Whether you’ve just decided to follow a plant-based diet or you’re a long-time vegetarian, you’ve probably found that there are many misconceptions and myths surrounding those dietary choices, especially in the weightlifting and muscle-building world. In a culture where we’ve been taught that you have to eat meat if you’re going to be big and strong, it’s tough to sort out the facts from the myths.
It’s time to learn the truth, which is why we’ve taken on some of the biggest myths about plant-based diets that make athletes reluctant to choose them. Here’s a closer look at the myths and the real facts you need to know.
Myth #1 – A Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Give You Enough Nutrients
One of the big myths about plant-based diets is that a vegetarian diet doesn’t give you enough nutrients as a bodybuilder. It’s important to note that some studies have found that many individuals who eat a vegetarian diet are deficient in vitamin B12 in particular, but this doesn’t mean that a vegetarian diet can’t be a healthy eating plan for you.
The important thing is to monitor your intake of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, zinc, and iron. It’s possible to take supplements that help you get the essential nutrients you need. However, the best way to get the proper nutrition is to eat whole foods. Adding certain foods to your diet can compensate for the nutrients you no longer get from meat products.
Whole foods high in vitamin B12 include:
Whole foods that pack in a powerful dose of zinc include:
Whole foods that are high in iron include:
Dark green leafy veggies
Breakfast cereals fortified with iron
Prunes and raisins
While you may need to specifically focus on eating foods with these three nutrients in them to avoid deficiencies, a plant-based diet is rich in many different micronutrients because of the focus on vegetables and fruits. Countries that eat vegetarian or vegan diets often experience fewer lifestyle diseases, which is likely because of the increased intake of micronutrients in their diet. Planning your meals ahead of time with quality meal kits can be a great way to stay on track with getting the right nutrition to support your bodybuilding goals.
Myth #2 – You Can’t Meet Your Protein Intake on a Plant-Based Diet
While it’s true that animal products contain a lot of protein – one cup of chicken breast packs is 43 grams – it’s still possible to get plenty of protein while following a vegetarian diet. Protein is critical for meeting your weight-training goals, but you can get plenty from vegetarian foods.
Which plant-based foods are high in protein? There are plenty of plant-based, protein-rich foods that you can eat to boost your protein intake. Some great options include:
Quinoa and other whole grains
Veggie burgers (and other vegetarian meat substitutes)
It’s true that animal proteins are complete proteins. That means that they have all nine essential amino acids the body isn’t able to produce. These amino acids are critical for repairing and building tissue (like muscle). But it is possible to get those amino acids from a vegetarian diet through various food combinations.
Myth #3 – It’s Too Hard to Build Muscle
Since so many people assume that a vegetarian diet lacks protein, it also leads to the myth that it’s too hard to build muscle while you’re eating a plant-based diet. Once again, this is completely false.
When you’re training regularly, you need to eat around 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of your current body weight to increase muscle mass with bodybuilding. That means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you should be getting between 75 and 120 grams of protein each day.
That may seem like a large amount of protein. How do you get it all in one day? The easiest way is to eat five to six meals a day. Make sure each one packs in plenty of protein and veggies, fruits, and whole grains. If you have trouble planning for this many meals a day, consider a vegetarian meal delivery service to make it easier.
Keep in mind, it’s not just protein that you need if you’re going to build muscle. You also need to have quality carbs in your diet. Those quality carbs – like vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits – help fuel your muscles, too.
Myth #4 – Going Vegetarian Can Hurt Your Performance
Another myth is that going vegetarian can hurt your performance. Again, this goes back to the idea that eating meat is essential for building strength. It’s important to know that eating this type of diet in no way indicates a lower level of athletic performance. In fact, studies looking at meat-eaters and plant-based eaters have no real differences in performance by any type of standard.
The body uses sugar for energy which comes from carbohydrates. When you eat complex carbs, the body can use them longer for energy. Since vegetarian and vegan diets usually are a bit heavier in carbs, it means that you have more energy easily available to you. Fat is also used for energy, and healthy fats are a part of a plant-based healthy eating plan. A diet that’s rich in healthy fats and complex carbs should give you plenty of energy to power through bodybuilding workouts without a negative impact on your performance.
Even if you decide to give up animal products, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your weightlifting efforts. Many people find they have fewer sick days and more energy when they choose a vegetarian diet. As with any diet, you’ll need to ensure you’re getting the right mix of macronutrients and plenty of essential micronutrients, so you don’t have any deficiencies. But now that you’re armed with the facts, you can determine if a plant-based diet is a right option for you.