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Can Vegetarians Build Muscle?

CanVegetarians Build Muscle? Or Is It An Uphill Battle?

Without a doubt the vegetarian diet has gained further traction over the last few years.
Be it for moral or health reasons, many individuals are switching to a plant-based diet - is building muscle on a plant based diet impossible? Do you need to eat meat to put on meat?

I seem to be getting asked these questions every other week now.

If you've decided to make the switch to a plant based diet I've got some good news for you.

You can absolutely build just as much muscle as someone who religiously preaches their love for weights, steaks and protein shakes.

Building Muscle Comes Down To Macronutrients (Meat Doesn't Matter!)

In order to pack on size and strength we need to create the demand for our body to grow in the gym by lifting heavy and applying progressive overload, and then follow this up with the supply (nutrition) for our body to repair itself and grow stronger.

This supply is your caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown.

If you're unsure of how to calculate how many calories you should be eating check out my guide here to calculate your caloric intake.

Your caloric intake is then broken down into a split of macronutrients, with 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fat being a common and highly functional breakdown.

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Now here's the caveat...

As long as you're hitting your caloric intake and macronutrient goal you'll grow!

Taking the foundation of the IIFYM 'if it fits your macros diet' your body doesn't care (for body composition) whether your protein is coming from a shake, a steak or nuts - as long as you're getting in the correct amount of protein.

This means you do not need to eat meat at all, there's a variety of other high protein foods out there that can be used by vegetarians to hit their caloric and macronutrient goals - resulting in them building muscle and strength just like a meat eater!

Where should vegetarians look for their protein source as a meat replacement? I recommend checking out:

  • Whey protein powder
  • Plant based proteins such as soy, pea and brown rice
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Tofu

Following your prescribed caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown will see you consuming between 1g and 1.5g of protein per pound of lean body weight, using the above foods hitting up to a couple hundred grams of protein per day is easily achievable.

However, even though we're able to hit our caloric intake and macronutrients which is as well and good there's another factor that the vegetarian bodybuilder needs to take into account...

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Nutrients and minerals.

Watch Out For Nutrient & Mineral Deficiencies

Deficiencies are relatively common for vegetarians, with the main culprits being deficient in the body of a long term vegetarian including:

  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B12

Can you get these nutrients and minerals from food other than meat? Absolutely - I recommend the following for vegetarians:

Iron Sources For Vegetarians

  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens
  • Dried peas
  • Beans and lentils
  • Artichokes
  • Dried fruit: raisins, prunes, and black currents

Calcium Sources For Vegetarians

  • Spinach
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Almonds

Zinc Sources For Vegetarians

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Almonds, walnuts, or macadamia nuts
  • Fortified oatmeal or cereals

Vitamin B12 Sources For Vegetarians

  • Supplementation

Insurance For Vegetarians - A Quality Multivitamin

As a sort of 'insurance policy' I highly recommend everyone take a high quality multivitamin - vegetarians especially.
Vitamins and minerals from whole food sources are preferred, however when we can't quite hit our Vitamin B12 or zinc quota via food that's where your multivitamin will come to the rescue.

What's Your Take On Building Muscle As A Vegetarian? Let Me Know In The Comments Below!

Scott J.
Scott J.
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

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