ASK A TRAINER: 'Can I Put on Muscle Mass with a Vegetarian Diet?'
"I'm a high school football player and I'm being looked at by some schools with pretty good programs. I'm a fullback so it's important for me to keep a good deal of size on. I'm considering becoming a vegetarian but I don't want to lose muscle mass. Is it possible to be a vegetarian and put on muscle mass?"-Darryl R., Lawrence, KS
Hi, Darryl. That's an excellent question. There's the old stereotype of the skinny, sandal wearing, tree hugging, Phish concert attending, meek vegetarian. I know a lot of vegetarians and I can say with full confidence that the stereotype is just that; a stereotype. Some of my strongest (and most ripped) clients are vegetarians or vegans. Is it possible to maintain and build muscle mass on a vegetarian diet? Absolutely. Does it require extra attention to what you are consuming? Absolutely.
First, I want to address the issue of protein. There is a commonly held "bro Science" belief that in order to maintain muscle you need to go into protein overload. I've heard bros at the gym profess to consume 2.5 grams of protein per pound. For an athlete or highly active person, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, recommends .7 to 1 gram per pound of lean muscle. In other words, to determine exactly how much protein you need, find out what your body fat percentage is and subtract number of pounds you are carrying that are not muscle, and set the bar there. (For more on protein, check this out.)
The issue a lot of vegetarians focus on is whether or not they are consuming enough protein in a given day. While this is an important consideration, it's only part of the story. Our body, and more specifically pertinent to your question, our muscles need protein for its amino acids.