Adopting a meat-free lifestyle has truly revolutionised my life. It is a common concern for many omnivores that ditching meat will make it harder to gain muscle / fitness levels, or that it may even result in muscle loss. This was actually a major concern for me which was why I didn’t give up meat sooner.
Two years ago however, after a lot of research, I quit eating meat, and I am now in the best shape of my life! On top of this, I have seen noticeable increases in energy levels, a new found love for my food, improved skin, a better feeling of connection with nature, and increased enthusiasm for life!
Through research and lots of trial and error, I have put together my 5 top tips which have been important in achieving my goals:
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1. Start your day with a smoothie
I love smoothies! How else could you consume 7-8 different vegetables and fruits before you’ve even left your house?! I workout in the mornings before work, and have found the best way is to make a big smoothie, and have half before the gym, to fuel your muscles, and half straight afterwards, to aid recovery / growth. I choose smoothies over juices as they keep all the fibre and nutrients of the fruit and vegetables and keeps me fuller for longer.
2. Count colours, not calories
Try and make every meal as colourful as possible. When you have a plate of food that includes lots of colourful veggies / grains / pulses, you know you are getting a large array of different nutrients and the full range of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) needed to maintain and grow muscle. Don’t obsess over calorie counting too: if you are trying to gain muscle then you need to eat lots of clean food to fuel muscles; if you are trying to strip fat then continue to work out the same, but simply cut down your portion sizes.
3. Don’t replace meat with cheese
When first giving up meat, it is very easy to fall into the trap of simply eating cheese as a replacement for when you otherwise would have eaten meat. However, cheese is just as bad, if not worse, than meat for you as it is extremely high in saturated fat, as well as hormones, antibiotics etc that cows are often fed.
I always try and make sure my fridge and fruit bowl is full of healthy natural foods. If there is junk food in the house, it is too tempting, so I make sure not to buy any, and have lots of healthy alternatives. If i’m still hungry after dinner for example, rather than eating sweets / chocolate, I will have an apple and a handful of walnuts. I also like to make big batches of food whenever I cook and freeze lots of portions, so if I’m ever feeling lazy after work there is a quick and healthy option as an alternative to getting take away or a supermarket ready meal.
5. Supplements aren’t cheating
I often have a vegan protein bar / shake after working out or as a mid-afternoon snack. This is not because I am not getting enough protein from my diet – it is for the same reason that meat-eaters still often take protein supplements – convenience! It is important to eat little and often so that blood sugar levels don’t spike then leave you feeling sluggish, and to maintain protein levels in the body to aid muscle recovery and growth. However, especially when at work or university, eating 6 small meals a day can be quite inconvenient, so I find eating a healthy vegan protein bar does the job quite nicely and can be transported easily with no washing up!
Have you built muscle while eating a plant-based diet? Did it make any difference when you ate animal products? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Tom Waterfall is studying for an MSc in Public Health Nutrition at University College London. He is a keen fitness / lifestyle blogger, gives brilliant tips, inspiration, and ideas to help encourage more people to give up eating meat for health, the animals, and the planet.
He has made an incredible body transformation time-lapse video to prove that a meat-free diet is no obstacle to getting fit and strong, which you can watch here. You can also follow him on Instagram or Twitter.
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