According to The Vegan Society, the number of vegan Brits quadrupled between 2014 and 2018, rising from 150,000 to 600,000, with other reports suggesting there could now be as many as £3.5 million vegans in the UK. What’s more, sign-ups for Veganuary – where people go vegan for the month of January – doubled in 2019, with 250,000 people getting involved. In the midst of a vegan boom, Martin Hamer, Tutor for The Training Room, takes a look at how a vegan diet can be both beneficial and challenging to an individual’s body composition goals and fitness aspirations.
What’s a Vegan?
In short, the definition of a vegan is “a vegetarian who eats plant products only.” Basically, this is someone who refrains from consuming or using animal products and is completely against any practices that may bring harm to animals.
Veganism and The Fitness Industry
Within the fitness industry, there are many hotly debated topics, and the vegan diet is no exception. Hopefully, this article will give you opinions from both sides and allow you to make an educated decision on your own nutritional choices and practices, while also providing information and insights you can use to support your clients on their health and fitness journeys.
Pros of a Vegan Diet
When following a vegan diet, many people have outlined a number of health benefits such as lowering of cholesterol, increased energy and improved mood. One common theme that occurs regarding nutrition when following a vegan diet is protein consumption and where this protein will come from.
Protein is at the forefront of many nutritional strategies and for good reason: 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.
The good news for vegans is that there are a number of food sources that provide all the essential amino acids required to stimulate protein synthesis (part of the muscle building process). Sources such as soy protein, tofu, chickpeas and buckwheat contain many of the amino acids to ensure the individual is keeping protein levels elevated throughout the day. I would recommend aiming for 1.5/1.8g protein per kg of bodyweight for basic improvements in body composition.
Another benefit of following this vegan approach is related to the biopsychosocial model for health and wellness. By going vegan, you become part of a new community with other like-minded people where you have the potential to make new connections and friends. This can help improve someone’s cognitive function, mood and overall productivity.
A Delicious Whole Food Vegan Meal
Add a handful of buckwheat pasta to green salad and sprinkle with hemp seeds. Top this with strips of baked tofu and accompany with a vegan dipping sauce of your choice. Packed full of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, this is a healthy and well-balanced meal that I think you’ll love.
Cons of a Vegan Diet
As mentioned, there are two sides to every story and adopting a vegan approach to improve health and wellness is no different. The main argument here is the amount of education required on the individual’s behalf to 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 via this approach, but they fail to include all the essential amino acids such as leucine and lysine which are vital for muscular development.
This results in the individual having to consume a wide variety of foods to ensure protein numbers are hit. This, on the surface, is not a bad thing, however, if they are not educated within this area, they may struggle with what combinations of foods complement each other.
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. So, the main issue here is that individuals (your clients) may not possess the correct knowledge to ensure their diet is full of complete proteins. As well as this, a diet that must be extremely varied may also have financial implications which could be another limiting factor to this approach. However, when someone feels strongly enough about something – and it speaks to their moral compass – they’ll usually find a way to make it work.
Veganism is becoming a huge topic within the fitness industry, creating plenty of discussion around whether or not people should begin to adopt a vegan approach for improved health and wellness. This article is just the tip of the iceberg, covering a few basic points on the arguments for and against this strategy, but, as the famous saying goes, “methods there are millions, principles there are few, identify the key principles and you can apply any method you want.”
To conclude, here are number of key principles for vegans to follow, regardless of whether they’re looking to pack on muscle or lose a few pounds:
- Adherence is key
- Keep protein intake high
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Avoid processed foods
- Adopt sleep and recovery strategies
- Don’t have tunnel vision - what works for you may not be suitable for someone else
Whether you’re a vegan or not, a balanced diet, dedication to your exercise and nutritional programmes, and striking a balance between work and rest, remain the key factors to fuelling a successful exercise habit. Good luck!