Building and maintaining muscle relies on adequate and varied protein sources; so can vegan athletes, bodybuilders and physique specialists exist? Yes, they can.
"But where do you get your protein from?" That's the question most sporty, athletic vegans are tired of hearing. There’s an assumption that a vegan diet can't be rich in protein, or the full array of necessary amino acids, required for building muscle. Is this true, or can vegan athletes not just survive but thrive without meat, fish, dairy and eggs in their diet?
To celebrate World Vegan Day (1st November) we'd like to show that vegan physiques don't just exist, they’re flourishing. So if you're a vegan, or you're a personal trainer and have worked with clients who are vegan, here's some top tips on helping them achieve the physique they're after.
It’s Possible to live on a plant-based diet
There are plenty of vegan athletes out there performing at high levels in their respective sports. Mike Tyson (boxing), Brendan Brazier (Ironman triathlete), Robert Cheeke (bodybuilding), Fiona Oakes (marathon and ultra-runner), Meagan Duhamel (figure skating) and Patrik Baboumian (strongman) are just a few. There are many more amateur vegan athletes working hard in gyms and on sports fields across the world. So how exactly do all those vegan bodybuilders, powerlifters and athletes run, lift, cycle and build impressive bodies on a diet which turns its back on any animal products whatsoever?
Vegan super foods that pack a protein punch
Once you know where to find protein outside of the usual go-to foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy, it's easy to see how vegans can get adequate protein to train hard, recover well and perform at high levels in sport and even bodybuilding. Here are 10 sources of protein which, when combined properly and in the right amounts, will give vegans more than enough protein.
- Leafy greens including spinach and kale
- Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli
- Hemp - seeds, protein powders and powdered ground hemp
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Soy milk and soy protein powder
- Nut and seed butters
- Seaweed and other sea vegetables
- Pulses including lentils
- Beans including kidney, black, soy, adzuki and garbanzo
- Tofu and tempeh
Macro and micronutrient considerations for vegans
It's clear that vegans don't have to struggle in their quest for enough protein at all. However, they do need to pay attention to getting adequate amounts of all the amino acids (the building blocks of protein itself). Because vegans naturally take in a narrower range of protein-rich foods than meat eaters, pescetarians and vegetarians, they need to cleverly combine and rotate protein sources.
Combining protein sources (for example a vegan blend of rice, hemp and pea protein powder, or a dish containing vegetables and pulses) will help ensure the intake of complete proteins and all the essential amino acids throughout the day. Drinking enough water and paying attention to the intake of healthy fats will also help the body digest and absorb protein optimally. So, vegans get creative and get cooking.