Back in my college weight-training days I would eat nothing but eggs, tuna sandwiches, edamame, cottage cheese, soy milk, yogurt, skinless chicken breasts, and more to get all that protein in. Bleh! Now I wouldn’t lay a finger on any of those foods. For raw vegans it’s a definitely a bit trickier to eat a high-protein, low-fat diet in order to “lean out” because 1) we tend to eat a lot of carbs (fruit) and fat for energy (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for some body types and metabolisms) and 2) a lot of our protein sources also have a lot of fat (i.e. nuts and seeds).
But it’s definitely possible to achieve amazing fitness and muscle-tone on a raw vegan diet. There are lots of raw vegans out there who look just phenomenal. Just check out my friend Anthony Anderson’s site! Other raw vegans (or raw non-vegans) who look just phenomenal are: Tonya Kay (pictured above), Tim Van Orden, Frank Giglio, Christy Seguin (here is an awesome article of her’s on the raw food diet and protein), and “Storm.”
As a raw vegan doing a 90 Day Fitness Challenge (see this post) to get leaner and stronger, I’ve been tweaking my diet here and there in order to really optimize my diet and get the look I’m going for. With all this experimentation, I thought now would be a great time to share what I’m finding to be the 20 Raw Vegan Foods to Build Muscle & Lose Fat.
I’m not going to recommend any sort of percentages for fat, carbs, and protein, because this is different for everyone (see this post on Metabolic Typing) but I know that upping your protein and lowering your fat a bit (especially if you regularly eat a high-fat raw food diet like me) is going to help A LOT. The key is trail and success, one week at a time, to find what combinations work for you.
Before I get into the list, here’s a brief overview on nutrition and getting lean:
If we’re doing resistance training or weight lifting (or whole body vibration training in my case), we’re going to need more protein than usual. Normally, most raw vegans (including myself) don’t worry much about where we get our protein – we know we’re getting plenty and absorbing almost all of it. However, I’m finding that not increasing the amount of protein I’m eating does not lead to increases in muscle fiber or strength. My workout goes to waste basically. No extra protein calories = no muscle gains, even for a raw vegan. For everyone, eating protein helps build and maintain muscle. Not only that but it also helps us lose excess fat because it has a higher thermic effect than fats and carbs – meaning it takes a lot more calories to digest and utilize the protein than the other two macronutrients. This is called the “Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)” and I actually just read somewhere how it breaks down:
Protein: 25 to 30% TEF
Carbohydrates: 7% TEF
Fat: 3% TEF
So for example, if you ate 100 calories of only protein, your body would use 25 to 30 calories to digest and utilize that protein. If you ate 100 calories of pure carbohydrates, your body would use 7 calories to digest and utilize that carbohydrate. And fat? Three measly calories. Your body uses just 3 calories to digest 100 calories of fat. Interesting right? (Note: I’m not sure if these exact percentages would apply to raw vegan food metabolism but you get the jist of it.)
We still need to eat those healthy fats too and I’ll list some down below of course. If we cut back too much, the body will start to hold onto fat because it thinks we’re starving. So don’t do that.
Carbs fuel our bodies for a good workout at the gym and also replenish depleted fuel stores right after a workout. I’ll recommend what have been the best carb sources for me so far.
20 Raw Vegan Foods to Build Muscle & Lose Fat
(Sprouted lentils. Photo courtesy of goddessintheraw.com)
- Good water, of course! With MSM in it is even better for sore muscles, circulation, detox, and flexibility. Check out this link to learn ALL that MSM helps with. I use 2-3 tablespoons in 16 oz of water almost every morning
- Lots of greens: spinach, kale, parsley, collards, swiss chard, romaine, etc. Think salads, green smoothies, and green juice.
- A good protein powder such as Hemp Protein, Sun Warrior Protein, Sproutein, and/or Warrior Protein (by Healthforce Nutritionals)
- Spouted (or cooked if you do some cooked) lentils: For protein and fiber and carbs after a workout.
- Sprouted (or cooked) quinoa: For protein and fiber and carbs after a workout.
- Hemp Oil: Great source of omega 3′s, anabolic fat that helps you burn fat.
- Chia Seeds: Great source of omega 3s, protein, and keeps you full and hydrated. I love eating chia seeds in a little bowl with some maca and agave nectar!
- Coconut Oil: High thermic effect, great for metabolism and hormones, anabolic fat that helps you burn fat.
- Nutritional Yeast: Great source of protein, B vitamins, and it tastes delicious sprinkled on salads, lentils, quinoa, even spirulized zucchini (think macaroni and cheese!)
- Berries of all types: They’re low glycemic and full of antioxidants. Goji berries are my favorite!
- Avocados: An easy to digest fat, that is filling and high in vitamin e. If you’re trying to cut down on fat, try using it as a salad dressing instead of oil. It will make the salad more filling and satisfying. Here is what Tony Kay has to say about avocados: “Providing all of the 18 amino acids, avocados are bursting with nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E, H and B complex. Avocados are exceptional sources of vitamin K, potassium and essential fatty acids and users report softer skin, lustrous hair and hormonal balance.”
- Camu Camu berry powder or lemons OR bell peppers: All great sources of vitamin C that your muscles really need after a workout.
- Hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and/or almonds or their butters: For protein, healthy fats, and calories. Try to eat these with greens to help digestion. See this recipe for ideas.
- Bee Pollen: A great source of protein and amino acids as well as antioxidants. It’s known as one of nature’s perfect foods! (not technically vegan but sustainable and organic bee products are okay with most raw vegans)
- Fermented foods : Saurkraut or Rejuvelac for instance (or probiotics in the morning). Kombucha too! Great for digestion and assimilation of all this nutrition and protein.
- Digestive enzymes: Also will help you absorb all that protein your body might not be used to.
- Raw oat groats: Raw oat groats have choline in them. Peter Ragnar talks about this as a very important part of weight training (Peter Ragnar can now leg press over 2,000 lbs!!!)
- High-potassium foods: Bananas or raisins are great sources. Dulse too.
- A green superfood power such as Vitamineral Green or Revitaphi to add to smoothies: Added nutrition and minerals.
- Green algae superfoods such as spirulina, blue-green algae, and/or chlorella: Easy to assimilate protein and chlorophyll sources. Good for your brain too and detoxification too!
You can also check out Wendi Dee’s post: Vegetarian Athletes Share: Top 5 Sources for Animal-free Protein
Add some or all of these in through out your weeks of training and you will surely see some amazing results! Let me know what you think of this list down below. What else have you found helps you build muscle and stay lean?