While October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, people are becoming more interested in a plant-based diet all year round. Though interest and popularity for plant-based eating continues to increase, there are still many misconceptions—especially when it comes to protein for workouts and recovery.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients and it primarily plays the role of muscle synthesis. During physical activity, muscle tissue goes through a restructuring process that involves some break down of muscle tissue. This is why protein becomes a major focus for those who have a more active lifestyle.
It has become common knowledge that eating enough protein is necessary for muscle recovery as well as increasing and maintaining muscle mass and strength. However, many people still wonder: where exactly can you find protein, what are the different types of protein, and is one better than the others? This is particularly the case as people continue to compare plant-based proteins against animal proteins.
What are plant-based proteins?
Plant-based proteins come from plants, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and even some starchy vegetables. Other foods also include, but are not limited to, tofu, seitan, tempeh, and certain plant-based milks.
It is important to note that all proteins have amino acids – the building blocks of proteins. However, plant-based proteins have different combinations of amino acids in comparison to animal proteins, which are “complete proteins” since they contain all essential amino acids whereas most plant-proteins do not. It is a common misconception that complete proteins are a more superior form of protein for those who are physically active. The true key to success is ensuring an intake of a variety of protein sources.
Should you follow a plant-based diet for an active lifestyle?
One area of concern for plant-based diets is for individuals that follow a vegan diet in which there are no animal proteins present. For many vegans this means there is minimal iron and little to no consumption of vitamin B12 – both of which are important for energy. To mitigate the effects of these deficiencies, it may be necessary to consider supplements.
Overall, studies support following a plant-based diet yields the same results in muscle growth and recovery in comparison to omnivore diets. Because it is also necessary to eat a variety of plant-proteins to ensure adequate consumption of amino acids, it becomes easier to ensure a variety of nutrients in the diet as well. For example, plant-based diets are rich in antioxidants which can further aid in recovery and reduce inflammation. They are also rich in fiber to support gut health, which can have significant effects in energy production in addition to muscle recovery and maintenance.
It is always important to take note of your goals when creating an eating pattern that works best for you, and for active individuals interested in plant-based eating, they are sure to reap many benefits.
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- Monteyne AJ, Coelho MOC, Murton AJ, Abdelrahman DR, Blackwell JR, Koscien CP, Knapp KM, Fulford J, Finnigan TJA, Dirks ML, Stephens FB, Wall BT. Vegan and Omnivorous High Protein Diets Support Comparable Daily Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Rates and Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy in Young Adults. J Nutr. 2023 Jun
- West S, Monteyne AJ, van der Heijden I, Stephens FB, Wall BT. Nutritional Considerations for the Vegan Athlete. Adv Nutr. 2023 Jul