Making the Vegan Diet Work
By Mike Mahler
There is no way that you can get big and strong on a vegan diet! I used to hear this all the time from my meat-eating friends. I say, used to as I never hear it anymore from people that know me or from people that have seen my photos on my website. Yes my friends, you can in fact get bigger and stronger on a vegetarian diet. You can even do it on a vegan diet (no animal products whatsoever).
Just because the pot smoking, rice dream eating hippie vegetarian in Venice Beach, CA looks like he has not eaten in a month, does not mean that every vegan does. I have the strength and size to back up the fact that you can get strong and have a muscular body on a vegan diet and I am far from being the only one. Just this past weekend MMA fighter and vegan Mac Danzig won a contract with the UFC after finishing off an opponent with ease. Lets go over how to make the vegan diet work.
Lets start off with the number one issue that people have when evaluating a vegan diet: where the hell am I going to get my protein from? Fortunately for vegans meat does not corner the market on protein and no you do not have to live off protein shakes either. The following vegan friendly foods are loaded with protein: lentils, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans, almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, almond butter, peanut butter, and hemp seeds. Just one serving of lentils mixed with one serving of hemp seeds is around twenty grams of complete protein. In addition it is a nice balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fat. Of course, you can always combine beans and rice for a complete protein meal. However, this also ends up being a high carb meal as well which is not ideal for everyone. Personally, I feel my best on a moderate protein, fairly high fat, and moderate carbohydrate diet. You will have to experiment to find what ratio works best for you.
An example of a high protein vegan meal that I have often is three servings of lentils (24 grams of protein) mixed with two servings of pistachios (14 grams of protein and 26 grams of healthy fat), add two cups of broccoli and two cups of mixed vegetables. I then add one tablespoon of olive oil to the mix and I am good to go. To make it taste better you can add some tomato sauce, spices, etc. I eat more for fuel and health than taste so I am the wrong person to ask on how to make food delicious. (Visit Sassy Knutson's website at www.vegancoach.com for help in preparing nutritious and great-tasting vegan meals on the fly, without recipes.) This meal has around 40 grams of protein and while the fat count may sound excessive in reality it is not. Especially for people that workout a lot. Fat is a great source of energy and lasts much longer than carbohydrates. When I do not have enough fat in my diet, my energy and mood go down the drain. Fat fuel is what works best for me. You will have to experiment to see what works best for you.
Without enough fat in your diet, your skin will dry up, your energy will plummet, and you will look like death. Getting 20-40% or more of your calories from fat is a good way to go. Load up on healthy fats such as: Hempseed olive oil, almonds, walnuts, marine algae DHA, pecans, almond butter, and avocadoes. Also, many vegetarian diets are free of all saturated fats, which is great for the most part. However, some saturated fat is required for optimal health, so get some coconut oil or coconut milk in you diet as well. I generally have one can of Trader Joes brand coconut milk with my protein shakes each day.
When putting together a vegan diet make sure you focus on real sources of food. Avoid relying on fake meat products, soy milk, rice milk etc. These packaged foods are loaded with sodium and sugar and are okay as transitional options rather than staples. Focus on real food such as nuts, beans, veggies, and some grains such as quinoa and oats. Vegans tend to follow low fat, low protein, and heavy carbohydrate diets, which is a big mistake. Only a small percentage of the population will feel optimal on such diets. You need to discover what will work for you. Play around with fat and protein ratios and see how you feel. Get over the myth that fat makes you fat. In reality excess calories and especially excess carbohydrates are the culprits for high body fat. You will find that your overall calorie consumption will be less when you load up on fat as fat provides a steady flow of energy and reduces hunger tremendously. People on low fat diets are always hungry which is why low fat diets rarely work. Again, I do very well on high fat (30-40% of diet) moderate carb and moderate protein (100-120 grams per day). This is what I have discovered after being a vegan for many years.
Finally, there is growing evidence that soy can increase estrogen levels, block mineral absorption, and decrease thyroid function. Others argue that there are many health benefits of soy. Regardless, I would leave soy alone as contrary to widespread belief it is not a necessary part of the vegan diet so why take the risk? Wheat gluten is even worse and is the worst part of wheat. It is a highly allergic and inflammatory food so avoid it like the plague. Seitan is garbage and I do not recommend it at all. There is enough variety in real vegan food sources so leave the fake stuff alone.
Vegan High Protein Sources
Almonds, 7-8 grams of protein per serving
Pistachios 7 grams of protein per serving
Pumpkin Seeds 11 grams of protein per serving
Sunflower Seeds 8 grams of protein per serving
Hempseeds 11 grams of protein per serving
Almond Butter 8 grams of protein per serving
Peanut Butter 8 grams of protein per serving (many people are allergic to peanut butter and it can cause inflammation. When in doubt, stick with almond butter)
Black Beans 8 grams of protein per serving
Lentils 8 grams of protein per serving
Garbanzo Beans 7 grams of protein per serving
Navy Beans 8 grams of protein per serving
Kidney Beans 7 grams of protein per serving
Pinto Beans 7 grams of protein per serving
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