This post, I’ll be departing from the usual social commentary for a trip to the little known world of vegetarian bodybuilding. As any Seventh-Day Adventist will boast, the SDA health message has been around for the last 100 years. In that time, modern health science has come to agree with the SDA standards for a healthy diet. In particular, the vegetarian diet is lauded for it’s health and financial benefits for not only those who follow it, but also potentially for the ecosystems affected by worldwide implementation of such a concept.
Because the rest of the world has yet to catch up with the SDA’s or modern science, I’m doing my part by highlighting an area that has long been ruled by meat eaters – bodybuilding. All of the bodybuilders that I’ve talked with swear by the high protein content, and caloric value of lean meats in their diet. I confess that I too wondered if I might find a reasonable substitute recently when I decided to make the switch to vegetarianism. While many veggie-meats have the sufficient protein content required for a bodybuilding diet, they frequently have a higher than normal sodium content, and consist of very processed ingredients.
After some research, I believe a non-meat diet is possible for a bodybuilder, though I’ve given up on trying to simply substitute things for meat. This was not enough for me however. As a lover of delicious meat, I needed to find some meals that tasted so good that I would question why I hadn’t made the switch sooner.
My initial thought regarding the switch was, “well, I guess I’ll be eating a lot of rice and beans.” This was a somewhat depressing thought. While rice and beans can be great, I needed more variety in my diet. So I’ve come up with 27+1 tips for the vegetarian bodybuilder 😉 The first 11 tips are general dietary recommendations. The second ten tips are foods that should be staples in the vegetarian bodybuilder’s diet, with links to delicious recipes that include them. The next few tips are supplements that should be considered when attempting to bulk up. The last few tips are meant to help make the mental switch to vegetarianism.
1. Calories! Get Them!
The most important thing for gaining mass is to consume more than you burn. While there are more precise ways of calculating how much you need to eat, I recommend the simple calculation of Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR) = 66 + (6.3 * body weight in lbs.) + (12.9 * height in inches) – (6.8 * age in years). Once you have this number you need to multiply it by 1.2, 1.375, 1.55, 1.725, or 1.9 depending upon whether you are sedentary, moderately active, very active, or extra active. The number you get is just the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight! To increase in muscle, you should add 500 calories per day for every 1 pound of increased weight you want each week.
2. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies!
These babies will be providing you with a lot of the nutrients in your diet, as well as the antioxidant protection your body needs to fight off disease. Don’t be bashful with these guys! Eat a nice variety, and lots of them! Later on in this article I’ll discuss specific one important to a vegetarian bodybuilding diet. For now I can’t stress enough, EAT LOTS OF FRUITS AND VEGGIES!!!
Okay, so this might seem obvious, but beans are one of your best bet for protein. They’re also a fantastic source of good low-fat carbs.
4. Avoid Processed Food Like the Plague!
When going vegetarian, there is a great temptation to rely on high-carb, processed snack foods to fill the calorie void left by one’s renunciation of meat. DO NOT DO THIS!! Instead, enjoy whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I realize that this may be difficult for those of us who love our Ruffles and Hershey’s. See the recommended foods below for some tasty deterrents.
5. Compound Workouts!
Compound workout routines work multiple muscle groups during each exercise of the routine. This shortens the workout time, and takes some of the pressure of your body’s reliance on protein to sustain you for a long time. Compound workouts have also been shown to be the best way to bulk up fast.
6. Variety is the spice of life!
Eat a variety of foods. Many people get stuck in food routines and end up with nutrient deficiencies. By varying your foods, you ensure that you’re getting a good mix of different nutrients. After all, it’s better to get your vitamins from natural sources than supplements.
By including both egg and dairy products, such as low fat yogurt, you give yourself a huge protein boost, and up your B-12, which is usually low in a vegetarian diet. An ovo-lacto vegetarian eats both. It’s not absolutely necessary, however.
8. Go Nuts!
Nuts are a great fuel source, and have lots of good fats. Yup, fat is necessary as well for a balanced diet. But not just any fat. Things high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 are recommended most for fat intake.
9. Plant the Seed of Victory
Flaxseed, hemp seed, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumkin seeds, and chia seeds are all fantastic additions to a healthy diet. High in essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, these little buggers do wonders!!
10. Eat lots!
Eat at least 5 good meals a day. This is a difficult thing for many people to integrate into their lives. Most work schedules are only set up for one lunch break, after all. Muscles, however need a constant stream of amino acids to rebuild. Make it happen if you want the best results possible.
11. Monitor your Body Fat Levels
Possibly one of the best ways to assess changes in body composition is through monitoring of body fat levels. When a person first starts working out, they may put on 2 lbs. of muscle for ever 1 lb. of fat. This levels out after a regular routine is maintained, and generally, a person gains 1 lb of fat for each pound of muscle when bulking up. Using a body fat caliper and an updated chart, is the simplest way to keep up to date with the gains or losses in mass.
