Do you think bodybuilding and vegetarianism are incompatible? Think again. From egg whites to legumes, many of the foods that make up the bulk of a vegetarian diet are rich in proteins, amino acids and calories that make muscle growth possible.
Avoiding meat doesn’t mean avoiding muscle growth and fat loss. In this blog post, you’ll learn creative meal ideas and nutritional information to help you add muscle mass and burn away body fat using a purely vegetarian diet.
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Focus on calorically dense foods
In order to gain muscle, you need to do two things: stress your muscles with heavy weightlifting and resistance training, and consume enough calories to provide your body with the fuel it needs to get bigger and stronger.
Since meats like steak, chicken and pork are rich in calories, eating a caloric surplus is easy for omnivore bodybuilders. For vegetarians, it’s a little more challenging but still very much possible.
Plenty of vegetarian foods are dense in calories and perfect for growth. Add natural peanut butter, which is packed with protein and healthy fats, to your meal plan for a quick and simple caloric boost.
Other good options include beans, avocadoes and legumes. Remember that many of the most calorically dense vegetarian foods are high in fat and carbohydrates, so it’s generally best to use them as a ‘top up’ to your diet rather than its foundation.
Eat protein with every meal
Arnold Schwarzenegger used to say that in order to build muscle, you’ve got to eat muscle. While this isn’t completely true, the principle – that you need to consume a lot of protein in order to build muscle – is 100 percent accurate.
While meat is the richest source of complete proteins, it’s still possible to eat plenty of protein as a vegetarian. Animal proteins aren’t just found in meat – they’re also in eggs, milk, cheese and other animal products.
Try to consume at least 30 grams of protein in every meal, preferably from animal products like eggs, milk or cheese. Great sources of lean, vegetarian protein include cottage cheese, skim milk and egg whites.
Animal proteins should be the building blocks of your vegetarian bodybuilding meal plan, since they’re all complete proteins. While plant proteins can be useful for mass gains, they often lack essential amino acids when eaten in isolation.
Do you need help selecting protein-rich foods that fit into a vegetarian diet? Learn the best foods for increasing your athletic performance and building muscle in our Introduction to Biohacking: Be Smarter, Stronger and Happier course.
Make sure you eat every three to four hours
The more frequently you eat, the more capable your body becomes. When you eat a single big meal every day, your body often becomes overloaded with nutrients and stores the majority of the meal as long-term energy – in simple terms, fat.
When you spread your meals out throughout the day and consume small servings of calorically rich foods, your body’s efficiency increases. You rapidly absorb proteins, fats and carbohydrates from your food and don’t let anything go to waste.
Beyond this, consuming small meals keeps your blood sugar and insulin levels fairly stable and constant, minimizing the amount of fat you gain and keep your body lean, light and packed with dense muscle.
Instead of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, divide your meal plan into five or six meals that are spread evenly throughout the day. Most bodybuilders eat every three to four hours to keep their body fueled with protein and healthy fats all the time.
Do you need help shopping for healthy, nutritious foods for your meals? Enroll in our Pre-Game and Half-Time Meals for Athletes course to learn about which foods offer the best combination of long-term energy and protein for muscle growth.
Learn your amino acids and protein profiles
Not all proteins are equally useful to your body. Some are complete proteins that include all of the nine essential amino acids. Others, especially plant proteins, are incomplete proteins that need to be supplemented in order to fuel muscle growth.
Almost all animal-based protein sources contain complete proteins. Eggs, milk and cheese, for example, contain all nine essential amino acids in the right quantities for muscle growth and recovery.
If you’d like to avoid animal foods as much as possible, you can still get the essential amino acids from plant proteins. Certain vegetarian meals like rice and beans have a complete protein profile due to the combination of different protein sources.
Do you want to learn which proteins can be combined to create a complete source of protein for muscle building? Read our blog post on the vegan food pyramid to learn which combination of fruits, vegetables and grains offer a complete protein source.
Eat plenty of vegetarian superfoods
Vegetarian superfoods make it easy to get your daily serving of complete proteins, vitamins and minerals without using health supplements. Try adding the following vegetarian superfoods to your diet to build muscle and recover from workouts:
- Protein-rich soy and tofu
- Omega-3 packed chia seeds
- Fiber and iron-rich quinoa
- Gluten-free buckwheat
- Amino acid-filled hempseed
- Super nutritious Ezekiel Bread
- Lysine-rich, delicious hummus
If you’re used to eating an omnivorous diet, the different taste of vegetarian meals can make switching to a vegetarian bodybuilding meal plan tough. Overcome your addiction to meat-based meals by cooking healthy and delicious vegetarian meals.
Our online Vegan and Vegetarian Cooking School course is packed with vegetarian and vegan meals that are full of protein and other essential nutrients for building a strong and fat-free athletic physique.
Use supplements as sparingly as possible
Without the right dietary foundation, bodybuilding supplements like whey protein and creatine aren’t likely to produce great results. However, if your diet is balanced and your meal plan is optimized, supplements can certainly speed up your progress.
Add proven supplements like whey or casein protein and creatine to your meal plan to enhance your results. Supplements like whey protein and creatine contain animal products, making them suitable for vegetarians but inedible for vegans.
Generally, it’s best to avoid supplements that aren’t based on real foods. Whey and casein protein are derived from cheese and milk. Likewise, vegan proteins are often derived from legumes, soy and plant products.
Other supplements, like energy boosters and weight gain shakes are often packed with artificial sweeteners and other additives. In addition to this, their benefits are often questionable, at least compared to those offered by whey and casein protein.
Stick to supplements that are derived from real foods and use supplements as they should be used – as supplements, not dietary foundations. With the right foundation, a post-workout whey or casein protein shake can have a huge effect on your results.
Do you need help separating helpful supplements from scams? Enroll in our No Bull Fitness Course to learn which supplements can help you build muscle and lose body fat, and which are overpriced, artificial and unhealthy.
Start your vegetarian bodybuilding meal plan today
From legumes to dairy, there are hundreds of vegetarian foods that are packed with protein for muscle growth. Start your vegetarian bodybuilding diet today with five low calorie, high protein vegetarian recipes from our blog.