Can veganism and bodybuilding go together?
It’s a question that has foxed many people.
The question is not without basis: eliminating an entire food group may lead to many nutritional deficiencies that could potentially impede the bodybuilding process.
But a carefully formulated vegan diet for bodybuilding can address the problem of nutritional deficiency by increasing the intake of certain alternative food products.
What is veganism?
In recent years, more and more people are shifting to a plant-based diet inspired by reasons such as health benefits, prevention of animal cruelty, and environmental concerns.
Veganism is based on the same philosophy and shuns the use of all animal-based products as far as possible.
It is distinct from vegetarianism in that the latter may permit the consumption of certain animal-based foods, excluding meat, such as eggs and dairy products.
Veganism studiously avoids consumption of all animal-origin foodstuffs including egg, milk, cheese, yogurt and honey.
Veganism, proteins, and muscle-building
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle.
A bodybuilder must consume copious amounts of protein so that the body can build new muscles, and repair those that are damaged from exercise and training.
But this becomes an issue for vegan bodybuilders as plant-based diet is generally low in protein.
In traditional diet, protein is derived from animal-based foods such as meat, eggs and milk.
Plant-based proteins tend to be of inferior quality, requiring bodybuilders to plan their diet carefully to make up for the resulting deficiency.
Measures to address the problem include increasing the intake of certain protein-rich vegetal foods such as legumes, soy, and quinoa to compensate for the dietary shortfall.
Intake of micronutrients
Shunning all animal-based foods may also lead to the deficiency of iron, calcium, zinc, omega-3s, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D in the body.
As in the case of protein, athletes need to ensure sufficient intake of these micronutrients through the increased consumption of substitute food items.
A good diet plan based on a compensatory nutrition regimen will allow the body to obtain all the necessary nourishment while staying true to the vegan principle.
Vegan foods for bodybuilders
A good vegan diet for bodybuilding makes provision for adequate protein, micronutrient, and calorie intake while simultaneously avoiding all animal-based food products.
It is specially tailored to result in muscle gain by encouraging the intake of certain protein-rich foodstuffs.
Below is a list of important plant-based food items to include in your meals to ensure adequate muscle gain from a bodybuilding perspective.
This is followed by a list of foodstuffs to avoid if you are sincere about achieving your bodybuilding goals.
Beneficial food items
1. Soy-based products: These include soybean, soy powder, soy milk, tofu, edamame etc. Soy is an important plant-based protein source. It also contains nutrients such as folate, copper, manganese, phosphorus, thiamine and iron that are beneficial to the human body.
2. Legumes: Legumes such as black beans, adzuki beans, kidney beans, fava beans, chickpea and lentils are a rich source of protein and micronutrients.
3. Healthy oils: Olive oil, hempseed oil, and avocado oil are some examples of wholesome oils that supply the body with healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
4. Nutritional yeast: Frequently used in vegan cooking, nutritional yeast is a complete protein containing all 9 essential amino acids and a rich amount of B vitamins.
5. Seeds: Certain seeds such as hempseeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acid compounds.
6. Spirulina: Spirulina, a cyanobacteria (a type of microorganism that is related to bacteria but is capable of photosynthesis), is a highly regarded nutritional supplement rich in protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, Vitamin C etc. It is also believed to promote gut health and speed up metabolism.
7. Fruits and vegetables: These supply the body with important nutrients that are critical for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
8. Whole grains: Grains such as whole wheat, whole oats, brown rice, amaranth etc. supply the body with carbs, proteins, and a host of important micronutrients.
The above is only an indicative list. Besides these, there are several other food items you may include after consulting a dietician. Ask your dietician to create a customized food chart taking into account your health condition and fitness goals. You may also choose to supplement your meals with vegan protein powders.
Foods to avoid
Apart from animal-based foods, you should avoid all types of junk food for the best results. Stay away from all kinds of processed food including mock meats and cheese.
Pros and cons
A vegan diet is a heart-friendly diet that reduces the risk of chronic cardiac ailments by lowering the intake of cholesterol and saturated fats, and increasing the intake of dietary fibre.
It is helpful in controlling body weight and is known to prevent certain kinds of cancer.
On the negative side, there is increased risk of certain nutrient deficiencies but these can be addressed through careful diet planning.
High fibre intake—the natural consequence of a plant-based diet—may also lead to bloating, flatulence, stomach pain, and other digestive issues. Drinking adequate water is one way to take care of the problem.
Consult a physician or dietician if you start suffering from health problems.
Seek professional help
It is important to know that a vegan diet for bodybuilding can help you achieve the same musculature as bodybuilders following a traditional muscle-building diet plan.
The only thing you will need to do is make a few adjustments.
These include measures like upping your vegan protein intake, ensuring the consumption of adequate calories, and making sure that you drink plenty of fluids.
Above all, it is vital to seek out professional advice before embarking on a vegan diet for bodybuilding.
A good dietician can help devise a customized meal plan that is in consonance with the state of your current health as well as your fitness goals.
Getting professional assistance is perhaps the single-most important step you can take in your quest for bodybuilding through the vegan route.