Enter Quinoa (pronounced “Kwin-wah”). Throw out that brown rice, and prepare your taste buds for a smooth tasting, flavor absorbing, more nutritious grain that will kick your bodybuilding diet into high gear. It is a whole protein, that is low in cholesterol and sodium, and will give you some great carbs. Quinoa and Black Beans are a delicious side or main dish that should be a staple in any vegetarian, body building diet. Next up is Quinoa Tabbouleh (pronounced “ta-boo-lee”). It tastes so fresh! For something more savory, try Quino with Mushrooms and Spinach. Think quinoa is only for lunch and dinner? Try Quinoa Pancakes! Okay! I think that’s enough quinoa for now.
For some more good carbs and protein, check out chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Again, low in sodium and cholesterol, these are a perfect food for bulking up. This can be combined with quinoa to make a delicious dish. It also goes great in curry.
Something else to add to a delicious vegetarian diet is tempeh (pronounced “tem-pay”). While at first glance, this may appear to be higher in fat, do a double take. Oh my! Omega-3’s, and wow! look at the Omega-6 content! Yahoo!! What’s better? BBQ tempeh burger!!
For more of those great fatty-acids, grab some flaxseed, walnuts, and avocado! These go great in sandwiches, muffins, and even cookies! Or you could just grab a handful of almonds or cashews and go nuts!
16. Broccoli and Spinach for iron and calcium.
Iron deficiencies are common in vegetarians. For some good sources of calcium and iron check out broccoli and spinach. Many people may be asking why I didn’t include seaweed, which has four times the amount of iron, and two times the amount of calcium. Many people in the US find that spinach tastes better, and is in more of our recipes like this, and this, and this. Also, at first glance you may ask why I included broccoli. Broccoli is high in Vitamin C, a key component for iron absorption. It also contains calcium and iron, making it a better food than simply eating oranges for your Vitamin C.
Speaking of Vitamin C, a better source of C than even oranges is a nice juicy kiwi. They are also high in fiber, as fruits go. Vitamin C is also great for bodybuilders as it keeps your testosterone levels high.
18. Sweet Potato
Vitamin A, check! Sweet Potatoes are all you need for your Vitamin A intake. They are low in sodium and cholesterol as well as getting you some great carbs. They can be put into some super delicious dishes.
Packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids, blueberries have lots of potassium and Vitamin C, both fantastic for any bodybuilder.
Oats! High in great carbs and protein, this is an ideal food for the bodybuilder, vegetarian, or otherwise.
21. Use Egg White or Soy Protein Powders
While this should NOT be your only source of protein, they are a fantastic addition to the vegetarian bodybuilding diet. They should be taken before and after a workout for best results.
Glutamine is used all over the body and helps with protein metabolism. It lowers the amount of muscle breakdown, and is thus in high demand by bodybuilders.
23. Iron Supplements
When you aren’t a huge fan of those veggies high in iron, and you don’t eat meat, you need these.
24. B12 Supplement
Why take B12? B12 is provided easily by a meat diet, but not so much by the vegetarian one. It is necessary for red blood cells, and the protective coating surrounding nerves. It has also been shown to help keep energy levels up during the day, and prevent B12 related anemia.
25. Don’t replace, get creative.
One of the big mistakes in switching over to a meat diet, is that you need to replace meat with something that will have the same nutritional value, taste, and texture. For some, this may make the transition easier, but for me, I just became disappointed. Now, instead of trying to find a replacement for meat, I get creative with my meal planning, and spread out my protein intake over lots of foods. I’ve taken a fresh look at what a meal can be, rather than thinking of what it was. This has opened me up to new, delicious foods I would have never thought of trying in the past, let alone trying to pronounce.
26. Meat Cravings
While I’ve come up with lots of new meal plans that are meatless and delicious, I still find myself craving certain dishes from my meaty past. When this happens, I ask myself, “Is this a craving for the taste of meat, or does my body simply need more protein for muscle repair?” Usually, I’ll simply whip up a delicious protein shake, and I’m good. On the off chance that I’m still craving the taste of meat, I remind myself what meat tastes like when nothing is added to it. Yuk! So bland! What makes meat taste good for me is all the flavoring you add to it. If the craving is a more psychological thing for you, the following tips may help:
– Eat every 3 hours to prevent the drop in blood sugar associated with hunger.
-Drink water to prevent the dehydration that confuses the body into thinking it’s hungry
-Wait 15-20 minutes after you’ve eaten and hydrated to see if it’s a real craving or just a psychological one. A real craving will hold out.
-Distract yourself with other engaging activities to help change your mindset.
-Exercise. If it’s a psychological craving, you should feel better instantly.
-Change your life’s routine up a bit in order to get your mind out of the mental habit of expecting meat.
27. Failure is a better teacher than success
If you give in and eat meat, learn from the experience. What circumstances lead to eating it? Were you alone, or with people who were pressuring your to eat meat? Don’t beat yourself up for having eaten meat. It’s just like Paul says in Romans, “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
+1. Trust in the Lord
The best advice I can give anyone comes from proverbs, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” After all, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”