How to Lose Fat, Build Muscle and Stay Lean on a Plant-Based Diet From a Pro
Let’s be honest, sticking with a workout regimen, and adhering to healthy eating can be challenging. Don’t fret: Here at The Beet we’re committed to providing you with the tools, motivation, and education to not only get started, but stay the course and help you live your best plant-based life.
This week we caught up with vegan pro fitness athlete, model, and surfer Natalie Matthews to drop some plant-based fitness knowledge. This all-around badass vegan warrior answered our burning questions about how to slim down, burn fat, and build your best body—or shall we say booty—while thriving on a plant-based lifestyle.
Q: As a fitness athlete and model, you know about burning fat and slimming down. What are your best tips—on the food front and fitness front—for everyday plant-based eaters who want to slim down quickly?
NM: Food-related tips — To be realistic, things don’t happen quickly. I am all about sustainability, and quick fixes are not sustainable. What we want is to create a long-lasting lifestyle. You can slim down on any vegan approach or “diet” as long as you’re in a deficit. This means you’re eating a little less than what you would eat day to day, calorically, to cause you to burn fat. Make sure that you are eating foods that fuel you. Make whole, minimally processed foods the bulk of your diet and allow some flexibility and freedom to have the things that you love. The key is to follow the diet that you can sustain and that you enjoy as an individual. It’s about creating lasting habits and that is the message that I want to share with people: less about the quick fixes and more about doing what’s sustainably right for you. To jump-start your calorie deficit, here are some simple quick food tips:
- Avoid fried foods ... this is a basic one for anyone, plant-based or not!
- Ask for dressings and sauces on the side. These hard-to-see calories add up.
- Try going “whole food” plant-based, avoiding oils and processed foods.
- Prep and stock lots of veggies! Stock your fridge with veggies, sliced and ready to grab when hunger hits: Carrots, zucchini, jicama, etc. Veggies are your new best friend.
Exercise-related tips: You can also create a caloric deficit through exercise with cardio and weights. Again, you will only see changes through consistency and sticking to things that you enjoy. Over the years these changes will have a compounding effect and you will see more and more progress over time. The biggest thing I see with people not reaching their goals is a lack of consistency and discipline. As a society, we should have more of a mentality of putting in the work and less about “quick fixes” – make it a lifestyle that you love and want to do for forever!
Find something that you LOVE and do it! Whether you like running, yoga, hiking, kickboxing… find something physical that you enjoy and can stick to for the long haul. Weight lifting and surfing just happen to be what I fell in love with, but you have to keep trying new things to find your passion.
Q: It's all about the booty these days? How does one build the booty in the most efficient way?
NM: Building muscle is one of the hardest things! It is harder than losing fat and takes more time. It has taken me over three years to build a booty. First, know that your booty shape is in large part based on genetics and how your muscles lay in relation to your hip width, pelvic length, etc.—but you can still use exercise and nutrition to achieve your best backside. The booty is made up of multiple muscles: The gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, as well as other connecting muscles. So the goal is to work and build—tear down and repair—those muscles while burning fat to let them shine through. Over the years one thing that I have had is a.) consistency and b.) progressive overload. Progressive overload means that we are either adding weight to the bar or progressing with form and technique. Here are some of my favorite exercises to target the glutes:
- Booty Warm-Ups — Make sure to warm up muscles before you start your reps, and especially before going into weight-bearing exercise. I like to start with accessory work like glute kickbacks, Bulgarian split squats and banded activation movements like glute bridge sand side-to-side crab walks BEFORE I begin my glute workout. This will get muscles activated and help prevent injury.
- Hip Thrusts — Specifically, barbell banded hip thrusts. This means I put the barbell, loaded with weights on my hips, supported by a bench underneath my back and a band looped over my thigh. Over the years I have been able to increase the weight over time and that has helped build strength.
- Glute bridges, side-to-side crab walks are all great. Compound movements like Squats, deadlifts, lunges and variations of those as well as abduction moves with machines and bands are more examples of my favorites.
- I like to end my workouts with accessory work like glute kickbacks, calf raises, and abduction movements (meaning moving limbs away from the midline of the body) to hit every last little muscle and angle.
The most effective way to build a booty is to stimulate the muscle frequently, increase weight over time and improve your technique.
Q: People say "I am working out, eating clean, why don't I have a flat stomach?" Are there any tips for people who want to slim their midsection?
NM: If you are working out and eating clean and not seeing a flat stomach it’s probably because you are not truly eating at a deficit which is what helps you burn fat to reveal those ab muscles underneath. The old cliché “abs are made in the kitchen” really does ring true – if you are eating clean and working out and not seeing results, you may need to take another look at your diet or seek help from a nutrition professional. While you can’t “spot train,” you can focus on exercises that will tighten your abdominal wall and hit your core so when you do start to burn fat, you reveal those abdominal muscles.
Q: Do you take any supplements? If so, which ones—and are supplements right for everyone?
NM: People don’t need supplements to reach their fitness goals. I feel like 90% of people need to focus on their diet and nutrition and not worry so much on the supplement side of things. The only things vegans need to make sure they’re getting are B12, omegas and vitamin D. Supplementation is just that: a supplement to a solid diet. As an athlete, I feel like protein powders are a convenient way for me to hit my protein goals for the day. I have a single serving a day as an easy way to increase my protein intake. I take pre-workout as a way to get me pumped up before my workout. I ALWAYS recommend that you talk to your doctor before you begin taking any supplements.
Q: While we know you can get plenty of protein on a plant-based diet, still many people question how and where to get protein. So, where do you get your protein as a vegan (specifically a vegan athlete)?
NM: Plants have protein – and lots of it! It’s easier than ever to get as much protein as you want! Here are some of my favorite sources of protein:
- Seitan – I love making my homemade seitan and it’s so easy to find in stores now. Even Walmart and Target carry seitan products!
- Tofu – So versatile that I even have a video on how to cook tofu six different ways! Grill it, makes sauces or desserts – it’s endless! Has a ton of nutrients too.
- Bean Pastas – Protein and a great source of carbs and fun to experiment with!
- Sprouts and Vegetables – Don’t underestimate the power of plants! These add a nice dose of protein to balance any meal.
- Bean snacks like roasted edamame or garbanzo beans are affordable and convenient ways to up the protein.
- TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) – You can pretty much find this anywhere now too. It has a great amount of protein, affordable and easy to prepare! Longeve is a soy-free option of a similar product.
- Tempeh – Fermented soy bean product that is great on salads or marinated in a sauce.
- Fava Beans – Significantly more protein than more common beans and are delicious!
- Protein Powder – Convenient way to get your protein. The flavors and brands are endless! My favorite is LIV Body’s Vegan Protein.
- Nut Butters and Seeds – Great protein and healthy fat option! Some of the seeds are even great sources of omegas.
Watch out for processed options. While it's great that there are more vegan brands at the grocery store, these are nice to have occasionally. But the goal is building a whole-food, plant-based diet that has lots of protein from whole foods. Nutritional yeast, PB2 powder and other condiments are other great ways to up the protein!