Vegetarian Bodybuilding Guide

Vegetarian Bodybuilding Guide

The Vegetarian Society has made it so simple and easy to understand who a vegetarian actually is. Just read through the amazingly well-developed and comprehensive definition that the Vegetarian Society provides to explain the concept.

“A vegetarian is someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, yeast and/or some other non-animal-based foods (e.g. salt) with, or without, dairy products, honey and/or eggs. A vegetarian does not eat foods that consist of, or have been produced with the aid of products consisting of or created from, any part of the body of a living or dead animal. This includes meat, poultry, fish, shellfish*, insects, by-products of slaughter** or any food made with processing aids created from these.”

So, a vegetarian is one who avoids eating meat. It is usually a self-motivated lifestyle change and can be caused by a variety of reasons such as religious beliefs, health risks, ethical liabilities or moral considerations.
More recently, we have seen many athletes and bodybuilders turning to vegetarianism or veganism. A few years back, it seemed like an unlikely idea to switch to a completely plant-based diet with no meat or dairy products involves and retain an ultra-cool, well-built body. How would you get the necessary proteins, was the first question that aspiring vegans had to consider.

But contrary to popular belief, veganism is not at all an obstacle in your path to building muscle mass. Haven’t you heard about the Vegan Dread Torre Washington? He is one of the most inspiring vegan bodybuilders…ever. For the past two decades (since 1993 to be precise) this vegan bodybuilder from Miami, Florida has successfully avoided meat and dairy products of all kinds and has sincerely been a vegan. No doubt, his physique can give many non-vegetarian bodybuilders tough competition. When Washington was asked about the probable drawbacks of being vegan on bodybuilding, this was what he had to say:

“If anything, I am at an advantage being vegan, since plants expedite the recovery and recuperation.”
Leon Gabbidon is another incredibly fit and healthy vegan bodybuilder who can inspire you to turn to veganism.

The 32-year old Gabbidon gradually shifted from non-vegetarian to fully vegetarian. Firstly, he stopped consuming red meat, then chicken, fish, and finally eggs. He took his time adjusting to the new lifestyle and eating habits and eventually, he is in a happy phase at the moment. After all, with such a good body, who would be satisfied? About veganism, this is what Gabbidon has to say:

“I simply think that if animals are mistreated in their lifetime, then the quality of the food they produce will inevitably be poorer.”

Gabbidon further states that he shouldn’t be taken as a “hippy dude preaching about the food industry.” To him, modern farming is quite a ruthless and messy business so how can something good be expected from it? Well, with 88kg and 7% body fat, it is impossible not to believe Gabbidon.

Types of Vegetarians

Vegetarianism is also called the vegan lifestyle since vegetarians avoid all kinds of animal and dairy products including eggs, processed foods created with animal derivatives as well as animal hide based clothing. They also don’t use products that have been tested on animals whether for medical or commercial purposes. Vegetarianism is not only a dietary change but actually endorsement of the philosophy that animals do have a right to live without any human exploitation. It is more than food; it is all about acknowledging the rights of animals.
However, not all vegetarians are the same. Apparently, there are many different kinds of vegetarianism including the following:

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarianism:
Lacto-Ovo vegetarianism is a category involving people who avoid meat but eat dairy products, hence, the name Lacto Ovo. It is basically a Latin term where Lacto means dairy and Ovo means eggs. Lacto-Ovo vegetarians usually turn to vegetarianism to undergo some kind of dietary therapy for treating different health conditions such as cancer, obesity, hypertension, gallstones, heart diseases, osteoporosis, and/or ulcers, etc.

Lacto Vegetarianism:
This category of vegetarianism allows consuming dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cream, butter, cheese, and kefir but excludes eggs. It is a very popular diet within Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. The Hare Krishna movement of the 1960s popularized Lacto Vegetarianism.

Ovo Vegetarianism:
In this type of vegetarianism, eggs are allowed for consumption but meat and dairy products are prohibited.

