The vegan fitness community is ever-growing, and everyday I am surprised by some of the amazing athletes and their achievements in the global growing lifestyle and fitness trend that is veganism. However, I'm also consistently astounded with the level of rubbish that many vegans expound and recommend when it comes to developing physical fitness, whether that's endurance athletes, bodybuilders, strength athletes, MMA fighters etc.
The key root of this misinformation is quite easy to analyse. The omnivorous fitness discussion centres around one macronutrient primarily: protein. From high-protein, low-carb diets, to discussions about the best sources of protein which are almost invariably focused on animal products. Milk, meat, chicken breast, egg whites, steak, chicken breast, salmon, cheese, chicken breast, chicken breast, more chicken breast.
Thus, the vegan fitness community can feel a little excluded from these discussions, as we come in feebly suggesting 'tofu' only to be, at best subtly ignored, at worst receive a barrage of misinformation about soy and bitch-tits in men, followed up by a swift 'vegans can't build muscle!!1'.
The truth is vegans can build muscle. We have plenty of proof of this. Just take a look at Robert Cheeke's Vegan Bodybuilding site, or PlantBuilt. But the rules don't change. Building muscle requires heaps of protein, no matter who you are.
Vegans have access to so many protein sources, really they should be offering their chicken breast obsessed friends advice and ideas for alternative meals. We've got soy in all its forms (tempeh, tofu, soy milk, edamame etc), nuts & seeds, quinoa, seitan, hemp, lentils, beans of so many varieties, faux meats and many more. And some delicious vegan protein shakes on the market too. You know the old adage 'for every animal you don't eat, I'll eat three'? Vegans should be telling omnis that for every chicken breast eaten, they'll eat three. Made of seitan. And lovingly accompanied by quinoa. And a portion of broccoli, of course.
But the vegan fitness community has become its own worst enemy. Recommendations often seem to point to everything but protein. Raw diets, juicing, 80/10/10, frugivore: these diets have their place, sure, but they seem to have become the ubiquitous answer given to any vegan fitness related question. Whenever questioned, fall-back responses are always in place. I have nothing against raw diets – indeed, I follow a raw vegan diet on an occasional basis, usually for a week or two at a time. That said, there's an unfortunate tendency to rely on vague unfounded arguments whenever someone questions raw. I'm sorry but if your response to a fallacy in your nutritional reasoning is along the lines of 'those 50 studies that directly prove what you just said are all incorrect because they were funded by corporations' or perhaps some barrel-scraping notion of micro-micronutrients such as antioxidants or enzymes being the be all and end all of health and fitness then I am going to ignore you.
There's enough information out there already (much of it funded by very legitimate sources) as to what pertains to a healthy diet. Protein is part of that equation, and depending on your fitness goals it can be quite a big part of it.
I understand the fears around this. I understand the desire to reinvent the wheel and hope for the best. As mentioned, protein has become almost synonymous with meat. To further this, there are numerous diets out there that rely on high-protein utilising a high-meat intake. Paleo, Atkins, and at the furthest extreme, Keto.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Veganism needs to prove itself and all the tools to do it are there. We have more and more fantastic vegan protein sources and products hitting the market all the time. This isn't an article to recommend what you should be eating – there's whole hosts of info out there about that. Just check out Kai's article on weightloss on a vegan diet as the tip of the iceberg. However, I'll say this much – protein is a necessity. We should take conscious steps to include it in our diets, at higher than average quantities if you're following a fitness regime. Taking conscious steps to avoid protein and healthy fats is a bizarre concept in my eyes.
But there's more to it than simply being healthy. Veganism is, for most, an ethical choice beyond all else. And that's where you can do some good too. Let's support the companies out there selling vegan supplements and products – some of which are exclusively vegan. Ignoring these companies in favour of dubious dietary patterns is only going to damage veganism's reputation and its reach into the fitness community.
Just some of the companies out there creating, marketing and selling vegan products:
Nature's Whey (UK) – range of vegan supplements and protein
Vega (US) – Great range of vegan supplements
Sunwarrior (US but launching in UK) – raw vegan protein powders
Good Hemp Nutrition (UK) – a range of hemp products, including protein powder
Reflex Nutrition (UK) – non-vegan company, but creates a delicious vegan protein powder at a very reasonable price
MyProtein (UK) – non-vegan company, but labels vegan-friendly products and produces a 'vegan blend' protein.
True Nutrition (US) – non-vegan company with a large range of vegan proteins including potato protein powder!
And there's loads more. But these companies need support and money to make vegan proteins a financially viable market.
I think sadly, the synonymity between protein and meat in the fitness world has put vegans off consuming healthy, well evidenced diets which will help them achieve their fitness goals. It's time we looked at this issue realistically, and gave our support to all the vegan protein products and companies that are out there. Veganism is doing no one any favours by trying to reinvent good nutrition, least of all its stand in the fitness community.