PLANT BASED AND MACROS
Such a heavy and important topic for all fitness levels and fitness goals. This can also be a wide-spread controversial topic whether you are plant based or not. But we are going to stick to plant based in this reading, keeping in mind that most of the principles are also for those that eat animal products.
Let’s begin with PROTEIN!
As you may have read in my “Plant-based MYTHs” reading, vegan/plant-based individuals have absolutely no problem finding protein. WE ARE NOT DEFICIENT IN PROTEIN…STOP ASKING! Because yes, members of the community are constantly worried about our protein intake. Let’s go ahead and talk about animal protein versus plant protein, but begin by defining what protein is and why it is important, not just as humans, but as athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
Proteins are the building blocks of our body and are necessary for sustaining life. Protein is essential in acid-base balance, hormone regulation, fluid balance, and is a carrier for several different nutrients. More specifically, amino acids within protein are needed for the structure of our body’s tissues (hormones, tendons, skeletal muscle, enzymes, red blood cells, ETC.). Amino acids are broken down into two groups: essential and non-essential. There are a total of 9 amino acids that are considered to be essential. Essential amino acids mean that they are not produced by the body and must be ingested through our diet. There are 11 non-essential amino acids that our body produces, given we also eat enough nitrogen. All 20 different amino acids work together to build and repair our body’s tissues.
There are also complete proteins, incomplete proteins, and complementary proteins. This is where the relevance of plant vs animal protein lies. Complete proteins are proteins that give you all of the essential amino acids and are also easy to digest and absorb in your body.
All animal proteins are complete protein sources (dairy, eggs, and meats), as is soy. Nutritional yeast is also a complete protein and is a preferred source of Vitamin B12 for vegans/plant based individuals. Incomplete proteins are those that do not contain all of the essential amino acids. Sources of incomplete proteins include legumes, grains, beans, and vegetables. But then there are the complementary proteins. This is important to plant-based individuals because complementary proteins are when you combine incomplete proteins together in order to create complete proteins. To be clear, you do not have to eat them together in the same meal, but it is recommended to eat them on the same day. FOR EXAMPLE:
So, as you can see, it is possible for those that live by a purely plant-based diet to eat complete proteins. Therefore, thank you for everyone’s concern regarding our protein intake, BUT WE’RE GOOD!
Here’s also a food chart with various plant-based foods with the APPROXIMATE amount of protein in a serving.
This topic is pretty consistent no matter what your diet consists of. There is one thing I want to express regarding carbohydrates that is completely misunderstood. And I will express this through a statement: CARBOHYDRATES DO NOT MAKE YOU FAT. People who are overweight or obese find themselves in that condition because they are consuming more calories then they are burning. With that being said, carbohydrates are essential for energy and brain function and SHOULD NEVER be purposely lowered or taken completely out of your diet (unless your primary care physician says otherwise for a medical condition). Carbohydrates are stored energy for anaerobic activities (without oxygen) such as power lifting and sprinting.
Carbohydrates can be considered either simple or complex. Complex carbohydrates are those that contain more than 10-carbon-water units which comprise of starches and fiber which are found in whole grains and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates are disaccharides (table sugar, milk, sweet potatoes, and ice cream) and monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, and galactose).
Complex carbohydrates should be what all people should try to consume as a primary carbohydrate. They are considered nutrient dense, meaning there are more nutrients per calorie. High nutrient dense foods consist of fresh fruits, beans, and non-starchy vegetables. Medium nutrient density foods consist of raw nuts and seeds, whole grains, and starchy vegetables. Low nutrient density foods consist of refined grains (crackers, white pasta, chips) and refined sweets.
The takeaway regarding carbohydrates is how important they are for your body to function. You NEED them for both energy stores and fueling the brain. Don’t remove carbohydrates from your diet, just start eating the RIGHT carbohydrates. Here is a food chart with carbohydrates and the serving sizes and do not forget that carbohydrates don’t make you gain fat: so please do not be scared of them!
Fats (lipids) are used for energy storage, cell membrane structure, insulation of vital organs, provides essential fatty acids, and they also absorb and transport fat-soluble vitamins. DO NOT DEPRIVE YOUR BODY OF FATS! Fats are used for long-term energy storage, specifically speaking for aerobic (with oxygen) activities like long distance running and biking.
Fats are categorized based on their saturation: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are further broken down into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. So which fats are recommended? Well saturated fats are associated with high low-density-lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) which is a risk factor for heart disease. Your sources of saturated fats are mostly animal products.
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are what you want to stick with for health and fitness purposes. And again, just like with carbohydrates, THEY ARE ESSENTIAL for your health. In fact, for individuals that aren’t active, it is recommended for adults to consume 20-35% of their calories from fats. These numbers fluctuate based on how active and what kind of activities you partake in.
Examples of monounsaturated fats are oils (olive, canola, sesame, peanut), almonds, pistachios, peanuts, and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats consist of vegetable oils and omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseeds and walnuts).
THE TAKEWAY! I’m glad you asked, or at least finished reading the whole article. It’s a lot to digest (no pun intended). Here’s what you need to know: DO NOT DEPLETE YOUR BODY OF THESE VITAL NUTRIENTS! This is especially true for you fitness enthusiasts but is also directed to EVERYBODY (whether you are plant based or not doesn’t matter). The only difference between plant-based and those that eat animal products is how you incorporate these vital nutrients into your body.
What’s most important is that you live a healthy lifestyle with a healthy wholesome diet. If you like counting how many protein, carbs, and fats you eat, there are calculators out there that will tell you how many you should consume based on your age, height, weight, fitness intensity, and fitness frequency. Whether you are active or not, you should have a general idea of how much of each you need to be eating. AGAIN, do not deplete your body of these very important nutrients. Your body NEEDS them to function properly and provide you with energy for day to day activities.
THANKS FOR READING!
Larson-Meyer, D. E., & Ruscigno, M. (2020). Plant-based sports nutrition: expert fueling strategies for training, recovery, and performance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
McGill, E. A. (2019). Principles of Group Fitness Instruction (2nd ed.).