This is probably the strictest type of vegetarianism. Vegans cannot eat any foods involving the use of dairy and meat including eggs. All kinds of animal food sources are exempted from eating by vegans. Vegans even avoid using products that somehow involve the use of animals such as wool, leather, and fur.

Can Vegetarians do Bodybuilding?

Believe it or not, vegetarianism is practiced worldwide and its fan-following is increasing day by day. According to Nutritional science, going meat-free can in no way create hurdles in acquiring your muscle building goals.
In a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a variety of diet plans were examined. The researchers identified that around 82% of the 3,000 participants (both males and females aged from 19 to 72 years) obtained protein RDA regardless if they ate meat or vegetables. The health records of all the participants were checked and they were asked to fill up questionnaires regarding their dietary preferences. The lead author of the study and assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Kelsey Mangano explains about the findings of the study:

“As long as a person is exceeding the recommended daily allowance for protein, no matter the source in their diet, they can improve their muscle health.”

In other words, we have a clear proof that bodybuilders who want to go meatless can easily build muscle by obtaining protein from vegan food sources like peas, quinoa, beans, soy, and nuts. The study also identified that those who ate sufficient plant protein were at a reduced risk of death in comparison to meat lovers.
Let’s now check out some real-life examples of vegan bodybuilders who managed to gain lean muscles through plant-based sources such as broccoli.

Robert Cheeke needs no introduction. He is a champion-bodybuilder, Cornell University’s renowned Plant-Based Nutrition Program graduate, author of the much-acclaimed book “Shred It!” as well as the founder and president of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness. He is ranked among the most famous and widely followed vegan bodybuilders in the world. Just look at the incredible physique of Cheeke, can you tell the difference that he has made such a toned body on quinoa and beans?

Cheeke switched to veganism at the age of 15 and then decided to become a bodybuilder. He has so far won many international competitions and has promoted veganism by being a living breathing example of the positive health effects and productivity of vegetarianism. Cheeke has impressed and inspired an entire generation of bodybuilders to turn vegan.

When asked about the transformation, Cheeke explained that it is very important to give yourself appropriate time and space to adjust to the transformation. He turned vegan in 1995 and since then he has been trying to create a balance between workout and diet without consuming an awful lot of protein.

“I came to realise that the body is capable of using smaller amounts of protein, around 10-15%, to build incredible strength and size on a plant-based diet. And eating enough protein is seriously not an issue on a vegan diet, in fact it’s near impossible to not eat 10% of your calories from protein without even trying! You have nuts, seeds, legumes, grains and soya which naturally boost your protein intake effortlessly,” says Cheeke.

Having studied nutrition in college, and a graduate of Cornell University’s renowned Plant-Based Nutrition Program, Robert provides a top-notch dietary rundown on what it takes to become a powerhouse vegan athlete…and NO!, it won’t involve gargantuan amounts of protein.

Cheeke has been an inspiration for so many bodybuilders, who switched to vegetarianism and veganism after seeing his great built and toned body. Frank Medrano, the legendary athlete, vegan bodybuilder, and calisthenics expert is one such person who followed the footsteps of Robert Cheeke and became the most widely recognized advocate of veganism in modern times. One tip that we can get from Medrano, apart from his dietary routine, is that he is completely against using anabolic steroids and hormonal means to speed up muscle growth. He is a clear example and proof of the fact that it is possible for a vegetarian to become a bodybuilder and develop muscle mass.

Why Choose a Vegetarian Diet?

People switch to or opt for a vegetarian diet for a number of reasons such as personal preference, repulsion for meat, health concerns, religious obligations, or other reasons. Some adopt it for purely ethical reasons as they don’t want animals to be killed or harmed for food. They basically want to protest against the ill-treatment given to the animals especially those raised on industrial farms.

The environment is an important factor to consider for choosing a vegetarian diet. Animal waste from factory farms has become an issue of concern because it is polluting both the land and water as well as damaging forests, which are cut down to create space for grazing cattle.

