By Josh England
Interested in all the health benefits that a vegetarian diet seems to offer, but stressed about getting enough protein to build muscle? Read this article!
You can do a lot for your health simply by consuming more plant-based foods during the course of the day.
But if you’re an average gym rat, your sole focus probably lies around getting enough grams of protein each day.
What if I told you, you could do both?
Veganism and vegetarianism get bad raps because so many fitness-based articles put their sole focus into laying out how to get protein during the day.
And since it’s no question that animal food sources have significantly more protein than their plant-based counterparts, it can be difficult to find a helpful vegetarianism guide to planning a muscle-building diet.
That’s where this article comes into play. Below I’m going to lay out some health benefits you’ll find to consuming more veggies during the week, some vegetarian-friendly protein sources, a few links out to some delicious recipe ideas, and wrap it all up with a sample day of vegetarian muscle building eating.
Why You Should Consider a Plant-Based Diet
Micronutrition deficiency is no joke and it affects billions of people worldwide1. Even 40% of American adults are deficient in key minerals necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle2.
And I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve got this bro. I always hit my macros”. Like most gym-goers, you put a great deal of thought into your diet and focus on hitting your macros day in and day out. And this is great for body composition!
But if you want to be truly healthy and give yourself an opportunity to prevent chronic diseases down the line, it would greatly benefit you to put some serious attention to detail in your overall micronutrient intake.
That’s where fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and grains all come into play4. All of these food sources are rich in micronutrients.
By simply increasing the amount of fruits and veggies you consume and increasing your micronutrient intake you:
- Lower levels of inflammation within the body5
- Lower your risk of dying from cancer6
- Lower your risk of developing heart diseases7,8
- Decrease your chances of having a stroke9
- Lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes10
That’s enough benefits to get me interested in trying to consume more micronutrient dense foods, how about you?
But I Need Protein to Recover and Build Muscle
You’re not wrong there. You definitely need to have an adequate protein intake to recover properly. And while the magic number has yet to be figured out, most within the nutrition realm agree that anywhere from 0.7-1.0g per lb of bodyweight is an adequate intake for a muscle-building (calorie surplus) diet.
Some would argue that those following a vegetarian diet might want to aim higher within that range due to the bioavailability of the protein consumed. The bioavailability of protein (the portion which is actually used by the body) from plant-based sources is significantly lower than from animal sources.
That said, it is a lot easier to get the majority of your protein from plant-based sources than most would think. And although not entirely plant-based, it’s even easier for those who follow a lacto-ovo vegetarianism diet paradigm, which allows you to eat eggs and dairy.
Below are a couple of (lacto-ovo) vegetarian-friendly protein sources to get us started:
- Black Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Garbanzo Beans/Chickpeas
- Wheat Gluten
- Nut Butters
- Chia Seeds
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, etc)
- Whey Protein
- Casein Protein
Obviously, how strict of a plant-based diet you adopt will determine which of these protein sources you’ll want to include in your meal prep.
As some slight personal anecdote, I’ve been experimenting with vegetarianism and I’ve had no problem getting enough protein to elicit muscle protein synthesis (~20-30g of protein11) at each meal.
That said, I have gone the lacto-ovo route (convenience and I love eggs), but still believe anyone interested in going full vegetarianism or veganism shouldn’t stress if the reason holding them back is adequate protein intake. It is doable.
Where Can I Find Some Solid High Protein Vegetarian Recipes?
This one… is quite a doozy. From personal experience and talking to colleagues who are vegetarian, it can be difficult googling “high protein vegetarian recipes” and getting back exactly what you were hoping for.
So, let me take that headache off your shoulders. Below is a curated list of some of my favorite vegetarian high protein recipes on the web.
