Ask any vegan what the number one question they get asked about their dietary choice and I’d be willing to bet it’s “where do you get your protein”? I’m starting to wonder if people really want to know this or just think it’s the question that is “supposed” to be asked to start a conversation about veganism.
I think most people believe protein intake is the most important element for good health, not to mention what is needed for muscle gain and strength. In my experience I have also found that I get questioned about this more from males than females, especially males who want to maintain or build a certain physique. I have gotten the side-eye many times over when trying to convince them they will not look thin and not muscular if they commit to plant-based living!
Protein is of course something that we need, but many are confused about how much is really necessary or healthy. So, before delving into looking at some examples of male athletes using plants for power, let’s have a little lesson on protein shall we?
Proteins are made of long chains of amino acids. There are 22 different types and we need all of them for our bodies to function properly. Amino acids are compounds which contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, these combine together to form the types of protein our bodies require.
The 22 different types of amino acids are divided into two groups, essential and non-essential. There are 14 non-essential amino acids which means they can be manufactured by the body and do not have to be derived from food. The body, however, cannot produce the other 8, so we must obtain those from the foods we eat. Non-essential amino acids are just as important as the essential so that new proteins that are needed by the body can be properly formed. Therefore a variety of foods must be consumed in order to achieve this successfully.
The Vegetarian Resource Group states: “It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein, as long as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein combining is not necessary; it is more important to eat a varied diet thoughtout the day.”
The Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine says that “although protein is certainly an essential nutrient which plays many key roles in the way our bodies fution, we do not need huge quantities of it. In reality, we need small amounts of protein. Only one calorie out of every ten we take in needs to come from protein.”
Still not convinced? Need a little more proof in the vegan pudding? Take Timothy Bradley for example. He just beat welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao; he went vegan during his training. He told ESPN that the vegan diet gave him “a lot of fuel to train hard. Recovery’s a lot quicker, digestion’s a lot quicker … I’m able to use energy a lot faster than if I was consuming animal protein. I feel great.”
Kenneth Williams is also flexing his vegan muscle in the bodybuilding arena and doing it without the help of meat. Kenneth made history in 2004 at the Natural Olympia in Las Vegas by finishing third out of more than 200 competitors from 37 nations making him the first vegan bodybuilding champion.
John Lewis aka Badass Vegan is also pumping up with fruits and veggies and returning stellar results! If you take a look at any of these men, they don’t seem to be lacking in the way of muscular asthetic or stamina apparently! There are countless everyday athletes out therethriving on a vegan diet and gaining more than they could ever lose.
Veganbodybuilding.com, which is run by another well-known vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke, has profiles of many other vegan athletes and the site also provides many useful tips, resources, and meal plans.
So, for all the fellas who have given me the cold shoulder or rolled their eyes at the idea of maintaining or building muscle on a vegan diet due to the protein myth. Take that! In all seriousness though, as you see there are plenty of male athletes out there who are proving their prowess with plants! So, who’s got next?
* To learn more about specific protein requirements, RDA recommendations and calculations for protein on a vegan diet, please click here. The bottom line is, as long as you are diligent in eating a healthy and varied diet, achieving about 10-12% of calories from protein is not a difficult task.