Religious beliefs also play a vital role in determining your preference for vegetarianism over non-veg diet. For instance, Jainism followers are required to follow a philosophy of Ahisma, which means nonviolence and therefore, they cannot eat meat and even some vegetables like garlic and onion. Another religion Hinduism prohibits people from consuming meat and dairy and the followers need to believe in the dietary practices of purity of body and mind and encourage self-control. Hindus are perhaps the largest vegetarian populace in the entire world. A vegetarian lifestyle is also the preferred way for Buddhists as they also support ahisma.

The condition of factory farming in North America, for instance, is such that the meat we consume is obtained from cattle raised on unhealthy, over-crowded conditions. The animals are also fed a dangerous cocktail of hormones and antibiotics on a regular basis, which is another aspect that raises concerns about the non-vegetarian diet.

So, no matter what your stand is with regards to the ethics of animal farming, the techniques, and practices adopted at modern factory farming should be a point of concern to any athlete and bodybuilder. Moreover, by avoiding meat products you easily avoid consuming LDL or bad cholesterol, Trans and saturated fats while your fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants intake get increased substantially.

Similarly, people switch to a vegan diet due to the many, diverse health benefits that it offers. The vegan eating patterns are associated with many positive health outcomes including reduction in obesity levels, prevention of heart diseases, and lowering blood pressure. Since vegetarians consume a plant-based diet, which offers a low-calorie count with a little amount of fat and more fiber, vitamin C, and potassium than non-vegetarians, therefore, they are able to lead a healthy and energetic life.

Benefits of Vegetarian Diet for Bodybuilders:

Bodybuilders can benefit greatly from a vegetarian diet because it offers a wholesome set of essential nutrients that are required by our body on a daily basis but without the involvement of unhealthy components from animal products. There are so many credible books available on the benefits of the vegetarian diet for bodybuilders such as The Vegetarian Sports Nutrition Guide, and The Food Revolution by John Robbins that would inform you about the positive impact of vegetarianism on your muscle building goals.

Sometimes there are certain myths and misconceptions that compel people to keep consuming meat-based diet. Such as, you must believe that leaving the meat for life would be very difficult and unproductive. Remember, changing habits is difficult indeed but if you keep focusing on the great payoffs that vegetarian diet will be offering in the long run, you will not face any problem in making the switch. Even if you have been eating meat for a very long time, the transition wouldn’t be too difficult. Just make it a gradual process. This is why Dr. Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont, has to say about this transition.

“An easy way to get started is to eat one meatless meal a week. Going meatless are as simple as moving vegetables and fruits from a side dish to a starring role. You should also seek out high-fiber whole grains, beans and legumes, unsalted nuts, and lower fat and fat-free dairy foods. These tend to be high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other important phytonutrients.”

The first question that vegan bodybuilders are asked in an interview is “how do you manage to consume enough protein?” Well, protein requirements for vegan bodybuilders are higher than non-veg diet eaters but it is also a fact that plant-based protein is far superior in quality than meat or dairy protein. Research reveals that vegetarians are able to intake more protein than their bodily requirements, and don’t even need to combine two vegetables to meet necessary protein count. This is acquired from a wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts to obtain the required protein intake and it doesn’t necessarily have to be consumed at one time. It is worth noting that many plant protein sources such as soybeans are complete proteins and contain all the 9 amino acids as well.

Ideal Vegetarian Diet Plan:

Vegetarian diet plan must incorporate a healthy mix of grains, pulses, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. To understand the different types of foods and the proportions in which bodybuilders need to consume them, the Eatwell Guide provides a comprehensive analysis of the important estimations and statistics. This is your best go-to guide to understand the simple rules that you need to follow to ensure an ideal vegetarian diet plan.
The guide lays out some key principles of an ideal diet for vegan bodybuilders such as getting at least five-a-day fruit and vegetable routine that must include whole grains as well. Opting for beans and pulses should be a must.

Reference Intakes (RI)

You also need to refer to the Reference Intakes or RI to understand the scientifically proven benchmarks for the amount of energy (kilocalories), sugar, carbohydrate, fat, saturated fat, protein, and salt that an average adult need to consume daily. The fat, saturated fat, salt, and sugar RIs are actually the maximum daily amounts that one can intake while the fiber RI is 30g per day. But, remember that everyone’s body is different and this information is only for basic guidance.

