The Bodybuilding Vegetarian
By Gray Rollins
Surprisingly, being a vegetarian bodybuilder isn’t really as difficult as many people automatically assume it is. In some ways it may be easier because adhering to a real vegetarian diet takes a lot of focus and discipline, two things that will greatly help you in the gym.
First, we should define our terms because there are three basic groups of people who consider themselves “vegetarians.” I refer to these three groups as pseudo-vegetarians, meat vegetarians and vegetarians. The pseudo vegetarian avoids beef, chicken and poultry but will sometimes eat fish and has no problem with other animal products. A meat vegetarian avoids all meat. A vegetarian avoids any foods (or products in general) that contain any amount of animal product.
This article is aimed directly at the true vegetarians, who avoid all animal products. The meat-vegetarians and pseudo-vegetarians will gain useful information as well, but true vegetarians have very specialized needs during bodybuilding.
Since there is no difference in biological manner in which a vegetarian and a carnivore actually build muscles, we don’t need to go into any specific exercise differences. Instead, we’ll be focusing on dietary issues.
The first challenge goes back to the way muscles build in our bodies. We exercise our muscles, which does microscopic damage to the tissue and then our bodies repair the damage with bigger and stronger tissue while we recuperate. To effectively do this, our bodies need to use protein in massive amounts, which is why bodybuilders increase their protein intake.
Vegetarians face a challenge here because the most common source of protein is meat. Okay, so it’s not actually that much of a challenge. According to the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score, soy is equal to whey and superior to beef in protein content. Soy provides all 8 essential amino acids required by your body for growing and repairing muscles. Vegetarians would be well-advised to consider soy as a primary protein source.
The really good news is that soy is also a fantastic source of glutamine which many bodybuilders already take in supplemental form. Soy is available in many different forms such as tofu, miso, soy powder and soy milk. Soy milk is definitely something to have on hand as it can be used to replace cow’s milk in recipes, which will help expand your basic food options.
Almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and pistachio nuts are all excellent sources of both protein and fat; the vegetarian needs to work on getting enough good fats as well, so with the above examples you can go nuts…was that a pun?
You can also add a tablespoon or so of flaxseed oil, as flax seed is one of the very best sources for the essential fatty acid alpha linolenic acid.
Finally, vegetarians need to ensure that they get enough vitamins and minerals. This can be done in multivitamin form although most of the meal-replacement shakes which are so popular among bodybuilders already contain vitamins and minerals galore. The only additional vitamin to look for is B12, which is generally an animal product based vitamin.
Like I said in the beginning, it isn’t nearly as hard to be a vegetarian bodybuilder as many people would think. You’ve got the discipline part down and, by following the guidelines listed above, you will be set up nutritionally to build massive amounts of muscle!