The popularity of veganism is growing and there are now around 600,000
vegans in the UK. While this amounts to just 1.16% of the population, more and more people are experimenting with vegan diets for reasons related to their health, ethics and the environment. It’s likely then that an increasing number of your clients will be vegan. The question is, are you prepared?
What Is Veganism?
In short, the definition of a vegan is “a vegetarian who eats plant products only.” Basically, someone who refrains from consuming OR using animal products and is completely against any practices that may bring harm to animals.
As a Personal Trainer – especially one that’s new to the industry – you could be forgiven for feeling slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of training vegans because their lifestyles differ so much from your “average” clients. But, fear not! There’s evidence to suggest that a well-rounded vegan diet can benefit a person’s health, such as lowering cholesterol, increasing energy and improving mood. A full vegan diet also removes animal products that can have a negative effect on cardiovascular health and fitness, something that is essential for a positive and sustainable attitude towards training. This is all great news when it comes to helping your clients to reach their goals. Of course, there are things you need to be mindful of, but we’ll address those later…
All You Need to Know About Protein
Protein is at the forefront of many nutritional strategies and for good reason, as it has a host of benefits from improving muscle growth and repair to assisting with muscle contraction and the transportation of other proteins and compounds within the body, such as haemoglobin.
Common questions that get asked when discussing the protein in vegan diets are: 1) Where does the protein come from? And 2) Is it sufficient?
For a start, let’s squash the myth that vegan diets do not provide enough protein. More than five per cent of protein can be found in almost all plant food. Therefore, as long as vegans maintain a calorie-sufficient diet, they’ll usually be consuming enough protein for their bodies to perform the basic processes, including growth and repair (very important for training!)
The question is, HOW do your vegan Personal Training clients ensure they are hitting the correct protein requirements, and, more importantly, the essential amino acids. Foods such as fruits, nuts, seeds and beans are often consumed as part of a vegan diet, but they fail to include all the essential amino acids such as leucine and lysine, which are vital for muscular development. This a common issue that a vegan encounters and can result in the individual having to consume a wide variety of foods to ensure protein numbers are met. On the surface, this isn’t a bad thing, however, if they’re still getting to grips with their new, vegan diet, they may struggle with the combinations of foods that complement one another.
For example, a diet that is incredibly high in vegetables may be limiting the essential amino acid, methionine. Foods that would complement this diet would be a variety of nuts and seeds. This is where you can really show your value as a Personal Trainer/Nutritionist – helping your clients to develop and adopt nutrition plans that suit their lifestyles and training regimes, while providing that all-important education along the way. Correcting elements of their diets before they start to impede training performance is key.
One of the other main challenges you could face is if your vegan client aims to build muscle. An issue with plant protein is that it doesn’t always provide the body with the same signal as meat products, and it doesn’t always create the same hormonal environment which prepares muscles for growth. Thankfully, there are a number of food sources – such as soy protein, tofu, lentils and pumpkin seeds – that provide all of the essential amino acids required to stimulate protein synthesis (part of the muscle-building process) and keep an individual’s protein levels elevated throughout the day. Research also supports the efficacy of plant-based-protein powders at improving recovery from training and fostering muscle hypertrophy
(increase and growth of muscle size) as part of a resistance training program. When advising your clients, we’d recommend suggesting 1.5/1.8g protein per kg of bodyweight for basic improvements in body composition.
Getting Enough Energy
Vegans are still able to drink Coca-Cola and scoff peanut butter till their hearts are content, meaning that vegan diets can be just as energy-dense as others. But, generally speaking, a vegan’s diet will contain less energy per mouthful due to the lower calorie foods they consume. Remember, fruits and vegetables account for a large percentage of their food volume, and these are mainly water.
With that said, one of the main difficulties faced by vegans who are just starting out is knowing the volume of food to consume. The amount they need to eat can look very different on a plate compared to what they’re used to. For example, the plate area for 800 calories of steak and chips is much smaller than chickpeas and cauliflower.
If your vegan client is getting insufficient energy from their food, they’ll struggle to put on muscle and will feel constantly fatigued. Their body will try to resist physical activity and instead be lethargic; the exact opposite of what you want as their Personal Trainer and certainly not conducive to achieving good results!
It’s therefore absolutely imperative that you educate your clients about calories. Be specific and let them know exactly how much food they must eat to hit their calorie count. If they’re looking or feeling a bit drowsy during sessions, the chances are they’re simply not eating enough. Although other factors, such as sleep, may also come into play.
Exercise for Vegan Clients
Training a vegan client is no different from training any other client. As always, it’s about creating effective training programmes that enable them to achieve their goals. The nutrition side of things can be a little more tricky, but it’s all part of the fun and the more you train vegan clients, the more comfortable you’ll become in this area. We should probably say that nutrition advice is best served from a qualified dietician or nutritionist, but, even if you’re not one of those, do share what you can to benefit their training and success – especially if it’s based upon first-hand experience that you know works.
Training a vegan client does require some extra thought, understanding and know-how, but the training principles remain the same. Nutrition is clearly the main difference, but, while the typical vegan diet is a long way from the “standard” Western diet, it’s not too dissimilar from the healthier menu you would usually suggest to your clients. As long your vegan clients understand the calories they need to consume and are getting enough protein alongside the other components of their diet, they’ll have all the nutrition they need to be successful in your Personal Training sessions and, importantly, see results. Good luck!
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