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Ellie is the acting assistant digital editor for Healthy Food Guide. She loves cooking, dabbles in Crossfit and is a true believer that peanut butter makes everything better.

It’s a common misconception that a plant-based diet will negatively impact your fitness and ability to make ‘gains’ – aka building muscle. But for ex-Fireman and fitness coach Edric Kennedy-Macfoy,  this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Deciding to make the switch to a plant-based diet after watching the popular documentary Earthlings, we caught up with Edric to find out whether going vegan has affected his athletic performance. Find out what sort of foods he eats to build muscle, how much protein you really need to build size and the three things he’s learned from making the change to a vegan diet.

What made you decide to go vegan?

Three years ago, I went on a date with a girl who followed a plant-based diet. At the time, I remember wondering what on earth we were going to eat!  But she challenged me to watch the documentary Earthlings which, out of curiosity, I did.

In fact, I had no idea of the impact it would have on my life and mindset. I was really shocked by a lot of the realities of the food industry and there were moments when I couldn’t even look at the screen. I felt that I could no longer fund the meat and dairy industries by consuming these products so the following morning, I threw out every animal product in my flat and my vegan journey began.

How do you train now and how often?

 I train with the sole objective of achieving total fitness, health and well-being. My training has changed so much over the past five years, with my focus shifting away from aesthetic goals and rather towards the way I feel and perform. Now, I am a lot more focused on optimum health and longevity. My workout routine includes a mix of physical training (cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, endurance, flexibility) and functional training (power, speed, agility, coordination and balance).

I practice hatha and ashtanga yoga six times a week and follow four resistance training sessions a week from my book The Fit Vegan. I also do two HIIT sprints sessions a week, a 5-10 mile run once a week and play five-a-side football with my big brother once a week. It sounds like a lot, but I really prioritise getting enough rest, too. Making sure your body has enough time and energy to repair, recover and grow is just as important as any workout. I call this ‘Good NEWS’: good Nutrition, Exercise, Water and Sleep!

Did you worry that going vegan would affect your fitness or ability to build muscle?

Initially, the thought didn’t enter my head. I was on a break from the gym and what I’d learned from the documentary trumped any desire I had to build my physique. I didn’t believe that animals should die just so I could gain a bit of muscle! It was only when my colleagues at the fire station began to make fun of my new diet change, saying I would become skinny and wither away, that I considered gaining back the muscle I’d lost.

According to the internet, I could get more than enough protein from from plant-based sources. I researched as much as I could about vegan bodybuilding and discovered that it can make you more sensitive to insulin, which is one of the key hormones in the body responsible for weight management and building muscle mass.

I hadn’t lifted weights for over a year and had been focusing on cardiovascular fitness alone which meant I had lost a substantial amount of body weight. Commence  project ‘vegains’…

I documented my six-week journey and unsurprisingly gained lean muscle mass. I looked and felt the best I ever had and it was made infinitely better knowing I was causing less suffering in the world.

How has plant-based nutrition affected your training?

I am more mindful now when it comes to my training, focusing on performance rather than just aesthetic goals. I also have endless energy, am stronger, faster, leaner and feel better than I ever did while eating animal products.

It’s often assumed that you can’t get enough protein from a vegan diet, especially in order to build muscle. What are your thoughts on this? How much do you really need? Do you find it difficult to get enough?

I feel like this myth has had its day really. There are so many scientific studies that prove you can get enough protein on a vegan diet and there are numerous plant-based athletes thriving in their respective fields today. You can easily get enough as a bodybuilder, too, even though protein requirements are a little higher in this sport.

Top 10 sources of meat-free protein

How much protein you need depends on numerous factors such as height, weight, age, gender, body type and goal. As long as you’re eating a variety of high protein foods (which contain all the essential amino acids) and are in a calorie surplus, you’ll have no problem gaining lean muscle mass.

I literally halved my protein consumption while following a rigorous training programme and the results spoke for themselves. I made some serious ‘vegains’ and felt stronger and fitter than ever.

What does a day of eating look like for you? 

Before I went vegan, I probably consumed the same four or five meals  day – on repeat – but now my diet is a lot more diverse. Despite what people may think, there are so many plant-based foods to choose from and lots are brilliant sources of both protein and carbs.

What I eat week to week varies a lot, but certain staples like quinoa (which I love) appear most days as it is a brilliant source of complete protein. A typical day might look like this, for example:

6am – ½ cup cooked quinoa, half cup rolled oats, coconut milk, coconut yoghurt, goji berries, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, dried cranberries, 1 chopped banana, blue berries and 1 tbsp agave syrup.

10am – Smoothie made with 1/4 cup oats, kale, spinach, apple, avocado, dates, hemp seeds, chia seeds, turmeric, black pepper and almond milk.

1pm – Sweet potato, lentil, and chickpea curry with wild rice.

4pm – ½ cup quinoa, ½ cup tofu, pesto, spinach, oyster mushrooms, asparagus and kidney beans.

7pm – Couscous salad with chickpeas, aubergine, mushrooms, celery, carrots, cucumber, baby tomatoes and peppers.

What are the best foods to eat for optimum performance when training? 

Again, everyone is different and so are their nutritional needs. For me, when it comes to eating for performance, roughly 30-50% of my diet comes from carbs and protein while 15-25% is from fat. I try to eat carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index, like sweet potatoes and fresh vegetables, over processed carbs. It really helps to reduce blood sugar spikes and makes you much less dependent on the sweet stuff!

These are some of the staples that I rely on for my diet:

Carbohydrates: seitan, oat bran, wholewheat pasta, buckwheat flour, quinoa, rolled oats
Protein and Carb: quinoa, black beans, almond butter, veggie burgers
Protein: tempeh, soy beans, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, black eyed beans, tofu
Vegetables: spinach, kale, asparagus, broccoli, sprouts, peas, sun-dried tomatoes, beetroot, celery
Nuts and seeds: hemp, chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin
Fruits: bananas, lemons, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapefruit, pineapple, avocado, pomegranate, mango, watermelon

Do you take supplements?

I do take a vitamin B12 supplement as you can’t get enough from a plant-based diet. Other than that, I get all my nutrients from food.

What are three things you’ve learned from going plant based?

1.Eating a highly nutritious plant-based diet made up of whole foods makes me feel invincible.

2. I’ve seen a big improvement in my stamina! My cardiovascular, muscular and even my sexual performance is much better than it used to be. I’m winning!

3. It’s really important to know your ‘why’ when it comes to achieving your goals. Having a powerful reason that motivates you to make a change, whether that’s veganism or anything else, is vital to success.

What are three tips you’d give to someone looking to go plant-based, but are worried about how it will affect their fitness? 

  • Do your research. It’s really important that you begin your journey with an open, positive and confident mind. Check out some scientific studies online and take a look at vegan athletes who are thriving in their field. It’s a real motivator!
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If a gradual transition is what you need then that’s ok. As long as you’re taking positive steps towards an end goal, that’s the main thing. Start off by cutting animal products out your diet one day a week and gradually build up to more. If you want to make a sustainable change, you’ve got to enjoy it!
  • Failing to plan is planning to fail. At the beginning, it’s useful to plan your meals to make sure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs. If you want to gain some muscle, you need to eat!

Edric’s book The Fit Vegan is available to buy on Amazon now.