Clearly these are significant advantages when pursuing peak athletic performance. But remaining light while still having the ability to build muscular strength — and therefore functionality — was certainly one of the greatest attributes this novel way of eating bestowed upon me.
As endurance athletes, we dont aspire to build bulk, but rather to develop the strength of what musculature we do have so that we function more efficiently. Building strength while not packing on bulk raises your strength-to-weight ratio. As a direct result, your endurance will leap forward.
But what about strength athletes such as bodybuilders — and even those who simply aspire to build and maintain healthy muscle mass? Can they benefit from a similar plant-based diet?
Yes, they can.
While endurance athletes aim to develop efficient muscles without increasing their size, bodybuilders are quite the opposite. In competition — since bodybuilders are judged by appearance alone — they train accordingly. Bulk, symmetry and definition are the three visual points a bodybuilder is assessed on. Since the functionality of how their muscles actually perform is not factored into scoring, time and effort are not spent honing that aspect.
But 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. They know that to repair muscle tissue after breaking it down in the gym requires the rebuilding properties that protein is touted for. But what most dont place credence in is the protein source. In the minds of many, quantity is the priority: the more protein, the better. But does more protein really get you better results?
The way to add extra protein to your diet, while not increasing fat or carbohydrate content, is to mechanically or chemically remove the fat and carbohydrate components from your protein. What remains is called protein isolate. The protein has been isolated from the food’s other macronutrients, and as such, its ratio has increased. Some manufactured isolates register protein content in excess of 90%. But once isolated, it is no longer a whole food and is therefore harder for the body to digest, assimilate and utilize. Plus, protein isolates are inherently acid-forming. And with the onset of an acidic body, functionality declines.
It is true that when you swap out a traditional acid-forming post-workout smoothie that contains protein isolate for a plant-based whole-food option, muscular size loss is likely. Understandably, this will lead to concern for those athletes whose goal is to pack on muscle mass. But what is actually transpiring is a good thing. 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 thus inflamed. And as we know, acid-forming foods create inflammation. Therefore the consumption of a traditional post-workout smoothie that contains protein isolates will exacerbate the level and rate of inflammation. With inflammation comes size. But with inflammation also comes a reduction in functionality. As the muscles become less functional, their ability to lift weight declines. Thats a problem. Lifting heavy weight is what builds strong muscles — and makes them big. Of course, if the body delves into a less functional state, it simply wont have the ability to work as intensely. And without the capacity to train hard, muscles cannot continue to grow. In addition to inflamed muscles not having the capacity to lift as much weight, more time must be allocated between training sessions to allow for the inflammation to dissipate. Thats bad. Since intensity and frequency are the two prime components to a successful muscle-building program, inflammation can well become the greatest single inhibitor to progress.
Post-Workout, Plant-Based Nutrition: Helping You Help Yourself
In place of isolates and acid-forming animal foods, there are a host of plant-based options that will ensure inflammation is kept to a minimum. Excellent post-workout, plant-based protein sources include: hemp, pea and rice protein. And while protein is a crucial component for muscle repair and building, so, too, 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. This being the case, your post-workout smoothies will deliver greater results if they contain these components, not merely protein. Additionally, Chlorella — a form of freshwater algae — is an excellent edition to the post-workout smoothie. Due to its exceptionally high chlorophyll content, its among the most alkaline-forming foods available. Plus, its protein percentage is almost at 70, naturally.
So while plant-based nutrition wont necessarily make you a better athlete, it will allow you to train harder, thereby increasing your athleticism. With improved functionality and less rest required between workouts, success will be yours for the taking.
Brendan Brazier recently launched a free educational web series, Thrive Forward.