There are lots of questions when it comes to protein; for example,”which are the best proteins to build muscle?”, or “What are the cleanest proteins?” Gaining an understanding of amino acids and different types of protein sources is crucial if you want to make the most out of your training or muscle building.
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 also consuming a plant based diet for the last 2 years. This may be of interest for you as I have found something that works really well and has helped me transform my health more than I ever thought possible.
What I do for fitness
In my fitness regime I do a regular mix of running, power walking, weights and swimming; and I use the plant based diet to power myself through this. My previous diet was already what I considered to be healthy (well at the time anyway), with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and dairy; not to mention a shed load of supplements, which were all working OK for me – but literally just OK, and I wanted more.
I wanted not to catch the bugs and colds I caught every year without fail, and most of all I wanted my incessant and debilitating insomnia to improve. As much as I was working out (I was going at it like a Trojan) and trying harder and harder with both diet and exercise, things just weren’t moving to that extra level I wanted.
In hindsight (and after medical tests), I realise now that hammering my body so hard whilst also not getting adequate sleep had thrown my whole hormonal system out of whack leaving me with adrenal burn out and a sluggish thyroid. This horror of this made me clearly see that sometimes you just have to find a balance in life and not over do anything. Your body doesn’t like it – not when you are not giving it adequate nutrition and rest – so MAJOR lesson learned!
The Plant Based Diet
It was this stalemate, when I was getting nowhere and, in fact, getting worse if anything, that made me realise that I needed to change my routine and my life before the situation became worse. Having studied nutrition; specifically sports nutrition, I decided to go a step deeper and look into some of the studies conducted on athletes themselves who had found that they were experiencing their best ever endurance and faster times with the plant based diet.
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 happens to be one of the fittest men on the planet. Yep, just click 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 that’s for sure. The proof was in the pudding with this one, and it was this information, along with my own feeling that I needed to take things a step further for my health that 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 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.
The first few months were a bit turbulent as I learnt just what my body needed, and also how to obtain enough protein, and gaining an understanding of what the best sources of plant based proteins were in terms of amino acids and bio availability. 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 (of course I do still treat myself to a piece of cake or some dark chocolate now and then – I’m only human, but the point is, it’s all about balance).
I make the point of saying ‘I only eat healthy plant based foods’ because it is still very possible to be plant based, or vegan, and still be extremely unhealthy due to eating too much vegan 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 most definitely needs to be done properly and with an understanding of plant macaronutrients.
Benefits of a Plant Based Diet
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 crammed full of antioxidants and other life-giving nutrients.
The thing about inflammation
Chronic inflammation is now thought to be the root cause of many modern day diseases. It can wreaks havoc in the body when out of control, and many of us are suffering from it due to highly acidic diets (i.e. diets filled with junk foods, refined sugars and too many animal products – especially dairy). Some of these animal products are worse than others, but for the most part they are usually acidic.
Some people may rebuke this claim, but all I can say is I know, for me personally, that ALL the benefits I had on this list are due to less inflammation in my body. And as I never ate junk foods before, 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 two 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. It’s pretty awesome; and if I do, it’s nowhere near as much as before – and my recovery is much quicker too. 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 help rebuild muscles.
3. BETTER DETOXIFICATION
Eating less inflammation causing foods has allowed my body to detoxify itself more efficiently, that and also the green super food powder that I use every day. Together with an anti inflammatory plant based diet they have worked in harmony to boost my skin, hair, nails, and even my vision to new levels. Yes, I can honestly ‘see’ better; bizarre I know – but true!
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 (which is also very important) which is keeping 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, better brain power is another side effect that is yet again down to lower inflammation and the better detoxification of pollution and heavy metals from the environment – all of which affect the brain. I have seen all these benefits in myself since going plant based; also a better memory capacity because my body is just ‘cleaner’, allowing me to think much more clearly and with extreme clarity.
6. HORMONAL BALANCE
No more of that nasty monthly PMS for me either, as before I went plant based I was loading my body up with animal hormones which may well have affected my own hormonal balance. Or I could just be extra sensitive, I don’t know, but I do know I feel about 90% better in this department.
7. ANTI AGING
A low GI plant based diet will slow down the aging process on many different levels, the most prominent being through 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 may also elevate your chances of getting diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s, and even some cancers.
Another reason could be, as 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 anti aging free radical scavengers. Too many free radicals in the body from junk food, smoking, alcohol, trans fats, and environmental pollutants accelerate the aging process on both the inside and out.
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 what was actually pretty rubbish. Now every day feels better and better now that my body is regenerating instead of degenerating?
Next up: Let’s talk protein
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 nutritionally 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 if you aren’t packing everything into one meal.
Having said that, it’s 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 also help the fat burning process (this is due to the fact you will be eating less food overall and won’t feel the need to snack as much).
What is a complete protein profile?
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.
Quinoa – A Complete Protein
Quinoa is one of the only known truly ‘complete’ plant proteins (along with soy, hemp and buckwheat), 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 too. You can use it very easily in place of rice, potatoes or any other carb you would normally have with a meal which is why it is so easy to eat a lot.
High Protein Plant Foods
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 in your food, especially so when you are eating a whole food, low GI diet.
There are two lists here: 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 your body requires under strenuous circumstances.
Not everything on this list is 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 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. 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 if that makes sense.
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:-
- SOY BEANS 36.0g
- LENTILS 24.6g
- KIDNEY BEANS 24.4g
- PEANUTS 24.4g (and peanut butter)
- GREEN PEAS 23.8g
- BLACK BEANS 21.6g
- CHICKPEAS (hummus) 20.0g
- TEMPEH 20.3
- QUINOA 14.1g
- WHOLE WHEAT (bread, pasta)
Best Plant Based and Vegan Protein Powders
- BROWN RICE
- ORGANIC SOY (in moderation)
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 blend that will taste so much nicer and often have lots of added nutrients to make it all the more nutritious. Some even have added greens and probiotics, making them a complete meal in themselves.
Be careful of added fillers and chemicals, and to be safe always go for organic. You will find a comprehensive list of all the most highly rated available protein powder supplements, plus how to use them, their amino acid profiles, and everything else you need to know on this list of the best vegan protein powders. Be sure to pick one that suits you specifically as they are all different. For instance, you can find a different powder for weight gain, weight loss, muscle building; and some are even full meal replacements in themselves.
To Round things up – points to remember on your plant based diet:-
- Always be sure to get an array of amino acids by good 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.
- 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 are my number one tip if you want more energy, clarity, and literally the best skin you have ever had – and they work fast – sometimes within 20 minutes! There are so many to choose from, and as with the protein powders they all have their own unique qualities so it may be worthwhile looking for one that’s more specific to your needs.
Thank you for your support of this website. I hope you can see from this post that it IS completely possible to build muscle from plants, and it will be cleaner muscle that will make you feel healthier than ever. Please leave any comments or your own experiences below as I would be happy to hear your thoughts.