My trainer has said on a number of occasions that I have two main things working against me as I attempt to increase my lean mass and decrease my body fat percentage: my age and my vegan diet. I’m only going to get older. This I know. And I am strongly committed to a vegan diet for ethical reasons. So I found his opinion quite discouraging at first.
But I have now come to the conclusion that he is just wrong. My first piece of evidence comes from this amazing gym in Melbourne, Vegan Strength. These guys are all vegan and I defy anyone to say that they don’t have enviable lean mass to fat body composition.
Exhibit 3, Samantha’s post the other day about vegan athletes. Clearly, these people are not under-performing and do not have compromised fitness. And yet they are vegan.
Here’s a good article from The Yoga Journal (author Rachel Seligman) about the merits of a vegan diet for sports nutrition.
According to the article, “these athletes say they stick with it because they feel—and perform—better. After six months without meat, eggs, or dairy, Jurek found he bounced back quicker even as his workouts grew harder and longer; he didn’t feel as sore or tired after one of his ultramarathons, he says. Vardaros says she rarely gets sick and outlasts her nonvegan friends in training. Heidrich says she has more energy, which has allowed her to dramatically increase her training. Not long after she committed to veganism, she completed her first Ironman Triathlon (a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride followed by a 26.2-mile marathon).”
Finally, my own visit to a sport nutritionist a few months ago yielded very little advice. She did a detailed analysis of the nutritional composition of my diet over a three-day period. The only thing I wasn’t doing to fuel my body for optimum performance was eating frequently enough throughout the day.
The myth that vegans (or even vegetarians) cannot be athletes flows directly from two assumptions. First, athletes requires lots of protein to gain and maintain muscle mass. And second, the only sources of quality protein are animal sources. The second assumption is off the mark.
According to The Yoga Journal article, getting enough “protein is no problem on a vegan diet. Half a cup of lentils or tofu gives you 9 or 10 grams of protein; two tablespoons of peanut butter gives you 8 grams. Beans, nuts, and grains are all good sources of protein; even veggies contain small amounts. And though meat is sometimes praised for having a complete spectrum of the amino acids our bodies need, vegans can get all the necessary amino acids if they eat a variety of foods every day.”
While I don’t think I’ve hit on a totally winning balance of fuel and activity yet, I do feel encouraged that I can continue to eat vegan. “Skinny-fat” is not the best I can hope for. I can continue to alter my body composition and stay true to my ethical commitments at the same time.
For more resources on vegan sports nutrition, see VeganHealth.org, which has a list of further readings on the topic.