Veganism and Muay Thai? For many, the two seem to be at odds with each other. The former is known for its peace-loving embrace of nonviolence while the latter is notoriously violent -or so it appears. Can the two lifestyle choices actually coexist in one’s life without any kind of conflict or difficulty?
Veganism in a Nutshell
Veganism isn’t only about dietary, but also lifestyle choices. Firstly, vegan diet takes the vegetarian diet to the next level by excluding even animal products such as eggs, honey and dairy products. This then extends to lifestyle choices by completely abstaining from the usage of animal by-products such as leather, fur, silk wool, cosmetics and soap derived from animals.
There are basically 3 main reasons for subscribing to the vegan life.
This is often the number one reason cited for choosing a vegan lifestyle. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being”. Many vegans believe in equal rights for animals, taking a strong stand against animal cruelty and animal exploitation, hoping that this will lead to a more humane and caring world.
Livestock farming can have a devastating effect on our environment. It is resource-heavy and inefficient as it takes up a vast amount of land, water, and other resources that could have gone directly into feeding humans. At the same time, slaughterhouses contribute to environmental pollution through wastewater and greenhouse gas emissions. Yikes!
Many vegans report improved health and energy levels after opting for a strictly plant-based diet. Whether or not all of this is true, this is all still up for debate as proponents and opponents present their side of the story. There are tonnes of researches and studies for and against the consumption of meat, but we can all agree that there is certainly plenty of health benefits from a plant-heavy diet consisting of whole and unprocessed foods.
Vegan Diet and Athletic Performance
If you are worried that a vegan diet may affect your performance, you may be surprised to learn that there are many sportsperson, fighters and martial artists who swear by vegan diets. Some of the more well-known vegan fighters include UFC fighters Mac Danzig, Jake Shields and the notorious Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate. Other famous vegan athletes include “Olympian of the Century” Carl Lewis, world tennis champion Venus Williams, and strongman competitor Patrik Baboumian who was Germany’s Strongest Man in 2011 and won many other bodybuilding and weightlifting competitions in his career. These successful athletes have proven that vegans can perform just as well on a plant-based diet.
Best Vegan Foods for Muay Thai
Muay Thai is a high intensity sport. A typical training session will have you skip, shadow box, kick/punch pads and heavy bags, and also engage in some conditioning workouts. It is highly cardio-intensive and you need to account for the caloric loss with sufficient caloric replacement. If not properly managed in the long run, this can lead to muscle loss resulting in a decrease in strength and power, and hence a decline in overall performance and even health. The key to a nutritionally sound vegan diet is variety.
If you look at a typical complete omnivorous meal, you will realise that it consists mainly of plant-derived ingredients. Whole grains and roots make up the carbs; greens provide minerals, vitamins and fiber; meat and eggs provide the required protein; and fruits for a complete meal. To meet the protein needs, vegans look to beans, nuts and seeds. Vegetables and grains provide protein to a small degree too. Essentially, you can get almost all your nutritional needs completely from a plant-based diet.
Let’s look at some of the best vegan foods for Muay Thai training:
You need to be sufficiently fueled up for the intensity of Muay Thai training. Carbohydrate is arguably the most important source of energy. Whether it is whole grain bread, brown rice or oatmeal, whole grain foods are your best source of carbs that is critical in supplying your energy needs. Whole grain foods facilitates a slow release of carbs into your bloodstream, giving you a sustained stream of energy supply through your workout. They are also a good source of protein.
If rice and pasta ain’t really your thing, potatoes is your other great source of carbohydrates. Each serving size (300 g) provides 225 calories and 50 g of carbs. On top of that, they are also rich in Vitamin C and fiber. Potatoes get a bad reputation not because they are inherently bad but because of the way they are commonly prepared: french fries! Healthier ways to cook your potatoes include mash, bake or boil. Eat your potatoes, don’t be a couch potato!
Kale is sometimes touted as the king of the greens. Besides being a good plant source of calcium and protein, the popular vegetable is loaded with antioxidants, packed full with vitamins and offers plenty of minerals. One advantage that kale has over leafy greens like spinach, is that it is low in oxalates, a substance found in some plants that can prevent minerals from being absorbed by the body. Juice them, or eat them raw, you just can’t have enough of this super green food.
This creamy and increasingly hip fruit is turning up on all sorts of health food lists. The nutrient-dense delicacy is versatile: spread it on a toast, blend it into a shake or guacamole dip, serve it with salad, yummy! Avocado is full of heart-beneficial monounsaturated fat. Among its many benefits, it is high in potassium and full of fiber. Need we say more?
An average-sized banana is packed with about 100 calories, 358 mg of potassium, 1.1 g of protein and 23 g of carbs. Potassium is beneficial for the functioning of your heart and muscles while the high carbohydrate content makes it the ideal snack as both a pre- or post-workout energy food. Remember to go for fully ripened bananas for the best benefits. Skip the energy drinks, pass on your energy bars, and have a banana instead.
These nutrient-dense foods contain carbs, protein and fats, giving you the necessary energy for your workouts. You can eat a handful as snacks an hour before workout for a good dose of energy without feeling stuffed and in between meals to load up on your protein. Just remember to consume raw and unsalted nuts for the best health benefits.
This popular breakfast staple is packed full of nutrition and is chock full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Whether it’s smooth, crunchy, or mixed with chia seeds, go for the natural kind where the oil floats on top and you need to stir before you can spread it on your bread.
Tofu can be an excellent source of calcium because it’s usually made with calcium sulfate as a natural setting agent. It is also a good source of protein and amino acids, both of which are essential for muscle recovery and muscle building. Made from curdled soybean milk, this popular vegan choice is tasty and versatile. Remember to go from tofu made from non-gmo soy.
Each handful of pumpkin seeds offers a generous serving of iron and zinc. In fact, they contain a higher amount of iron percentage than red meat. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids and a rich source of monounsaturated fats which protects the heart. They are non-allergenic, which means that they are suitable for people with nut allergy. These good tasting seeds can be added to any soup, smoothies, porridge and even eaten on its own. A handy choice of snacks to eat while on the go.
Muay Thai Gear for Vegans
If you subscribe fully to vegan ethics, this will extend towards your choice of training gear as well. Muay Thai gear such as boxing gloves and shin guards are often made with genuine cowhide leather. Although the general consensus is that genuine leather gloves are more durable, there is a good selection of synthetic leather gear available in the market. In terms of quality, protection and aesthetics, high quality synthetic leather can adequately match up to some of the genuine leather counterparts. Just avoid the cheap, low-grade brandless synthetics.
For our gloves recommendations, read this article: “Synthetic Muay Thai Gloves Review”.
For our shin guards recommendations, read this article: “Synthetic Leather Shin Guards for Muay Thai”.
Whether it is ethical, environmental or health reasons, going vegan is a personal choice. The most important thing is that you feel good about it. By making the right planning in your dietary choices, your performance in Muay Thai training will not be affected at all. In fact, a growing number of fighters have reported improvements in their performance after switching to a vegan diet. In consistence with vegan ethics, there are also animal-free Muay Thai gear for all your training needs. Surely there’s nothing in the way to stop you from the pursuit of both Muay Thai and a vegan life. The only thing stopping you is you.