Will following a vegan diet ruin my gainz?
There are more people than ever following a vegan diet, with over 600,000 people in Britain believed to be following a plant-based diet in 2019, which is up from 276,000 in 2016. Veganuary is also growing massively year on year, with over 400,000 world wide official signups in 2020, up from 250,000 in 2018! Deliveroo saw a 115% increase in vegan meal orders in 2020 too! One of the common concerns people have when switching to a plant-based diet, is will it affect my training? Will I lose those sweet sweet gainz? This blog will have a look at what we know, in line with the latest research, and see if those concerns are justified, alongside some practical take-aways.
The concerns of a vegan diet affecting your training may stem from the biological scores and markers of plant-based protein sources compared to animal and dairy sources. There are several scores used to judge protein by (bioavailability, digestibility, amino acid profiles etc) and almost always, based off these scores, gram for gram animal and dairy sources of protein are superior to plant-based sources. These scores alone may lead you to think that consuming exclusively a plant-based diet will affect your training, most notably your ability to grow/maintain muscle. So it’s true that vegan protein sources are inferior gram for gram compared to animal sources, but does that affect your ability to grow muscle?
A 2020 study by Monteyne set out to test in a controlled environment if a plant-based diet would be inferior to an omnivorous diet when looking at muscle protein synthesis. Both groups were put on a reasonably high protein diet (1.8g per kg of body weight), one group consuming an omnivorous diet, the other a completely plant-based diet. The daily protein was divided into 4 servings of 3 meals per day, plus 19-21g of protein post-workout. The study showed there was no statistical difference between the 2 groups when looking at muscle protein synthesis (MPS)!
The structure of the study wasn’t set up to elicit a certain response, it was just to compare like for like diets. The protocol mimics what could be a very typical diet for people who follow a moderately high protein diet. The spread of protein and the daily protein target is in line with what the literature recommends, so the study makes it easy for people to see similarities with their diet, meaning there are lots of positive takeaways for people who follow, or are looking to follow, a more plant-based diet.
This study is promising for people that follow/want to follow a plant-based diet or reduce the number of animal products in their diet, it is important to remember however that a few things need to be considered to make sure a vegan diet as efficient as an omnivorous diet for MPS.
- The protein quality is lower, so you need to eat at the higher end of protein targets if you want to maximise your training and avoid any possible diminished results. Animal protein sources typically have a more complete amino acid profile, to make sure your diet isn’t lacking any of the essential amino acids, you would be wise to eat the higher end of the literature recommended protein targets. The literature indicates anywhere from 1.6g-2.2g of protein per kg of body weight to be sufficient to maximise MPS, but following a plant-based diet, aiming at 2g+ per KG of bodyweight is a failsafe score! Studies have looked into the safety of very high protein diets, with daily intakes of protein up to 4-5g per KG of body weight to be completely safe, with no negative markers on liver and kidney function.
- To get a sufficient amount of all of the amino acids, your diet should be varied with its protein sources. Vegan protein sources are almost always incomplete protein sources, lacking enough of one or more amino acid. For example, pea protein has plenty of lysine, but lacks methionine, while brown rice has sufficient methionine, but lacks lysine. If you ate exclusively one of these sources of protein, your diet would be deficient in one of the amino acids, this isn’t the case if you only ate 1 source of animal protein, it would be pretty boring, but you would still be eating a complete protein source.
- The final point to make, which doesn’t apply to most, is that trying to get enough plant-based protein, while cutting hard (to get super lean, eg Bodybuilding), is incredibly tough and becomes very reliant on protein supplements. A lot of sources of plant-based proteins contain quite high levels of carbohydrates and/or fat, which may not be a problem, but if you’re in a heavy calorie deficit, may become an issue further down the line when trying to hit a protein target whilst on low calories.
So there you go, as long as have a sound nutritional strategy, there’s no reason why you can’t follow a plant-based diet and maximise your training! Make sure you hit a high daily protein target (2.0g+ per KG of body weight) from a multitude of different sources, spread evenly throughout the day and you will be more than covering your base in regards to maximising MPS! The great news for vegans, as the number of people following a vegan diet grow, so do the number of products. In 2018, the UK launched the most amount of vegan products in the world! There are more sources of plant-based protein available than ever before, which is a far cry away from a few years back when options, especially eating out were few and far between!
Thanks for reading, any questions please do ask 🙂
Luke (a non-vegan)