By Kyle Wheeler, MS, NASM-CPT, Certified Wellness Coach
Meat and dairy are big sources of protein. So it’s natural to wonder whether, without meat, can people still find the energy to hit the gym?
It’s a question I hear from many people who are interested in a vegan diet but worry about whether they’ll be able to still pursue their fitness goals. The answer is yes, they definitely can!
First, it’s important to remember that being vegan doesn’t mean you don’t consume protein.
Vegan is a form of vegetarianism that involves not eating meat or anything that comes from animals, including dairy, eggs, and animal byproducts. But vegans do get plenty of protein from vegetables, nuts, and beans. They also maximize a plant-based diet that gives them other essential nutrients often missing from a meat-based diet, including certain vitamins, minerals, and, most importantly, fiber.
Knowing this, it is possible to embrace a vegan diet and still have stamina for a strong workout. Here are four pointers that can help.
Take things gradually. There are many benefits that come from a plant-based diet. But if you’re new to being a vegan or new to working out, you should slow down and give your body time to adjust to each. Don’t eliminate meat out of nowhere, then load up salads for a week, and then jump on the treadmill. Make the transition slowly for your workouts and your diet.
Focus on health. Keep in mind that a vegan diet doesn’t mean just giving up animal-based products. It also means pursuing a nutritious, balanced plant-based diet. Eating only potato chips is technically being vegan, but it won’t give you the strength to hit the weights.
Be prepared to eat more. Working out requires taking in enough calories. If you typically eat meat and eggs, you probably find that you don’t have to each very much before you hit your calorie limit. This is because oil and fat are calorically dense. On the other hand, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans are high in nutrients but low in calories. This means you’ll need to eat a lot more food throughout the day!
Expect better recovery. Many athletes – even Olympians – pursue a vegan diet based on its anti-inflammatory properties. Plant-based foods can aid in recovery, hydration, and performance. They can promote blood flow and strengthen blood vessels. You may find that as your body adjusts in calories and energy levels, your recovery between workouts becomes faster and easier and your muscles and joints feel stronger.
Be flexible. As you begin to work out, remember that you may need to alter your diet as you go to keep feeling your best. Experiment with what you eat and when you eat and how it affects your performance. You may have more energy in the mornings, or you may find you do your best before or after a snack. Be open to different solutions and make adjustments as needed.
Getting a good workout doesn’t mean you need a plate of meat, protein bar, or protein shake. You can fuel your body with plant-based foods that will power you through your entire day and your fitness routine. The trick is to listen to your body and eat nutritiously, whether you’re a vegan or not.
For guidance on how to pick the meal plan that’s right for you and get the most out of every workout, ask a YMCA staff member. We’re here to help!