This post has been updated with more accurate recommendations based on the dietary limitations of various kinds of vegetarianism.
I get plenty of questions in various comments throughout the website, but I also get comments and questions via the Project Swole Contact Form.
Generally I address those questions through e-mail, but often I do not have the time to reply to each and every question personally.
From now on I want to take a more proactive approach to answering Your Health Questions by posting them separately in the blog. This way we can be sure that everyone benefits from the Q & A.
“I’m just over 6 ft and weigh about 185lb. I am a vegetarian and workout 3/4 times per week. I want to both tone up/lose body fat and gain strength/size. The gym I go to has given me a programme of 2 strength sessions and 2 toning sessions per week, with 20 minutes cardio each session and 1 additional 45 minute cardio session.
My questions are:
- am I on the right lines?
- how much protein should I be eating?
- and how on earth do you get the levels that I think you are going to recommend from a veggie diet (I do eat fish)?
Thanks in advance!”
Update: What you can’t eat if you are a vegetarian.
First of all, I have recently been enlightened regarding the foods vegetarians are not allowed to eat, and if you want to call yourself a ‘vegetarian’ you are technically not allowed to eat fish.
Secondly, if you are a lacto-vegetarian, you can drink milk and eat dairy products; lacto refers to dairy. This is true because harvesting those products does not results in harm to animals.
Thirdly, if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can consume dairy products and eggs; ovo refers to eggs.
Finally, if you are a vegan you can’t eat anything that comes from animals including eggs, milk, cheese, butter, and even honey.
Therefore, choose which kind of vegetarian you want to be before you continue this effort to gain muscle.
How to Workout
Regarding exercise, the gym you go to is full of crap. I don’t know what these ‘toning sessions’ are, but I already disagree with them.
Which do you want to do more: gain strength/size or “tone up”/lose body fat? You are going to need to choose one or the other. Figure out what your primary goal is and stick with it, because you can’t effectively do both at once.
How to Gain Strength & Size
To focus on gaining, you will need to eat more protein, more complex carbs, and more overall calories. Calories consumed should be higher than calories burned.
Try multiplying your desired bodyweight by 14 and eat that many calories each day. Adjust that number based on whether you are gaining weight too quickly or too slowly. One pound gained per week is the safest number to avoid gaining too much fat.
You will need to train heavy.
Consider following a generic full body workout routine. Lift 4 times a week and throw in 1 or 2, 30 minutes sessions of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for cardio. The HIIT workouts can include sprints of any sort or short duration maximal intensity complexes such as 5 sets of 5 reps with a 5 movement Olympic lifting complex.
For example a deadlift, followed by a hang clean, followed by a push press, followed by a back squat, followed by a push press behind the head, then put the bar back on the floor – that’s 1 rep, do 5 without rest. Rest 60-90 seconds and do it again, repeat 5 times.
How to Lose Fat
To focus on losing fat, you will need to eat fewer carbs, moderate fat, moderate protein, and keep calories consumed less than calories burned.
Multiply your desired bodyweight by 13 and eat no more than that many calories each day. If after one week you haven’t lost 2 pounds, subtract 100 calories from that number and try again. You will still need to train heavy in order to keep your muscle mass and strength.
You should be lifting 3 times a week with an additional 2-3, 30-45 minute cardio sessions. These should not all be full blown endurance cardio sessions, as endurance cardio eats up muscle mass like no other. You can try a HIIT session, an endurance session, and maybe a circuit training session where you do 30 reps of a bunch of exercises back to back with very little rest between sets.
Get Optimum Nutrition
How to Get Protein as a Vegetarian
To get the required nutrients you’ll need on your vegetarian diet, you are going to have to increase your intake of nuts, beans, peas, and other legumes.
Do you eat dairy products? Those are good too.
I personally don’t eat half of this stuff, and if you are a guy you shouldn’t eat anything with large amounts of soy either, but here is a list of common vegetarian foods and their protein content:
|Soybeans, cooked||1 cup||29||9.6|
|Lentils, cooked||1 cup||18||7.8|
|Black beans, cooked||1 cup||15||6.7|
|Kidney beans, cooked||1 cup||13||6.4|
|Veggie burger||1 patty||13||13.0|
|Chickpeas, cooked||1 cup||12||4.2|
|Veggie baked beans||1 cup||12||5.0|
|Pinto beans, cooked||1 cup||12||5.7|
|Black-eyed peas, cooked||1 cup||11||6.2|
|Tofu, firm||4 ounces||11||11.7|
|Lima beans, cooked||1 cup||10||5.7|
|Quinoa, cooked||1 cup||9||3.5|
|Tofu, regular||4 ounces||9||10.6|
|Peas, cooked||1 cup||9||6.4|
|Peanut butter||2 Tbsp||8||4.3|
|Veggie dog||1 link||8||13.3|
|Spaghetti, cooked||1 cup||8||3.7|
|Soy milk, plain||1 cup||7||7.0|
|Soy yogurt, plain||6 ounces||6||4.0|
|Bulgur, cooked||1 cup||6||3.7|
|Sunflower seeds||1/4 cup||6||3.3|
|Oatmeal, cooked||1 cup||6||4|
|Whole wheat bread||2 slices||5||3.9|
|Almond butter||2 Tbsp||5||2.4|
|Brown rice, cooked||1 cup||5||2.1|
|Spinach, cooked||1 cup||5||13.0|
|Broccoli, cooked||1 cup||4||6.8|
Get Optimum Nutrition
Five to six moderately sized meals containing some of this stuff, plus a protein shake, will give you 130 or more grams of protein each day.
I highly recommend you get yourself some Optimum Nutrition protein powder to supplement with daily. I suppose if you don’t eat dairy, you might not want this stuff since it’s whey protein, but seriously just get the protein powder so you can build some muscles, eh?
As a vegetarian you can definitely build muscle, but you will have to eat lots of beans, nuts, and some of those crazy foods listed above to do it.