If you asked many hardcore “gym bros” about vegetarian bodybuilding, they’d likely look at you funny and ask if that was even “a thing”. However, getting workout gains like a bodybuilder on a diet without meat is more than doable. In fact, Andraes Cahling competed professionally in the IFBB in the 1970s-1980s while maintaining a no-meat diet. Here are a few tips that can help you build muscle with vegetarian bodybuilding while still maintain your macros.
Don’t Change Your Workouts
It should go without saying, but vegetarian bodybuilding is really only a subject of nutrition and supplementation – not training. The same hypertrophy and fat loss principles will still apply, even though you’re eliminating meat out of your nutrition plan.
How to Eat Enough Protein
The biggest “beef” (pun intended) with vegetarian bodybuilding is that you can’t take in enough protein. While this is a concern as fruits and vegetables as a whole don’t tend to contain as much protein as meat or dairy, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get enough protein every day.
Below is a short list of protein-rich foods allowable on a vegetarian/vegan diet:
- Beans (kidney, black, etc) – roughly 40 grams of protein per cup
- Chickpeas (often considered in the same category as beans) – 39 grams of protein per cup
- Oats – 26 grams of protein per cup
- Lentils – 18 grams of protein per cup
- Seeds and nuts – roughly 20-40 grams of protein per cup (will vary depending what you choose)
As you can see, a few of the right choices above plus the addition of supplements (discussed below), and getting enough protein shouldn’t be an issue. One concern with plant-based protein is that it tends to be incomplete protein, containing many non-essential amino acids while missing some of the amino acids you need. However, as more research is being done, prevailing opinion is becoming that this actually isn’t the case. Consuming plant-based protein only will serve you just fine.
How to Get Enough Calories
Another concern for those wishing to try out vegetarian bodybuilding is getting enough calories. Most fruits and vegetables aren’t as calorie dense as animal-based foods. At the same time, many vegetables have a very high fiber content. Both of these can lead to you getting satiated way before you’ve been able to eat as much as you need.
However, a little smart planning will go a long way here, too. Many of the above mentioned foods don’t just have a high protein content, but a high overall calorie content, as well. This is because they’re either rich with carbohydrates, or provide a fair amount of fat (each gram of which contains 2.5x the calories as protein or carbs).
Here are some examples from the above, plus a few more you could add into the rotation:
- Beans (kidney, black, etc) – roughly 630 calories per cup
- Chickpeas – 730 calories per cup
- Peanuts – 800+ calories per cup (peanut butter is another valid option, though non-natural varieties can contain quite a bit of added sugar)
- Oats – roughly 600 calories per cup
- Avocado – 230+ calories per cup (an excellent source of healthy fat)
- Dark chocolate – roughly 600 calories per 3.5-ounce bar (another source of healthy fat and anti-oxidants)
- Coconut oil – 120 calories per tablespoon (great for cooking and yet another source of healthy fat)
- Coconut milk – 550+ calories per cup
Stacking some of these together will build up your calories in no time. In addition, one of the great things about a plant-based diet is that as long as you consume a decent array of other fruits and vegetables in addition to what’s listed here, you should have a very well-rounded micro-nutrient intake without even trying.
Supplement to Fill in the Gaps
If all else fails, you can always use supplements to fill in any holes in your diet left as a result of eating plant-based foods only. There are many vegetable-based protein powders on the market that can easily help you boost your daily protein intake. The great thing about many of these is that they’re often easily digestible and don’t cause the bloating some experience with whey. This means you can supplement with them while not getting too full to eat plenty the rest of the day.
Aside from this, you can supplement your regimen as anyone else might. BCAAs are always a good idea, especially to round out your overall amino acid profile. If you want to use pre-workouts, creatine, or the like, feel free, but they’re not necessary just because you’re eliminating meat.
All in all, vegetarian bodybuilding is probably easier than you think. Ensuring that you keep a few particular types of food as staples in your nutrition plan should keep protein and calories as high as they need to be. You can always supplement if need be, and the constant consumption of different fruits and vegetables should even give you better micro-nutrient intake than someone who eats a lot of meat.