Question: I recently switched to a more vegetarian style of eating. My protein intake is far less than it used to be, but I can't bring myself to go back to eating meat. I seem to be losing muscle and smoothing out. Help!
- JOHN M. BERARDI is a scientist and PhD candidate in exercise and nutritional biochemistry at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. His company, Science Link: Translating Research into Results, provides integrated programs for high-level athletes. Contact: JohnBerardi.com
If you're choosing vegetarianism for the health benefits alone, perhaps you don't need to be so strict in reducing your meat intake and could include some very lean animal proteins.
If you've chosen vegetarianism for ethical reasons, consume a diet high in vegetables, legumes, nuts and fruits (vegetarianlike), moderate in proteins (cottage cheese, yogurt, egg whites, protein powder) and moderate in healthy fats.
Either way, use low-fat milk products and don't overdo the egg yolks; you still need to limit your saturated fats. Likewise, don't go overboard on sugars and high-glycemic carbohydrates. Your milk and egg intake will provide high-quality protein, but you should also aim for proper protein combinations to ensure adequate intake of the essential amino acids.
Although vegetarians are advised to consume a lot of grains along with complementary foods (such as beans and nuts) to ensure adequate protein intake, this very practice may be what's making you smooth. Instead, simply eat more of the complete proteins that you've already been consuming. Add in a bit of creatine, B vitamins and some zinc, and you should meet most of your dietary needs. Keep in mind, several studies have shown that animal proteins (especially meat) are very important in helping to increase muscle mass and decrease fat mass in weight-trainers.
- MIKE MAHLER is a vegan strength coach and certified kettlebell instructor in Santa Monica, California. At a muscular 195 pounds, he can deadlift 500 pounds and bench press 365. Contact: mikemahler.com
It's possible to get all the protein you need on a strict vegan diet (no meat, eggs or dairy). Look for products to replace some meat dishes. For example, instead of hamburgers, try Boca Burgers, some of which supply a whopping 15-20 grams of protein per burger and don't contain any animal products. Also eat other high-protein vegetarian foods, including tofu, almond butter, peanut butter, tempeh and pumpkin seeds.
While you could get all the protein you need from solid food, feel free to consume 1-2 vegetarian protein shakes. Choose from rice, soy or even hemp protein powder. Remember that building a great physique has more to do with a proper training regimen and having the essential building blocks available than with eating lots of meat.