Updated: Feb 2, 2020
I spent 2 years as a vegetarian, and 1-year vegan. So during that time, I had plenty of time for research, trialling and error-ing... It actually started when myself and Eoin were living in Vancouver, too broke to buy a quality of meat that wouldn't meet basic standards in Ireland.
I bought a 5kg bag of red lentils and quinoa from Costco, and we ate lentils and quinoa basically for breakfast lunch and dinner for about 9 months. We moved home, and my mum had turned vegetarian while we were away, so the meatless meals just continued... It wasn't until I became a qualified PT that I made it official, 'i'm a vegetarian now'.
At the time, I was training in Crossfit, 3-4 times weekly and also doing my own training outside of CF, also, running around with clients 9 hours a day too. My calorie burn was massive, and so was my recovery requirements.
At that time, it wasn't cool to be vegan yet, so product availability was little. Things like Beyond Meat weren't available, so I had to get creative. I was spending hours in the kitchen inventing alternatives to the meals I used to love when I was eating meat.
I played around with foods and supplements, so I am confident in helping with providing this guide!
For my own reasons (it was THAT hot summer of 2018) BBQs were lit, chicken wings were sizzling..) I decided to pack it in for my own mental happiness. It's not that I didn't enjoy being vegetarian, it was that I felt I was missing out, and for me, I spend my life telling people that they should NEVER live like that. I have never enjoyed a chicken wing so much in my life! LOL.
There are many veggies and vegans out there who LOVE being that way, and for them, that's GREAT! You do you, boo!
I've compiled my advice, knowledge, and suggestions for those who are vegetarian and have started training in the gym.
We like to keep things simple, it's what we have based our whole business, TBC, around. There are too many complications out there.
To kick things off, I have created a checklist for plant-based eaters:
- Eat enough energy (calories in) to meet needs (calories out).
- Eat as much variety as possible. (Fruits, Vegetables, Beans, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds).
- Eat at least 1 cup of beans/legumes per day. Legumes are rich in Lysine (an essential amino acid, which means the human body cannot produce it).
- Avoid building your diet around cereals, grains and processed foods. (These foods are typically low in amino acids, as the goodness generally has been removed from them.)
- Use a protein supplement if you are finding it challenging to reach daily requirements / low on energy intake (calories).
Requirements for daily protein intake will vary from person to person, mainly because it is based on the weight of that individual.
There has been a lot of scientific research on this topic, and most conclude that an ideal level of protein is 2 grams of protein per Kilo of body weight.
For example, if your body weight is 70kg, 140g of protein should be consumed daily.
1 gram of protein = 4 calories.
140g of protein = 560 calories.
This means that for the 70kg person, 560 calories of their daily food intake should be protein.
That leads to the question, 'where can I get my protein from?'
There are plenty of opportunities for vegetarians to get protein in their meals.
A few examples include:
Tofu, Tempeh, Soy.
Protein Powders (Pea protein, Whey protein, Egg white protein, Soy protein).
Lentils, Beans (Kidney, Canalini, Pinto), Quinoa, Peas (Edamame, Chickpea).
Eggs, Yoghurt (Greek, protein yoghurt), Cottage Cheese (low-fat %).
Nuts, and seeds (**these are more of a fat source** but do contain some protein, very high in calories because of their fat content. Use sparingly. You could very quickly blow your calorie budget eating a packet of brazil nuts!).
When I was vegetarian, I HATED when people used to throw a list like that together, and that was that. I found it more useful when someone provided an example of these foods within a meal. It's like asking for advice on which car to buy and someone saying 'the one with 4 wheels'.
Here are some meal suggestions that use the above foods!
Tofu scramble with Chia seed toast.
Poached egg, avocado, and Sodabread / wheaten bread.
Breakfast Smoothie (Frozen fruit, Oats, and a scoop of protein powder).
Overnight Oats with chia seeds, protein milk(avonmore).
Chickpea "tuna" Sandwich with Soup.
Omlette with spinach, onion and mushroom.
Open Egg Sambo on wholegrain.
Tofu 'egg' Sambo.
High protein yoghurt (Glenisk, Greek 1%)
Hummus and vegetable stick (carrots, Celery)
Natural Peanut Butter and Apple Slices.
Tofu and Vegetable Stir-fry. (Satay, Soy Sauce and Honey, Hoisin, Sweet and Sour, etc.)
Lentil Dahl / Curry
Chickpea and Potato Curry.
Tofu Thai Green/Red Curry.
Beyond Meat burger with sweet potato fries.
These were some of my favourite high protein vegetarian meals to keep me fueled and recovering while I was training so much! At one stage, I was consuming roughly 20-30 portions of fruit and veg daily!
Sometimes it wasn't straightforward to reach the daily protein requirements and other nutrient requirements. So I used some supplementation to help me get there.
Supplements that I used:
Protein Shakes (Whey as a veggie, pea protein as a Vegan).
BCAA's. (Can get vegan version).
I hope this guide has given some help or answered some of the questions you may have in regards to being a vegetarian, protein requirements and sources! As always, Eoin and I, are both qualified nutrition coaches and are always here to answer your questions! For the questions that we don't have readily at the front of our brains we can still form an answer for you based on knowledge and research!
We are here for you!