A high protein diet has very little to do with muscle growth.
One of the biggest myths around eating plant-based and ditching the animal products, is still about protein and our ability to build muscle. This belief that we need a high protein diet to build and fuel our muscles is one of the biggest misconceptions.
If you are eating a predominantly whole-food plant-based diet, you will easily be consuming all the nutrients you need in abundance. Not just to survive, but to thrive and reach your goals. This includes your body’s ability to build and maintain muscle mass. If you’re not convinced, take a look at the following vegan and or plant-based athletes; Robert Cheeke, Venus Williams, Nimai Delgado, Nate Diaz, Morgan Mitchell and Rich Roll just to name a few.
Also, the image used for this blog post is a local Vegan QLD mum and athlete who definitely has no problem building muscle.
Whether you are a breast feeding mother, an infant or an extreme rock climber, your body is designed to survive on a diet rich in plant based whole foods. In the case of an individual wanting to increase muscle mass, exercise including weight and resistance training is what will help you to increase your muscle mass, not the extra serving of chicken as once believed.
If I’m fit I must be healthy right?
It is important to remember that each individual is different.
You can work extremely hard (or not hard at all if you are genetically blessed) to have a very athletic and muscular looking body. If you are genetically blessed or you work hard for your muscles, this also does not mean you are healthy. A person can still be considered ‘unhealthy’ but look ‘fit’. They may have the bio-markers of disease and chronic illness due to many external factors. Why, because that person may not be consuming enough plant-based whole foods, they may be exposed to dangerous levels of environmental toxins or they may consume too many heavily processed foods.
We have over complicated the whole process of eating. Consumerism and money has fuelled the health and fitness industry, which has led us to believe we need to count our macro and micro nutrients for results, leading to an unhealthy obsession with food, exercise and health. Food is designed to nourish and heal the body. The body can use food and convert it to what it needs at that time. Believe it or not, our bodies are a well-oiled machine that when fed the right foods will look after us and improve our performance.
This is a not a question of which diet, or which synthetic supplements or food trends will help me build muscle quicker. It is a question of mindset, and re-wiring our beliefs around food and what we consume. One thing we can all agree on is that consuming a diet high in nutrients is essential for human growth, development and recovery. The real question is where will you get your nutrients from? Mother nature in the form of plant-based whole foods, or packaged processed foods that are detrimental to your health?
The truth about Carbohydrates and Fats
To break this down even further, the three main macronutrients we need to survive are in the form of fats, protein and carbohydrates.
As a society we associate protein with muscles, carbohydrates as bad and fats as unhealthy.
Fats alone have led us to believe we will gain weight just reading the word. Our bodies need healthy amounts of fat each day for survival. It really is that simple. Ditch the processed and refined fats found in butters and oils, and go for more healthy options like avocado, nuts and seeds in small amounts. And let’s not forget about carbs. Carbohydrates have gotten a really bad rap. Sweet, refined and process carbohydrates like sugar coated breakfast cereals or processed and chemical ladened white bread has been proven to be bad for our health. But that doesn’t mean all carbs are bad. What about all the natural, whole food, high in fibre and starchy carbohydrates out there? That is basically all fruits and vegetables. We definitely need them to survive. This is the main fuel source for every cell in your body.
Protein and building muscles
Focusing on protein, we have been convinced for years that we need a high protein diet to gain and maintain muscles.
Robyn Chuter gives us her professional opinion using the latest scientific-evidence based research. She believes that muscle is built in the gym, it is not built in the kitchen. If you want a muscle to grow in size or become stronger, you push that muscle to its capacity, basically to fatigue and then you rest it. In the recovery period the body uses amino acids to rebuild the muscle and in turn make it bigger, harder faster and/or stronger. Robyn also states that the body can take amino acids from any food source. All whole natural foods contain protein, even fruit! Who would have thought that every plant-based whole food had protein in it?
Did you know that 25% of your daily protein requirement comes from recycling your own digestive juices? And recapturing your own sluffed off intestinal cells.
Robyn explains that strength training increases the efficiency of protein absorption and protein utilisation. In short, the more strength training exercises you do, the more efficient you will become at absorbing and utilising protein
Robyn firmly states that eating a whole-food plant-based diet is in no way a detriment to building muscles. From her experience and studies with her clients, she has found that people who adopt a whole food plant-based diet actually build more muscle, as their recovery time is quicker. She believes that the more plants you eat, the greater your ability to increase muscle mass. When eating a whole food plant-based diet high in antioxidants and nutrients, muscle soreness dissipates much sooner than when on a conventional western diet.
Robyn uses the example of Robert Cheeke who began body building after he went vegan. He started off by having a high protein diet including protein shakes and supplements. In recent years and as his body building journey has progressed, he has decided to decrease his protein intake and has adopted a whole food plant-based diet. Since doing this, he has grown bigger and stronger muscle mass
Robyn believes that if it was a matter of "eat more protein and you’ll get bigger muscles", everyone in western society should look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. The average person is eating 1.5 to 2 times the RDI (recommended daily intake) of protein, and they don’t have big muscles nor are they particularly strong because they don’t do muscle building exercise.
Again proving that a high protein diet has very little to do with muscle growth.
If you don’t put your muscles through a workout, they won’t grow. Robyn states that the human body is an efficiency machine. Whatever you do with it, it will figure out a way to make it more efficient.
So in conclusion, there is no need to consume a diet high in protein ,or one that includes meat or animal products, for physical performance based outcomes.
Thanks Robyn, we look forward to our next episode with you! 💪🌱
Credit information: Robyn Chuter from https://empowertotalhealth.com.au/
Credit image: Mel from Globe Health Club Southport 2019