The Verdict is In : Muscles Don’t Need Meat!
What is up, all of my lovely peeps!? I’m taking a minute today to write about something that I don’t talk about a lot. (On purpose) And that thing is…. drumroll… being Vegan. Ugh, welp, that’s out there. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say right off the bat that I am what I call “dirty vegan”. Many people have difficulty distinguishing the difference between “vegan” and “vegetarian”. Here’s the diff. Vegetarian = No meat. Vegan = No animal products at all, whatsoever. This includes dairy. The term “dirty vegan” refers to someone who is vegan most of the time, but will occasionally make an exception with eggs or dairy. I prepare all of my food at home completely vegan. The recipes I post here are 100% vegan. However, if I go out to eat and there is butter in something, I’m not going to throw a hissy fit. Because, well… you just can’t always do that. And let me also state that if I find myself on a farm, where I see the farmer gently collecting milk and see the chickens roaming free and sitting on their nests, I have ZERO problem with consuming the eggs and milk that comes from this, but most of you probably (at least slightly) know… that’s not what happens before these things hit the shelf at your local grocery store. I have had people say to me, “I’m vegetarian, too! I don’t eat any red meat, but I still eat chicken and fish.” At the risk of sounding condescending… PEOPLE! STOP! PLEASE! Look up “vegetarian” in the dictionary because I’m pretty sure chicken and fish are still meat. Like, that’s not even a gray area. The term “pescatarian” actually refers to someone who does not eat other meats, but still eats fish. There is your Biology 101 lesson for the day. Anyway… I digress…
The reasons for my lifestyle choices are many, and that’s a post for another day. But coming from a family where, if you can’t go out back and shoot it or chop its head off yourself, it ain’t food… Let’s just say I have grown accustomed to not always being understood. I am, however grateful and extremely blessed that my family tries so hard to accommodate and accept my personal choices. However, I just moved to the South about a year and a half ago, where “vegan” feels like a bad word. I cannot tell you how many times I have been sick ALL night because someone said there were no animal products in something, when they clearly didn’t know… Or, I’ve requested something with no meat and it comes back with bacon in it… What??? Okay I get it… I’m the minority. So, I try to keep my personal food preferences to myself and of course you all, when sharing recipes. I also have learned to eat at home most of the time. However, after soooo many questions/comments of “how”, “why”, and “I could never”, I think it’s high time to answer some of these concerns. The biggest being how I’m able to maintain my training and build muscle when I don’t eat meat… I mean, “Where do I get my protein!!?” (My personal fave.) So, let’s talk about it!
Seriously, does this guy look malnourished?
If you still think vegans have a hard time being fit and healthy, it’s time for an update. Check out these links to read about how we’re smashing world records in endurance and weight lifting, winning bodybuilding competitions, and taking home UFC titles. Yep, the verdict is in: Muscles don’t need meat.
The question is not if you can improve muscle and performance on a vegan diet but how. That’s where I come in. Sports nutrition has a lot of complicated factors, but probably the most important is the post-workout meal. Basically, your workout is tearing up your muscle fibers, so that when your body repairs them, they come back bigger and stronger. Here’s how I explain it to a beginner: Imagine your muscles are like your skin. If you cut your skin, it repairs itself. But, the skin that comes back is scar tissue, which is stronger and thicker. Now, imagine that you have to “cut up” your muscles so that scar tissue muscle can grow back. Not exactly the same, but its a good explanation to provide a visual. So, how do you repair what your tore up during your workout so that it can rebuild bigger and stronger?
Rachel Berman, a registered dietician and director of health content at About.com says, “A mix carbs to protein has been proven to be really efficient for replenishing amino acids and repairing the muscle that’s been broken down during strength training.” During exercise, you use up your glycogen (the energy stored in your muscles). After sweating it out, carbs will help to replenish this energy, and the protein enhances this process, explains Elizabeth Jarrard, a dietician who consults for my favorite plant-based supplement company Vega.
But of course it’s not just that simple or we could eat anything, right? Protein and carbs aren’t all we need after a workout. “While exercise suppresses inflammation in the long run, the act of exercise damages your muscles,” which can actually create inflammation. Sort of confusing, I know. “That’s why it’s always a good idea to include foods that support inflammation reduction, like those rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids,” Jarrard says. “But that said, you don’t want too much fat in the post-workout meal, because it’ll slow your digestion.” So, carbs and a decent amount of protein (I shoot for around 20 grams with BCAA’s), lots of antioxidants, and little fat. We can do that!
