at least 1-2g of protein in their daily diet per kilogram of body weight, depending on your level of activity. It is the same for meat-eaters as well as non-meat eaters. The human body’s requirements do not change regardless of your diet.
The downside of a vegetarian diet though, is that it often contains more carbohydrates than protein – and there’s no avoiding that.
Let’s examine an example:
A common source of protein for vegans is beans. For meat-eaters, it would usually be chicken.
100g of kidney beans: 8.67g of protein, 22.8g of carbohydrates, 0.5g of fat (127 calories)
100g of chicken breast: 29.55g of protein, 0g of carbohydrates, 7.72g of fat (195 calories)
(Adapted from https://www.fatsecret.com)
Of course, if you eat eggs, you have a slight advantage due to it being a great, nutritional source of protein.
But if you don’t, this means that you would have to eat a lot more beans, or alternative protein-rich plant-based foods to consume the same number of protein as it’s meat-based counterpart – In other words, a lot more carbohydrates and a whole lot more calories.
Now, carbs aren’t always the enemy, especially if you engage in strength training and need to fuel your muscles. However, if weight loss is your goal, you definitely have to be aware of your calorie intake. How now brown cow (or any vegan alternative)?
If you’re consuming more carbs to hit your daily protein intake, that’s fine. You’ll just need to eat a. lot. of. food. So bulking is not an issue. However, getting lean and ripped might post its challenges. You will then need to consume less fat, so you’re caloric count doesn’t skyrocket. If one goes up, the other has to come down.
One way to counter the possibility of increased body fat while trying to maintain your protein intake on a vegan diet is to supplement with isolated plant protein powder. This way, you can increase your protein intake naturally without the burden of excess carbs or calories.
Way to bypass that caveat!
There are several misconceptions about protein powders, but that’s for another day. I’m not exactly advocating the use of them, but it is safe to say that if taken correctly, they do have their benefits, especially if you aren’t able to eat enough food to sustain your protein requirements.
As renowned bodybuilder Korin Sutton believes, supplements are there simply to enhance nutrients derived from food, not as a complete meal replacement.
Above: Korin Sutton, Military veteran and founder of Body HD Fitness
“Vegan food is everywhere no matter where I go around the world. All fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are vegan and they have all the nutrients I need to survive and thrive.”
Female bodybuilding Samantha Shorkey is another role model for all of us, bring the first vegan World Naturals Bikini Pro ever.
The majority of her protein intake is derived from real foods such as tempeh, beans, tofu, and a vegan protein powder.
If they can do it, why can’t you?
That said, diet alone is only half your battle. Regardless of your fitness goal, you have to actually exercise to build lean muscle; And do the right kind of exercises too, that fits your body type and will help you meet your goals.