In the fitness industry there are always many questions about protein, like which is the best protein to build muscle, what are the cleanest proteins, and gaining an understanding of the amino acid profiles of different protein sources. Most crucially of all though, is knowing how to make sure you are getting all that your body needs, whether you be on a muscle building program or a weight loss diet.
In this post I’m going to break it down for you a bit more and speak about my personal experiences of ONLY eating plant proteins and consuming a plant based diet for the last 12 months. Not because I’m an animal rights activist or anything like that, (although it is of course a worthy cause) – but just because im a bit if a health and fitness freak).
For my fitness regime I doing a regular mix of running, power walking, weights and swimming, and before going plant based my normal diet was already what I considered healthy, well at the time anyway. Lots of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and dairy, plus a shed load of supplements which were all working OK for me, but literally just OK nothing more.
I Needed Something More!
Sometimes just OK isn’t enough: I wanted to not catch the bugs and colds I caught every year without fail, and most of all I wanted my insomnia to improve – but as much as I was working out and trying harder and harder with both diet and exercise things just weren’t moving to that extra level that I wanted. Bear in mind this is my body I’m talking about – of course, yours may be different and you may experience things differently to me – I can only speak from my own experience.
I think I was getting to a stalemate with my routine and so decided I needed to shake things up a bit. I have studied in depth plant based nutrition, and some of these studies were from athletes themselves who had found that they were experiencing their best ever endurance and faster times with plant based eating.
Meet the Iron Man Champion
One of the athletes I studied that stands out the most to me was Brendan Brazier, a Canadian Iron Man champion who was basically a raw vegan AND one of the fittest men on the planet. Seriously, just click on the link and take a look at the guy for yourself if you don’t believe me. He’s super strong and toned, and he built THAT body on plants!
Reading this guys autobiography blew my mind as these facts were coming straight from this champion horses mouth, so who the hell can argue with that? Definitely NOT people who think you can only get enough protein by eating meat! The proof was in the pudding with this one, and this information, along with my own feeling that I needed to take things a step further for my health, was the catalyst for me to start my plant based journey.
I’m not going to pull any punches, it was hard at first and I fell off the wagon 3 times before something just ‘clicked’ into place – but after that I just knew it was forever and I haven’t ever looked back. I didn’t go completely ‘raw‘ like Brendan as I am just not ready for that extreme way of eating yet, however I did make the vow to go fully plant based to see how my body reacted.
Learning as You Go
The first few months were a bit turbulent as I learnt what my body needed, how to obtain enough protein, and what the BEST SOURCES were in terms of amino acids and bio availability. But now I have it down and the results have been astounding.
I also need to point out that I am on a healthy plant based diet that contains barely any processed or junk foods, and minimal refined carbohydrates. (OK, sometimes on the odd occasion I may treat myself to a piece of cake or some dark chocolate – but not very often).
It is still possible to be plant based or vegan and still be very unhealthy due to eating too much junk food. There’s a bit of a misconception that vegans just eat fruit and vegetables – but there are in fact lots of high sugar and bad fats in many vegan convenience foods, so if you want the results you are looking for on a plant based diet then it needs to be done properly.
THE THINGS I HAVE NOTICED SINCE GOING PLANT BASED
1. MORE ENERGY
This had to be first on the list simply because it’s such a major feature in my life now. I seem to have relentless energy and don’t really ever feel tired, even after a hard workout – which I know is down to my highly alkaline anti inflammatory diet.
The Thing About Inflammation:
Chronic inflammation is now thought to be the root cause of many illnesses and diseases. It wreaks havoc in the body, and most of us are suffering from it due to our highly acidic diets (ie.diets filled with junk foods, refined sugars and animal products – especially dairy), some of these animal products are worse than others, but most are highly flammatory.
Some people may rebuke this claim, but all I can say is I unequivocally know that ALL the benefits I had on this list are due to less inflammation in my body. And I never ate junk foods before, so it must have been the animal products that were keeping me feeling under par. There really is no other explanation, and I’ve spent a year of my life testing this for myself.
2. LESS MUSCLE SORENESS AFTER EXERCISE
I really don’t ache so much after a hard workout like I used to, and if I do it is nowhere near as much as before and my recovery is MUCH quicker. Again, this must be down to less inflammation in my body (I can find no other explanation).
3. BETTER DETOXIFICATION
Eating less inflammatory foods has allowed my body to detoxify itself more efficiently – that and my amazing green super food powder that I take every day. Together with an anti inflammatory plant based diet they have worked in harmony and have boosted my skin, hair, nails and EVEN vision to new levels. Yes, I can honestly ‘see‘ better!
4. BETTER SLEEP
I think this is due to my body being able to detoxify itself more efficiently, due again to having less inflammation to deal with – along with a low GI diet (most important) which is keeping my blood sugar stable, so I now sleep more deeply than I ever did before. All this is obviously good in terms of adequate muscle repair, not to mention energy levels, and the million other reasons out bodies need adequate sleep.
5. BRAIN POWER
Yep you guessed it, betterbrain power is another side effect that is yet again down to lower inflammation and better detoxification of pollution and heavy metals from our environment – all of which affect the brain. I have seen all these benefits in myself since going plant based, plus better memory capacity because my body is just ‘cleaner’, which allows me to think much more clearly.
6. HORMONAL BALANCE
No more PMS for me either – which I can clearly see now was because before I went plant based I was loading my body up with animal hormones. I’m no medical genius but it makes sense that we shouldn’t have another animals hormones in our body throwing our own hormonal system out of whack. Just saying!
7. ANTI AGING
A low GI plant based diet will slow down the aging process on many different levels, the most prominent being BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL. When we have stable blood sugar we aren’t having constant insulin spikes and troughs – all of which accelerate the aging process and boost your chances of getting diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, alzheimer’s and many cancers.
Another reason is because the plant based diet by its very essence means you will in fact be eating a lot more PLANTS! As in fruits, vegetables and legumes – all of which are bursting with nutrients and antioxidants (which are free radical scavengers). Too many free radicals in the body from junk food, smoking, alcohol, trans fats and environmental pollutants accelerate the aging process.
You can see by my wonderful list of plant based diet side effects as to why I’m now a lifelong convert. Why would I ever want to go back to feeling rubbish when every day feels better and better now that my body is REGENERATING instead of DEGENERATING?
Next Up: Let’s Talk Protein
BEST PROTEINS TO BUILD MUSCLE
There are more plant based proteins than you can probably imagine, but you will need to mix them up a bit for a ‘complete’ amino acid profile. New research suggests that you don’t actually need to have the ‘complete profile’ in one hit. You can actually spread it out across the day which is much easier and allows for a more ‘natural’ way of eating, and without having to worry if you are getting everything you need in one meal.
Having said that, it is actually a good idea to get a complete protein profile with as many meals as possible, for the simple fact that this will make them lower GI meals. This way of eating will keep you fuller for longer, AND will serve to help the fat burning process (due to the fact you will be eating less overall as you won’t feel the need to snack so much).
What is A Complete Protein Profile?
To have a ‘complete‘ protein profile means a food or meal has to contain all 9 essential amino acids. On a plant based diet it means you will need to mix legumes such as lentils, beans, soy beans and peas, with grains such as wheat, rice, corn, amaranth, millet and pearl barley.
The Wonders of Quinoa – A Perfect Food!
QUINOA is the only known ‘complete‘ plant protein and should become your best friend on a plant based diet. It also contains omega 3’s and impressive amounts of calcium and iron as an added bonus!
SIDE NOTE – Make Sure You get Your Calcium!
Calcium is also CRUCIAL on a plant based diet, but luckily there are many sources of it and I urge you to check them out before you change your eating habits. I have already devised a list of the ‘Highest Plant Sources of Calcium‘ so you don’t need to trouble yourself.
There are some plants that are much more impressive in amino acids (which are the building blocks of protein) than others (see below), and should be added to your diet every day. The rest will just come to you naturally – especially when you are eating a whole food, low GI diet.
Here I will do two lists, one for the best whole food proteins and one for the best plant based protein powders. If you are in a training program and eating a plant based diet then you may want to incorporate some protein powders to be doubly sure you’re getting all you need.
Not everything on this list are necessarily the highest protein plant products per 100 grams, but they will work out to be the highest considering they are going to be the main components that will add bulk to your meals, plus you will be eating a lot more of them by weight.
For instance, almonds and pistachio nuts are higher in protein than chickpeas per 100 grams, but you wouldn’t really eat that amount of nuts in one sitting because of too much fat and calories etc. However, you could easily eat 100 grams or more of chickpeas as the main component to a meal and get in MORE protein than the nuts. Make sense?
You should however add ALL different protein sources to your diet for the best results as they all have their own unique nutrient profiles. Here are many more that aren’t in this particular article for you to include ‘List of Highest Plant Proteins’.
THE 10 PLANT BASED SUPERSTARS!
Here are some of the best plant proteins that you should add as the bulk ingredient to your meal and their amounts of protein per 100 Grams
1. SOY BEANS 36.0g
2. LENTILS 24.6g
3. KIDNEY BEANS 24.4g
4. PEANUTS 24.4g (and peanut butter)
5. GREEN PEAS 23.8g
6. BLACK BEANS 21.6g
7. CHICKPEAS (hummus) 20.0g
8. TEMPEH 20.3
9. QUINOA 14.1g
10. WHOLE WHEAT (bread, pasta)
BEST PLANT PROTEIN POWDERS:
How To Use Plant Based Protein Powders:
Mix them up! Don’t stick to one – use a couple at a time. Hemp is already considered a ‘complete‘ protein, but it’s still good to combine it with others because they ALL have different nutrient profiles. You could pick one that you prefer the taste of, just makes sure you always mix some hemp with it for omega 3’s. OR you can buy already made up blends that taste much nicer, and often have lots of added nutrients to make them more nutritious. But be careful of added fillers and other chemicals, and to be safe always go for organic!
Points to Remember on Your Plant Based Diet
- Always be sure to get an array of amino acids by food combining throughout the day.
- Make sure you eat foods every day from the plant based calcium list.
- Eat at least 10 PORTIONS of fruits and vegetables a day for antioxidants and fiber.
- Have a protein shake after training.
- Cut out all refined sugars – if you need help with this then check out ‘Quitting Sugar in 10 Easy Steps’.
- Eat in moderation, healthy fats, especially avocado, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil.
- Have a green super food powder shot every day such as barley grass, chlorella, spirulina, wheatgrass, or better still buy a couple and mix them up. Alternatively go for a blend like the super food blend that I take which is one of the most superior I have ever found. Check it out here – ‘Dr. Schulze’s Superfood‘
I hope you can now see from this post that it is possible to build muscle from plants, and once you start doing all of the above you you’ll be well on your way to superior health and a much leaner more defined body.
If you have any questions then please post in the comments thread below. I would love to hear your thoughts and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you