Bodybuilding is highly associated with a diet high in protein with a daily intake of generous amounts of meat, being the main goal the constant increase of lean muscle mass, keeping the body from going into rupture. However, saying no to meat doesn’t mean saying no to muscle mass. Vegetarians can build consistent and strong muscles, just like those who eat meat There are hundreds of millions of vegetarians in the world who choose to follow this lifestyle for a variety of reasons, whether it has to do with religion, economy, health or just because they like it.
But what does this concept consist of?
There are many types of vegetarian diets. The most common are:
Vegan: This diet excludes every type of foods of animal origin and derived foods: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, including honey.
Lacto-vegetarian: This diet excludes: meat, fish, eggs (as well as food containing them) but includes milk, cheese, yoghurts and butter.
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Doesn’t allow meat and fish, but includes a few foods that are animal-derived: eggs and dairy products, honey, fruit, tubers, cereal, dried fruits and other foods of vegetable origin.
Pescatarian: Besides foods from vegetable origin, this diet includes fish and other sea-derived foods.
The semi-vegetarian diet (or flexitarian) is mainly based in plants but includes meat, fish, eggs and derived foods in rare occasions and in reduced amounts.
What’s the best type of vegetarian diet to increase muscle mass?
Before starting any vegetarian diet, it is advisable to look for a good nutritionist. Besides following a diet plan that’ adjusted to your metabolism, you’ll be able to take a few supplements to assure you won’t be developing any nutritional deficits.
If you’re thinking about following a vegetarian diet and if your goal is to increase muscle mass, the most indicated is the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. It will allow you to eat good foods like eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurts) that contain a quality protein. You can also include protein supplements from milk, like casein or whey protein.
Whichever the diet, the foods to avoid are always those high in sugar or fats. When it comes to foods that should be a part of your daily routine, you’ve got a lot to choose from. Here you have some examples:
– Tubers: potato, sweet potato, yams, carrot, etc.
– Fruits: Pumpkin, including pumpkin seeds. Every type of fruit: bananas, apples, pears, avocado, pineapple, etc. You should eat, on a daily basis: 2 or 3 pieces of fruit or 1,5 cup of natural juice.
– Dried Fruits: Nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, plums, etc.
– Legumes: Can include any type of beans, lentils, peas, chick peas, etc. In order to better have the body absorbing and digesting the foods, legumes should be properly cleaned in cold water and cooked before they’re eaten.
– Vegetables: You can choose several types of cabbage, broccoli, spinaches, etc. preferably boiled, to make digestion easier. Spinaches are an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, iron and protein. They’re great with salads, smoothies, steamed, sautéed, in wraps and sandwiches. Eat 2 to 5 bowls of different vegetables every day, cooked or raw.
– Cereal: If you want to avoid the majority of anti-nutrients and maximize the absorption and digestion of cereal, you should take into account that some of them need to be boiled and cooked before you eat them. It includes a good amount of brown rice, quinoa, oat, etc in your diet. Oat is a great option for breakfast because of the amount of complex carbs that provide energy. It is a cereal that has lots of nutrients: minerals (magnesium, phosphorus and calcium), fiber, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, E, copper, zinc and iron. It also contains 13,5% protein, 7% fat and complex carbs that are slowly absorbed by the body.
– Healthy fats: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.
Which supplements should a vegetarian take?
If you’re the type of vegetarian that eats generous amounts of brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, avocado, etc, you’re doing the right thing to build a consistent musculature. On the other hand, if you’re the type of vegetarian who prefers salads, fruit and other vegetable dishes, you should consider the other nutrients that you’re not getting. Vegetarians who don’t get the necessary amounts of different nutrients with their daily diet should consider the possibility of taking a few supplements that keep their body from suffering from some type of nutritional deficit.
Do not underestimate the impact that de micronutrient deficit may cause in your health and wellness. These are the four biggest threats:
You can find it in these foods: spinaches, cabbage, peas, beans, lentils, artichokes, dried fruits (like raisins), nuts, plums, etc. Still, the amount of iron in these sources is badly absorbed by the body. When it comes to women, the tendency to develop anemia due to the lack of iron is even bigger, because they lose blood every month during their menstrual cycle. Using these supplements is recommended in these and other situations.
Calcium is necessary to ensure the strengthening of your bones and plays an important role in muscle contraction. A low calcium intake causes pain during the workouts, which will affect your performance. In the long term, it may lead to the loss of bone density and osteoporosis. A daily intake of foods that are high in calcium is recommendable, like soy milk. The absorption rate varies, so you should complement your diet with a calcium supplement.
It is an essential supplement that promotes the growth and adequate development of the body and it is still a mineral that many vegetarians ignore. The deficits can affect everything, from appetite to cognitive power, motor skills and testosterone in men. The best zinc sources are usually products of animal origin, so vegetarians need to find alternatives. This mineral can be found in pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, nuts, oat flour, etc. Besides that, you can use a zinc supplement to strengthen your body.
4. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 found in foods of vegetable origin is not absorbed by the body as efficiently as with the vitamin B12 found in foods of animal origin. The deficit of the B12 vitamin can cause severe consequences in your health, including anemia and neurodegenerative problems. Look for foods that are rich in vitamin B12, like soy milk, and complement with an adequate supplement.
Whey protein – In case you follow a vegetarian diet that’s a bit more flexible, like the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, you can use whey protein supplements to increase the amount of quality protein you take daily. Take before and after working out.
Casein – Just like what happens with whey protein, you can also use casein to increase the amount of daily protein. Use it before going to sleep to maximize your results.
Soy protein – Maybe it is the best vegetarian alternative to whey. This protein is low in fat and cholesterol and contributes to the increase and conservation of muscle mass. It also helps with keeping your bones in normal conditions. A complete protein provides every necessary aminoacid that is considered essential in your life and that the body can’t synthetize.
Fernando Ribeiro, Como ganhar massa muscular com uma dieta vegetariana, 16th of December 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version
Shannon Clark, No-Meat Muscle: 4 Rules For Building Lean Mass On A Vegetarian Diet, 22nd of January 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version