Last Updated on September 13, 2021 by Guillermina
Bodybuilding, an intense and competitive sport, is focused on maximizing muscle size and shape through weightlifting and exercise. There’s also a large emphasis on the dietary part of the sport with a range of what bodybuilders eat. This article breaks down vegan bodybuilders vs meat-eating bodybuilders, discussing what they eat and the impact on their body goals.
Bodybuilders are lifting weights at a very high intensity that causes their muscles to break down in order to become larger. Because of this, there is a focus on eating protein to repair these muscles. Reducing intake of carbohydrates and fats is very common among bodybuilders to try to prevent body fat.
Challenges of Bodybuilding
Bodybuilders, regardless of what diet they follow, have their own set of challenges. Competitive bodybuilders may decide to minimize or eliminate food groups to focus on protein and decrease body fat. Sugar, or carbohydrates, often gets targeted and removed from the diet.
Carbohydrates are a primary energy source in the body. Eliminating sources of sugar causes a lack of energy, which sometimes leads to use of performance-enhancing drugs. The use of performance-enhancing drugs in bodybuilding is common and are not healthy. For this article, we will stay focused on comparing diet and supplement use.
Bodybuilders focus on getting high amounts of protein thinking it will help their muscles grow. However, high protein diets are not healthy in the long run. Eating large amounts of protein can lead to overuse and damage of the kidneys.
Meat-eating bodybuilders eat meat, fish, and eggs as their main protein sources. Meat is the center of their diet because of its high protein content. Other food groups such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy, may also be a part of their daily food intake.
In order to eat more protein, some bodybuilders will focus on meat as their primary food source. This means these bodybuilders aren’t eating as much from the other food groups, if at all. In extreme cases, some bodybuilders will eliminate most of the other food groups.
Challenges for Meat-Eating Bodybuilders
Disordered eating habits among meat-eating bodybuilders include fearing sugar, even from fruits. This can lead to eliminating food groups without protein, like fruit and grains. This leads to an immense lack of fiber and vitamins, which is really damaging to the digestive tract.
Eating large amounts of meat and animal products is also a point of concern. Meat contains saturated fat and cholesterol and can lead to heart disease and other health problems if eaten in excess. Following the recommendations for eating meat would be a challenge for bodybuilders following this diet.
Protein powders and supplements may also be used to get extra protein in the diet. These options include whey protein isolate, micellar casein protein, collagen, branch chain amino acids (BCAA), creatine, and egg white protein. These supplements are usually low in carbs and fat, so it can help achieve their diet goals.
Following a vegan diet for bodybuilding has gained popularity in more recent years. Vegan bodybuilders do not eat meat or animal byproducts. Their diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and plant-based proteins.
Following a vegan diet is an overall healthy decision, bodybuilder or not. If eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, vegan diets are typically high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are also low in cholesterol and saturated fats.
It’s a common misconception that vegan bodybuilders cannot get enough protein from plant-based sources. There are many sources of vegan protein!
- Lentils, beans, or peas
- Nutritional yeast
- Soy and cashew milk
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut and seed butters
- Veggie burgers
- Meat alternatives
Vegan bodybuilders have to be more careful about making sure they get all of the essential amino acids in their diet than meat-eating bodybuilders. Most vegan protein are not complete proteins, meaning they are missing or low in one of the nine essential amino acids. Combining incomplete protein sources will achieve vegan protein needs.
One exception to this rule is that soy products are complete proteins. Eating tofu and tempeh on a vegan diet is a great way to receive protein and all of the essential amino acids.
Vegan bodybuilders can use vegan protein powders and shakes to get an extra boost in protein. Some of these protein supplements will also include key vitamins and minerals for vegans. Some popular vegan protein supplement brands are:
- Garden of Life
- So Clean & So Lean
Creatine is a vegan-friendly supplement that has shown the ability to increase performance and recovery. It is not naturally found in a vegan diet, so creatine storage levels will be lower than non-vegans. Taking creatine is particularly helpful for vegan bodybuilders to compensate for the lack of creatine in their diet.
Vitamins and Minerals for Vegans
There are a few vitamins that the vegan bodybuilders will need to supplement. The vegan diet in general is lower in vitamin B12 and iron compared to diets with meat. Vegan bodybuilders will most likely need to supplement both of these nutrients because of their physically demanding lifestyle.
Challenges for Vegan Bodybuilders
There are a few challenges to following a vegan diet while bodybuilding. Bodybuilders will need to educate themselves on a vegan diet to ensure they are getting maximum nutrition. Thus, meals will need to be somewhat planned in order to get complete proteins.
Vegan bodybuilders will also have to eat a higher volume of food in order to meet calorie needs. Plant-based foods are typically lower calorie, so more food will be needed. If buying foods that are organic or non-GMO, groceries can get expensive.
Animal Protein vs Plant Protein for Bodybuilding
Short term, both vegan and meat-eating will both achieve the desired body goals. Vegan bodybuilders have to be more thoughtful when choosing their protein to make sure they are getting complete protein. Long term, the vegan diet is healthier because it includes more food groups and less saturated fat.
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