Building Muscles with Plant-Based Nutrition
As endurance athletes, we don’t aspire to build muscular size, but rather to simply develop what muscle we do have to be strong, and function efficiently. Building strength while not packing on bulk will raise strength-to-weight ratio. As a direct result, endurance will take a leap forward.
Can strength athletes, such as bodybuilders, benefit from a similar plant-based diet? In fact, they can. While endurance athletes aim to develop efficient muscles, without increasing their size, bodybuilders are quite the opposite. Since bodybuilders are judged by appearances alone, they train accordingly. Bulk, symmetry, and definition are the three visual points a bodybuilder will be assessed on. Since their muscles functionality is not factored into scoring, time and effort are not spent honing that aspect.
However, what builds efficient muscles in endurance athletes is the same thing that builds visually impressive muscles in bodybuilders: hard work.
Does More Protein Mean More Muscle?
Immediately following an intense workout, those serious about packing on lean muscles will down a high-protein shake. To repair muscle tissue after breaking it down in the gym requires the rebuilding properties that protein is touted for. In the minds of many, quantity is the priority; the more protein, the better. But does more really equate to better results? Let’s take a look.
The way to add extra protein to the diet, while not increasing fat or carbohydrate contents, is to mechanically or chemically remove the fat and carbohydrate component. What remains is called protein isolate. Once protein is isolated from the other macronutrients, its ratio increased. Some manufactured isolates register protein content in excess of 90 percent. But once isolated, it is no longer a whole food and therefore harder for the body to digest, assimilate, and utilize. Protein isolates are also inherently acid-forming. With the onset of an acidic body, functionality declines.
It is true that when a traditional acid-forming post-workout smoothie that contains protein isolate is swapped out for a plant-based whole food option, the chance of muscular size loss is likely. This will lead to concerns for athletes who want pack on muscle mass. What they are losing in size is simply inflammation.
Eat Plants, Work Hard, Build Muscle
Immediately following a weight training workout, the muscles will be broken down and inflamed. And as we know, acid-forming food creates inflammation. Therefore the consumption of a traditional post-workout smoothie that contains protein isolates will exacerbate the level and rate of inflammation. With inflammation, come size and a reduction in functionality. As the muscles become less functional, their ability to lift weight declines. This can become a problem. Lifting heavy weight is what builds muscles strong and big. If the body delves into a less functional state, it won’t have the ability to work as intensely. And without the capacity to train hard, muscles cannot continue to grow. More time will also need to be allocated between training sessions to allow inflammation to dissipate. Since intensity and frequency are the two prime components to a successful muscle-building program, inflammation can well become the greatest single inhibitor of progress.
Post Workout Plant-based Nutrition: Helping You Help Yourself
There are plant-based options that will ensure inflammation be kept to a minimum. Excellent plant-based protein sources include: hemp, pea, and rice protein. While protein is a crucial component for muscle repair and building, so are essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), vitamins, minerals, enzymes, probiotics, antioxidants and a host of other nutritional components that can be found in a variety of plant-based whole foods. Post-workout smoothies will deliver greater results if it contains these components, not merely protein. Additionally, chlorella, a form of freshwater algae, is an excellent addition to the smoothie. Due to its exceptionally high chlorophyll content, it is among the most alkaline-forming foods available. Its protein percentage is almost naturally 70 percent.
So while plant-based nutrition won’t necessarily make you a better athlete, it will allow you to train harder. Thus, it will make you a better athlete. As all great athletes know, their success hinges on their ability to pursue it. With improved functionality and less rest required between workouts, success will be yours for the taking.
About Brendan Brazier
Brendan Brazier is one of only a few professional athletes in the world whose diet is 100 percent plant-based. He’s a professional Ironman triathlete, bestselling author on performance nutrition, and the creator of an award-winning line of whole food nutritional products called VEGA. He is also a two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion.