How to build muscle on a vegetarian diet

R. Kalpana

February 11, 2021

Who says you have to eat meat to build muscle and gain strength? A balanced vegetarian diet that includes plant-based protein can help facilitate muscular development and provide minerals that are essential for lean tissue growth.

In a country like India, where almost 20-40% of the population is vegetarian, a diet of egg whites and lean meat doesn’t make the cut for a number of bodybuilders. But there are options other than supplements that can help vegetarians with their energy requirements.

Soy products, beans, grains, nuts and seeds can provide adequate protein for bodybuilders. Small amounts of protein should be eaten through the day, from a variety of protein sources to ensure intake of essential amino acids. Eggs, for eg, are a source of complete protein because they contain all nine of the essential amino acids the human body cannot synthesize on its own. Most plant-based proteins, with the exception of soybeans and some grains, don’t contain these amino acids and are therefore known as incomplete proteins.

So what are the best food choices for vegetarians?

  • Soy milk
  • Boiled lentils
  • Tofu
  • Protein powders made from soy isolates
  • Milk and milk products. Have milk post workout and during other meals, include foods like low-fat cheese and paneer.

When water (the water that remains when milk is curdled) is another good choice.

Vegetarians keen to build muscle should eat five or six small meals every day that includes protein, but also a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and water. Avoid filling up on veggies and fruits as calories from dense foods are important if you’re trying to build muscle. Good sources of fat, necessary for supplying energy to muscles during workouts, include olive oil, almonds, and walnuts.

About the Author

“Nutritionists have a role to play that goes beyond mere meal-planning,” says Kalpana, who believes she can motivate others to stay on the path towards a healthier life. A Certified Dietician with a PhD from SPMVV University, she is a Mary C Jacob Award-winner for Merit in Physiology from Madras University and has worked across various hospitals as well as nutrition clinics. She has been published both nationally and internationally in various science and health journals, and has regularly contributed towards health and wellness content for Sify.

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