For 17 years of my life I was a non-meat eating martial artist. At age 10 I decided to give up eating meat, but I still ate dairy and egg products. My parents were accepting of my youthful food rebellion and let me do it as long as I made my own food (for the most part). I started eating meat again when I was 27 but I haven’t forgotten the hard lessons I learned about being a healthy vegetarian that can perform athletically. Many non-meat eaters actually have very unhealthy diets and have a difficult time losing fat and building muscle because they don’t have complete protein to perform athletically.
The key to being a healthy vegetarian is mixing and matching foods so that you get the right balance of amino acids each day and not getting protein from fat rich sources. Vegetarians that are not getting enough protein per day will find it difficult to feel full and will end up overeating other foods. They will also find losing fat very difficult. Gaining muscle is almost impossible for poorly thought out vegetarian diets.
Fortunately, with a small amount of planning it is very easy to be a healthy strong vegetarian!
There are 22 amino acids, all of which are combined to for the creation and repair of muscle tissue. Of the 22 amino acids there are 8 that the body can not made by the body. These 8 are called the essential amino acids. There are 7 amino acids that can be made by the body in certain situations but you may need more than your body can produce. These 7 are called the conditionally essential amino acids. The remaining 7 are the non-essential amino acids.
Foods that contain all 8 essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Proteins found in dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and other animal sources are complete proteins. The vast majority of vegetable proteins are incomplete proteins. Soybean are one exception and are a complete protein.
To get enough of the essential proteins as a vegetarian you must select foods that complement each other to create compete proteins. It is not necessary to combine these in one meal but rather eat a variety of protein sources throughout the day.
Here is a list of some basic vegan food combination that make complete protein
- Rice and beans
- Corn and beans
- Nuts/seeds and beans
If you are a lacto and or ovo vegetarian you can get complete protein from your dairy or eggs. Dairy products can be high in fat so try and choose low/no fat dairy options. Most of the protein in eggs is in the whites so you should avoid the yolks.
A lacto/ovo/lacto-ovo vegetarian should get 1.6g/kg of body weight of LEAN protein a day. A vegan should up this to 2.0g/kg per day.
A properly thought out non-meat diet can be as healthy if not more healthy than a comparable meat diet. Professional body builders, such as Bill Pearl, have been living on vegetarian diets for decades and are very fit and strong. At Unit 2, Richard, our resident vegan purple belt butt kicker, is very strong and competes at the national level in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
See you in the gym!