There are no two ways about it; when it comes to healthy muscle and tissue growth (and repair), we humans need regular amounts of protein in our diets.
What’s not a fact, however, is that protein has to come from animal sources.
From a young age, we’re encouraged to associate protein with meat and fish. While they are good sources of this essential macronutrient, they’re not the only ones. The natural world is filled with plant-based sources of protein that are animal-friendly and sustainable and, in many cases, a lot more friendly to your daily calorie allowance.
Elite athletes, professional sportspeople, and, yes, bodybuilders can all thrive on a vegetarian diet.
Can you build muscle as a Vegetarian?
Short answer, yes.
You might mistakenly think that it’s a lost cause to embark on a vegetarian diet as a bodybuilder. However, Zack Belknap, Jehina Malik, and Anastasia Zinchenko are here to tell you to think again.
They’re just three out of a countless number of vegan bodybuilders – Zinchenko is even a competitive powerlifter – and their seriously-shredded physiques prove that it’s possible to achieve any aesthetic goal while following a plant-based lifestyle.
Of course, optimizing your physical condition and maintaining overall health and wellness isn’t just a case of eating as much protein as you can. While protein is an essential macronutrient, you don’t necessarily have to consume tons of it to reach your goals. There are plenty of ways in which vegans and vegetarians can build the muscle mass they’re after, even though they aren’t wolfing down steak at every opportunity.
Top Tips for Body Building on a Vegetarian Diet
Intrigued? You should be!
Here are three key tips to keep in mind when bodybuilding on a vegan diet.
- Make Friends with Tofu
Tofu will be your best friend as a vegetarian.
Forgive it for its neutral natural flavor and alien-like appearance, and embrace all the recipe possibilities this humble soybean curd will bring to your animal-friendly diet.
Tofu, as you may already know, is coagulated soybean milk. It’s produced in two different varieties, silken and block tofu, and ranges in firmness from soft to extra firm. This makes it incredibly versatile; silken tofu can make protein-packed smoothie or dessert, while block tofu makes an excellent meat substitute in classic dishes like stir-fries, pasta, and noodles.
There really are an innumerable amount of dishes that you can make using tofu as the main ingredient. It absorbs flavors in sauces and marinades like a charm, and it’s pretty much a fuss-free food to cook with too. The only extra bit of kitchen equipment you’ll need for cooking tofu dishes is a tofu press (see here for an example: https://tofubud.com). This handy tool removes excess moisture from all types of block tofu in a matter of minutes.
- Swot up on Micronutrient Deficiencies
Even though a vegetarian or vegan diet can be a lot healthier overall, you will need to pay attention to getting the right amount of micronutrients in your diet, as well as fats, carbs, and protein. Deficiencies can happen to anyone on any diet plan, but here are some common ones to keep an eye on if you’re living a veggie lifestyle
- Iron – while this is more likely to affect female bodybuilders than males, due to the iron-loss that occurs during their menstrual cycle, an iron deficiency can happen to anyone. To combat this, incorporate plenty of dark leafy greens (think spinach and kale), pulses, dried fruit, and beans into your diet.
- Calcium – when eliminating dairy from your diet, you may notice a drop in your calcium levels. Calcium is an important micronutrient for bodybuilders since it plays a key role in muscular contraction and bone health.
- Lacto-vegetarians will be able to get all the calcium they need from dairy-rich foods, while non-dairy veggies and vegans can opt for dark greens, cruciferous veg like broccoli, avocado and almonds.
- Zinc – this nutrient impacts everything from hormones to motor skills and cognitive abilities. Another nutrient that’s mostly found in animal products, veggies will need to incorporate zinc supplements or natural sources like nuts, seeds, and cereals into their diets.
- Explore other Protein Sources
Giving you 8g of protein per 100g, tofu is an excellent protein source to build a vegetarian diet around, but it’s not the only one.
Lacto-veggies can make use of eggs as a natural protein source; the egg whites you’ll find in liquid eggs, for example, are a body-friendly alternative to whey protein.
Along with tofu, in the soy protein category, you have edamame beans, tempeh (think of it as fermented tofu), and soy milk.
Meanwhile, legumes like lentils and chickpeas won’t just help you meet your daily carb quotient; they’ll help you hit your protein goals, too, at 18g and 14.5g per serving, respectively.
A note on Training
As a vegetarian bodybuilder, you should aim for your workouts to be short and intense. This will help you maximize muscle gains on a whole food diet.
Mix up your strength training with some bodyweight and kettlebell routines too. Kettlebell training can be a lot more functional than traditional bodyweight exercises, plus swinging a giant iron bell around gets you feeling like Pavel Tsatsouline himself – what could be more fun than that?