Thursday, October 10, 2013

(Semi-) Vegetarian Weight Lifting: My Conclusion So Far

The meager amount of people following this blog might know I am an avid weight lifting fan.  There's plenty of reasons I could list for why weight lifting is so great, but the list of references backing it up are too numerous too count, and requires multiple articles just to cover the basics.

Today, I want to briefly touch on something a bit more specific: The concept of being a weight lifter while also being a vegetarian.  This is a goal I am currently in the process of testing out for myself, which is going pretty well, actually.  What enticed me, an avid meat-eater, to try out vegetarianism, you ask?  There are multiple reasons, but I have to admit that the one thing that motivated to try it was a TED talk I watched before work one day on YouTube:

In the video, Mr. Knox isn't too specific about any research, but he does talk about his own personal experience about going almost completely vegetarian.  He claims his cholesterol dropped considerably, he lost 35 lbs. and still continued to make gains in his hobby(job?) of bodybuilding. His physique certainly backs up his claims, as well. This is in stark contrast to what most bodybuilding communities advocate, suggesting we should be consuming large quantities of animal protein to support muscle growth.

A lot of people will claim that this is just one individual and his "anecdotal" evidence of lifting weights while being a vegetarian.  While this may be true, I, for one, believe him.  And there evidence that lends credence to his story.

Menno Henselmans has a website that I visit every so often for his quality articles on nutrition and training.  He has a one particular article, titled The Myth of 1g/lb: Optimal Protein Intake for Bodybuilders which concludes that no more than 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight is optimal for building muscle for most humans, including elite bodybuilders.  In contrast, most fitness and nutrition websites claim that at least 1g/lb of protein to body weight is the only way to reliably build and maintain muscle.  For a guy like me, who weighs about 165 pounds, there is a difference of over 30 grams of protein between Mr. Henselmans's conclusion versus the fitness community's stance.  That equates to having to eat an extra piece of 3 ounce steak, every day.  This just isn't healthy for me or sustainable for humanity and the environment.

Now I love the taste of most meats.  I could eat steak all day long and easily reach either protein amount.  But my love for being logical and efficient (and the never-ending struggle for perfection) tells me this is not a good plan to follow.  The consumption of meat is increasing as our global population grows, especially in the most developed parts of the world.  As such, the supply of beef of increasing as well, which creates more greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.  According to this article in Scientific American, producing enough beef for one human annually is as bad for the environment as driving a car 1,800 miles.  The United Nations seem to agree, and also report that the amount of annualwaste (aka shit) that is made by bovine for beef production is 3 TIMES more than the annual amount made by humans.  All that crap has to go somewhere, and with usable land becoming more scarce, it usually ends up tainting water supplies.

Then the more intimate factors come into play.  Since I only get one of these things called a"life," I believe it is of the utmost importance that I maintain my health so I can enjoy as much of it as I can without having the common preventable ailments that are killing most Americans.  Now the nutritional benefits of being a vegetarian become too clear.  Looking at any plant-based food versus a typical cut of steak reveals that steak itself just isn't that healthy.  100g of beef will supply me with 27 grams of protein and a whopping 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of them being saturated fat (the bad kind).  It also contains some vitamins, but absolutely zero fiber.  The same amount of black beans supply you with 22 grams of protein and only about 2 grams of fat, along with different vitamins and a ton of fiber.  Google makes it easy to see this for yourself.  Just type in the food you want to know about and it will bring up a whole list of nutritional facts.  Look at the data under the amount of 100 grams. Then type in another food and set the amount to 100 grams again.  Figuring out (and comparing) the nutritional facts of food has never been easier.

Another reason to switch over to a vegetarian diet is cost.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one pound of the cheapest beef as of August 2013 is nearly $3.50... and it's definitely not quality meat.  On the other hand, the most expensive vegetable on the list, peppers, is only $2.40... and even non-organic veggies are more healthy for you than meat, pesticides be damned.  Comparing the cheapest meat to the cheapest vegetables, you could buy nearly five pounds of potatoes for the cost of one pound of beef.