The next time you want to feed and replenish your muscles in a non-animal harming manner, here are a few ideas for post-workout meals I can recommend:
- Soba Noodles – Made from buckwheat, soba noodles are a complete protein. Pair them with teriyaki mushrooms for a rich, satisfying, meaty dimension, as well as broccolini and chilis, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Lentils – Lentils have about 2.2 grams of carbs for every gram of protein. Combine them with tomatoes and spinach for added vitamins and minerals, for about 12 grams of protein per serving.
- Steel-cut Oats – Steel-cut oats are an awesome choice. But that prep time, right? Ah! That’s where the magic of the slow cooker comes in. Oh, how I love my slow cooker! Add a combo of cocoa powder, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, and cherries, which help reduce post-workout muscle soreness for super yummy post workout meal.
- Chickpeas – Chickpeas have almost no fat, which makes them a great choice for refueling post-workout. Throw on some spinach and lime juice to provide Vitamin C and help your body absorb the muscle-friendly iron in the chickpeas.
- Mexican Quinoa – Mexican food is great in an animal-friendly diet! It’s mostly beans, peppers, onions, and antioxidant-rich herbs. You just have to make/order it without cheese, and make sure the beans and tortillas aren’t prepared with lard. BUT… when you skip the tortilla altogether and substitute quinoa – which, when combined with protein-rich black beans, you’re doing even better!
- Pea Soup – Pea protein is quickly becoming a popular supplement for vegans and non-vegans alike due to its high levels of branch chain amino acids (we’ve talked about the importance of these in previous posts) and the fact that it’s lactose and gluten free, making it easy to digest and allergy friendly. Throw in some antioxidants-rich asparagus, spinach, and/or garlic, and bon appetite!
- Chia Seeds – These tiny seeds are a complete protein, and although they may contain more fat than the ideal post-workout snack (about twice as much fat as there is protein), they’re still a good choice. More than half of the fats are omega-3 fatty acids, which make them a terrific anti-inflammatory food. Try mixing them with hummus, sunflower seeds, avocado, and tomatoes in a sandwich to give your PB&J a rest for one day!
- Green Smoothie – My personal go-to. What post-workout meal is complete without a protein shake? Smoothies are a really easy way to cram a ton of foods with different health benefits into something easy and great on-the-go. When you include ingredients like apple, ginger (which has anti-inflammatory properties), calcium-rich kale and parsley, it helps with fat loss and boosting muscle-building testosterone. It’s tough to nail down an exact macronutrient ratio for a shake since it depends largely on the kind of protein powder you use, so it’s worth experimenting with different recipes to find your favorite combo.
- Edamame – those soybeans you eat before sushi – are about equal parts protein and carbs. Create a salad with a vibrant combination of broccoli, peas, and raisins for a satisfying yet light meal.
- Black Bean Chili – No meat does not equal no chili! Black beans have fewer than 3 grams of carbs for every gram of protein, which just means you have a license to indulge by adding something warm and comforting, like sweet potato to the mix.
These are just a few suggestions to [hopefully] help you realize that it is possible to train hard and build muscle, strength and endurance on a vegan diet. Of course there are many, many more options and it gets easier when you’ve had some practice experimenting with what works for you. Some people prefer a higher protein content than carbs or vice versa. You have to find what works for your individual body, but this is a decent starting point. Here are some other plant-based sources of protein:
In fact, do you want to know the #1 Plant-Based source of protein per 100 grams of weight? My first guess was Almonds, but that’s incorrect. PUMPKIN SEEDS!!! I know, right? Your mind is blown. I keep these things in a container in my glove compartment of my car and snack whenever I’m hungry and/or stuck in traffic. Which is every day in Atlanta… ugh. Take a look at the chart below to help you gauge which protein-rich ingredients to add to your shopping list. A lot of which are snacks you can keep handy when it’s not really feasible to make an entire meal:
Feel free to drop me a comment. Let me know if there are any other questions you’ve wrestled with when contemplating cutting back on animal products.
Until next time!