Protein is often a nutrient of focus; particularly for individuals looking to attain fitness goals. The protein supplement industry continues experiencing great success with ads featuring super lean models enticing one to believe that as we increase our protein, we’ll build more muscle. However this is simply not true. Building muscle is aided by a healthy balanced plan that includes protein and the good news is that the typical U.S. diet contains enough through food alone- even if you’re a vegetarian. The most important way to ensure you are meeting your needs for protein and well as other important nutrients as a vegetarian is by consuming a variety of plant-based foods (SCAN, 2010).
Good sources of vegetarian protein can be found in things like eggs, cheese, tofu, seeds/nuts, beans, and quinoa. There are also smaller amounts of protein contained in whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, as well fruits and vegetables. In fact, there are very few foods that are completely devoid of protein which is why the standard American diet typically contains much more protein than we actually need (CDC, 2012).
You have undoubtedly recognized the benefits of regular physical activity. Therefore a good place to start in your quest to build muscle would be to examine your current fitness routine. A well-rounded program will contain cardio-vascular, flexibility and strength training components on various days. The strength training portion should incorporate at least 6-8 exercises that work all the major muscle groups. Those new to strength training may want to start with one set of 8-12 repetitions, working muscles to fatigue. In a few weeks you’ll find it easier to complete the repetitions- an indicator that your program may need to be modified or “ramped up.” This step is often overlooked and as a result people don’t continue seeing the benefits they experienced at the beginning of their program.
A fitness routine can be modified in 4 ways: Frequency (through the number of sets), Intensity (via the amount of resistance), Time (the space between sets) and Type (the actual exercise completed). To ensure you are making safe progress, you may want to consider consulting with a certified fitness professional. Together you will learn effective techniques for building muscle and developing a progressive program to help maintain your fitness goals for a lifetime.
Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN), Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Vegetarian Eating For Athletes: Nutrition Fact Sheet, July 2010.