A large problem with a simple solution

More food, better nutrition, less costly and sustainable for the environment... it's almost like there's no downside.  Even the taste of vegetarian diet is a non-issue, at least for me.  I know there are some people who just can't stand the taste of fruit and vegetables, and that's OK.  I'm not going to try to change your mind on the things you like to eat.  However, I also know that for every person who truly can't enjoy a vegetarian diet, there are two more people who are unwilling to try it for a few days.  I am not good at coming up with recipes, but the internet is full of sites that potential vegetarians can use to ween off of meat and still enjoy tasty food.

Finally, my weight lifting performance shows no sign of decreasing.  I have switched up my training program a few times since last writing about it, and I no longer do a lot of the same exercises as before.  For one example, I changed the back squat for the front squat.  Although the front squat is generally accepted as a harder lift, I am almost about to meet my previous best on the front squat as I had for the back squat.  I will post another article soon about my new training methods, and hopefully I will continue to have good results until then.

I will admit that I haven't gone -completely- vegetarian.  On occasion, when my wife and I go out to eat, I will order a meat-based dish... because I like the taste, but also because financially, it makes no sense to pay the amount for a vegetarian dish when a meat-based entree is the same price.  These occasions are few and far between, however.  Maybe once a month, if that.  And, in contrast to vegan culture, I still eat chicken eggs, cheese and cow's milk.  I am trying to eliminate milk from my diet, however, as it has been blamed for increased risks of prostate and ovarian cancer.Just cutting out most of my meat consumption was a huge undertaking for me, and for that I am proud of myself.

My 3-month-old son is being difficult, so I have to draw this to a quick end.  I encourage debate on my blog and look forward to viewing more evidence for and against my side of the issue.  So far, though, the clear winner seems to be vegetarianism.  And that's what I'm going to stick with for now.


Corey Schmidt said...

during my college years i practiced weightlifting. i was vegan for 5 years including all of college. i gained about 20-25 pounds of mostly muscle (HAD a 6 pack) during that time for a peak weight of around 177 pounds. i ate a lot of normal vegan food and used soy protein concentrate which tasted nasty but was a little better with taco bell taco sauce. Now i'm just a vegetarian and don't lift weights, but work a very physical job as a carpenter and walk to work and generally have a very active lifestyle and weigh around 160-165. I've been vegetarian for 18 years now (34 years old) and i haven't dropped dead yet and i consider myself quite strong and agile. I would probably benefit by dropping cheese but i love those fatty fast calories.

Nate D said...

Nice. When I wrote this article, I kept bouncing back and forth from being a vegetarian to a meat eater because I love the taste of meat and it is pretty easily available for me to eat (used to work at a restaurant). However, I discovered the site about a year ago and have been eating vegetarian every since. I'm glad I found that site because there is so much misinformation out there regarding nutrition, especially in the internet fitness circles which generally over glorify protein. I feel like NutritionFacts is the most unbiased source of scientific nutrition information that I have found, and the overall message of that site is that a fully plant-based diet is the most healthful one for humans, period.

I'm now trying to become a full vegan, but like you, I have had a hard time dropping cheese from the diet. I no longer drink milk or eat eggs, however.

In terms of my fitness, being vegetarian has had absolutely no negative impact in performance during my weight lifting sessions. In fact, I would say that it has had a beneficial effect, as I feel like I can recover faster when I don't eat meat, eggs and dairy products. As always, I'm experimenting with various programs and at the time when I wrote this article, I was doing SL 5x5. Now I'm on a simplified GCZL routine (4x8-12 reps) and it's difficult to compare the two. But I will say, I'm getting up there with the weights and soon I will be surpassing my previous heaviest weight with 8 to 12 reps per set instead of just 5. My point is that not eating meat, dairy or eggs hasn't caused me to lose muscle or strength.

Thanks for your comment, Corey. I appreciate you looking over my content.