Can you get strong on a vegan diet? Can vegetarians be bodybuilders? There are a lot of myths surrounding the meat free athlete. I'm here to tell you, YES. Yes it is possible. This weeks question was from Becky McKevit who wanted to know what to look out for as a strength athlete who is following a plant based diet.
We covered a lot in the short podcast so make sure you check it out.
Click Here To Listen To Episode CSW013.
There are some very real considerations that you need to be aware of as a meat free athlete (least of which is your protein requirements). But before we jump into the nutrition side of things, here is a short list of some other important factors to consider if you are struggling to make gains.
I cover these in detail on the podcast, and also mentioned 5 key things to be aware of nutritionally.
Vitamin B12 is found in meat, liver, shellfish, milk, poultry, cottage cheese and salmon to name but a few. A diet free from animal products could be deficient in vitamin B12. It is essential to either take foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 (cereals, grains, soya milk etc) or it is worth taking a supplement. A lack of Vitamin B12 is associated with increased risk of neurological disorders which can be irreversable, a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia which has you feel tired and weak, and insufifcient DNA methylation, potentially leading to diseases such as MS or even cancer.
Omega 3 Fats
There are 3 types of Omega 3 Fats,
Omega 3 fats are essential for cell membranes, cell function, hormone production, blood clotting, reducing inflammation, and energy prodcution. EPA and DHA are readily available in amimal based diets (oily fish etc). While in a plant based diet, ALA can be obtained through foods such as chia seeds, hemp and flaxseed oil. ALA is used by the body for energy generally, it has a poor conversion rate to DHA and EPA, so you may also want to consider taking a DHA supplement.
Iron deficiencies can lead to anemia, and if you are Vitamin B12 deficient, it will only compound the problem. So it's worth ensuring that you have a good intake of iron. Generally speaking, if you eat a varied and healthy plant based you should not have any problems, but it's worth keeping on top of this.
Iodine plays a part in your Thryoid function, which in turn controls your metabolism. Thyroid dysfunction can lead to your hyperthyroidism (too fast) and hypothyroidism (too slow). If you are on a plant based diet you want to ensure that you are including sea weed or sea vegetables/ plants in your diet or iodized salt, or you may open your self up to a host of metabolic problems.
Yes. We all know that there are 9 essential amino acids, that can be only obtained through nutrition. I'm sure that you've also heard the argument that plant based proteins are "incomplete" and that you can't possibly get enough on a meat free diet. Yes plant based proteins are "incomplete" but you don't need to had the full array in one meal. There is however one amino acid that is a limiting factor in a vegan diets. This amino acid is lysine. Tofu, tempeh, soy meats, lentils, and seitan are the highest, followed by other legume foods. Quinoa, amaranth, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds are also decent sources of lysine.
If you are eating a healthy and varied plant based diet, just make sure you rotate your proteins and you are good to go. Recommendations are 1 - 2 grams per kg of bodyweight. The higher end of the scale is recommended for those lead a more physically active lifestyle.
Wholegrains and legumes contain zinc but they are bound to phytates which impact the bioavailability.
Zinc is a powerful antioxidant, it helps fight infection and boltser the immune system. It is important for hormone levels, and testosterone prodcution in men. If you are struggling with your recovering or noticing that your endurance levels have dropped off then you certainly want to keep a watch on your zinc levels. Good sources are nuts, seeds, oatmeal, bread, tempeh, miso, multivitamin or a quality zinc supplement.
Now this is not a definitive list. But below are some useful websites dedicated to vegans, vegetarians and meat free athletes.
So now you know that it is possible to be a strength athlete on a plant based diet.