You don’t need meat and fish to gain muscle in the gym. It’s a common misconception that eating meat will make you big and strong but vegetarians can get enough protein from a plant based diet and amino acid supplements.
Broccoli contains more protein per calorie than steak and spinach is about equal to chicken and fish (per calorie). Your primary protein sources should be eggs, beans, quinoa, broccoli, grains and legumes. You can also supplement with plant-based or whey protein powder. When your diet includes complete proteins in combination with healthy fats, you should have no problem putting on muscle.
Fat is necessary
Fat is the most energy dense form of food we eat and you need to make sure you’re getting enough fat in your diet. It’s a good source of energy for both immediate needs and delayed use when food intake is reduced. Fat in the diet helps the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). It’s a source of the essential fatty acids that the body cannot make itself.
Plants most often store fats in their seeds, nuts and fruits. Make sure you include ingredients like avocados, coconuts and olives as they are all a great source of healthy fat. ‘Healthy fats’ such as omega-3 fatty acids can be consumed through flax seed oil, which has way more omega-3s per calorie than fish.
Proteins are made up of amino acids. We need protein in our diets as there are about 9 amino acids that we cannot naturally produce. Whilst meat does have a superior amino acid profile, we can still access the majority of these from a plant based diet. Eggs actually have the highest biological value of any other food, even including beef, meaning they can support your body’s protein needs. You also need less protein from eggs, calorie for calorie, than you do from other sources to build solid muscle. And no, eating a reasonable amount of eggs every day won't increase your risk of heart disease.
It’s important to remember to take supplements to ensure you have enough creatine, BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) and taurine, which are essential amino acids for muscle growth, repair and energy.
Creatine is a highly regarded amino acid in the fitness industry, known for its muscle-building features and although our bodies naturally make creatine it always advantageous to get more introduced into our system. The only food sources that have creatine are meat (beef, pork, and fish) but it can be supplemented inexpensively with creatine powder that you can get at virtually any supplement outlet. Even some grocery stores carry this since it’s so popular.
BCAAs can help protect your muscles from the catabolic effects of dieting and can help you gain mass. According to a study published in The Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, BCAAs reduces muscle soreness after sessions of intense exercise. In fact, most bodybuilders aren’t getting enough BCAAs from food alone so I’d recommend that both meat eaters and vegetarians take them.
Even if you ignore all the advice above there are so many protein supplement products suitable for vegetarians that there’s no reason why cutting fish and meat out of your diet should hamper your attempts to build muscle.
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