Transforming Your Body on a Plant-Based Diet
Following a plant-based diet may mean you are vegetarian, vegan or just avoid meat or animal products for personal, ethical or health reasons. To maintain and build muscle, getting plenty of protein is very important, and this can become quite a challenge if you follow a plant-based diet. You should aim to consume at least 2 grams of protein per kilo (2.2lbs) of body-weight per day. That’s 120g (4.25oz) of daily protein if you weigh 60kg (132lbs). The easiest way to get this is to eat a whole source of protein with each meal.
On the other hand, to get lean, you need to restrict carbohydrates to some degree.
Removing animal products makes it a little difficult to get enough protein, without the added carbohydrates that go along with vegetarian food sources – this is why it can be challenging to achieve that lean, muscular/athletic look on a plant-based diet. Vegetarian protein choices such as legumes and quinoa are naturally high in carbohydrates, but are a necessity for consuming the required protein intake. Not to mention the increase in other carbohydrates (fruit, wheat products, etc.) that replace animal products in plant-based meals. Unless you are extremely active (think triathletes and endurance runners), you simply don’t need (and your body won’t use) the amount carbohydrates in your diet that you would consume.
A plant-based diet consists of mostly vegetables, legumes, fruits and fats. Meat, poultry or fish are generally excluded but some may consume eggs and dairy depending on how strictly you are following a plant-based diet. There are a number of types of plant-based diets:
- Lacto-ovo Vegetarians eat eggs & dairy, but no animal flesh
- Lacto Vegetarians eat dairy, but no eggs and no animal flesh
- Ovo Vegetarians eat eggs, but no dairy and no animal flesh
- Vegans eat no eggs, no dairy, no animal flesh and no honey (strictly plant-based)
It has been said that these diets can be healthier because they are high in fruits and vegetables and lower in starated fats and cholestoral found only in animal products. While there certainly are some benefits and most people should definitely eat more vegetables and fruit, there are definitely some draw-backs too.
So let’s see what issues following a plant-basd diet, such as vegetarians and vegans may face:
As stated earlier, due to the fact that it’s difficult to eat enough protein on a vegetarian diet, without the carbohydrates that go along with it, fat gain is often the result. For someone transitioning to a plant-based diet, it is very easy to just increase your carbohydrate and fat intake to replace the protein, without realising it. Many vegetarian recipes are high in carbs and fats, very often both together.
Plant-based diets tend to rely heavily on soy to get enough protein. Some types of soy are high in phytoestrogens, a female hormone. Eating soy in small quantities is ok, but excess intakes is believed to cause infertility, cancer and heart diseases. It is very common to find women who suffer from thyroid issues are advised by professionals to avoid soy in their diet due to the possible side-effects of excess intake. Not only this, but the soy bean is a big problem in the US with most of the crops made from GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms), which is believed to be the reason behind related health issues. If you are going to consume soy products it’s always best to choose organic soy. Check the label and make sure the product is registered with a governing body, don’t just trust the name of a product!
Lower testosterone levels
Women need testosterone too! Saturated fat and cholesterol (mainly found in animal products), increase testosterone levels which benefits body composition (muscle to fat ratio), strength, energy levels and libido. This is not to say a high amount of saturated fat is needed, becuase it should be consumed in a limited amount, but when ALL saturated fat is eliminated, it can become an issue. Of course, cholestorol can be found in egss, so this may be avoided depending on the type of plant-based diet you consume.
Here’s an example of how to get your daily protein if you’re a vegetarian:
If you’re Lacto, Ovo or Lacto-ovo vegetarian, consuming eggs, milk, natural yoghurt, cottage cheese and whey are great options. Other protein sources would be:
- Beans (black, garbanzo, hummus, kidney, fava, mung, lima)
- Legumes (lentils, peas, peanuts, peanut butter – did you know peanuts are not actually true nuts?)
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachio, cashew, brazil)
- Seeds (sesame, pumpkin, hemp, flax, LSA)
- Milk (soy milk, almond milk, yoghurt)
- Organic soy products (soy beans, tofu, tempeh, deli-style soy meats, soy cheese, soy yoghurt, Ladybird Protein Crunch)
- Whole grains (brown rice, rice flakes, oats, bread)
- Quinoa (quinoa is not actually a grain as many believed initially, it is a form of seed and has been found to be a complete protein, meaning that it contains the 9 essential amino acids only found previously in animal products – so this is a great protein choice for vegetarians, plus it’s gluten and wheat free!)
- Vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, spinach, kale)
- Protein powder (soy protein, hemp protein, rice protein, pea protein)
There are also various products on the market especially for vegetarian bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts, such as breakfast cereals made from soy and rice. Soy protein bars can also be an option if time is limited, but limit these for emergency use only as they are often full of sugar and excess carbohydrates (again – it’s very important to choose organic soy products where possible).
Following a plant-based diet can also see you spending a LOT more time in the kitchen, legumes and other food choices can mean more cooking/preparation time. However it is possible to find some great pre-made vegetarian/vegan products for quick and easy meals… but be careful of all the additives! Look in the frozen or cold section of your supermarket OR visit a health food store that specialises in different types of foods for health and allergy reasons as they usually have the best range. You can find all natural, high protein vegetarian burgers, sausages, faux meats and other items. Choose wisely when buying these items, and ensure you check the protein intake per serving and look for minimal ingredients. Don’t buy ‘crumbed’ burgers or high carb/high fat options.
Here’s an example diet for a vegetarian that works to keep your body fat within healthy ranges. Adjust calories to suit your own individual circumstances.
- Breakfast: Whole egg omelet with spinach, tomato and mushrooms (beans on whole grain or rye toast if vegan)
- Snack: Grated apple, yoghurt and almonds (omit yoghurt if vegan)
- Lunch: Tofu or tempeh, legumes and vegetables
- Post workout or snack: Milk with whey and banana or cottage cheese and berries (rice, pea or soy protein with almond milk and banana if vegan)
- Dinner: Soy burger with mixed beans and vegetables
- Before bed: Cottage cheese, berries, LSA or flax meal (rice, pea or soy protein with berries and LSA if vegan)
To sum up: Vegetarians and vegans often struggle with their body fat because these diets are generally higher in carbohydrates and fat. Be sure to plan your diet if lean muscle gain or fat loss is your priority.
If you want to get stronger, build muscle and lose fat, I believe the best way to do so is via an omnivore diet (both plants and animals). Of course many have ethical or moral issues with this, so ultimately the choice is yours.
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