Let’s now check out the basics of an ideal vegetarian diet plan.

Ideally, you need to consume a protein-packed breakfast because it will be a lot more filling and sustaining for the day. You don’t really need to take hours to prepare a vegetarian breakfast at all. Just blend a few nutritious fruits and herbs to attain the necessary nutrients and minerals and a bowl of oatmeal would be perfect to refill the protein count. Protein in breakfast is very important as it slows the process of stomach emptying and you feel fuller for longer so the temptation for snacking is substantially curbed. Prefer filling your bowl of cereal or porridge with nuts, seeds, and fruits along with a generous scoop of natural yogurt to ensure maximum protein intake.

Moreover, it is a misconception that vegetarians are at the risk of developing a mineral or iron deficiency. The fact is that plant foods are an excellent source of iron and amino acids. You can benefit from muesli, whole grain bread, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin with a glass of vitamin C rich fruit juice. This would enhance your body’s iron intake.

These are your best options for an ideal vegetarian breakfast:
⦁ Oatmeal
⦁ Apples and nut butter
⦁ Nuts and berries blended in almond or coconut milk
⦁ Wholegrain Bread
⦁ Smoothies

Lunch & Dinner:
Lunch and dinner should also offer a carefully picked yet generous mix of beans, nuts, grains, and peas with starchy carbs. Carbs-rich foods are important at lunch and dinner because if you don’t then you might suffer from mid-afternoon slump. Carbs are responsible for a steady rise in blood sugar level.

You must also include some fats in your meals but not too much and do check that you are incorporating the right type of fat because it is not only a good energy source but also offer fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. Saturated fat count should be low in a vegetarian diet while mono-saturated fats should be consumed. Mono-saturated fats are referred to as heart-friendly options and can be obtained from olive, rapeseed oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Nuts and seeds offer a high amount of polyunsaturates including omega-3 fatty acids. You need to eat more of these.

Some easy to make vegetarian lunch and dinner options are as follows:

⦁ Falafel burgers
⦁ Red lentil, chickpea soup
⦁ Exotic avocado salad
⦁ Spicy vegetable fajitas
⦁ Hearty mushroom soup
⦁ Houmous & avocado sandwich topper
⦁ Veggie shepherd’s pie with sweet potato mash
⦁ One-pot mushroom & potato curry
⦁ Spiced veg with lemony bulghar wheat salad
⦁ Spaghetti with spinach & walnut pesto
⦁ Hearty salads such as bean or quinoa salad
⦁ Sandwiches filled with hummus, nut butter, fruits, and veggies.
⦁ Leftovers from the dinner


Every snack count…really it does. You cannot thrive fully on a three mail diet and expect to achieve your muscle building goals quickly. Since plant foods are low-calorie options, therefore, these get digested faster. So, you must be well aware of the best snacking options in order to keep your tummy fuller until lunch or dinner time. Ideally, you need to take a mid-day snack a few hours after breakfast and then an evening snack, which is after a few hours from lunch. Snacking is the perfect way to deliver key nutrients like iron and vitamin D to your body. It could be just a banana or two, a batch of wholewheat muffins or a smoothie, everything would do. Here are some of the coolest options to choose from for snacks.

⦁ Veggie chips
⦁ Tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole or black bean dip
⦁ Kale chips
⦁ Almonds, pepitas, nuts
⦁ Nut butter with fruits
⦁ Hummus with veggies
⦁ Granola
⦁ Dark Chocolate
⦁ Fruit
⦁ Coconut cream with berries
⦁ Ice cream or sorbet
⦁ Frozen banana truffles

Vegetarian protein sources:

