One of the most often asked questions I get from readers is about protein in a Plant-based diet. If you have been around the blog world, or read books like The China Study, The Food Revolution, Thrive, etc., then you should know that we do not necessarily need the Un-Godly amount of protein we all have been programmed believe. Also, that with a plant-strong diet, with plenty of whole foods, we should get the proper amount of protein, from those plants.
I don’t like to put labels on myself, I don’t see a point. For me, my eating habits have evolved into a plant-dominant diet. I am not a vegan, a vegetarian, raw foodist, etc. However, I do try and make sure 80-90% of the foods that I eat are as CLOSE to their natural state as possible. I feel this is what’s going to help me reach optimal health and longevity.
I believe in intuitive eating , listening to what your body needs, not depriving yourself. I don’t think you should eat cheesesteaks every day, but try and figure out what nutrients you are missing, that is making you crave what you crave. Your body is smart, and it craves the vitamins and minerals you get from WHOLE FOOD sources, and when we eat refined, processed foods, we are essentially eating empty calories, so we continue to crave until our body gets some sort of nutrition. Would you rather stuff yourself on garbage, feeling terrible after you ate it, and hungry again a hour or so later…or an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy grains, feeling satisfied, vibrant and healthy?
Back to the topic at hand….so, you’re eating a healthy vegetarian diet (notice, I emphasize the “healthy” because you can absolutely eat an unhealthy veg diet)–you’re working out, and you can’t seem to get that “lean & cut” “fitness” body you are going for. Some complain that a vegan diet may make them look too skinny, or with a loss of muscle tone…which is what I am focusing on–muscle on your body, for optimal fitness, you want to have a dominance of lean mass.
There are SO many factors involved in this. I will start with something you may not like…that EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT. No one size fits all protocol for this one.
If we are talking SOLELY about your physique on a plant-based diet, I will start with the fact that I don’t want anyone to try and get too hung up on how they look, but I do understand, if you legitimately are exercising, eating healthy, and feel you are not seeing results…but please note, there is a fine line between constructively finding what works for you body, and poor body image & obsessing (I spoke about my struggles in my Op Beautiful post last week). This subject it something I get asked often, so I wanted to give me take on it.
Some of you reading may be omnivores, others flexitarians, and others strict vegans. Your reasoning may also vary…animal rights, health, disease, sustainability, personal preference….whatever it may be, I am not judging. This post today is directed strictly from a fitness nutrition standpoint.
In fitness nutrition courses I’ve taken in the past, they described protein as follows: “if it didn’t have a face, it’s not a protein”. Barbaric, I know. They taught me to count exchanges, which is a protocol used by the ADA to help control and prevent diabetes. Anything with 15 grams of carbohydrates counts as one “exchange.” Foods such as beans and grains have a higher carbohydrate count, so they are considered “carb exchanges” not protein exchanges. I was very interested to hear what the RD teaching the course had to say about vegetarian diets, and even personally emailed him to get more insight for this post (he is an RD and ex competitive natural body builder)–but never heard back
This particular fitness nutrition course taught us that depending on a persons size, gender, lean mass, activity level, you would determine how many exchanges of carbs and protein they would need per day. Protein recommendations were anywhere from 2.3-2.9 grams per kg of lean mass/ a day. Cho was 1.00 gram per pound of body weight. Most of the time, this left people with a very high protein diet for fitness.
According to Brenda Davis, R.D. who wrote “Becoming Vegan” you only need about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight–and that our diets should be high carbohydrates, Brendan Brazier concurs. When I say a high carb diet, I mean fruits, veggies, and healthy grains…not breads, pastas and cookies–obvi. Thrive gets into a lot about balancing out the pH balance of your body (which, ironically, one of the course I took strongly suggested that the acid/alkaline theory was not legit)–I liked Thrive, and liked the overall concept of a healthier you, making the foods you eat, your lifestyle and exercise routine work with your body to tap into your ultimate potential. I highly recommend you pick it up!
However, with this lower protein diet, how are we supposed to build muscle, and achieve that “cut” look from all the exercise and weight lifting we are doing?
here are the factors involved:
not eating the right foods
not enough calories
unknown food allergy’s
too high of portions of the wrong foods
It’s ALL about whats working with YOUR body. You need to experiment…this is something I do with my clients –it can be a process. Sometimes its finding the right foods, other times it overcoming emotional barriers, and others is may be getting your exercise routine down to a science. This is why I can not give you a generalized answer to this question, only the tools to start your own personal investigation.
For instance, Kelsey from Snacking Squirrel talks on her blog about how she was in a strict vegetarian diet for 3 years– Kelsey ALWAYS fills up her plate with fresh, healthy veggies at each meal –but when she started incorporating local, organic meats into her diet, her skin cleared up, and she lost some weight, and felt much better than when she was eating no meat.
You probably have heard the same story from people who switched to a Raw Vegan Diet, right?
I understand there are many people out there not willing to or simply can not adapt eggs, fish or any animal based foods into your diet….so that approach will not work for you.
Averie , from Love Veggies and Yoga has a competed in womens natural fitness competitions–she eats a high raw vegan diet, and has said many times how she does it without eating too much protein powder.She talks about her take on protein and competing, here .
Vegan Bodybuilding dot com has an example diet , that looks almost identical to the type of diet the fitness course I spoke of earlier taught us to design, however, the difference is, it’s vegan.
From looking at the diet, I am assuming that the rules are something I had lived by for many years:
Eat every 3 hours, no matter what
Have a protein, carb and fat at every meal
Eat portions that are right for your body (which doesn’t really apply to following the “sample” diet)
Overall, I suggest that you start experimenting. It can be tough for some people eating a vegetarian or vegan diet for fitness…I feel overall, even without the fitness factor, you need to be somewhat educated on nutrition when starting a plant-based diet. Not because a plant-based diet is wrong, but because in our society today, it’s hard enough eating healthy, and meat & dairy are EVERYWHERE, in our schools, restaurants, everywhere–and everyone has it grilled in their head a balanced meal should have a big slab of meat on the plate. So, the easier and economically sound pattern to fall in for vegetarians to fall into are eating lots of pastas, processed soy foods and other refined grains– and not enough veggies and fruits and healthier grains. Even in a raw foods diet, the biggest roadblock I have heard from clients is eating too many natural sugars, dehydrated treats and healthy fats–so it’s finding what works for YOU, and being balanced in whatever lifestyle you choose.
Other road blocks include having food allergies, many people are going through life feeling fatigue, holding on the inflammation, and don’t even know a difference!
My friend, Jennifer from Evolving Well had experienced this–she found out she had many food allergies and had to stop eating foods she enjoyed, and it changed her life….now she is healthier and more vibrant than ever.
I will talk about this subject again in future posts, sources of plant-based protein (like hemp!). I will also be examining things like raw foods diet, and Ayurveda, like the beautiful Katharina from “Oh One More Thing” successfully follows, and finds it works for her!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Have you seen a change in your body since adapting a certain approach that has worked wonders for you? Are you someone that still has not found what works best?
Are you a vegetarian, vegan that finds it difficult to eat for health, versus fitness?
Do you eat a lot of tofu and processed soy? If not, do you feel satisfied eating mostly plants and grains, and staying creative while doing so?
Omnivores, have you tried eating a plant-based diet, and feel much better incorporating animal protein?
Hope you have a great day!!! Catch you guys on the flip side