This one comes with a disclaimer. If you’re a plant eating being or someone who lives on fruits and salads, this article might get the better of you. You might even end up swearing!
Let me clear this beforehand, the viewpoint expressed in this article is strictly from a bodybuilding standpoint and has nothing against non-active plant eating beings. The bone of contention, can you build an aesthetic physique on a vegetarian diet? Well, it’s a real tough one. Let’s science this out.
Muscle growth is a result of hypertrophy. It is a combination of weight training with the right kind of nutrition aided by recovery. This is elementary when it comes to building lean muscle. Breaking this down further, hypertrophy is expansion in size of skeletal muscle cells. After your workout, your body repairs damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process to form new muscle protein. Now, we need to feed these cells with carbohydrates, fats and protein. The quality of protein matters. A protein with the right amino acid profile influences muscle growth. What I mean by amino acid profile and how it does the job,well, we’ll get to that in a minute. As always, first, let’s look at the science behind it. I have included a link from NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) below which talks about a research conducted on the skeletal muscle anabolic response to plant-versus Animal based protein consumption. In simple terms, one’s muscle building ability on animal protein versus plant based protein.
To summarize the article above, it explains how consuming animal protein has superior benefits on skeletal muscle cell due to its amino acid profile. All proteins are made of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids out of which 9 are essential called EAA’s. What are EAA’s? – Essential amino acids. Essential because, unlike the other 11, your body cannot produce them. You need to consume these amino acids through your diet. So, can a vegetarian get all amino acids from plant protein and build muscle? Well, first, there are different kinds of vegetarians around the world. I have met people who call themselves vegetarian and have eggs in their diet, some even have fish and call themselves vegetarian. In our country, when someone is a vegetarian, it basically means they eat plant based food and don’t indulge in meat and eggs. The exception could be dairy which is technically animal protein, however, it is still considered vegetarian. So, a vegetarian in the subcontinent would essentially mean someone who does not eat meat and eggs. Now, could this person build a world class physique? Can he get shredded and achieve low body fat levels? the short answer, is yes, however, it’s tough as IRON!. Don’t believe me. Take the top bodybuilders of the world and count how many of them are pure vegetarian. The number is negligible. Hang on! Before you get all animated, I didn’t say there isn’t a way around it, however, before we get into that, let’s understand the reasons behind why plant based protein is considered inadequate.
Basically, we have complete protein and incomplete protein. Animal protein is complete since it has all the essential amino acids to influence a more effective anabolic response of the body. In simple terms, it’s easier to build lean muscle with minimum fat accumulation by consuming animal protein. Plant protein is incomplete ‘cause it lacks some or the other essential amino acids. Why so much detail? Why can’t we just eat any protein and train? Well, the ratio of amino acid distribution in animal protein influences protein synthesis in a certain way which is far greater and more effective than plant based protein. If you want to build muscle and lose fat, you need to consume complete protein. Plant protein has carbs, fats and less of protein by weight and the same is incomplete.
- Let’s take 100 grams of chicken breast for e.g., it’s a common bodybuilding staple. It has 62% protein, 5% fat, 0% carbohydrates.
- Whereas cottage cheese or paneer, which is a common source of vegetarian protein, has only 28% protein with 71% fat.
- Lets compare 2 more. Six egg whites – 43% protein, o% carbs and 0% fats.
- 100 grams of Cooked Soybean – 36% protein,43% fat, 21% carbs . Plus soy, is high in estrogen. The female hormone.
Now, let’s go back to where we started. Can vegetarians build big guns? As mentioned earlier, the answer is yes, however, what needs to be understood is that the approach of a vegetarian bodybuilder towards diet will be completely different from a non-vegetarian. A non-vegetarian gets complete protein from animal sources without worrying about the carbs and fats in it as they are negligible. However, a vegetarian bodybuilder eats plant based protein in combination with other foods (carbs in most cases)to complete the amino acid profile and make it a complete protein. Now you see the difference. Baked beans for a non-vegetarian is a source of carbs with some protein in it, however, for a vegetarian, it’s a primary source of protein.
Now,I am going to tell you how to complete an incomplete protein and work around it.
When we combine beans, lentils, and peanuts with grains like wheat, rice etc, it forms a complete protein. Peanut butter on its own is incomplete, however, when eaten with whole wheat bread, it becomes a complete protein. Although It’s high in calories, it certainly provides a good amount of essential amino acids and plenty of healthy fats. If you’re cutting or maintaining low body fat levels, you want to avoid the excess carbs and this becomes a problem for vegetarians. Their dependency on supplements is a lot higher. Most vegetarian bodybuilders depend on good quality whey protein as it is the purest form. They end up consuming around half of their daily protein intake from supplements. There is nothing wrong in that, however, it’s just too expensive a deal. Plus, all the other plant protein has carbs in it. So, you must work twice as hard and burn the excess to ensure you remain in optimal body fat levels. If you’re a vegetarian and like to weight train, you must make careful choices.
Let’s list some quality vegetable protein sources along with general guidelines for a vegetarian diet.
- Whey protein- go for good quality whey. How to determine which one is good? Well, couple of factors.
- First-its amino acid profile(BCAA). Most good quality proteins come with BCAA. What are BCAAs? they are Branched chain amino acids. They prevent muscle breakdown. (will explain this explicitly in another article) In short, it’s a combination of essential amino acids (Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine,)in a particular ratio, which are not produced by our body,hence they should be supplemented. A good protein will include BCAAs for sure. (you will see it on the cover of the container)
- Do a bit of research on the company and check its credibility. Look at labels and make sure it doesn’t have too many ingredients.
- Any protein which is way cheaper than the standard protein in the market, is obviously dubious. A good quality protein will never be cheap.
- Look for quantity of protein per serving. A quality protein will have 70-80% pure protein per scoop. Other things would be mixability, a good protein always mixes well with water and will not leave lumps no matter what.
- Packaging- check for the way its packed and sold. Quality proteins come with some sort of authentication mark or code which verifies its genuineness.
- Milk is good quality protein- go for low fat and consume it without sugar.One glass has around 9 gms of protein. If you can get almond milk, even better. Its lactose free.
- Quinoa- one cup of quinoa has about 9 gms of protein.
- Peanut butter- make sure to have it with bread to complete it. Two table spoons have around 8 gms of protein. Go easy as it is high in fat.
- 200 gms of broccoli have about 6 gms of protein.
- Tofu- 100 gms have about 8 grams of protein. To be eaten in moderation due to its estrogen content.
- 100 gms Paneer- 18 grams of protein, 20 grams of fat with 1.2 grams of carbs. Make sure it’s from low fat milk.
- Greek yogurt- one portion has 10 grams of protein.
If you’re a vegetarian who consumes eggs, then, it’s a party! Eggs are one of the purest forms of protein with a complete amino acid profile. One whole egg has 6 gms of protein with 5 grams of healthy fats in it.
A few tips.
- Make sure you include a bit of cardio in your schedule to burn the excess carbs off.
- Indulge in high intensity workouts and keep your rest period short. This will ensure maximum calorie expenditure.
- Include more of compound movements. Compound lifts recruit multiple muscle fibers in a single exercise making it most effective.
- Include nuts in your diet. Provides you with healthy fuel and are a very good source of energy.
It won’t be easy, however, where there is a will, there is a way! Stick to this and get them gainz!
We lift; therefore we are!