Protein is basically a combination of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle tissues. Nine amino acids are absolutely essential to the functioning since these aren’t naturally produced by our body. These amino acids perform specific roles from metabolism to muscle growth and therefore, are indispensable for our optimal health and wellbeing. There are many plant foods that offer complete protein. Such as, lentils and soymilk contain more than 30% protein and whole wheat pasta offer 15% protein. Brown rice also offers rich protein count. Here is a quick breakdown of the most popular plant-based protein sources:

⦁ Tempeh
⦁ Soy
⦁ Seitan
⦁ Tofu
⦁ Black beans
⦁ Quinoa
⦁ Broccoli or spinach

Vegetarian supplements:

It is true that a plant-based diet contains all the nutrients that your body may need but additional supplementation can further improve the diet outcomes and may compensate for the days when you don’t feel like consuming well-rounded meals. Always remember that when you are on a vegetarian diet, you simply cannot ignore the importance of consuming multivitamins to avoid development of a deficiency. However, vitamin B12 and iron are sometimes difficult to obtain in required amounts through plant foods. Therefore, following a balanced combo of healthy vegan diet and vegetarian supplements is a good idea to attain the best of these vitamins. Usually, vegetarians choose Vega protein supplement or soy protein bars to fulfill the necessary nutrition count.

Vegetarian workout:

Although it is quite tempting to try out different workouts that appear in the many muscle and fitness related magazines. But, it is important for vegetarian bodybuilders to realize that the program allows sufficient recovery time in between workouts in order to train with high volume and frequency.

A fact to remember: it doesn’t take long to stimulate muscle growth, and a low reps-heavy weight combo would get the job done for you. Also, a single workout session must not last longer than 45 minutes and ideally you need to work out for 30-35 minutes.

The intensity of cardio depends upon the individual and you may choose not to do any cardio at all. Ideally, you should do 2 to 3 sessions of cardio for 15 minutes at low intensity per week. In this regard, elliptical, bike, walking, and jogging on the treadmill are your best bets. Do remember to keep the intensity, duration, and frequency low. The cardio workout session should be started after having a vegetarian protein shake made with hemp or soy. This would help in preventing any muscle loss that may occur after the cardio workout.

⦁ Focus on a single body part per day if following a split plan
⦁ Never workout for more than 45 minutes
⦁ Do perform at least 3 large muscle groups targeting exercises and 2 small muscle group exercises
⦁ Keep repetitions between 4-&-6 for core lifts like Squats, Bench Press, and Deadlift and 6-to-10 for other lifts

The Workout Split

Let’s have a look at the best way to split your workout for the week.
⦁ Sunday: Off
⦁ Monday: Chest/Triceps
⦁ Tuesday: Back/Biceps
⦁ Wednesday: Off
⦁ Thursday: Legs/Abs
⦁ Friday: Shoulders/Traps
⦁ Saturday: Off

Monday: Chest and Triceps
Barbell Bench Press – Medium Grip– 4 sets, 6 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press-3 sets, 6 reps
Dips – Chest Version- 3 sets to failure4
Cable Crossover- 2 sets, 10 reps

Lying Triceps Press- 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Standing Overhead Barbell Triceps Extension- 3 sets, 8-10 reps

Tuesday: Back and Biceps
Barbell Deadlift- 4 sets, 10 reps
Chin-Up- 1 set, 50 reps
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown- 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row- 4 sets, 8 reps
Barbell Curl- 3 sets, 6-10 reps
Dumbbell Alternate Bicep Curl- 3 sets, 10 reps

Thursday: Legs and Abs
Barbell Squat- 4 sets, 4-6 reps
Barbell Lunge- 3 sets, 6 reps
Romanian Deadlift- 3 sets, 5 reps
Standing Leg Curl- 3 sets, 6-8 reps
Cable Crunch- 3 sets, 10 reps
Hanging Leg Raise- 3 sets, 10 reps

Friday: Shoulders and Traps
Machine Shoulder (Military) Press- 1 set, 10 reps
Push Press- 4 sets, 4-6 reps
Front Plate Raise- 3 sets, 10 reps
Side Lateral Raise- 3 sets, 10 reps

Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise- 1-2 sets, 10 reps
Barbell Shrug- 2 sets, 8 reps

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