But…how do you get enough protein?

Happy hump day. I can’t believe we’re 25% through December already and I won’t lie, stress is creeping up on me. Look for a post later this week on how I’m coping with the (mostly self induced) holiday madness.

Today I want to talk about the rookie mistake everyone warns you about when you become a vegetarian – not getting enough protein. When I first become vegetarian, we ate a lot of pasta, cheese, and vegetables. Slowly, I learned about beans  – first canned and later dried,  higher protein grains (quinoa, I’m looking at you), and how to cook tofu well. I eat eggs a few times a month, too. So I’ve been trucking along thinking that I’m doing pretty well.

But then yesterday, after a disappointing visit to the gym where I couldn’t up my weights at all and my form on the weights I choose was slipping, I decided to go back to the New Rules of Lifting for Women book and see what could be the cause. Reading through the meal plans, I see they recommend 150 grams of protein per day – on non-lifting days. On days you lift, a protein shake should be added to your meal plan to get a boost of calories and protein.

What? I can't only eat cheesy pasta?!

I had a sinking suspicion I wasn’t coming anywhere near this number, on lift days or any other day. After calculating it out for yesterday, I found that I was only getting around 40-45 grams of protein before dinner. Because we went out to dinner, it’s tough to say how much protein I got, but since went for Japanese and I got curry noodle soup, we’ll be generous and say it was another 35 grams. Even then, it’s a maximum of 80 grams of protein. So I added an Orgain (great product!) for another 20 – hitting 100 grams – still too low for non lifting days.

Note: If you’re not trying to build muscle, it’s VERY easy to meet your protein needs on a vegetarian diet. 

With this knowledge, it’s not hard to see why I’m not seeing more improvement in strength training and muscle definition. 100 grams of protein on a good day just isn’t enough to build muscle and get stronger.  I’ve also heard that being low in protein can be the cause of sluggishness and fatigue. There are several sources of vegetarian protein: beans, tofu/tempeh, eggs, quinoa, millet….but each of them have their drawbacks.

  • Beans: Lean but high carb (which I didn’t know until now)
  • Tofu/Tempeh: high protein but not lean and I’m wary of too much processed soy
  • Eggs: high protein but not lean
  • Quinoa: Lean, but not super high in protein and pretty carb-y
  • Millet : Same as quinoa

The first step I’m going to take is to incorporate MORE of each of these things into my diet. Eggs twice a week instead of once on days that I lift. Incorporating tofu/tempeh/edamame once per week.

The second step is I’m going to have find some delicious protein smoothie recipes stat. I have a few good ones up my sleeve, but if you know any to share, please do! I don’t think I can consistently consume enough protein from the other sources otherwise, without feeling too full!

Again, please note that if your goal isn’t to build muscle, vegetarian protein sources are MORE than sufficient without supplementation. Fruits and vegetables also contain protein too, so don’t discount those either! My particular goal requires finding new sources of protein.

If any vegetarian body builders out there stumble upon this post and have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!


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