Can you build muscle without eating meat? Vegetarian bodybuilding: Believe it!
Ambitious fitness goals on meat-free diets
July 20, 2012 | 1:00 pm
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 12:48 pm)
In a recent sensationalist piece donned at planetgreen.com, it was revealed that some of our favorite movie stars use vegan and vegetarian diets to beef up for meaty movie roles. The beloved Hugh Jackman, for example, avoided dairy and meat while pumping iron in preparation for the sequel to Wolverine.
I’m no nutritionist, but the vegan approach to bodybuilding seems counterintuitive. I’ve long lusted after the rock-hard chests of celebs and athletes, but I never assumed they achieve meaty success after eating wheelbarrows full of carrots and celery. Is it really possible to bulk up without meat protein in your diet?
Jessica Visinsky, a graduate of CSU’s Food Science and Nutrition program, says it’s possible —with some difficulty. “Proteins – especially complementary proteins – are very important to athletes of all kinds,” she says. “There are protein powders and supplements for those who don’t get sufficient protein through their diet, but the ideal is always to get those nutrients naturally.”
The key, according to Visinsky, is diligence and balance. Vegetarians can hit the gym and expect results if they pay close attention to the added dietary requirements of their workout regime. “It’s very important to focus on iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 intake,” she explains. “Athletes should also be sure to get at least one and a half grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. These are the nutrients that are often deficient in a vegetarian or vegan diet, and can make progress in the gym difficult.”
In the same vein, Tracy Boykin, a registered dietitian with Clinical Nutrition Center in Denver, says that it’s absolutely possible to maintain a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle while reaching fitness goals, provided that adherents are disciplined and focused. “It’s not difficult to eat enough protein to build muscle on a vegetarian diet,” Boykin says. “Good athletes will generally increase their intake of food and, therefore, nutrients. But it is important that they get a variety of proteins.”
Boykin credits growing knowledge about vegan and vegetarian diets, as well as the availability of non-meat proteins, for the success of these diets. “There are more products, restaurants, and workout regimes that take these diets into consideration,” she says.
But while Jackman, along with the rest of us would-be movie stars studs, give vegan and vegetarian diets a better name, Boykin and Visinsky agree there are important things to keep an eye on. “Calcium is probably the most difficult nutrient to get in a vegan or vegetarian diet,” Boykin says. “You need to really load up on dark green leafy veggies that are not spinach. This means kale, collards, mustard, and beet greens. Most people just take a calcium supplement –1,000-1,200mg are needed daily by both men and women.”
For vegetarians, there are more options for diverse proteins – like tofu, seitan, eggs, beans, and for some, fish. For vegans it’s more difficult, but still possible – nuts, wheat, and soy powders allow active individuals to get the protein intake they need while not betraying their diet.
Which is shocker for me – and perhaps for most of us. Maintaining vegetarian and vegan diets while reaching intense fitness goals, though easier than it once was, is still no simple feat. It requires a tremendous amount of attention and diligence. And word has it that determination pays off: I mean, just look at Jackman on the big screen.
I, however, am not convinced my gaunt frame can ever achieve hulk status regardless of what I eat. But at least I know I can stick to veggie-inspired fare and add some imposing heft. Let that be next year’s resolution.
Sample Vegan Bodybuilding Diet:
Courtesy of Mike Mahler of Bodybuilding.com, this diet – marked by multiple small meals throughout the day – is an example of what it takes to go vegan while still building the muscle you want. His advice: “Make sure that you eat a variety of food to get the full array of muscle-building amino acids. Also, keep in mind that some saturated fat is required for optimal health, so get some coconut oil or coconut milk in your diet as well.”
3 Tbsp rice protein power
8 oz almond milk
8 oz soy milk
1/2 c frozen mangoes
1 Tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp Vitamineral Green
1/2 c almonds
1/2 c raisins
Late Afternoon Snack:
2 veggies burgers
cooked with olive oil
(aka Ezekial or Man’s Bread)
Post Workout Shake:
3 Tbsp rice protein powder
8 oz oat or rice milk
1 Tbsp flaxseed oil
1/2 c frozen fruit
mixed green salad with 1
Tbsp olive oil
1 c lentils, steamed with
squash, carrots, tomatoes,
mushrooms, and tofu
1 c quinoa
1 pear or apple
1-2 pieces dark chocolate
1 glass red wine
Peanut butter or almond
1 c berries