Can you re­ally build mus­cle on a ve­gan diet?

Ve­gan­ism is huge, but is it hold­ing you back in the weights room? Di­eti­tian Laura Tilt de­liv­ers the ex­pert scoop

Women's Health Australia - - CONTENTS -

Non-meat eater num­bers are grow­ing – but are their mus­cles? WH in­ves­ti­gates

wWe Aussies have al­ways been an an­i­mal-lov­ing lot (OK, maybe not when a flock of seag­ulls crashes our beach­side fish and chips). But as the third-largest-grow­ing ve­gan mar­ket in the world, ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search firm Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional, it seems that our an­i­mal-friendly ethos is spread­ing to our din­ner plates. Whether you’ve been ve­gan since be­fore Ve­gan­uary, you’re flirt­ing with flex­i­tar­i­an­ism or you’re won­der­ing what to do when #meat­freemon­day clashes with leg day, it pays to know how to fuel your gains the green way.

Build­ing mus­cle ef­fec­tively and healthily re­quires a few things, not least suf­fi­cient kilo­joule in­take and a strength train­ing pro­gram. Pro­tein, of course, also plays a key role be­cause it de­liv­ers the raw ma­te­ri­als for mus­cle re­pair and new mus­cle growth. But does it make a dif­fer­ence whether your pro­tein is de­rived from an­i­mals or plants?

When it comes to mus­cle mass (the amount of mus­cle in your body), the an­swer is no. A 2017 study pub­lished in The Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Nu­tri­tion looked at how the pre­ferred pro­tein source of par­tic­i­pants re­lated to their mus­cle mass. Un­sur­pris­ingly, those with the high­est pro­tein in­take had the most mass, but there was no link be­tween that and the type of pro­tein con­sumed – plant or an­i­mal. So, when it comes to main­tain­ing mus­cle mass, ve­g­ans turn­ing to tofu, lentils and soy aren’t nec­es­sar­ily at a dis­ad­van­tage, as long as enough pro­tein gets eaten.

Right, so what about gains? Re­search (on men only, at this point) has found that an­i­mal proteins, such as whey, are more ef­fec­tive at switch­ing on mus­cle man­u­fac­ture af­ter weight train­ing than plant-based proteins such as soy. The rea­son? An­i­mal proteins con­tain more leucine

– a pro­tein build­ing block that drives new mus­cle growth. As a guide, an­i­mal-based proteins pro­vide 8–11 per cent leucine, and plant proteins only 6–8 per cent.

But get enough leucine from your plant pro­tein (2–3g post­work­out be­ing the magic num­ber) and it could ri­val an­i­mal sources.

In a 2013 study in Nu­tri­tion Jour­nal, male uni­ver­sity stu­dents were given 48g of ei­ther rice pro­tein (3.8g leucine) or whey pro­tein (5.5g leucine) af­ter strength train­ing ses­sions and both groups had sim­i­lar gains in mus­cle mass.

Right now, we don’t know whether the same re­sults could ap­ply to women, or how the gains com­pare long term, but get­ting enough leucine post-work­out is im­por­tant. If you’re ve­gan, this prob­a­bly means us­ing a leucine supp, which can be added to a pro­tein shake or a glass of wa­ter. You could al­ways just eat more plant pro­tein, but this might leave your plate heav­ing un­der the weight of your por­tions. You’d have to put away 200g cooked lentils to get your 2.5g leucine. Tag-team­ing two or three plant proteins is a good strat­egy.

As for daily pro­tein in­take, the con­sen­sus is to aim for 1.2–2g pro­tein per kilo of body weight if you want to gain mus­cle. That said, it’s not all about the pro­tein. Carbs re­duce mus­cle break­down and pro­vide en­ergy for tough ses­sions, so team pro­tein with carbs and healthy fats, too. That way, as long as you get your leucine hit, you’ll smash your swole goals.

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