'Where do you get your protein?' is a common question put to the growing tribe of vegan bodybuilders. Such athletes are challenging long-held cultural assumptions that animal foods are needed to build muscular physiques. For these Gods and Goddesses, meat, fish, fowl, dairy and eggs are out. Beans, greens, grains, veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds are in.
The key to plant-powered prowess is whole foods, not processed foods. Think corn on the cob, not corn chips; potatoes, not crisps; water, not energy drinks; plus lots of fresh greens, veggies and fruits and some nuts and seeds. 'Food as grown' furnishes the body with macronutrients for energy, growth and repair; water for hydration; and micronutrients to quench free radicals, calm inflammation and enhance how the body looks, feels, performs and recovers.
According to vegan physician Michael Klaper MD, adequate plant-based calories = adequate protein because the protein is in the food (e.g. 2000 calories = 40-60g of protein). Protein-rich foods include legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and minimally processed foods like seitan, tempeh and tofu. The pseudo-grain quinoa is also a protein powerhouse. In 40 years of practising medicine Dr Klaper has never seen a case of kwashiorkor (protein deficiency), a condition resulting from severe malnutrition. Concentrated animal protein is a big problem, though. It's linked to cancer, kidney disease and other ills.
Vegan author Kathy Freston suggests 'leaning into' dietary change. Meat-eaters and vegans have different gut flora and plant foods are high in fibre, so transitioning can mean bloating and trouser trumpets! Chewing food to a cream for maximum nutrient absorption and adding probiotics and enzymes to ease digestion can help. Taking ginger bitters a half hour before you eat will also aid digestion.
Athletes and bodybuilders can tweak a plant-based diet to ensure peak performance and recovery. Some might need alkaline foods for repair, others extra protein. Yet others can influence their weight through the composition and frequency of meals.
The website of former professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier is a super resource for athletes. His 'thrive philosophy' addresses high-net-gain vegan nutrition; alkaline-forming diets for recovery; energy from nourishment, not stimulation; and allergens that might be marring progress.
A bodybuilder until injury forced his retirement, Robert Cheeke's website is a treasure trove for vegan bodybuilders. It includes comprehensive downloads on diet and training. His download for beginners includes transitioning to a plant-based diet, tweaking it for specific results (e.g. weight loss/ maintenance/ gain), and training exercises for men and women. An interesting note: in the 1950s, the greatest bodybuilders ate beans as a staple, a habit lost when steroids became commonplace. If Cheeke's website is down, check out his book, Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.
The Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness website is a comprehensive resource for men and women containing articles, bodybuilder profiles, photos, videos and more.
General supplements for vegans