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Building Strength on a Vegan Diet: Debunking Myths

For people aiming to build strength, it seems rather counterintuitive to give up protein-rich food sources like meat and dairy products. But is that really the case? The common belief is that going vegan will prevent you from getting those all-important proteins, which are needed for building muscle and gaining strength. Yet there is a strong case that the need for protein from meat is overstated, according to a report on vegan athletes published in The Washington Post.

Bodybuilder and long-time vegan Torre Washington, one of the athletes featured in the piece, downplays the role of protein in strength training and muscle building and instead emphasizes the body’s need to get nutrients from a variety of sources. 

Sports dietitian Susan Levin, one of several experts consulted by The Washington Post, calls the protein conundrum a “non-issue,” noting that she has “never met a patient who has had a protein deficiency” and that protein is a “fairly small percentage of what goes into a healthy diet.” The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 10% of a person’s total daily calories should be protein, which equates to roughly 200 calories of protein in an ideal diet. While it takes less meat to make up the 200 calories, Levin suggests that the proteins can be found in plants, legumes, grains, and nuts. She says, “it’s pretty easy to get the recommended amount. Most athletes don’t need a different diet, they just need more calories.”

Washington and his vegan peers, though, will be the first to admit that the diet itself is only part of the equation, which must include committing to a healthy lifestyle and training hard and often. Making sure that you are maximizing your workouts is also important, and our ’10 Tips to Improve Your Workouts’ will have you doing just that. The ‘Everyday Health feature ‘9 Vegan Myths, Debunked,’ states that being vegan doesn’t mean you are weak or tired. A common myth is that those who go vegan can’t get enough iron and vitamin B12 which both help in sustaining energy levels. The truth, though, is if you eat healthy, nutrient-rich alternatives, you will not lack iron or B12 even if you don’t eat animal products. Similarly, it is untrue, that a vegan diet will not give you enough amino acids which in turn will weaken your immune system and make you sickly. On the contrary, most plant foods contain more than enough amino acids, which means that you will still get the required amount of amino acids with ample servings of grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts, and soy products. While becoming a vegan if you are a bodybuilder requires a lifestyle change and a lot of discipline, the health benefits that are attributed to the diet make up for the effort.

The Health IQ post ‘5 Ways a Vegan Diet Can Save Your Life,’ lists the five deadly diseases that veganism can help protect against. These are cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and kidney disease. The health site notes that long-term studies have found that vegans have a lower mortality rate. As staying fit and healthy is a key part of building strength, this debunks the myth that vegans will struggle and fall behind those who eat meat. Instead, vegans can argue that they will be able to continue lifting for longer. Going vegan can be quite intimidating as it is very much like treading into the unknown. Yet it is, by all means, an excellent diet that is good for the health. But whether it will work or not will ultimately depend on you. If you need some inspiration, try this sweet potato and collard greens recipe by Carmen Garcia.


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