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Training On A Vegetarian Diet
Q. I’m a vegetarian (lacto ovo), and I’ve been told it’s impossible to build a great physique or get really lean eating this way. What’s your take?
A. It’s definitely not impossible to build a lean and muscular physique, but it will take some effort and creativity on your part. The good thing is that being a lacto-ovo vegetarian leaves you with a few more protein options than a vegan. A lacto-ovo vegetarian doesn’t eat animal flesh but does consume dairy and egg products, whereas a vegan doesn’t consume any animal products.
One key to building a great physique on a vegetarian diet is to make sure you get plenty of protein—at least one gram per pound of body weight per day. But don’t eat just any protein; you need to be sure you consume protein that contains all the essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and therefore must be obtained via the food we eat. The most important essential aminos are the branched-chain amino acids. These are the ones responsible for turning on protein synthesis (i.e., muscle building) and ensuring post-workout repair and recovery.
Two great protein options for lacto-ovo vegetarians that contain all the essential amino acids are eggs and whey protein powder. Eggs are considered a perfect protein. In fact, they’re the gold standard by which all other proteins are measured, due to their high biological value. Whey protein powder also provides all the essential amino acids and has a superior absorption and utilization rate by the body. In fact, just these two protein sources alone can meet the majority of your protein needs.
Other protein sources that you may want to consider in your diet are quinoa, lentils, beans, tofu, and soy. The difficult part is that some of these options also contain carbohydrates, so if you’re trying to get super lean, be wise about your choices. In addition to ensuring you get enough protein, you may want to add a few muscle-building supplements to help you develop and maintain your muscle. Creatine, BCAAs, and even glutamine are great options. Creatine, found in red meat, fish, and poultry, is a key compound that aids in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), giving your muscles energy. BCAAs stimulate and drive protein synthesis and help to maintain the balance of nitrogen levels in the muscle. Glutamine can aid in muscle recovery.
Vegetarians may also be vulnerable to deficiencies of other key vitamins and minerals that are essential to energy production, bone metabolism, and oxygen delivery, including iron, calcium, and vitamin B12. Good dietary sources of iron include dried fruit, nuts, and tofu, while calcium is found in many leafy green vegetables and can also be found in fortified tofu. Also, be sure to take a complete multivitamin to supplement all your needs.