Any vegetarians out there can probably attest to some frustration in finding good information and advice when that they can follow regarding the right nutrition plan for their needs. Personally I can’t even guess at the amount of “you can’t do it without meat” lectures I’ve had from misinformed people out there. Once or twice it has even come from someone in the gym who’s come over to ask me for advice, but then argued with me and refused to accept that I could possibly be getting results without eating meat!
There’ll be a million blogs and articles out there talking about body building diets full of chicken and tuna and steak and everything else, but probably quite a few less for the vegetarians. If you’re vegan, even less again!
For the lacto-ovo vegetarians (who consume eggs and dairy products), I’m going to outline my thoughts on how to put together a good meal plan to suit your goals. Luckily for the vegans, there is a wide variety of high protein soy, rice or gluten based products out there as well as the whey, casien and egg white protein that I’ll mention here.
We all know everyone needs a good breakfast, and a good high fibre and high protein cereal is a good start. I’m not going to name any brands specifically, but if you use your common sense (and read the nutritional information on the package) you can easily avoid the sugar loaded cereals and make a healthier choice. Lately I’ve gotten into the habit of adding a scoop of vanilla protein powder to my cereal, as well.
Depending on your goals and the amount of meals you intend to have per day, you may prefer something other than cereal for your breakfast. Eggs are an excellent choice as they are a great source of protein, however be aware of the amount of fat contained in a egg yolk, and depending on your target calorie intake you may need to discard some or all of the yolks. Speaking of eggs I personally am a huge fan of french toast made with soy & linseed bread, and my current nutrition plan includes this for “2nd breakfast” – so I am getting a huge serve of protein from both the eggs and the soy bread, as well as fibre, carbohydrates and vitamins. In my theory, this sets me up perfectly for my weight training routine in the early afternoon.
For lunch depending on your goal and target calorie intake you may consider carbohydrate sources such as potato, sweet potato, rice (basmati is my favourite), pasta or cous cous. Combine these with a good protein source, such as tofu or any meat substitute. Keep in mind with a lot of soy based products there is also a high fat content. Although these are usually the “good” kinds of unsaturated fats, the calorie content is still high and could potentially put you above your target calories. If you are trying to put on weight (like me) and also doing enough cardio and continuous training, this is less of a concern than for people on a limited calorie / weight loss diet.
You definitely want your fresh vegetables included as well, and for those trying to keep their calories low fresh vegetables will suffice for your carbohydrate requirements (so forget the potatoes etc from earlier). Generally I keep my lunch relatively small, as I want to be able to follow it up with a protein shake (milk or soy milk, whey isolate and a banana blended in) around an hour later, and be able to train after that without a full stomach.
After training, it’s important to replace the glycogen stores burned off during your workout. Aside from bodybuilding supplements, I simply use some white rice cakes with jam. Replacing these glycogen stores is essential to prevent the body going into a catabolic state, breaking down muscle tissue and converting it to glycogen (glycogenises). At the same time I like to have another protein shake, with either a banana or some mixed berries blended in.
You really want another high protein meal within the next few hours after training, but by this time I am making my meals smaller than earlier in the day. For the last main meal of the day ideally you would use the “nothing white at night” rule, avoiding high carbohydrate foods such as potato, rice, pasta etc. Again, this is a good time to take in your fresh vegetables, and use chickpeas, lentils, beans etc as your source of protein. Legumes are also high in fibre which makes them an excellent choice as part of your evening meal.
For supper, everyone knows that cottage cheese is the product of choice for body builders. Plain yogurt with some protein powder mixed in is also good.
For snacks through-out the day, obviously you should be taking in fresh fruit, nuts and seeds. Again, if you are on a low calorie / weight loss plan you need to be aware of the high calorie content in nuts and limit your intake. Of course it is also crucial to drink lots and lots of water!
Use this plan as a framework to build your own nutrition plan that suits your tastes and needs. A good vegetarian personal trainer or dietician can help you further if necessary.
My long term goal is to become the leading vegetarian personal trainer in Melbourne, so all you vegetarians should check back here frequently for more ideas and information. And feel free to leave a question in the comments box below!
Update: Here’s the 2000 calorie vegetarian diet plan I’m using to get lean for summer!
Another Update: More about Vegetarian Fitness.