Time to ditch the chicken and rice
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of bodybuilding? Chances are it’s a roided-out dude eating copious amounts of unseasoned chicken and rice. Though rice is always a must, the chicken isn’t. There’s a common rhetoric that eating meat is the only way to get jacked, but that is completely untrue.
I’m not here to piss you off and tell you stop eating meat altogether. Diet is largely impacted by economic privilege, and with the current cost of living, it is insensitive to shame someone else for eating what they’re able to. With that said, it is impossible to deny the negative impact of the meat industry on the environment. The majority of the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is for cattle ranching.
If you want to put on some muscle mass without eating animal flesh, then you’re in luck. It’s not exactly easy, but it’s definitely simple. It comes down to three things: eating enough protein, lifting weights, and letting your body rest.
“Where do you get your protein?” It’s a classic question asked of vegans and vegetarians. Protein intake is one of the most important factors in building muscle. There is an endless amount of research and information available on how much protein is optimal, so I’ll let you do your own investigating and come to your own conclusions. Either way, it’s crucial to intake enough for your body size.
There are many plant-based foods that are not only high in protein, but also taste great. The staples that I’ve relied on are tofu, seitan, and chickpeas. Tofu gets a bad rap, but that’s from people having no idea how to cook it properly. Once mastered, tofu is one of the most versatile ingredients out there.
Seitan is dough that has been washed so that only the gluten — which is protein — remains. Chickpeas are an unsung hero, composing tons of delicious dishes from falafel to hummus. If you’re vegetarian (not vegan), eggs and Greek yogurt are also great options to fall back on.
Nowadays you can get vegan versions of pretty much any meat or animal product. These can be great if you’re trying to wean yourself off the stuff, but keep in mind that most of these are ultra-processed foods. Why eat a Beyond Burger, which has nearly 30 ingredients, when there are so many delicious plant-based whole foods available?
Now that you’re eating enough protein, it’s time to turn it into muscle with some weightlifting. UVic has the free McKinnon gym available, but a membership to the better-equipped CARSA might be worth the investment if you’re serious about making some gains.
It can be intimidating stepping into a gym for the first time, but just remember that everyone was a beginner at some point. Humans are not one size fits all, so it’s important to find exercises that fit you and your goals specifically. It took me nearly two years of trial and error before finding a regime that I was fully happy with. We luckily live in a time where there is unlimited advice available online for free that can help you find something that works for you.
At the end of the day, the best exercise is the one that you’ll actually do. Working out shouldn’t feel like a punishment, but rather a privilege. Having the opportunity to keep your body healthy and strong is invaluable.
I lied, there’s actually one more key element: letting yourself recover. Very few people need to be in the gym working out six to seven times per week. Letting your body rest after exercise is where the progress really happens. It can be hard to do during the busy school year, but getting a full night’s sleep is also key.
It can be easy to get into the mindset that gaining muscle is the only thing that matters when you get into the gym, but that’s far from the truth. Flexibility and cardiovascular health are just as important for health and longevity. Do some stretching and go for a walk, your body will thank you.
So get out there, cook some delicious plant-based food, and move your body. Most importantly, don’t let exercise or diet culture make you feel like you’re not good enough in any way; be proud of who you are no matter what. Make sure that you’re working out for the right reasons.