Whether you’re already on the bandwagon or just dipping your toe in the sea of curiosity, going vegetarian is a significant shift from the typical omnivore-type diet - especially if you’re a regular exerciser.
Even though a vegetarian diet has numerous health benefits1,2,3,4, how you follow it can be the reason you experience improvements in health, muscle tone and general fitness, or the reason you feel fatigued, anxious and ill…5
Below, you’ll discover how to ensure that your vegetarian diet checks all of the boxes6 when it comes to health and fitness and ensure your hard efforts are going towards reaching your ultimate goals and not falling short!
Vegetables are healthy, but....
A superfood packed green juice with a side of fruit salad for breakfast, roast vegetable lettuce wraps for lunch, and a large vegetarian sushi platter for dinner all sound delicious; and packed with essential vitamins and mineral. Anyone would look at these meals and commend you on your healthy choices.
There is, however, one problem when you take a closer look at these foods. Can you guess what it is?
Protein. Or, rather, the lack thereof…
While there are plenty of plant-based protein-containing foods a vegetarian can eat, many vegetarians miss the mark on a daily basis. The protein requirements for an adult over the age of 18 are suggested as 64g a day for men and 46g for women7.
That’s the absolute minimum an adult should have to supply their body with the daily requirements.
As someone who trains, your needs can jump up to 1.6 to 1.7g if your goal is to build muscle, promote repair and maintain overall health. This number is particularly applicable if you take part in weight or resistance training exercises8 - which, we hope you do! That means if you weigh 60kg, even at 1.6g per kilogram of bodyweight, you need around 96g of protein throughout the day, which you’re very likely not getting.
Even if the meals mentioned above are extremely nutrient-dense, they’re simply not meeting protein requirements for your body if you’re training regularly. In fact, when entered by a nutritionist into dietary analysis software, the results showed to be a bit scary: the entire day’s protein intake was below 30g. That’s less than half of the 66g you should be having.
If you think the importance of protein intake is purely about muscle building and stamina at the gym, it’s so much more.
Proteins are an important component of your health and fitness
It is, of course, true that proteins and their functional components called amino acids are important for muscle building, repair and maintenance of their function - but, these amino acids do so much more.
Amino acids are also essential to hormone function, they form the building blocks for enzymes, they are prevalent in your skin and nails, they play a role in immunity and they act as a source of energy. Your entire body needs a variety of amino acids to do what it needs to do - and, without them, it simply wouldn’t function properly, hands down.
Fortunately, there are simple changes you can make to your diet to ensure your overall nutrient requirements are met. Nuts, beans, legumes, tofu, peas, hemp, quinoa, chia seeds and edamame are all valuable sources of protein in a vegetarian diet9. Eat these every day and you’ll see how quickly the protein adds up:
- 1 tablespoons of almonds, peanuts or their butters: 4g
- 1 tablespoon of chia or hemp seeds: 4g
- ¼ cup of cooked lentils, chickpeas, black beans or kidney beans: 4g
- ½ cup of tofu: 15g
- 1 cup of green peas or cooked quinoa: 8g
- 1 cup of unshelled edamame beans: 5g
- 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk: 8g
Add one of each of these to your daily diet and your protein intake increases by 43g!
Now all you have to do is mix and match.
Putting protein into practice
Each of your meals has room to add a little more protein. Here are some simple and delicious ways to make your meals more protein-packed:
- Sprinkle almond slivers over your fruit bowl.
- Add peanut butter and ground hemp seeds to your greens and instead make a smoothie with some soy milk.
- Make overnight oats (they contain a small amount of protein) with chia seeds allowed to soak in some soy or nut milk. Add chopped fruit in the morning for a delicious breakfast on-the-go.
- Add lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans or any of their hummus spreads to your roast vegetable wrap or deconstruct your wrap and eat a bean- and roast vegetable-based salad.
- For dinner, whip up some tofu with a stir fry.
Another great option is to add a quality plant-based protein powder to your exercise routine. Not only can it boost your protein intake by a further 20-30g a day - but, many high quality powders contain other healthful ingredients like L-glutamine that aids in recovery, probiotics to aid in digestion, and concentrated forms of the essential amino acids your body needs to repair and heal after training.
These simple tips for increasing your protein intake are just the beginning. A well-balanced vegetarian diet is far different to the simple concept of “eat anything, except meat”.
With this nutrition advice backing you, you’ll be sure to start noticing a difference in how you look and feel once you make the switch!
Do you have an easy way to incorporate vegetarian protein into your daily meals? Share it with us in the comments below!
- Orlich, M., Singh, P., & Sabate, J. Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist health study 2. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2013. 173(13):1230-1238.
- Satija, A., et al. Plant-based dietary patterns and incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US men and women: Results from three prospective cohort studies. 2016. PLOS Medicine.
- Yokoyama, Y., et al. Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy. 2014. 4(5).
- Yokoyama, Y., Nishimura, K., & Barnard, N. Vegetarian diets and blood pressure: A meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2014. 174(4):577-587.
- Craig, W., & Mangels, A. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009. 109(7):1266-82.
- Radd S., & Marsh K. Practical tips for preparing healthy and delicious plant-based meals. MJA Open 2012. 1(2): 41-45.
- Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including the Recommended Dietary Intakes. Update 2017.
- Fieldling, R., & Parkington, J. What are the dietary protein requirements of physically active individuals? New evidence on the effects of exercise on protein utilization during post-exercise recovery. Nutr Clin Care. 2002. 5(4):191-6.
- Mangels AR, Messina V, Melina V. Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003. 103:748–65.