Nutrition, Nutrition, Fitness

Do plant based diets help or hamper your training?

Plant-based diets are having a real moment right now and not just because of docos that have everyone chatting at the office tea station.

This talk of the town lifestyle offers big health and financial benefits, plus you can also do the environment a solid by adopting this eating regime.

Still, whether you’re a pescatarian, vegan or just dabbling in reducing your meat intake we’ve hit up our nutrition guru, Aquanation and Aquahub Personal Trainer Byron Manning, to give us the gist on how not to lose your gains on a plant-based diet.

Let’s start with the health benefits

Okay, so for the meat eaters out there the idea of a whole foods plant-based diet might seem like a bit of a mouthful (ahem!)

But fear not carnivores, there are heaps of health benefits to adopting this lifestyle. 

“Most people probably don’t meet their requirements for fruit and vegetables so having a diet focusing exclusively on plants means you’re more likely to meet those requirements,” explains Manning.

And there’s good reason for ticking those daily intake options. “Fruit and vegetables have lots of important nutrients including your vitamins and minerals, healthy fats and fibre,” he adds.

Fuelling your fitness

No matter what workout style tickles your fancy, you’ve gotta be able to fuel it. That means carbs. Luckily plant-based diets are the toast of the healthy carbohydrate town.

“Plant based diets aren’t likely to have any issues with regards to providing carbohydrates to people training at the gym,” assures Manning. In fact, it’s super easy for gym goers to fuel their workout when following this meal plan.

“You can get a lot of carbohydrates from those sorts of foods, especially foods such as potato and rice,” Manning suggests.

Meat protein vs plant protein

You don’t have to be a full-blown gym junkie to know protein is good for them gains. But what happens when you’re not chomping down on protein sourced from an animal?

“In terms of proteins from plants, they’re usually lower in terms of the quantity and quality of protein compared to meat,” warns Manning. He clarifies that most meat products offer a full spectrum of amino acids and plant-based diets aren’t as bio-available as meat proteins.

“If you think of amino acids as letters of the alphabet, and the vowel as essential amino acids, meat has every single vowel whereas plants are missing some letters,” Manning explains.

But check yourself before you wreak your fruit and veg intake and start loading your trolley up with steak. Manning reckons because it can be a bit trickier for plant foods to be as effective at providing protein, you’ve just gotta be a little more creative.

Pimp your protein game

Don’t sweat it, Manning reckons if you’re eating enough you can build muscle on a plant-based diet, it’s all about understanding what exactly is enough.

“Eating enough calories overall to meet your needs would be the first port of call, then addressing the protein quality of your diet,” advises Manning.  Considering most plants will be missing essential amino acids, the Personal Trainer says there are easy ways around this.

“What you can do is match up different plant-based foods with different amino acids missing, essentially finding complimentary amino acids and filling in the blanks.,” he suggests.

Manning recommends doing your research, or even downloading an app to help you out. “There are so many apps these days where you can plug in what foods you’re having in your meal and the app can tell you what amino acid you’re missing, and which food has this amino acid - that would give you a more complete meal.”

Are supplements an easy way around missing nutritional value?

For Manning, supplements should not be your absolute go-to and a “food first approach is the best approach, always.”

“Supplements are just supplementary, and really shouldn’t be relied on for the long term, wholefoods should always be your number one choice,” the Personal Trainer recommends.

Manning acknowledges that plant-based diets might make it tricker to obtain nutrients such as iron, calcium and B12, but recommends touching base with a dietitian to ensure you’re getting everything you need to achieve your goals, rather than relying on supplements.