These days, despite the exponential growth of companies like Beyond Meat and the positive representation from people like Kat von D, many individuals denounce veganism because of myths, misconceptions and stereotypes. And perhaps, one of the most damning fallacies that people hold on to begins and ends with one seven letter word: protein. Many believe that living a plant-based lifestyle starves the body of the necessary protein, especially when it comes to athletes. However, esteemed personal trainer Bianca Taylor would beg to differ.
Taylor is an established entrepreneur, podcast host and personal trainer, who has built a brand around plant-based power. She began her journey in the fitness world as a dancer and found confidence in herself through movement. At 19-years-old, she began working in a gym, which led her down the path of competitive bodybuilding. “I’m a very competitive person, so I was naturally drawn to taking something that I enjoyed doing and getting into a competition for it. I was recruited by a bodybuilding coach and I decided to do it,” says Taylor. “I competed for about two years in the bikini division but bikini bodybuilding is incredibly strict. The dieting is very extreme compared to a regular, fit lifestyle.” The pressure to conform to bodybuilding’s rigid standards ultimately took a toll on Taylor, leading her down a destructive path that resulted in an eating disorder. “It is possible to be too fit. It is possible to overtrain and to undereat,” Taylor explains. “And that’s exactly what I was doing.”
And while counting calories and meticulously watching what she ate did have negative consequences, the experience ultimately inspired her to make one of the most important decisions of her life. “Being in the competitive bodybuilding world, I was eating a lot of meat and was all about protein. Chicken was pretty much what I ate for every single meal,” says Taylor. “And then one day, I was cooking, had a realization about where my food comes from, and decided to do a bit of research on other diets. Through my research, I found that a vegan diet was optimal for health, optimal for the environment, and obviously caused a lot less animal suffering.”
Taylor ultimately turned away from bodybuilding and she kept her focus on training and with that,required an understanding of what her body needed in order to make gains. And from there, she began to unravel one of the biggest myths surrounding the vegan diet. “Normally, when I tell people I’m vegan, they ask where I get my protein,” shares Taylor. “I tell them that I get my protein from where their protein gets protein. Plants have all of the essential amino acids you can get from food. You can get them from meat, but plants are more bioavailable and a lot easier to digest.” Taylor not only found that a plant-based diet provides more than enough protein to sustain her training schedule, but she got a better package of proteins overall. “When you get your protein from let’s say beans, peas or even oatmeal, you’re getting fiber, antioxidants and all of these different vitamins. Rather than when you get your protein from animal products, you’re getting cholesterol and fat.”
But for many skeptics, it’s not just where the protein is coming from but how much your body needs. And when confronted with this issue, Taylor knows exactly how to set the record straight and where to point the blame for the public’s confusion. “The fitness industry is really good at selling and marketing, they want you to think that you need more and more protein,” explains Taylor. “If you’re an athlete and you’re training, you need a little more protein than the average person to recover your muscles but you don’t need nearly as much protein as is marketed.” Taylor goes on to explain that the body eventually maxes out on the amount of protein it can utilize and anyone can make a delicious plant-based meal packed with the necessary proteins. “There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t know what to eat to get my protein. That has never happened to me in the six years that I’ve been vegan.”
Speaking of delicious meals, another myth Taylor is happy to squash is the belief that vegan food is bland and boring. “Veganism isn’t about eating super boring salads, it’s super colorful,” shares Taylor. “I’m not afraid to have dessert or go to a vegan food truck event. I always tell people that you shouldn’t feel like you’re on a super strict diet all year, that’s not fun.” Because while Taylor does follow a more traditional bodybuilder diet when it comes to reaching a specific goal, such as a photoshoot, she’s learned over time to be less strict and to give herself a break. “For a long time, I struggled with episodes of depression and anxiety that would hold me back in areas of my life. I used dance and fitness to cope, but they didn’t cure the root issue,” shares Taylor. “Around the time that I decided to go vegan, I was going through a very difficult time. Whenever we go through difficult times, we’re always focused on the ‘I.’ I feel sad, I feel lonely, I’m in a dark place. You isolate yourself and are so focused on your ego, that you don’t get anywhere.” By putting her focus on extending kindness to the environment and animals through a vegan diet, she learned to also have kindness for herself and to not succumb to the temptations of disordered eating. “It took the focus off being in a tornado of my own issues and opened my eyes to the world,” says Taylor. “That’s been extremely helpful and I’ve found that a lot of my clients find that having more compassion for the world allows them to have more compassion for themselves.”
While many people are able to put aside the misconceptions about protein and the colorful variety that a plant-based lifestyle provides, perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome is vegans themselves. The vegan community has a reputation for housing a number of pretentious extremists, with many turning away from the movement because of these individuals. However, Taylor sees a different side to this community. “There will always be people who act very extreme and can be offensive or harsh to people that aren’t in their group, but the majority of this community is coming from a place of love,” shares Taylor. “Everyone that goes vegan is doing so because they love themselves and want to be healthier, because they love the planet or they love animals. But my way of promoting veganism is not through telling people that they’re doing something wrong because I used to eat meat too. I try to educate people and set the example to allow people to come to their decision on their own.”