Can I get protein and build muscle on a plant-based diet?

One of the questions I see over and over again when someone says they are vegan, me included, is ‘but where do you get your protein from?’  It can even make some meat eaters quite angry!  I had one person on Twitter getting really fiery with me because I am a vegan.  She was adamant I needed meat protein to survive and couldn’t accept that we don’t for an answer.  She brought it up in response to a vegan blog post I shared and I replied in a calm factual way, but I could tell she was getting angry by her responses.  Isn’t strange that once you turn to a vegan diet, complete strangers get really riled up with you?!

Based on years of research, documentaries, books and actually trying a vegan diet myself for over one year now I am not going to change my opinion.  Right now I can never imagine eating animal products again.  Before turning to a plant-based diet I was already a vegetarian and yet people didn’t seem to get so angry with me for that choice.  If you don’t like what I post on my own personal social media accounts, then don’t follow me.  Having a go at complete strangers is not cool.

I am really passionate about a plant-based diet and I love to talk about it, but I prefer to talk about it to those who want to.  I posted a picture of a big vegan pie I made recently on Instagram.  It was full of all sorts of different beans, lentils and chickpeas.  Someone commented ‘but where do you get your protein from?’  Here we go again I thought… but then I realised the commenter was just joking as he was a vegan himself!  Phew!

A 700% rise in veganism in the UK

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Over the last few years there has been a rising trend in healthier eating.  Consumers are becoming more educated about nutrition and are starting to realise the importance of a truly healthy diet. There has been a big rise in those who now class themselves as flexitarians (those who are predominately vegetarian but will occasionally eat meat), while those switching to standard vegetarian diets have also risen.

However, the biggest growth seems to be those adopting a vegan diet, which has seen a 700% rise in the UK alone over the past two years and has no signs of slowing as consumers move away from animal products completely.

This is just based on their statistics too.  I wonder what the real figure is as how does anyone know me, Ben and the children eat a vegan diet?  It would be great if the next census asked which standard diet people ate (meat, vegetarian, vegan, etc) so we could see the true figures.

The internet has definitely helped people to share information and for people to learn the truth about what we are eating, without having to rely on the large corporations to tell us (and who often lie to us).  The internet has also allowed for vegetarian and vegan movements to grow rapidly.  Meat-Free Monday launched in around 2009 and began to make people aware of the impact of meat on both the planet and their own health.  In 2014 Veganuary (ve-GAN-uary) was launched which encouraged people to try vegan for the whole of January.  This is exactly how my husband turned vegan.  A previous meat eater who never before imagined a day without consuming meat and dairy!

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Can I build muscle on a plant-based diet?

In short yes, you can build muscle at the same rate as people who are eating animal products. However, it might take a bit of preparation and planning to get right if you are not already consuming protein-rich plant foods. As you learn what foods provide the right nutrients and vitamins, it will become second nature.

The rise of plant-based protein supplements

As people move away from animal products to plant-based products, nutritional supplement manufacturers are now offering a range of plant-based protein alternatives for those who want to train, workout and gain muscle without consuming animal protein.

Protein is an important nutrient for the body and is a key building block for body tissue. It can also serve as fuel and is especially adept in the growth of muscles. Taking protein powder after training or working out can help you to recover faster, grow muscles and serve as a fuel source for the body.

Protein supplement brand Scitec Nutrition are here to share six tips for those looking to transition to a plant-based diet:

  1. “The number one factor to consider is whether you are getting enough calories. Whether you are bulking up or losing weight, making sure that you are consuming the right amount of calories is key to reaching your goal.
  2. Because plants usually contain lower calories than animal products it is important to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Not only will a good mixture of fruit and veg provide your body with a variety of vitamins, it will also provide antioxidants to help keep your immune system strong.
  3. Legumes are a great source of protein and eating a range of soy, beans and peas alongside grains such as buckwheat, rice and quinoa help to ensure that you get the essential amino acids your body needs.
  4. Make your plates colourful. A good rule of thumb to follow is to make your meals as colourful as possible. A mixture of natural greens such as broccoli and kale, reds from tomatoes and peppers and yellows from sweetcorn and beans complement each other perfectly and provide a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats for your body to use.
  5. Nuts are a great source of fat and are proven to provide a long-lasting form of energy just when you need it. Eat a handful of nuts before your workout to boost your calories and provide energy, or sprinkle some onto your breakfast to keep you going till lunch.
  6. Depending on your goals, your lifestyle and your diet in general you may want to look into supplements to complement your plant-based diet. Tracking what you eat on an app or website will give you a good insight into the vitamins and nutrients that you may be lacking, meaning that you can add more into your diet. Many nutritional supplement manufacturers now offer plant-based proteins, BCAA’s and multi-vitamins to help you reach your nutritional targets.

As with any training or diet regime, having a healthy, balanced diet is key to performing well and recovering faster. Protein supplements are designed to help you reach your goals, but are not intended as a sole source of nutrition.”

Where can I get protein from on a plant-based diet?

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Of course protein supplements are great if you are working out or building muscle, but it’s totally possible to get enough protein without any supplementation when following a vegan diet.

Here is a list of vegan protein sources:

  • Seitan
  • Pulses – lentils, chickpeas, garden peas, beans
  • Beans – black, kidney, pinto, lima, black-eyed, cannellini
  • Soy – tofu, soya milk, tempeh, edamame beans, textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Seeds – hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower
  • Nuts and nut butters – almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, Brazil nuts, peanuts, pecans
  • Buckwheat
  • Oats
  • Rice – brown, wild
  • Grains – spelt, teff, amaranth, sorghum, quinoa, bulgur wheat, wheat berry, freekeh, barley, amaranth, farro
  • Green veg – asparagus, avocado, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, artichokes, kale, spinach
  • Other veg – sweetcorn, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Spirulina
  • Ezekiel bread (sprouted grain bread)

As you can see there are so many delicious plant-based sources of protein that can be included in pretty much any meal!  Eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables (as we all should anyway) would make it almost impossible to not get enough protein.

 

Read these next:

Vegan recipes and go-to brands for a healthy chocolate fix

Why being healthy doesn’t have to be expensive

3 healthy vegan snacks to satisfy a sweet tooth

Is it hard being a vegan?

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