Quite a number of people that I have spoken to about our diet have started it and continued it for a time. They start feeling better. So then they start to ‘work out’ — to take their improving health to the next level. Somehow at that point they decide that they need to consume meat to be able to build up some muscle.
This post addresses some of the errors in that thinking (with thanks to my son Adrian who first suggested writing this up).
There are a couple of aspects to this issue that are worth considering:
- how much protein do you need?
- what is the protein content of foods and is it possible for a whole foods diet to provide this?
- are there actually athletes (body builders, iron men, professional athletes) who get their protein from a whole food plant based diet?
How much protein do you need?
Proteins are complex molecules which are made up of amino acids. The human body requires 20 different amino acids to function properly. These amino acids are combined in the body to create proteins. Proteins, in turn are broken down into amino acids which are recycled in the chemical processes of the body.
A complete protein source provides all 20 amino acids, whereas an incomplete protein source is low in some of the necessary amino acids. So it is necessary in a diet to ensure that a complete set of amino acids is provided.
The question of how much protein you need in a day is a bit more subjective and clearly depends on such factors as age and activity levels. That said a mature male in the United States is said by the Center for Disease Control (CDC — the government body that sets such standards) to require 56 grams of protein per day. On their protein webpage they provide a calculator for other age/sex/activity situations.
Generally people in the United States or western world get far more protein than they need.
A search on the internet will easily provide other pages that give suggestions for protein requirements and they will be in the order of those suggested by the CDC.
What is the protein content of food?
On their site the CDC address in particular the question of whether a vegetarian diet can provide the protein required, and in particular make the statement “protein needs can easily be met by eating a variety of plant-based foods”. They also provide information on the protein content of various foods.
It does take a bit of planning and one must eat a variety of foods to ensure that all amino acids are included. Fortunately, there are many sources of information on how to prepare such menus. We have some recipes on this site which meet those requirements. And, in addition, the books by Esselstyn, Campbell and Furhman, which I review on this site, contain considerable numbers of recipes and menus.
Can a body builder or athlete succeed on a whole foods diet?
The answer is YES!
An interesting example is Rip Esselstyn, son of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who was a professional iron man competitor for many years. There are many other persons who play professional sports or who are in bodybuilding or similar pursuits — just do a few searches on the internet and you will find them.
You will also, if you look, find a large number of celebrities who are vegan — including former President Bill Clinton.
Some Interesting Links on this subject