I have many vegetarian and vegan clients who ask me many questions about how to incoporate a vegetarian or vegan diet alongside creating a better physique and fitter body. I have been able to provide answers based on the science before but, as a meat eater, I have never been able to fully empathise with any difficulties that arise.
- Eating enough efficient protein sources for muscle growth
- Keeping the protein, carbohydrate and fat balance right (it’s easy to eat more carbs without a simple source of protein to fill your plate).
- Keeping the meals interesting
- Finding quick snacks and meal options with the right macronutrient balance
- Making healthy choices when you’re out at restaurants or picking up a quick lunch
Throughout the month, I will be detailing some of the meals I have, the difficulties that arise, my feelings as the days pass, my physical performance and body statistics to see how a two week vegetarian diet and two week vegan diet change my body and energy levels. I hope that having these diets will provide me with a better perspective for further helping vegetarians and vegans, mainly by empathising with any difficulties. And perhaps…I’ll even enjoy it?!
The Daily Blog
Vegetarian – Week 1
Day 1 stats: 12st 7.6lbs – 31in waist (naval) – 39in hips – 40in chest – 14.5in right bicep
Aims: Post-Christmas fat loss whilst maintaining muscle mass. Calorie deficit diet + weights workouts + yoga and fasted gentle cardio
I’ve just had my first meal of the year as a vegetarian as above. Two hours later and I feel well after enjoying the meal. Maybe this won’t be hard? I’m actually looking forward to it at this point, with no cravings for my old meat diet at all.
Day 3: Going really well so far and enjoying the process. Notably, I’ve had so much energy without overeating on macros allowing me to do two days of double workouts (cardio morning and weights afternoon). My muscles seem to be recovering well too with BCAAs and protein shakes at the same level as on my meat and fish diet. I am interested to see how the next week goes as work gets busier and I have less time for prepping meals. Just finished a post-workout meal of:
Day 5: Surprising. Have been at work, taking hard sessions and working out myself too from early in the morning until late at night…and no dip in energy nor difficulty in prepping foods – made a homemade red bean and chickpea soup yesterday in a big batch. I have been getting my main protein shots from protein shakes but just at breakfast, post-workout and pre-bed, and not worrying about it too much at the meals in between. I have been using a blend of whey and casein protein powder so that the protein is digested both quickly and slowly so that there is a steady stream of protein digestion continuing throughout the day. Plus, my bean/chickpea blends ensure I am getting some protein in between too, even if they are not complete sources. Physique stats to come at the end of the week and will be interesting to complete the picture of the first week. This will provide me with some good initial feedback. Currently no disruption to any bodily processes, have been recovering well from workouts and have lots of energy. Not getting bloated either which is a surprise as I thought this may happen from having water-rich foods. Onwards and upwards.
Week 1 overview
Day 7 stats: 12st 4.2lbs (-3.8lbs) – 30.5in waist (naval) – 38.5in hips – 40in chest – 14.5in right bicepWell, week one has been completed and it was a big shock to me that a) I enjoyed it, b) I haven’t craved meat or fish, c) I’ve had lots of energy, and d) as per the stats above, I’ve managed to shift some post-Xmas excess by working out regularly and maintaining a calorie deficit. Granted, the last two days have been harder and I have felt tired at times, but this comes through working out 5 times in 4 days and being in a calorie deficit. Rest day today and I expect to be full of energy again tomorrow.
Vegetarian – Week 2
Day 9: Just completed a 5k Park Run (not a good time, but new trainers and busy course). However, I felt great doing it with lots of energy, so I don’t think I pushed myself hard enough. Thus, notably, I felt great after over a week’s veggie diet when running. Still enjoying it, although I am aware that calories seem to be harder to come by and that I need to actively look to increase healthy fat sources on days where I’m very active (yesterday I walked/ran 22km with a workout thrown in too and felt tired again). So this isn’t the food’s fault, I just need to be more aware of needing to eat more if I don’t want to lose muscle.
YO! Sushi dinner out: Went to Yo! Sushi and had a dinner out with the premise of eating healthy but with about 800 calories to play with for a little treat. Managed to cast aside my want for sashimi salmon and instead had: vegetable and rice nori hand roll, edamame and pickle salad (kaiso salad) x 2, vegetable gyozas, kaiso gunkan and aubergine salad. Perfecto.
