Brussels & Muscles
By: Teresa Moore - MPH, NASM CPT
As a vegan bodybuilder, marathon runner, and personal trainer, I am constantly asked how it’s possible to do this much physical activity and maintain muscle mass all while eating ONLY plants. I’ve spent years living a plant-based lifestyle and I’m here to tell you it’s really not that difficult. Here are my top tips on how to switch to a vegan diet, build muscle, and keep your energy level up.
Keep Protein Intake High
You’ve heard it before and you’re going to hear it again—protein is crucial! Protein plays a number of roles in the body from muscle maintenance, growth, and repair, immune system functions, and stabilizing energy levels. These functions are especially important for active individuals utilizing more fuel (aka food) than sedentary individuals. Vegan diets are often chastised for lacking protein. In reality, this is simply not true. A word of wisdom on protein consumption: DO NOT stress about the specifics—meaning do not labor over which foods contain which amino acids. Eat a variety of foods and your body will figure the rest out. I try to vary my protein sources from meal to meal so my body gets the proper amount of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and amino acids).
Some of my favorite plant-based protein rich foods:
- Tempeh (fermented soy)
- Black beans
- Mock meats such as Beyond Meat chik’n strips or Gardein beefless crumbles
- Protein powder (favorite brand is Propello Life! Duh!)
Supplements Help Supplement, Not Fulfill
- Protein powders, pre-workouts, and BCAAs are all fabulous tools to help supplement your training but I wouldn’t recommend relying on them for overall sustainability or health.
- Protein powder is very convenient and easily absorbed by the body. Gulping down 6 scoops a day, however, isn’t going to benefit your training. I like to stick with 1 scoop of protein powder post workout since that’s when your body needs protein the most.
- All of the pre-workout in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re sleep deprived and calorie My tip for not relying on pre-workout? Sleep! Sleep is imperative for muscle recovery. A consistent sleep schedule and proper nutrient dense fuel are just as important as pushing yourself in the weight room. When you are in a pinch, one to two scoops of pre-workout should do the trick.
- BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are helpful in maintaining muscle mass while training but implementing them at every meal isn’t necessary. I typically do one scoop of Propello Life’s vegan Rejuvenating Aminos during my workout. (PRO TIP: most BCAAs are derived from duck feathers and pig fur, i.e. NOT vegan friendly. In trying to implement a plant-based diet, make sure to look for vegan BCAAs like Propello Life!)
Pay Attention to Fiber
If you’ve recently switched to a plant-based diet, you may have noticed your stomach is slightly upset. This is likely due to an increase in fiber. The typical American, meat-based diet has little to no fiber in it. In fact, the daily average for fiber intake among Americans is 15 grams per day, while the recommended intake is between 25 – 30 grams. Not surprisingly, after a sudden switch to eating foods like, say, lentils (1 cup of lentils has 16g of fiber!), your digestive system is likely to experience some sort of shock. Digestion problems make things like weight training and cardio extra uncomfortable. I recommended incorporating plant-based foods slowly and using an app like My Fitness Pal to track your fiber intake.
Pre and Post Work Out Fuel
Pre and post work out fuel is important to optimize training. For a pre-workout meal, quick digesting carbs are best. I typically do a rice cake or English muffin with peanut butter or a piece of fruit. You want the carbs to be readily available to fuel your workout. For post workout meals, protein should be the main focus, followed by carbs, and little to no fat. Fat slows down the absorption of protein so your post-workout meal should be very low in fat. I usually do a protein shake with cashew milk and puffed kamut cereal or seitan and sweet potatoes.
I hope this helps you start your plant-based transition!
Yours in Health,
Teresa Moore - MHP, NASM CPT (Personal trainer at The Fitness Loft Columbus)