I’ll be honest, I enjoy eating meat. Not all meat, but a fair amount of it. So you’d probably imagine that deciding to cut my animal products down wasn’t easy. I mean, a plant-based diet isn’t going to be realistic for a professional mixed martial artist who trains at least once a day, is it? Well the truth is it was a lot easier than I thought.
The biggest concern I had was the same that most people have. Can you maintain or even gain muscle growth while eating a plant based diet? What about strength and recovery; wouldn’t that be affected? To answer these questions I had to look at what exactly stimulates muscle growth and how diet plays into that.
Muscle growth and repair is stimulated by a few different processes. First of all in order for a muscle to need repair and to want to grow it needs to be in a state of stress that instigates the change; most of us call that state of stress working out. Working out is an intended state of stress that demands more from our body than regular daily activity. In order to keep up to the demands our body will change and adapt. From this stress muscle growth and recovery and occur; so long as adequate elements are present.
These elements are found in our nutrition. Many of us know that a healthy protein intake can ensure muscle growth and recovery however not quite as many of us understand the process itself. The process of growing and repairing muscle tissue doesn’t actually require protein at all; it requires amino acids which is what protein is broken down into among other nutrients such as glucose, fatty acids and various vitamins and minerals. In fact, muscle growth doesn’t necessarily need any protein at all.
There’s another interesting aspect of eating a plant-based diet that I’ve come to discover. It turns out that meat is incredibly hard to digest, so much so that our body needs to put out a lot more energy to process, digest, break down and pass animal products increasing our need for these vital nutrients.
When our bodies are working hard to break down hard to digest food it can’t use as much energy for other processes like strengthening our immune system, fighting off disease and of course muscle growth and recovery. In other words, if a meat eater really needs one gram per pound of body weight to gain or maintain muscle (which is debatable in itself) then a plant-based eater who gets a sufficient intake of vital amino acids through practicing variety in eating is not only going to need a lot less protein but can actually reach a higher state of physical and mental potential than the meat-eating counterpart.
So then how can we maintain or even gain muscle on a plant-based diet? It’s easy, really. Get plenty of variety in your foods by not just sticking to a couple of food types. Eat lots of healthy fats, fresh organic vegetables (the more raw the better), high sources of protein and amino acids such as soaked beans, sprouted nuts, seeds and vegetable based protein powders such as Verda Superfood. Someone who eats a well balanced plant-based meal is going to want to consume a lot more than the meat-eater so being able to cut fat and gain muscle is not only achievable but very enjoyable.
By Ricky Goodall, Meditation Instructor & Certified Nutrition Coach