There’s been lots of research on the nutritional benefits of plant-based diets—from full-on veganism to the plant-heavy Mediterranean diet—and, the consensus seems to be that they’re pretty good for you. Recent studies have shown plant-based diets could help lead to lower blood pressure, weight loss, and a healthier heart.
If you want to reap those benefits while also building muscle, though, perhaps the idea of plant-based dieting has been (pun intended) a tough nut for you to crack. Traditionally, animal-source proteins are a dietary staple for those looking to build lean muscle, often bolstered by dairy-based whey and casein protein supplements. If you cut those from your diet, where will you find all that quality protein to build and maintain a physique?
Luckily for you, we know some guys who have made huge gains by sticking to plants, all the way through. Here, plant-based expert trainers Anthony Crouchelli, CFSC, a USA Boxing-certified coach and one of the founding trainers at GRIT BXNG in New York and Mike Rashid, a pro boxer, bodybuilder, and fitness entrepreneur based in Los Angeles, give us a few plant-based power tips.
Courtesy of Anthony Crouchelli
Converting to a 100-percent plant-based diet isn’t something you can do overnight. Attempting such a drastic, instantaneous overhaul to your diet isn’t just a goal that will set you up to fail, it’s a physical change that will deliver an unpleasant shock to your system.
Crouchelli says his first bit of plant-based advice for people is always: “wean into it.”
One strategy he has found effective is to set a goal of going fully plant-based one or two days of the week instead of all at once. Once that becomes comfortable, it’s easier to build closer to a full-time plant-based regimen.
Embrace plant-based protein supps
Most guys think that if they swap out their go-to whey for a plant-based protein, they’ll shrivel up. But that’s simply not the case.
“I find when people lean towards the plant-based diet, their markers are healthier,” says Rashid, referring to his clients’ traditional medical measurements like blood pressure or cholesterol level. “Personally, I felt it gave me more energy and hugely reduced my inflammation.”
The typical argument against plant-based protein supplements is that they don’t have all the necessary amino acids to support muscle-building. But that is not always the case, thanks to new products like Ambrosia Collective, which Rashid helped develop, and incorporates sunflower BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) into supplements, yielding a more complete amino acid profile.
While they were at it, they addressed the other frequent accusation against plant-based proteins: the taste. Ambrosia comes in 14 crowd-pleasing flavors including Banana Maple French Toast and Chocolate Caramel Candy Bar.
Maybe the biggest benefit of switching away from an animal milk-based protein supplement? Let’s just say your plant-based future smells brighter.
“Something like 80 percent of people have some form of lactose intolerance, and most of that is related to digestion,” Rashid says. “I don’t hate on dairy—but that’s all whey.”
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Build a new routine out of your old routine
If you’re going the 6-off, 1-on (or 5-and-2 day method), you can program your plant-based days (and your supplements) around your existing activity schedule. At least, that’s what has worked for Crouchelli.
His two plant-based days are his primary focus each week—one being a mostly restorative day, the other movement-heavy—and the anti-inflammatory properties of plant-based foods equally benefit him during both.
“If I’m helping to reduce the amount of inflammation inside my body by eating a plant-based diet one day, then the next day, my delayed-onset muscle soreness is not as severe,” Crouchelli says.
In other words, he can tap into those anti-inflammatory benefits on dedicated recovery days, but also as a way to prime his body to power through his next tough workout day.
Make simple swaps
Going plant-based doesn’t mean having three salads a day for the rest of your life. You can get a lot out of simply making a few smart swaps to your everyday meals—starting with the first one of the day.
“If you want to get a good morning on a plant-based diet, you go overnight oats,” Crouchelli says. His go-to breakfast delivers the same protein intake as a plate of eggs—plus more if you incorporate a quality vegan protein powder into the recipe.
Another small swap for big plant-based energy gains: butter your toast with a nutrient-rich, plant-based spread like a sunflower or nut butter.
These examples apply at breakfast, but there are loads of other equally simple swaps you can try for lunch, dinner, and in between. Remember, it’s about starting with small steps within the framework of a routine that already works for you.
Change up your snacks
Don’t worry about not feeling satiated on a plant-based diet. The natural energizers in plants (complex carbs, natural sugars, fiber, all kinds of vitamins) can keep your workouts and workdays going for longer—you just might have to rethink what you snack on between meals to keep you powered all day.
Crouchelli says it helps to think about quick sources of “rich carbohydrates.” Dates are always an option. Smoothies with seeds are a staple. And don’t forget edamame.
“I know people who just walk around New York City with edamame,” he says. “It seems kind of nuts, but sure enough, it’s my go-to fuel in between clients.”
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