In the fitness industry there are always many questions about protein, like which is the best protein to build muscle? And what are the cleanest proteins? Gaining an understanding of the amino acid profiles of different protein sources is crucial if you want to make the most out of your training.
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 18 months.
What I do for fitness
In my fitness regime I do a regular mix of running, power walking, weights, and swimming, and turning to a plant based diet 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.
Sometimes just OK isn’t enough; I wanted not to 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 just my body I’m talking about of course, yours may be different and you may experience things differently.
I think I was getting to a stalemate with my routine, and so I 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 the plant based diet.
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 is basically a raw vegan AND one of the fittest men on the planet. Seriously, just click on the link and take a look at this guy for yourself if you don’t believe me. He’s super strong and toned, and he built THAT body on just plants!
Reading this incredible guys autobiography blew my mind as the facts about what the plant based diet can really do for you were coming straight from this champion horses mouth, and who the 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 own 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 since. 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, plus an understanding what the best sources were in terms of amino acids and bio availability. But now I have it down to a fine art 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, so of course I do still treat myself to a piece of cake or some dark chocolate now and then, but it’s all about balance).
I make the point of saying I only eat healthy plant based foods because it is still easily 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; therefore 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 modern day diseases. It wreaks havoc in the body and most of us are suffering from it due to highly acidic diets (i.e. 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 inflammatory.
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 over 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 I believe this must be down to less inflammation in my body (I can find no other explanation), and consuming adequate amounts of plant protein to rebuild muscles.
3. BETTER DETOXIFICATION
Eating less inflammation causing 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 together to boost my skin, hair, nails, and EVEN my 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. I now sleep more deeply than I ever did before, which is obviously good in terms of muscle repair after exercise, not to mention super high energy levels and the many other good effects having adequate sleep brings.
5. BRAIN POWER
Yep you guessed it, better brain 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 Protein To Build Muscle -10 Plant Based Superstars
There are more plant based and vegan friendly proteins than you can probably imagine, but you may 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; plus it means you don’t have to worry too much that you are packing everything into 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 food overall because 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 truly ‘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, so be sure to add this super seed into your diet as much as you can. You can use it very easily in place of rice, potatoes, or any other carb you would normally have with a meal.
There are lots of plant foods high in protein:-
There are some plants that are much more impressive in amino acids (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 in your food, especially when you are eating a whole food, low GI diet.
There are 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 will more than likely need to incorporate some of these protein powders to be doubly sure you’re getting all that 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?
THE TOP 10 PLANT BASED PROTEIN’S
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 BASED AND VEGAN PROTEIN POWDERS:
- BROWN RICE
How To Use Plant Based Protein Powders:-
Mix them up! Don’t stick to one; use a couple at a time – OR you can buy already made up blends that taste much nicer and often have lots of added nutrients to make them more nutritious. Some even have added greens and probiotic’s – making them a complete meal in themselves.
Be careful of added fillers and other chemicals and to be safe always go for organic! You will find a comprehensive list of all the most highly rated available protein powders, plus how to use them, their amino acid profiles, and everything else you need to know in this post ‘The Best Protein Powders of 2018‘. Be sure to pick one that suits you specifically as they are all different: you can find the best protein powder for weight gain; weight loss; muscle building; and some are even full meal replacements.
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.
- Buy a good quality green super food powder and have a shot every day; these can boost your health and give you energy and clarity like nothing else I’ve ever known. There are so many to choose from, and they all have their own unique qualities so it may be worthwhile looking for one that’s more specific to your needs.
I hope you can see from this post that it totally 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.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE – Make sure you get your calcium!
Before you go any further with your plant based diet I need to make it clear that getting enough calcium as well as protein is also CRUCIAL, and you will need to go out of your way to make sure you are eating high calcium foods to keep your bones strong. Luckily there are many sources 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 look any further!