Fact: Humans need protein to grow, thrive and build muscle.
False: You can’t get that energy from a plant-based diet (you can with enough planning and prepping!)
Vegans can get a bit of a bad rap but there are many valid reasons that people choose this lifestyle.
It is possible to build muscle on a vegan diet, no matter what the nay-sayers say! It’s about making sure you’re meeting your nutritional requirements, and takes a little bit of extra preparation and effort. Muscle growth relies on a number of things, and while protein is definitely a major player to this, it doesn’t have to come from eating meat. Without sufficient fuel you may find yourself wilting like that old piece of celery at the back of the fridge.
Follow my tips and tricks to achieve muscle growth on a vegan diet.
Focus on your foods
It’s important to eat enough food to fuel the amount of training that you’re doing, especially if you’re getting up to all 5 levels on TIFFXO. We all know that protein is essential to build muscle, but it’s important we don’t forget about our carb intake as well, as they are required for that desired muscle build. Vegan diets require extra planning to make sure you’re not missing out on essential protein sources. It’s also REALLY important to make sure you’re still eating enough calories to sustain a healthy diet. It’s worth looking into a meal plan like on tiffxo.com to ensure your diet is well rounded and covering all of your bases.
Protein helps build muscle, help you recover from your workouts and help from keeping you from wilting. The key is to get enough protein from a wide range of sources. Your body produces some amino acids (consider them the building blocks of proteins), but there are some amino acids that your body can’t produce and we need to source them through food to keep our muscles happy and healthy. For the vegan athletes among us, TIFFXO dietitian Lisa Middleton warns to be careful to ensure right mix of amino acids, particularly leucine which is the key amino acid for muscle synthesis. It’s easy to get wrong and many still need a boost of protein supplements to get the right mix for training at the right time. Vegans often get a bit of a smack with claims they are destined to be protein deficient but that does not have to be the case. There are loads of plant-based goodies filled with protein, boost up your essential amino acids intake with a good mix of legumes, tofu, soy milk and nuts/seeds.
Try some of these protein-rich vegan meal substitutes:
- Salads: Chickpeas, kidney beans, tempeh, falafel, nuts/seeds, hummus
- Burgers and patties: Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, nuts/seeds burgers with steamed vegetables
- Pasta: Kidney beans, lentils, pesto, nutritional yeast flakes
- Grills: Tofu kebabs, tempeh
- Stir-fry: Tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds
- Casseroles and curries: Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, borlotti beans, nut butters
- Pizza: Legumes, nutritional yeast flakes, hummus
- Smoothies: Soy milk, soy yoghurt, nuts, seeds, nut butters
- Wraps: Tofu, pureed beans, hummus, nut butters
Keep an eye on your soy products too, as delish as they are you do need to take it easy, even though they deliver one of the best quality serves of protein. There is some ongoing concern about the safety of soy products and its effect on our regular hormone function. Inconsistent evidence means this choice is in your court - it is definitely worth chatting with a dietitian or your GP if soy is the right choice for you. If you do choose soy, miso, tempeh or tofu, aim to select the least processed products you can find, such as fermented tofu, or ensure your soy milk is made from whole soy beans, not soy protein isolate, which is most likely to be genetically modified (thanks but no thanks). Meat substitutes are often highly processed and loaded with sodium and preservatives so get reading with those labels.
Carbs are super essential as they help fuel you to grow them muscles. We are not to be scared of carbs! They are our primary source of fuel, so without sufficient carbs, you won’t have the energy to train your muscles. Carbs also help you recover from training and help your muscles absorb protein and grow. Look at brown rice, quinoa, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and avocado.
Lisa Middleton explains, “Calcium plays a big role all diets, and in a diet that has no dairy, you’ll need to make sure you’re looking into other ways to keep those bones nice and strong. Embrace naturally calcium-rich foods like kale, bok choy, almonds, figs and navel oranges. Vitamin D plays an important role in absorbing calcium so ensure you’re consuming fortified foods like orange juice and getting a properly decent amount of sunlight per day.”
Please speak to your doc about calcium supplements to make sure you’re getting enough.
Watch out for deficiencies
If you’re regularly achieving a high shine on a vegan diet, it’s important you listen to your body. If you finding that you're tired, having trouble sleeping, having issues completing workouts and just feeling a little off, it is worthwhile tweaking your diet.
There is a lot of iron found in plant foods, but it can be difficult for the body to absorb on its own. Skimping or missing out on any iron is non negotiable for your body, especially when you’re wanting to build muscle. You may need to top up with iron supplements, and this is something to check with your doctor to review your iron levels. Some great sources of iron include legumes, sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens. Vitamin C helps iron absorption in a big way so make your way towards foods like broccoli, citrus and red capsicum.
Zinc promotes proper growth and development across the whole body, with its best sources generally coming from animal products. The best way to get your zinc fill is through pumpkin and sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts or macadamias, otherwise Lisa suggests you see an accredited practising dietitian if unsure of your individual needs and to make sure you’re getting enough.
It may be worth exploring plant proteins as well.
- Soy: Protein-packed, incredibly low in fat and cholesterol. Soy generally offers more flavor options than other proteins, but read your labels carefully
- Pea: Pea protein is high in protein, easy to digest, cholesterol-free, and has a solid branched-chain amino acid profile.
- Hemp: Hemp seeds are packed with Omega-3s and high in magnesium and iron, as well as a solid protein content as well as one serving holding half of your daily dose of fibre.
Have regular feeding times
Eat every few hours so that your body has the fuel and energy it needs to function at its best. Spread your protein intake out across all your meals and snacks during the day for ultimate absorption. Make sure you don’t skip any meals as it will lead to muscle breakdown. Pre and post workout meals are important to help your muscles grow, to help give you energy for the workout and for your muscles to replenish after.
Make yourself accountable and keep track to make sure you’re eating enough of the right foods. Keep a diary, tell a friend or share with my TIFFXO Ninjas in our Community. Make sure you’re choose high volume, nutrient dense foods, chockers of protein and the right carbs. Plant-based sources of protein like beans and whole grains are high in fibre, keeping you you fuller longer. Ensure each meal is balanced with fibre, protein rich foods and veggies and you’ll be supporting your muscle recovery and growth. Always listen to your body and if you’re not feeling 100%, chat to a doc or a nutritionist and you’ll be back on track in no time.
You will find my TIFFXO Vegetarian meal plans are easily adapted to vegan needs, and my Ninjas in my community are a wealth of knowledge for swap ideas too!