Of all the misconceptions about plant-based diets, the protein issue is one of the most common. The truth is that so long as you consume adequate calories to meet your energy needs, it is virtually impossible to not get enough protein from whole plant foods.
In his article "Muscling Out the Meat Myth," Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., writes, "Around the beginning of [the 20th] century, scientists came to believe - erroneously - that animal protein led to improvements in sport competitiveness." They believed that animal flesh, milk, and eggs stimulated body growth more "efficiently" than plant protein.
Campbell continues, "Efficiency, in this sense, meant that by eating animal protein one could gain more body weight per pound of protein consumed. Efficiency, or high quality, can also mean speeding up all manner of body functions." Contemporary research links the consumption of animal protein with "speeding up" rates of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
What are proteins? Proteins are the building blocks of all life. The easiest way to explain protein is with the analogy of the alphabet. Amino acids represent the letters of the alphabet. There are 20 amino acids found in human proteins. When these amino acids (letters) are combined, we make proteins (words). Depending on the combination of these amino acids, we can come up with literally thousands of protein combinations specific to the human body. Only eight amino acids cannot be synthesized by the body, making them essential to the human diet. All the essential amino acids are present in plants, so a diet rich in whole plant foods will meet your amino acid needs.
How much protein do we need? According to international scientific organizations, including the World Health Organization, human dietary protein needs range from 2-10of total calories. The average American takes in 120-158more than the recommended daily allowance. Even the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans says, "Protein is not limiting in vegetarian diets as long as the variety and amounts of foods consumed are adequate." For an athlete consuming 2500 calories per day, 2-10 translates into 12.5-62.5 grams of protein per day, which is easily met on a whole food, plant-based diet.
Do athletes need more protein than the average person? Yes, but in direct correlation to an increase in calories consumed. Active people will need to consume more calories to meet their energy needs. These needs are easily met with whole plant foods. Many sports nutritionists recommend as much as 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This does not mean athletes should be eating concentrated protein foods like meat, fish, eggs, or protein supplements. In fact, according to Thomas Incledon, M.S., R.D. they should pay more attention to their calorie intake. It takes 2,700 calories of energy to produce 1 pound of lean muscle. Consider this: a 70 Kg (150 pound) sedentary male consumes a 2000 calorie diet of potatoes, beans, and broccoli. This gives him 56 grams of protein per day (0.8 g/Kg). He starts training for the Boston Marathon and increases his calorie intake to 4000 calories a day. Eating the same diet, he is now getting 112 grams of protein or 1.6 g/Kg.
What about protein and athletic recovery? The body becomes stronger and faster with the adaptations from training; therefore, recovery is tantamount to athletic development. Protein is commonly and incorrectly viewed as an energy food that will help you recover faster. If you're feeling weak and tired, the thought goes, you need to eat more protein. Recovery does not occur because of increased dietary protein. Growth and repair happen best when the conditions needed for recovery are met: adequate nutritional intake of carbohydrates, protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals, and sufficient rest and relaxation. The first of these conditions is best met on a whole food, plant-based diet, and insufficient rest and sleep are often overlooked as a cause of low energy and poor recovery.
Should I take protein supplements? The health and sports nutrition marketplace is clogged with protein supplements heralded as the elixirs that will help you recover fast or gain muscle. Many athletes will take a protein supplement just to be "sure" they get enough protein for recovery. Yet supplements are one of the most processed foods you can buy. Most of the nutrition that the original food had is lost in the refining process. Athletes should give their bodies exactly what they need nutritionally. Whole plant foods do just this. (Article provided by Organic Athlete)
Following are some experts' explanations of the benefits of following a vegan diet:Brenda Davis, R.D., author of Becoming Vegan
"Plant-based diets offer exceptional fuel for peak performance and optimal health at every stage of the life cycle. Organic vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber - the greatest protectors in the diet. They also effectively minimize the most damaging components in the diet - trans fatty acids, saturated fat, cholesterol, pro-oxidants, refined carbohydrates and environmental contaminants. Plant-based diets are naturally high the most healthful form of carbohydrates, helping athletes maximize glycogen stores, and allowing for harder work for longer periods of time. Those choosing plant-based diets also reduce their lifetime risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, gallbladder disease, and many immune/inflammatory disorders. While the advantages to our personal health are quite impressive, it is the advantages beyond our personal health that are perhaps most remarkable. Among the greatest contributions a person can make towards the preservation of this planet is eating simple, whole foods that are low on the food chain. Animal-centered, processed-food diets are not ecologically sustainable. Consuming a plant-based diet is also arguably the most powerful step a person can take to reduce cruelty, pain, suffering and death in this world. Plant-based diets are rooted in compassion and reverence for life."Dr. Rick Dina, Living Health Chiropractic and Wellness Center
"Whole natural plant foods, especially in their raw and unprocessed form, can provide us with all of the essential nutritive components we need for optimal training and recovery. This includes biologically active (structured) water, soluble and insoluble fiber, carbohydrates, amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals (including electrolytes), enzymes, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and other beneficial substances science has yet to discover.
Animal foods and processed plant foods are collectively deficient in fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and phytonutrients. In addition, they tend to be too high in salt, and pro-inflammatory fatty acids and advanced glycation end products. Processed plant foods additionally tend to supply us with an excess of refined carbohydrates, trans-fats, pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats, and acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen. Animal foods additionally tend to supply us with an excess of saturated fat, cholesterol, PRO-oxidants, pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid, and a wide array of environmental contaminants. They are completely deficient in carbohydrates (except for lactose in milk) vitamin C, fiber, and phytonutrients.