Day 11: Seem to be making the same sort of meals now. Stuffed peppers, bulgar wheat, cottage cheese, eggs, roast veg, homemade soups. So the novelty of new meals has worn off a little bit…but the enjoyment of eating the food hasn’t! Which is great. When I ate a meat-led diet I also had the same food over and over – chicken, broccoli and sweet potato. Today I had the vegetarian equivalent – bulgar wheat mixed with scrambled egg, cottage cheese and chilles, with a side of broccoli. Mix morning meal was a bowl of homemade sweet potato and leek soup. Breakfast post-workout was same as ever (porridge with protein powder, banana and peanut butter but made into a smoothie).
…having said this, I did make this ‘Frittata pizza’ yesterday which tasted ‘just’ like a Domino’s Margarita Pizza…honestly…
Vegetarian fortnight overview
Day 1 stats: 12st 7.6lbs – 31in waist (naval) – 39in hips – 40in chest – 14.5in right bicep
Day 14 stats: 12st 2.6lbs – 30.5in waist (naval) – 38in hips – 40in chest – 14.5in right bicep
Well, two weeks of being a vegetarian and I have loved it. I have lost 5lbs of body fat by implementing my normal ‘cutting’ rules but just without meat or fish involved. Meals are harder to come up with when looking to not just have a bowl of greens but are more interesting to eat when you have them. Homemade soups, stuff peppers, oat smoothies and fritattas have been my favourites. I would recommend everyone trying this to see if it suits them. For me, I will take all the things I have enjoyed from vegetarian eating forward and will look to keep it going after January with meat and fish being occasional moments when I feel like it, rather than a staple for every meal.
Protein help for vegetarian diets
It’s early stages but I have also maintained my muscle mass so far. I was worried about this as protein consumption is a notorious difficulty for vegetarian exercisers and is the main nutritional element for building and maintaining muscle mass. What I have found is that if you start and end the day with a protein shake or yoghurt, and you have your shake post-workout, you will be getting adequate protein for the day whether you are building muscle or cutting fat as long as your meals are composed imaginatively.
This is a general concept that is more art than science, but if you’ve just slapped some peanut butter on a slice toast for a meal or you’ve opened up a can of tomato soup as a quick lunch, you aren’t likely to be getting the 20g of protein that is recommended as a minimum for each meal. Yes they wouldn’t be unhealthy choices, but we are looking at optimum nutrition and the greatest efficiency for achieving goals.
However, if you were to stuff peppers with bulgar wheat and cottage cheese with a side of roast veg, have a tomato and mushroom omelette with a side salad, a homemade bean and chickpea soup or have porridge with nuts, seeds, Greek yoghurt and blueberries, you will most probably be getting enough protein if your portion size is sensible according to your goals. A mixture of healthy ingredients plus imagination should equal adequate nutrition and protein. And I haven’t even had ‘meat substitutes’ for meals at this point like Quorn or Tofu which is interesting.
Mixing food types for optimum nutrition
The mix of different food sources for protein is founded in biology as well as maths of just counting grams of protein. Not all proteins are equal. Some are more efficient at doing their job than others. Some of the least efficient sources that are often classed as ‘good sources of vegetarian protein’ are lentils, chickpeas, oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, nuts, seeds and bulgar wheat. Whilst they do provide protein, they aren’t comprised of the full quota of essential amino acids to do the jobs that are most efficiently performed by chicken, beef, salmon and turkey – these all contain the optimum amino acids which are the essential building blocks for cell and muscle repair.
However, if you mix good vegetarian protein sources together in the same meal, you are likely to be getting a more complete amino acid profile for your meals. More to come on the best combinations over the coming weeks, but for now, mix partial sources of vegetarian protein together for optimum muscle building or fat loss nutrition in regards to protein. Take one food from the categories below and mix with another one or two sources per meal to make the art of meal-making work with fitness science for fat loss, muscle building and optimum protein.
Tips for natural vegetarian protein sources:
- Beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Bulgar wheat, barley, rye
- Cheese (cottage cheese is best)
- Eggs (egg whites are pure protein)
- Greek Yoghurt
- Oats, brown rice and quinoa
- Nuts and seeds