Veganism probably doesn't come to the forefront of your mind when you think about a diet that supports weightlifting. We've been raised to think that meat and eggs are the best source of protein for humans, but there are plenty of vegan athletes out there who prove that plants can give you all the fuel you need to be strong and fit.
I've been following a strictly plant-based diet for a couple of years now, and over the past several months, I've been avidly lifting weights as well. I do six strength-training sessions each week, along with three runs, and my vegan diet helped me gain several pounds of muscle and shed excess fat.
My recovery time is faster, and my physique has completely changed for the better.
A few years ago, I was a CrossFit junkie who ate a strictly Paleo diet. I followed this lifestyle for a little over a year, and I can definitively say that what the vegan diet offers me far outweighs whatever the Paleo diet did. I have more energy, my recovery time is faster, and my physique has completely changed for the better.
Here's some more insight into my vegan weightlifting diet.
What I Eat in a Day
I eat three meals a day, and I also practice intermittent fasting, so I eat everything within the window of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Here's an example of what my daily diet looks like.
- Breakfast: protein smoothie with Vega Sport Protein, almond milk, and a Sambazon Performance Protein Pack
- Lunch: crispy tempeh, miso brown rice, sautéed kale, bean sprouts, kimchi, and Korean tahini BBQ sauce
- Snack: GoMacro bar and a handful of popcorn
- Dinner: maple ginger tofu and veggies
"If you eat a whole-food, plant-based diet and get enough calories to support the activity, you shouldn't have to worry about protein."
I meal prep on Sundays, so I have meals to take with me every day of the week. I never feel hungry or dissatisfied, and I'm full of energy throughout the day.
Why I Never Worry About Getting Enough Protein
The average amount of protein I eat in a day is a little over 100 grams. Sometimes I eat more, sometimes I eat less; it just depends on what's going on that day. But I never worry about getting enough in my system. I spoke with Julieanna Hever, a registered dietitian and the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition, and I asked her to explain why it's a myth that you can't get enough protein on a vegan diet and effectively grow muscle.
"I can give you 10 reasons this isn't true: five species of rhinoceros, two species of elephants, a giraffe, a hippopotamus, and a gaur," she said. Every one of these animals is naturally a vegan, so their entire diets are based on plants. "These are the 10 largest mammals that walk the planet, and none of them have a problem getting enough protein. While they have a different digestive tract than humans, this is primarily to extract glucose (carbohydrate) from cellulose, and it's not substantially different in protein digestion."
I now have boundless energy, even when I do two workouts in one day.
The best sources of protein available in a plant-based diet include tofu, lentils, black beans, quinoa, tempeh, seitan, edamame, and black-eyed peas. And there are many more! I eat all of these foods and never feel like I'm lacking in protein.
So if you're ever worried about not getting enough protein on a vegan diet that will support weightlifting, think again! Although women are recommended to eat about 46 grams of protein a day, we need a bit more if we're lifting weights. "The general rule is that it is necessary to eat at least 1.0 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day," Dr. Luiza Petre, a board-certified cardiologist and weight-management specialist, told POPSUGAR.
"If you eat a whole-food, plant-based diet and get enough calories to support the activity, you shouldn't have to worry about protein," Hever concluded.
How Complex Carbs Play a Crucial Role in My Diet
"With abundant protein meals, you should not forget the importance of carbohydrates when starting weightlifting."
"Muscle growth requires excess energy," Hever said. Dr. Petre confirmed, "With abundant protein meals, you should not forget the importance of carbohydrates when starting weightlifting." That's because your body needs the energy that comes from naturally occurring carbs. Luckily, the vegan diet is full of complex carbs that are designed to give you a boatload of energy and help you recover from your workouts.
From sweet potatoes to brown rice to beans, there are endless sources of energy from the complex carbs found in the vegan diet. I never count how many grams of carbs I'm eating each day. "Carbs have been so misinterpreted that candy bars and carrots end up in the same category, when, in fact, they are completely different in the body in how they are metabolized," Hever said. "We need to regulate our food intake based on quality of food, rather than their macronutrient profile."
Although the number of grams of carbs may be much higher than when I was was eating Paleo, that's not a bad thing at all. I now have boundless energy, even when I do two workouts in one day.