There’s no question that there are a number of benefits to a vegan diet makeover. The obvious benefit is the animal lives that you’re saving by eating plant-based food. Then there are the benefits that the earth reaps from less contribution to animal farming. Last but certainly not least, there are enormous benefits for your body! A vegan diet can reduce your risk of high cholesterol, lower the risk of certain types of cancer and manage diabetes…but can it help you get strong?
Weight and strength training aims to help you maintain your muscle tissue, improve your strength, improve your bone health, control your body fat level and decrease your risk of injuries when playing sports or doing any strenuous activities. For you to succeed at weight training and reap all of those benefits, your body needs to be able to handle your regimen. Many celebs who are vegan have popularized not only the diet and lifestyle but also the ability to build your strength and muscle while considering the rights of animals and the health of the planet. The question is, if you don’t have a personal trainer and nutritionist at your disposal, is strength training on a vegan diet advisable? The short answer is YES, it is! But to get the most from both your diet and your training regimen, there are a few things that you should take into account before you get going. Let’s take a look.
How to optimize your diet
If you’re aiming to get the most out of your training and build your strength as much as you can, there are some dietary changes that you can make to ensure that your vegan diet is giving your body everything you need and then.
- Prioritize nutritional quality. Instead of going for fast and simple boxed vegan meals, you need to ensure that your nutrition intake is as high quality as it gets. For example, french fries at lunch might be a delicious and satisfying option, but tofu stir fry and veggies is far more nutrient-dense. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in your favorite snack or meal from time to time, even if it’s not nutrient-dense, but make sure you get what your body needs before getting what it wants.
- Consider your calories. Calories are the energy that we get from food, and you need to track those if you are on a strength-training program, so ensure that your body ingests and releases a balanced amount of calories. We are not promoting “calorie counting” in the diet culture vein because diet culture is a no-no; we are advocating for a considered and thoughtful approach to food intake and energy output. Vegan food sources are often not as high in calories as animal protein, so take careful note of what you’re eating.
- Consider your macronutrients. These are made up of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and every BODY will need a different combination, depending on the body itself and its lifestyle. We recommend meeting with a nutritionist to help you work out your requirements and the best ways to get them into your body. A good baseline to start with is 50% carbs, 25% to 30% fat, and 20% to 25% protein if you weight-train regularly.
- Pre- and post-training consumption. What you eat before and after you train is just as important as your other meals. In general, we recommend opting for slow-digesting carbohydrates and a moderate amount of your favorite protein before, and fast-digesting carbs with more protein after. A good example would be oatmeal with soy milk and hemp hearts before, and an apple with a protein shake when you’re done working out.
- Supplements. Think of your supplements as an addition rather than a part of your diet strategy. Protein powder and creatine can be particularly helpful, as can calcium for bone health.
Proteins are an incredibly important part of any diet, and they can become more complicated if you’re a vegan and especially if you add weight training to the mix. You’ll need extra protein, and here are some excellent, nutritionally valuable sources:
- High-protein pasta such as edamame, red lentil, chickpea, and black bean
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
- Chia seeds
- Hemp hearts
- Nutritional yeast
We do recommend that you consult with a nutritionist because finding the correct balance for your own body can be tricky. If that’s not an option for you, there are a number of paid and free services online that you can use to calculate your ideal intake.
Mistakes to avoid
- Don’t cut out animal products with no plan to replace them. Animal products may no longer be a part of your life, but they did provide your body with nutrients that you now need to find from other sources.
- Avoidance versus abundance. Rather than lamenting the foods that you miss, focus on all the delicious options that you have access to! There’s a huge vegan food culture that you can tap into without too much hard work.
- Not optimizing your food environment. The habits and mindsets that you form around food are your food environment. Your social life, the people you live with, and the time you dedicate to your nutrition are all aspects of this: make sure they’re all healthy and fulfilling.
These tips can take you a long way toward a balanced vegan approach to strength training.
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