Whether for ethical or health reasons, people throughout the country are looking to plant-based diets for their nutritional needs. While many people are talking about the benefits of being a vegetarian or vegan weightlifter, you may have heard people discussing why you have to include animal products to build muscle. A lot of the time, the latter group of people perpetuates some common myths about the topic. If you want to switch to a plant-based diet as a part of your fitness goals, it is important to read up on common myths and know if they hold true.
As with any other diet, as long as you make conscious eating decisions, consume proper portions, and diversify your foods, your body can be very healthy. However, athletes need to explore additional options to get the right nutritional components when eating a plant-based diet. (Just because you may not be eating meat or other animal products does not mean you are automatically healthier — you still need to be aware of what you are eating.)
If you’re considering making this lifestyle change or already have, it’s essential to know what’s true and false so you’re taking care of your body. To stay as informed as possible, we’ve put together the six most common myths about building muscle while on a plant-based diet, whether vegan or vegetarian:
1. Vegetarian Weightlifters Don’t Get Enough Protein
This may be the most common myth about being vegetarian in general. Many people seem to believe that eating meat is the only way to get the appropriate amount of protein in your diet, let alone enough for a weightlifter to build muscle. Although many athletes may believe this first notion of a plant-based diet, research has shown it is simply not true.
Plant-based diets are rich in numerous types of proteins that are essential to our diet. What is really important is that you are eating complete, bioavailable proteins or correct combinations of partial proteins. For example, brown rice and black beans both have partial proteins, and if digested independently of one another, your body does not get very much protein to build muscle and other needs. In combination, the proteins complete one another during digestion, and that protein is considered available for the body to use.
Foods with high protein content within the plant-based diet are beans, chickpeas, hummus, nuts, rice, quinoa, sesame seeds, peas, and many others. In fact, most protein powders used by athletes are made primarily of pea powder.
2. They Can’t Gain Enough Muscle Mass on a Vegetarian Diet
Building strength on a plant-based diet is believed to be harder than on a diet that includes meat. However, no research confirms this. Vegetarians and vegans can form just as much muscle mass as those who eat meat, and a lot of the time, those on a plant-based diet actually build up more stamina and have better endurance as well.
3. Vegetarian Weightlifters Are Deficient in Nutrients
One of the other most common myths about vegetarian weightlifters is that they are deficient in key nutrients. However, the nutrients provided by meat are easily replaced with nutrients from plant-based foods. When using plant-based products, you always want to make sure you are eating diverse, nutrient-dense foods. If you’re unsure where to start, do a little research and consider ordering subscription meal kits to help you get introduced to different food options.
4. The Vegetarian Diet Is Boring and Tasteless
There is a strong misconception about the flavors in the vegetarian diet. Unfortunately, many people may avoid choosing plant-based food options because of fear that things do not taste good. Those who eat a lot of meat may think that giving up the steak means that you’re left with only beans and potatoes. In reality, we need to substitute the main course with something else, and there are plenty of delicious options to consider. Some examples may be:
Then there are all the meat substitutes that can be seasoned and flavored similarly, like tempeh, seitan, and tofu. These products are sometimes bland, but the simple addition of a teriyaki sauce or your favorite marinade gives great flavor.
Not sure where to start with the plant-based diet? Consider using a vegetarian meal delivery service until you find what you like the most.
5. Becoming Vegetarian Is Expensive for Weightlifters
This couldn’t be further from the truth — but still, the myth persists. Just consider the price difference from the produce section of the grocery store to the meat counter. Indeed, vegetarian weightlifters will likely use a range of supplements, but the investment depends on your commitment to your fitness journey, and you would likely spend the same on supplements if you were eating meat as well.
6. Vegetarians Eat Less Food
Being vegetarian does not mean eating less food – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Vegetarians need to eat either more servings or larger serving sizes than those who eat meat because there is so much naturally occurring fiber in the plant-based diet. As a vegetarian weightlifter, you get to eat even more delicious food and celebrate good colon regularity.
Plant-Based Gains Are Ahead
At the end of the day, conscious food choices and a commitment to your fitness journey are the keys to success. It’s always important to look into the facts of any diet or fitness trend before making negative assumptions, spreading rumors, or jumping in feet-first!