Vegetarian
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Protein and building muscle


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I have recently cut out meat from my diet (but not dairy and eggs). I am trying to lose approximately 10 pounds, and I've become increasingly worried about losing a lot of muscle in the process. 

It seems that opinions vary on how much protein people need. Some people think that 30% of your calories should come from protein (which would be about 135g in my case), and others think that we already eat more protein than we really need. One commonality I've found though, is that most people recommend you eat more protein if you are dieting or trying to build muscle.

After being meat free for a couple of weeks, I realize I've only been eating about 50g of protein a day, about 10-12% of my daily calories. I've been trying to eat a lot of beans, tempeh, and dairy, but I've realized that, even though they may be good sources of protein, the percentage of protein in these foods is not as high as most meat. Even though tempeh may be 30% protein, since I'm eating it with a lot of vegetables and grains, the protein in the total meal may be quite low.

So my question is, what are your experiences with being a vegetarian and trying to build or maintain muscle? If you've lost a lot of weight, do you know if you lost a lot of muscle in the process? Or do most vegetarians think that the opinion that we get way more protein than we really need is correct?

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Muscle building aside (for which you most definitely need to ingest a good amount of protein, i.e. >1.0 g/lb) you should ingest more protein because it will replace carbs and potentially bad fats. Also, if you care about it enough, protein has the highest TEF of the macronutrients.

Are you a vegetarian? If so, how do you get your protein?

Any body you ask is going to tell you a different answer. Just like every one has their own opinion on how many carbs or fats you should eat. 

Personally I believe 1 gram per pound of body weight is a good rule of thumb, but it's really about what works best for YOUR body and goals. 

 

Thank you both for your thoughts. But I'm really interested in hearing about other people's experiences. I don't personally know any vegetarians (that I know of anyway), so if I could hear from some that have dealt with this issue, I'd appreciate it.

Mike Mahler is vegan and a pretty decent resource for the vegan/vegetarians interested in doing high performance sports if you're interested in further reading from that perspective.

 I find that setting macronutrient goals using percentages leads to pretty silly outcomes because both your protein and EFA needs are pretty much invariant while carb needs vary but using percentages treats all three macros as variable. While training for strength and muscle gain or while dieting you require about 1.6-1.8g/kg protein; that can be anywhere from 10 to 40% of your calories depending on how many carb calories you need to fuel your workouts - if you were setting your intake based on a percentage of your total calorie intake you'd only hit on your actual needs by complete accident.

Hi tiffyoder,

Neither of the above posters is vegetarian.  I am *mostly* vegetarian, in that I will eat a serving of fish once a month or so.  Like you, I usually eat about 50-60g of protein a day.  It has not hindered my weight loss at all.  As you probably know, any weight loss entails some loss of muscle.  The best way to combat this is through weight training.  I don't measure my body fat percentage or anything, so I don't have any specific data that might be helpful to you. I can just tell you that in about three months I've lost 10 pounds, gotten faster and increased my lifts by about 25%.

Also, check out ambereva's profile and posts if you're doubtful that a vegetarian can be strong and muscular.

Good luck.

Thank you Melkor and Lys for your replies.

I hadn't really though about protein not being variable with your calories. So that puts the issue in a different light. I guess based on my observations above, the more you restrict your calories, the harder it would be to get adequate protein, regardless of the percentage.

Congrats on your success Lys. Thanks for sharing.

Hi- check out Thrive (Diet and Thrive Fitness) by Brendan Brazier if you get a chance. He's a vegan professional Ironman Athlete. I found his books to be invaluable. Congrats on cutting out the meat btw. Good luck.

I get about 40g of protein a day, lose weight and build/maintain muscle by consistently getting 2-3 days a week of resistance training in.  I'm vegan as well.

Hey there, I'm pretty much vegan (I eat local pastured eggs a couple times a week, otherwise it's all plants). I just posted some pictures of my fat loss/muscle gain progression today on my blog:

[link is in my profile]

I'm a big advocate of getting plenty of protein and average 125-150 grams a day, at 150 pounds bodyweight. I second everything Melkor posted. I don't think I'd have had the results I have without my high protein intake.

I focus on eating high protein plant foods and don't fill up on lots of high carb foods. I don't think carbs are bad, but since even high protein plant foods have plenty of carbs, it's important to focus on eating the ones with the most protein so you can meet your needs. I have a list of high protein vegetables on my blog as well. I eat legumes, nuts and seeds, and soy foods a few times a week (sprouted tofu or tempeh, always organic). I also use a protein supplement when I can't reach my protein target with food alone, I use Garden of Life's Raw Protein, it's made from organic sprouted seeds, is minimally processed and is food based.

 

HTH!!

Original Post by ambereva:

I also use a protein supplement when I can't reach my protein target with food alone, I use Garden of Life's Raw Protein, it's made from organic sprouted seeds, is minimally processed and is food based.

@ambereva - Thanks for the info. I like your website. I am curious though how you reconcile using a protein supplement in your real food diet. I'm not trying to be argumentative and am truly interested in your response.

It seems like a lot of weight lifting plans include a protein shake of some sort. I've always been hesitant with supplements though. Admittedly, I don't know that much about protein supplements. And my diet is far from perfect. But it seems counter-intuitive to supplement something when you could get it directly from food. If you did eat meat, would you still use a protein supplement?

