Amino Acids and How to Incorporate into Plant-Based Diets
Our muscles are made up of fibers, these fibers are made up of cells, amino acids are what help build, repair, and construct healthy cell walls. Fats help keep existing cells robust, vibrant, receptive and healthy, but amino acids are what build strong and healthy cell walls and parts. Our body creates amino acids, but essential amino acids are what we must eat or ingest in order for our body to create and restore healthy cells. We do not create essential amino acids. Brain cells, muscle cells, skin cells, hair cells, organ cells…we are cells! So amino acids are important to maintain the health and vitality of your body.
What you must know:
- Protein sources digest and breakdown into amino acids, and help contribute to the build-up of essential amino acids in our body
- Strength training for hypertrophy (muscle belly growth) means the fibers are going through micro-trauma, creating tiny tears in the muscle fibers if adequate weight and effort was applied. This is a good thing, it means amino acids will go to work at repairing and filling in the gaps in the muscle fiber with new fiber, ultimately restoring the muscle body making it stronger and bigger.
- Animal meat and some plant based sources such as quinoa contain all essential amino acids required to build strong and healthy cells.
- Calories in and out at the end of the day will make or break your body fat and lean muscle mass composition. If you are not eating enough calories or do not meet a metabolic minimum, even if the majority of those calories are sourced from protein, the calories will be used towards general energy output (keeping your body going) vs. muscle building. So it’s the excess in essential amino acids and the placement of them that is important. This is why you may be supplementing with hair growth gummies for example (which would contain lots of keratin which is an amino acid), but possibly increasing healthy calories spread out throughout the day plus the hair vitamin would be more beneficial.
What about Vegans and Vegetarians?
- I would recommend blending vegan and vegetarian meals/days into your week vs. strictly relying on one diet, and then sourcing your food and protein sources from local farmers and suppliers. The variety will help boost helpful calories, vitamins/minerals, and nutrients which will ultimately help towards muscle building. Why put a label on anything? Maybe on rest days/low activity days you have a vegan day and then on workout days you are more vegetarian and allow yourself to eat eggs and white fish. In my opinion, this doesn’t make you a bad person because you haven’t picked your “side” or camp. Why do we have to call our diet anything? Why do we have to “belong” to a certain food group society like meat eaters vs. vegans vs. vegetarians…so bizarre. If you say you are sometimes vegan and sometimes vegetarian this should not make you confused about “who you really are”. I believe we should pay attention to how everyone eats, and blend everything because I would never pigeon hold myself to one box or label. Don’t feel obligated to always be vegan if you want to have eggs one day, have the eggs, I will still consider you a vegan. If something is not agreeing with you, limit it, don’t eliminate it. Lets not contain ourselves into a certain culture or label if that label is going to affect our overall health. I believe blending different sources of food so you have more nutrients week per week, more choice, more freedom is the best way to eat…period.
- Research what grains and legumes contain the most essential amino acids, and then work on combining those grains into your meals so you have a wider variety of amino acids, but most importantly essential amino acids. Different grains can contain different essential amino acids in various amounts, so you can combine foods in each meal to ensure you are getting all the essential amino acids your body needs to create and build new cells.
- Supplementing with a plant based powdered protein will help in obtaining all essential amino acids. Companies specializing in plant based diets do a great job at mixing different sources of foods to extract everything you need. Basically my point above of mixing different foods to get a complete protein meal is done for you. Always having a scoop after you have performed strength training, fasted exercise, or a fasted state (i.e. morning after sleep or a long work shift without food) is important to give your muscle fibers a helping hand. I personally enjoy Genuine Health Fermented Vegan Protein in coconut flavour, but it also comes in natural/no flavour, chocolate, or vanilla.
- Supplementing with a branched-chain amino acid drink (BCAA) pre-workout, intra-workout, and then 1 other time during the day. Sport supplement companies like plant-based companies will ensure all essential amino acids are in their product, so this should be a very important and constant staple in your day to day diet if you are strength training but also practicing veganism or vegetarianism. Remember this does not replace food calories, this would just be a great way to get essential amino acids into your diet during the times when your body needs it the most (animal meat people should do this as well).