So you’re considering going vegetarian or vegan. You want your children to grow up in a world without global warming. You want to avoid the cholesterol, carcinogens and saturated fat associated with meat, eggs and dairy consumption. And of course, you love animals, so you don’t want to contribute to their pain and suffering anymore.
But there’s a seven letter word holding you back – PROTEIN (or the perceived lack of it in a plant-based diet). You’re worried that when you stop eating meat, you’ll shed weight by the kilo. You’ll lose all of your hard-earned muscle and you may even lose your hair. You’ll be laughed out of the free weights section in the gym, if you can open the door to the building in the first place. That running PB you’ve been aiming for? Forget it! In fact, you’d best take up a less strenuous hobby instead – maybe knitting?
If I received a pound for every time I was asked where vegans or vegetarians get their protein from, I’d be a pretty rich man. It’s one of the first questions posed by veggie-curious and veggie-sceptics alike. For many, it’s the main barrier to taking the plunge plant-side.
But good news! The belief that vegans can’t get enough protein is an out and out myth - a fallacy, a mis-truth, a rumour fuelled by the meat and dairy industries.
You do not need a hunk of steak, a leg of chicken or three raw eggs in the morning to hit your protein quota. As our great ape cousins will testify, quality protein is abundantly available from fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. Yes, we herbivores aren’t traditionally known for our brute strength (if you exclude elephants, hippos, rhinos and giraffes that is). But this is more to do with life priorities than food choices.
The evidence is there for all to see. The world of sport is becoming increasingly populated with high-achieving vegans. There’s world champion heavyweight boxer David Haye, world freerunning champion Tim Shieff, world strongman Patrik Baboumian, body builder Robert Cheeke, ultra runners Scott Jurek and Rich Roll, triathlete Brendan Brazier, cricketer Peter Siddle and footballer Jermain Defoe (to name a few). They clearly prove that it is possible to excel in any sport on a plant-based diet.
In his ground-breaking book ‘Thrive’, Brendan Brazier goes as far to argue that plant protein is superior to animal protein. He argues that the reduced acidity from plants causes less inflammation, which leads to quicker recovery from exercise. Add to that less cholesterol, fewer saturated fats, and more fibre and nutrients, and you have a significantly more positive outcome.
I’m no nutritionist so can’t validate the science. But I can share my own experience. I gave up meat in 2014 and dairy and eggs in 2017. In that time I’ve run a PB at marathon, half-marathon and 5k distances. I’ve recently equalled my bench press and bar curl records (set 10 years ago in my late twenties) and hope to eclipse them very soon. I did drop a little bit of weight at first, but I’m pretty certain that was excess fat because of my generally healthier eating. As long as I get my required calorie and protein levels, the results seem to come.
Of course, if you’re not interested in building muscle or running PBs, then you really don’t need to worry. Protein is available in so many foods that deficiency is almost non-existent.
So that’s my two pennies. If I haven’t convinced you, then there’s tons of literature out there that should. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences below.