Original Post by tiffyoder:

Original Post by ambereva:

I also use a protein supplement when I can't reach my protein target with food alone, I use Garden of Life's Raw Protein, it's made from organic sprouted seeds, is minimally processed and is food based.

@ambereva - Thanks for the info. I like your website. I am curious though how you reconcile using a protein supplement in your real food diet. I'm not trying to be argumentative and am truly interested in your response.

It seems like a lot of weight lifting plans include a protein shake of some sort. I've always been hesitant with supplements though. Admittedly, I don't know that much about protein supplements. And my diet is far from perfect. But it seems counter-intuitive to supplement something when you could get it directly from food. If you did eat meat, would you still use a protein supplement?

It's a compromise I've decided to make at this point in my life to support the physique I want to maintain. I still chose a protein supplement that is made from something I would eat anyway, and one that is relatively minimally processed, but yes, it's a compromise.

It's totally possible to get adequate protein to support health and fitness from a vegan diet without supplementation! My current goals are a little loftier than simply health and fitness (although health and fitness are part of my goals), and the extra protein supports my goals. Smile

Research has shown that anything over the 20% of calories from protein range can be harmful. a1200 calorie diet should have no more than 240 calories from protein to avoid organ damage...I'm looking for links to the studies I've been reading.

As long as you are eating a variety of whole foods and aren't losing weight too fast, you are getting enough protein!

There is no research that tells any of us the minimum amount we need.

I have been able to build muscle at 15% of my cals from protein. Lift weights and eat a balanced whole foods diet.

Original Post by lulu716:

Research has shown that anything over the 20% of calories from protein range can be harmful. a1200 calorie diet should have no more than 240 calories from protein to avoid organ damage...I'm looking for links to the studies I've been reading.

As long as you are eating a variety of whole foods and aren't losing weight too fast, you are getting enough protein!

There is no research that tells any of us the minimum amount we need.

I have been able to build muscle at 15% of my cals from protein. Lift weights and eat a balanced whole foods diet.

Your studies would have to be very well constructed to be convincing in the face of about 80 years of practical experience and academic research on sports nutrition - particularly the very strange assertion about a maximal limit to protein intake. Now, your number might work out to a reasonable degree for the non-dieting and sedentary population that the standard RDA of 0.8g/kg protein intake is valid for, but for dieters who require 1.6-1.8g/kg intake in conjunction with adequate strength training to have a reasonable expectation of maintaining muscle mass it's hard to see how that could be made to work.

 As I said, using percentage.-based intakes makes for really silly results, 240 kcal of protein is roughly 60g and is only really adequate for an 80-85lbs individual on a diet, while it's perfectly adequate for a sedentary non-dieter of up to 165lbs or a 110lbs runner and yoga practitioner who doesn't diet or weight train. A protein intake of up to 4.0 g/kg has been shown to have no harmful effects in either the short or long term for individuals without pre-existing kidney issues, while an intake of 0.8g/kg has been shown to be problematic in the long term for individuals with reduced kidney function or certain forms of kidney disease. But it's really rather strange to give advice to perfectly healthy individuals based on what candidates for kidney transplants should be doing, don't you think?

On a more abstract level I think that blanket recommendations for what people should and shouldn't be doing in terms of macronutrients is completely misguided whether it's carb-phobia or fear of protein that causes people to hold out one single macronutrient or food item as the single cause of all dietary issues. Your dietary needs are a dependent variable - what's a healthy intake depends on what your activity level and training schedule looks like and to some extent on whether you have any conditions that can be influenced by diet, so blanket recommendations are a bit iffy if you don't take care to specify who they're actually valid for.

Well, all the science and studies aside, I just go with 1 gram of protein per pound on my workout days.  I'm not a vegetarian, but I usually end up with 3-4 vegan days.  Workout days - I eat salmon and/or Greek yogurt.

But if you eat dairy and eggs, you should be okay.  Greek yogurt has an insane amount of protein and so do eggs.  I would just add that to my diet if I was worried about not getting enough protein.

Melkor FTW!

I've been vegan for over a year and a half now, vegetarian for over 3 years, and have never paid any attention to protein. I've built muscle easily on a vegan diet without paying any attention to protein. I eat a lot of carbs, too.

I am losing weight again now, and don't worry at all about losing muscle. I know, when eating at a deficit, I won't gain much if any, but that's fine. In case you're wondering, I gained weight from binging on granola and baked goods (homemade, wholewheat) after losing weight too quickly.

The China Study is a great book that discusses why too much protein is bad, another is 80-10-10, but I haven't read that one yet. It discusses how 10-12% of our calories coming from protein is the ideal. So it is pretty low. That range is optimum for growth. Any surplus isn't needed, and getting too much more (primarily animal proteins) can be dangerous. Some people believe that as long as protein is coming from plants, it doesn't matter how much you get. Whatever works, I suppose.

Also, look up Noel the Vegan Fitness star. He has a youtube account, dasinister1, and is very muscular but doesn't count grams of protein or pay much attention to it.

Hope this helps :)

Sounds like bunch of who shot john.

It's clear there are some people who haven't heard of a little thing called "genetics"

Thanks for all the info here, it's a useful thread.

I'm really curious about something. If anyone who's maintaining a high protein vegan diet can share their recent bloodwork results (cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides) I'd be grateful. I'm trying to figure out something for myself but can't compare. Most of the people around me are omnivores so any info would help.

Many thanks.

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