Vegetarian Bodybuilding

Vegetarian Bodybuilding

Being a vegetarian will not reduce your ability to add muscle, I’m one and it hasn’t hurt me. Those who think vegetarians cant be successful bodybuilders either don’t understand the different kinds of vegetarians or don’t understand bodybuilding nutrition.  A vegetarian is not someone who only eats vegetables :)  Arnold fostered the incorrect view that you have to eat muscle to gain muscle.  The trouble with the word “vegetarian” is that it has become an emotionally charged word that has religious, political, and ethical ramifications.  So many people have used it in so many different ways that it has basically become useless. Here is ridiculous dictionary definition:

Vegetarianism: The theory or practice of living on a diet  made up of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes animal products (as milk and cheese).

This definition is so vague as to be meaningless.  “… sometimes animal products (as milk and cheese)”, oh thats helpful – it doesn’t even mention eggs.    Below are my own simple definitions of vegetarian from a bodybuilding nutritional point of view:

Omnivore: Someone who eats anything they want.  Most bodybuilders are omnivores.
Vegetarian: Someone who does not get protein from the muscle tissue of other animals but eats products naturally released from animals as part of the reproductive process: eggs and milk.  This is also refered to as a lacto-ovo vegetarian.
Vegan: Someone who only eats food which comes from plants.

These are the only classifications of vegetarian that are relevant from a bodybuilding perspective.  A pescatarian is an ominvore because they eat the muscle tissue of fish.   The other sub-classifications of vegetarians  like “raw vegetarians” and “macrobiotic vegetarians” are not relevant from a bodybuilding perspective.   The only questions relevant from a bodybuilding nutritional point of view are:

  1. Does the diet include meat (chicken, beef, fish, pork, etc)
  2. Does the diet include milk and eggs.

One reason people mistakenly believe that vegetarians cant be bodybuilders is that they mistake vegans for vegetarians.  The ability to consume eggs and dairy products (point number 2 above) makes an incredible difference. Vegans (those who  consume no animal products whatsoever) are at a big disadvantage when it comes to adding muscle but vegetarians are not hindered at all – lets look at why this is true.

The quality of a protein is measured by its mix of essential amino acids. The following protein quality numbers come from, the higher the number, the higher the quality of the protein source:


84 lean ground beef
136 skinless chicken breast
144 broiled pork chop
148 canned white tuna in water

Vegetarian sources (Dairy and egg)

137 nonfat milk
145 egg whites
137 whole poached egg

Vegan sources (plant sources):

70 peanuts
79 tempeh
101 amaranth
103 black beans
106 quinoa
117 soy protein concentrate

Many bodybuilders rely on skinless chicken breast for their protein and that has a quality of 136. You will note that both nonfat milk and egg whites have a higher protein quality than chicken does!  Since vegetarians can eat milk and eggs, the quality of the protein they can consume is just as good as better as most meat eating bodybuilders!   Vegetarians are at no disadvantage at all when it comes to adding muscle.

Now lets look at the problem that vegans face.  The highest quality protein available to them is soy and it only has a quality of 117, nowhere near as good as chicken or eggs.   They need to be experts on the amino acid profiles of everything they eat so they can combine food through out the day to get the all the essential amino acids they need.  The second major obstacle vegans face is in getting enough protein without exceeding their daily caloric budget.  All the proteins available to vegans also come with a healthy dose of carbohydrates so vegans need to be very, very strict about their nutrition in order to get sufficient protein with the amount of calories they have available.   Check out some photos of vegan bodybuilders and compare that to natural bodybuilders (meat eating) or vegetarian bodybuilders.

As an aside,  I do eat meat once or twice a week when I go out but about 95% of my protein comes from non-meat sources which is why I refer to myself as a pseudo-vegetarian. I’m not a vegetarian for political, religious, or ethical reasons.  I’m a vegetarian because I belive it to be healthier. Can I *prove* that a vegetarian diet is healther? No, but I can’t prove global warming either. Everyone has to decide for themselves what level of proof is required before they change their behaviour. Many studies have indicated that meat can cause heart disease and cancer, the latest was released just today. This study suggests that red meat eaters are 18% more likely to have heart disease and 10% more likely to have cancer.


Scooby in 2011