As I’m sure you’re aware, veganism is becoming more and more popular every day and Veganuary 2021 is boasting the largest sign-ups on record – with over half a million in the UK taking part!
Despite this popularity and the fact that some of the most successful athletes in the world have gone vegan (Lewis Hamilton, Venus Williams and David Haye for example), there is still plenty of negativity surrounding training as a vegan.
Much of this negativity is based on misconceptions and myths, so we’re going to debunk the most common myths for you & separate the facts from the fiction.
I’m sure you’ve heard of this one – it’s perhaps the most common myth of them all, but it is also the most incorrect!
Of course, cutting out meat and dairy does mean you are removing excellent sources of protein from your diet, but there are plenty of high protein, plant based foods that can be consumed instead.
Beans, lentils, chickpeas and tofu are all excellent sources of protein while also boosting your micronutrient intake too. What’s more, some of these plant based sources actually contain more protein per calorie than meat!
You’ll find that there is arguably a wider range of plant based protein sources too, with whole grains, nuts and seeds also great options.
Anyone looking to build muscle should be consuming approximately 1 g protein per pound of bodyweight and to achieve this, most of us will be taking some kind of protein supplement to increase our intake. This is no different for vegans, a high quality protein shake such as our Vegan Wondershake can be taken to boost that protein intake, just the same as a milk based protein shake.
As long as vegans maintain a healthy diet and eat the right foods, it is absolutely possible to get enough protein to support training!
There are two parts to this misconception / myth.
Firstly, the initial concern is that while animal products contain all 9 essential amino acids (these are essential because we cannot produce them ourselves and therefore must be consumed in our diet), plant based proteins can miss or be extremely low in some of these.
Fortunately, if one source is low in an essential amino acid, another plant based protein will be high in it. For example, beans are high in lysine and low in methionine but the opposite is true for grains.
So as long as you get your protein from a variety of sources across the day, it will not hinder muscle growth or training adaptation.
The second misconception regarding protein quality relates to the amount of leucine in plant based sources, which is an amino acid that is widely considered to be the predominant driving force in muscle growth and repair.
It is in fact true, that most plant based sources contain less leucine per gram of protein compared to animal sources.
However, research comparing plant based and omnivorous diets has shown that adaptation and recovery is the same when overall leucine intake is matched – so vegans simply need to increase their daily protein intake slightly compared to non-vegans to achieve the same results!
For some reason, there is a myth that vegan athletes may not recover optimally as a direct result of nutrition.
However the opposite is true, balanced vegan diets are abundant in phytonutrients and antioxidants – far greater than in animal based foods.
Antioxidants are especially helpful for recovery as they fight oxidative stress and reduce exercise induced muscle damage, which causes inflammation, soreness and fatigue 24 – 74 hours post exercise.
By consuming plenty of antioxidants, your body is likely to recover faster which means a sooner return to training and therefore a greater training stimulus.
This myth has multiple implications, as some people go vegan in an attempt to lose weight while others might avoid going vegan for fear of losing weight.
Now, vegan or not, the principles of weight loss haven’t changed – if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.
It can be easier to lose weight on a vegan diet though, as there are plenty of nutritious but low calorie foods that keep you feeling fuller for longer and ultimately reduce snacking. However though, there are lots of unhealthy, fatty vegan foods too, so be careful.
If you are cautious of losing weight due to your training goals, don’t be, 2500 calories of vegan foods is the same as 2500 calories of animal based foods!
The truth is that a vegan diet can be employed no matter your training goals as long as your calories are correct.
This comes from the notion that vegan diets do not provide all the nutrients required for good health, quoting deficiencies and poor energy levels.
Now this is because a vegan diet does not necessarily mean a healthy diet, just how like an omnivorous diet can be unhealthy.
A balanced, healthy vegan diet should contain all the micronutrients you require and thus have no impact on hunger or tiredness. Other than perhaps the first few days while your body is adjusting to the new diet, you may feel even more energized!
The only exception to this concerns vitamin B12 and iodine, which are predominantly found in animal products & deficiencies are quite common and can lead to feelings of tiredness and fatigue.
While this is unfortunate, there are plenty of B12 fortified foods and vegan vitamin B12 supplements out there that you can take daily to completely negate this issue.
Firstly, its important to note that this article is not advising that a vegan diet is better than any other diet, especially as omnivorous diets can include plenty of plant based foods to reap any rewards that they may provide.
However for those of you that are considering going vegan, you do not need to worry about most of the negative connotations associated with a plant based diet as much of them lack any scientific evidence and are simply incorrect!
As long as you have a healthy, balanced diet, training as a vegan is no different to regular training aside from the potential increased recovery and energy levels.
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