Arguably of even greater importance than the raw materials that foods do or do not supply is the ease at which they are digested, absorbed, assimilated, and eliminated. The less our food choices demand upon our digestive and metabolic capacity, the greater opportunity the body has available for recovery and regeneration after our training sessions. Animal foods and processed plant foods simultaneously demand a great deal of digestion, fail to supply us with all the raw materials we need, and fill us up with an excess of the performance inhibiting substances mentioned above. Therefore we have decreased capacity when training, and the recovery process is inhibited. A properly designed, largely uncooked, unprocessed, plant food diet creates far less digestive demand, supplies all the raw materials we need, and avoids toxicity. This allows us to work out harder, recover faster, and therefore maximize our ability in whichever athletic endeavor(s) we choose."Lisa Dorfman, M.S., R.D., L.M.H.C., author of The Vegetarian Sports Nutrition Guide
"It's no wonder a plant-based diet is optimal for peak performance. Foods like soy, beans, grains, vegetables and fruits provide the best sources of complex carbohydrate, high nutrient--vitamin,mineral, phytochemical rich choices that fuel muscles, the brain, and blood for strength and endurance sports. Besides that, soy ranks as one of the highest biological protein foods on the planet, vital for building the system and recovering from training and competition. Many plant-based foods are also ideal fluid sources, ones that contribute to the athlete's total daily needs."Dr. Doug Graham, author of Nutrition and Physical Performance and The 80/10/10 Diet
"Every nutrient known to be essential for human health is available, in proper concentration, in plant foods. This is not so with animal-based foods, as there are many essential nutrients that are totally absent in them. A diet consisting of whole fresh ripe raw organic plants is ideal for human health and performance as it most closely accommodates our anatomical and physiological needs for food. We are, literally, built to consume plants. In exactly the same fashion that a car will run best when supplied with the fuel for which it is designed, so too will humans be able to reach their fullest performance potential when utilizing the diet for which we are best built to accommodate."Dr. Ruth Heidrich, author of Race for Life
"As a finisher of six Ironman triathlons, 67 marathons and countless other competitions, I know how important a plant-based diet is. Plants contain the optimal mix of carbohydrates, fat and protein; on average, 80carbs, 10fat, and 10protein. Carbohydrates provide ready fuel for the muscles; fat provides insulation, padding, and a back-up source of energy; and protein provides the material for growth and repair of tissue on an as-needed basis. Obviously, athletes need lots of fuel which plants provide whereas animal foods lack carbs. Plants also provide the only source of phyto nutrients which our bodies need to neutralize the free radicals which exercise and ordinary daily living activities produce.
Plants have all the necessary amino acids so there is no need to eat the muscle of animals. In fact, doing so creates problems with circulation because all animal foods have cholesterol and saturated fat which are known to clog human arteries.
Eat fruits and vegetables in their whole, unrefined, unprocessed state for your best athletic performance and for the prevention of the degenerative diseases that plague nearly all those who eat an animal-based diet. Besides, plants are the most economical and certainly the most enjoyable foods we can eat."Bradley Saul, cyclist and founder of OrganicAthlete
My transition to a plant-based diet required several years of independent study of nutrition and health. But after reading Food Revolution by John Robbins, I thought to myself, "why have I been eating anything but a vegan diet for this long?" As I learned more about a plant-based diet and lifestyle, the reasons for continuing to eat and live this way mounted. And as I experienced better health and faster recovery times, I was motivated to learn more and share this information with others. Now when someone asks me why I am vegan I couldn't even begin to list all my answers, but I think there are two primary reasons athletes will be interested in a plant-based diet: optimal nutrition and environmental stewardship.
Even mainstream nutrition organizations support a plant-based diet:
"It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." Most of the time when you read or hear about vegetarian or vegan sports nutrition, the focus is on what you will lack by giving up animal products. "If you want to eat a vegetarian diet, be careful, for you might not get enough [fill in the blank - protein, calcium, iron, etc]," says the typical nutritionist and doctor. Or worse, they tell you it's not possible. While our understanding of sports nutrition has increased dramatically in the past several decades, what is lacking is our rationale for promoting foods (such as meat and dairy) that are strongly associated with chronic diseases and foods which have marginal nutritional value (such as supplements, refined energy bars, and sports drinks).
I've learned that fruits and vegetables are the healthiest foods we can possibly eat. In terms of a total package of carbohydrates, protein, essential fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables have superior nutritional value compared to any other food group or processed food. Yet, education about whole plant food nutrition lags far behind relative to the marketing of meat, dairy and processed foods. The question is: who's to gain by consuming more fruits and vegetables? The answer is you.
The multi-billion dollar food industry makes its wealth at the expense of people's health and the environment. The major ecological issues facing our planet today -- global warming, deforestation, soil depletion, and limited water resources -- are directly linked with animal production and conventional agriculture. As athletes, we must take this into consideration, for without clean air, unpolluted soil, and pure water, we do not have an environment worth exercising in. We have the choice to contribute to the healing of our planet and the building of healthy bodies. It all begins with how we choose to feed ourselves. (Article provided by Organic Athlete)