5 High Protein Vegetarian Breakfast Recipes
- Sundried Tomato & Herb Scrambled Egg Grilled Cheese Recipe
- Snickerdoodle Pecan Protein French Toast Sticks
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Crepes Recipe
- Red Velvet Protein Pancakes Recipe
- Pumpkin Spice Protein Donuts With Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
5 High Protein Vegetarian Lunch Options
- High Protein Chipotle Cheddar Vegetarian Quesadilla Recipe
- Low-Fat, High-Protein Vegetarian BBQ Cobb Salad Recipe
- Low Carb Broccoli Slaw Stir Fry
- Tempeh Gyros with Tzatziki
- High Protein Mushroom Lentil Burgers
5 High Protein Vegetarian Dinner Options
- Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
- Italian-Style Spaghetti Squash with Tempeh
- Easy Whole Wheat Vegetarian Spinach Lasagna
- Vegetarian Mexican Casserole With Black Beans
- Peanutty Quinoa Bowls with Baked Tofu
5 High Protein Vegetarian Snack Options
- Double Chocolate Protein Avocado Brownies Recipe
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Granola Recipe
- Quick & Easy Protein Brown Rice Pudding Recipe
- Triple Chocolate Chip Deep Dish Protein Cookie Recipe
- Protein-Packed Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches Recipe
There you have 20 high protein meal options that should more than take care of your protein needs. And don’t hesitate to add additional sides of vegetables and fruits to those meals to claim all the health benefits of a diet rich in micronutrients.
Now that you know some of the health benefits of eating a diet rich in micronutrients, the high protein foods that will help you reach your goals, and some recipes to try out, let’s check out a sample day of eating for a high protein, muscle building vegetarian diet.
Sample Vegetarian Muscle Building Meal Plan
Laid out below is a full day of eating for a vegetarian with the goal of building muscle. The day is laid out into 5 meals and 1 post-workout shake.
- 1 tbs of olive oil
- 3 jumbo eggs
- 1 cup of instant oats (maple and brown sugar)
- 3 cups of cantaloupe
Meal 1 Nutrition Facts: 859 calories, 100g of carbs, 32g of fat, 35g of protein
- Vegetarian Quesadilla (linked above)
- 6oz of carrots
- 4tbsp of hummus
Meal 2 Nutrition Facts: 744 calories, 84g of carbs, 32g of fat, 72g of protein
Meal 3 (pre-workout)
- Low Carb Broccoli Slaw Stir Fy (linked above)
- 1 cup of jasmine rice
- Natural Preworkout
Meal 3 Nutrition Facts: 690 calories, 103g of carbs, 16g of fat, 30g of protein
- 3 scoops Plant-based Protein
- 1 scoop Superfoods Formula
- 1 banana
- Water and ice as needed
Postworkout Nutrition Facts: 380 calories, 46g of carbs, 9g of fat, 31g of protein
- Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (linked above)
Meal 4 Nutrition Facts: 717 calories, 63 carbs, 34g of fat, 28g of protein
Meal 5 (Before Bed)
- 1 scoop casein
- 1oz raw almonds
Meal 5 Nutrition Facts: 290 calories, 7g of carbs, 15g of fat, 34g of protein
Daily totals: 3,680 calories, 402g of carbs, 139g of fat, 230g of protein
An inability to obtain enough protein and get enough calories to build muscle should never be a reason given for not trying out a vegetarian diet.
There are plenty of high protein plant-based sources out there and maintaining a diet void of animal protein is possible.
That said, even if you choose not to go full vegetarian or partially vegetarian, every single person can benefit from adding more veggies to his or her diet.
Do you have any other tips for those considering a plant-based diet? Got any additional vegetarian-friendly recipes you’d like to share? Drop them in the comments section below so we can check them out!
- United Call to Action on Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
- HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? : APPENDIX B: VITAMIN AND MINERAL DEFICIENCIES IN THE U.S.
- A comprehensive biochemical assessment of nutrition status
- EVERYTHING YOU EAT AND DRINK MATTERS – FOCUS ON VARIETY, AMOUNT, AND NUTRITION
- Association of vegetarian diet with inflammatory biomarkers: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.
- Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Overall Cancer Risk in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition
- Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality from ischaemic heart disease: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition
- Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of cardiovascular disease in US adults: the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study1,2,3
- Fruit and Vegetable Intake in Relation to Risk of Ischemic Stroke
- Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies.
- A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects.