Humans need protein to grow, thrive and build muscle. We know that protein is essential to build muscle and vegetarian diets do need that extra bit of attention to ensure that they not only have enough protein but also the right types of protein for adequate balance. Building muscle on a vegetarian diet in fact isn’t too dissimilar to a meat containing diet. All that changes is the source of protein you need when following a vegetarian diet.
Protein: The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI)
- Female 19-70 years: 46g/day
- Female 70+ years: 57g/day
- Male 19-70 years: 64g/day
- Male 70+ years: 81g/day
Protein helps build muscle and also helps you recover from your workouts. The key is to get enough protein from a wide range of sources. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and of the 20 amino acids found in proteins some are made by the body but there are some amino acids that your body can’t produce and we need to source them through food to keep our muscles happy and healthy. Amino acids are used for the synthesis of body proteins, other metabolites and can also be used as an energy source.
What are the best sources of protein for vegetarians?
- Eggs and egg based meals such as scrambled eggs, omelettes, quiches and frittatas
- Legumes including chickpeas, kidney beans, falafel, nuts/seeds, hummus, lentils and many more
- Tofu, tempeh, soybeans
- Dairy foods including milk, yoghurt and cheese
If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian, eggs and dairy alone provide you with ample opportunity to get sufficient protein. If you have a few protein servings from one of those sources at each meal, you should be able to meet your protein targets quite easily. For the sake of building muscle, these diets are still able to be high in essential amino-acids like leucine, which is one of the triggers for muscle protein synthesis (the process of building of new muscle).
If you’re a vegan, you have to worry to some degree about get the right amount and types of protein. Basically, many plant-based protein sources don’t have all nine essential amino acids and if you don’t have all the essential amino acids then you can’t put those amino’s to use for building muscle. So you’ll have to mix different sources of plant-based protein together in order to get a complete set of amino acids. A common example is rice and beans. Together, those two foods provide a complete protein source. Provided your overall diet contains these ‘complementary proteins’ then you should be getting your essential amino acids.
So in summary, getting enough protein on a vegetarian diet is very possible. The basic rules are:
- Enjoy a wide variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, eggs, dairy, nuts, vegetable oils and plenty of water.
- Include some protein at every meal
- Enjoy a wide variety of protein sources and don’t just have the same type over and over
- Around half of your energy intake should still come from quality carbohydrates which fuel your muscles
At 12WBT our dietitians have specialised meal plans if you are vegetarian, which ensure you get the right nutrients to fuel your workout.