May 9, 2012 Leave a comment
Over the last years, more and more people have approached me with questions regarding a vegan diet and how to gain muscle/lose fat, so I decided that this might make for a good topic for this weeks Muscle and Strength.
I am a convinced carnivore but I do respect other peoples beliefs and it makes for interesting intellectual challenge to come up with a diet for a vegan.
Someone who chooses the vegan lifestyle forgoes all animal product including milk and eggs, which seems like a terrible idea when it comes to building an impressive physique. After all, we have been taught for years that meat, milk and eggs are a cornerstone in our quest of becoming the next Arnold.
So the question remains: can someone on a vegan diet build gain substantial muscle and if so, how?
The answer isn’t all that cut and dry, so bear with me. While it is possible to get sufficient protein from lentils, beans, nuts, soy etc there are some roadblocks a vegan needs to overcome.
I see three main obstacles on your path to 220 lbs with 5% body fat (by the way all three points are of interest to carnivores as well, so read on):
1. achieving a positive nitrogen balance in particular m-tor upregulation when building muscle/recovering from workouts.
2. Vitamin B-12 deficiency
2. carb control in order to lose body fat
1. Let’s talk about mtor a little bit since its one of the most mysterious and misunderstood mechanisms in the body. The truth is, we do not understand the old mammalian target of rapamycin fully but from what we do know it is that its responsible for the signaling and regulation of insulin, IGF-1 and certain amino acids. Insulin is the most potent anabolic hormone known, and promotes the synthesis and storage of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins, while inhibiting their degradation and release into the circulation. igf-1 stands for insulin like growth factor and is an extremely powerful peptide hormone, which might even cause hyperplasia ( creation of new muscle fibers)
All in all, precisely the type of hormones that you need in order to build huge bulging muscles.
What does my nutrition have to do with these hormones? Quite a bit actually. We want to use these hormones around our workout to recover as fast as possible and start protein synthesis.
For years now, we were told to diligently drink our high carb post workout shake in order to ” spike our insulin levels” so it can ‘shuttle” nutrients into the muscle. As it turns out having carbohydrate without a full complement of amino acids means that mTORC1 signalling will be impaired and the insulin response of a carbohydrate load will not lead to protein synthesis (but to fat gain), which means no new muscle being build.
Ok, so we ll have some protein with my shake, whats the big deal?
Good point, after all, whey protein and l-leucine are the most powerful stimulators of insulin and protein synthesis (with or without carbohydrates). But this is excactly where vegans run into trouble, since most vegan proteins are incomplete or l-leucine deficient, so they wont stimulate Mtor enough in order to facilitate protein synthesis.
This is why I highly recommend a supplementation with BCAAs during or post workout . A study by Esmarck et al8 showed that protein synthesis was not dependent on insulin but by hyperaminoacidaemia [high blood amino acid levels] which can be achieved by as little as 10 grams of protein. Anymore, and the protein is wasted as energy and not as building material, or simply stored as fat.
So to summarize: as a vegan ( or any bodybuilder) you must have 10 grams of whey or BCAAs upon awakening and during your workout. 10 grams of protein intraworkout are probably worth 60 grams at any other time during the day. Carbohydrates are much less important than we are led to believe, unless you train for 90 minutes plus.
2. Vitamin b-12 deficiency. It is needed to create blood cells and cell division, Since it only occurs in animal products, hard training vegans can be deficient. The solution here is either brewers yeast or a simple b-12 supplement. The same goes for zinc, I recommend using ZMA before bed for deeper sleep and higher testosterone output.
3. Carb control. Almost every vegan protein is loaded with carbs ( lentils, beans, chickpeas) so if you are trying to cut, you ll run into problems. The first line of defense are nuts and soy products but there is only much tofu one can eat. Nuts deliever a good amount of fat, so if your are training for a bodybuilding show, you wont be able to eat the amount of nuts you ll need to get to 200 grams of protein.
Here is where you have to supplement. Luckily ,the supplement industry has picked up on the needs of vegans and there now is a wide array of hemp, rice, pea, buckwheat and soy proteins one can use to supplement your competition diet.
Here is an outline of how I would approach a vegan diet:
7 am 10 grams of BCAA. Afterwards consume some pure cranberry juice, yes its tart but its also the best liver detoxifier one can find. This goes for all lifters, not just vegans. If your liver isn’t healthy, all that precious protein you are consuming will be wasted.
730 pancake from almond flour, almond milk, protein of choice. 1/2 grapefruit. Add almond butter and / or honey if calorie content allows.
12 am Tofu burger with lentils/tomato sauce poured over, rice cakes with almond butter if bulking
3pm pre workout meal oatmeal cooked with protein powder and almond milk, add fruit and nuts if calorie content allows
5 pm during workout 10 grams of BCAA
6 pm Salad with tofu, nuts and avocado. Add quinoa if bulking
8 pm repeat meal 1, 2 or 5 depending on goals
If you are dieting, every meal should contain vegetables ( goes also for carnivores btw)
So while its true that vegans face more of an uphill road, it doesnt meant tha it impossible to build an impressive physique. You ll just have follow some simple guidelines and observe how your body reacts.