Many Hindus are vegetarian. This is often an expression of faith or outlook towards life. A vegetarian diet may offer several important health advantages. However there have been concerns about whether vegetarians get enough protein. This is even more so for individuals who weight train or participate in other kinds of intense training, because protein requirements are raised in such individuals. However with a bit of know how about protein sources, there is no reason why a vegetarian can’t get enough protein to build an impressive physique. Knowledge is the key.
Protein is of course the key building block to many of the body’s tissues, including muscle. Protein is composed of different amino acids. Out of these eight are termed ‘essential amino acids’. It is vital that the dietary protein contains plenty of these. The problem is that while most animal sources of dietary protein contain all of the essential amino acids, most vegetable proteins do not. But don’t panic, all is not lost.
First of all, dairy protein is a good source of all the essential amino acids. So it can be called a ‘complete protein’. It is a better protein than most meat. Milk, yoghurt and cheese should form an important part of any healthy vegetarian diet, more so for somebody who’s trying to build up. These foods can contain a lot of fat. To get around this, you can switch to reduced fat varieties which are now quite widely available.
The only natural vegetable food that is a complete protein is soybeans. Cereals (such as wheat, barley, corn and rice) are quite rich in protein, but are missing in one of the essential amino acids (lysine). Beans (of all types, including peas) are also not a complete source of protein, but are great sources of lysine, as well as being very rich in protein overall.
The implication of this is that if you eat a cereal with any kind of bean, you have a great complete source of protein, even though individually they are not complete sources. This combination has been used to good affect by many a fitness enthusiast. From the point of view of protein, peanuts are classified in the same category as beans, while all other nuts are classified in the same category as cereals. Some other vegetables such spinach are reasonable protein sources, and can be used to boost up the protein content of a meal, provided that a complete source of protein is otherwise present. Veggie burgers have variable amounts of protein, depending on what was used to make them. The “meat-substitute” ones are usually quite high in protein.
It is crucial for someone who is doing intensive weight training to get complete protein in every single meal. There are different ways to ensure this. One of these is to use intelligent food combinations. For example beans on toast is a protein rich combination, providing all the essential amino acids. Other “intelligent combinations” include rice and dhal, idli sambhar, chapattis with any kind of Indian dish that contains beans, peanut butter sandwiches and many others.
Alternatively, make sure that a dairy product (not including butter, ghee and cream – these have had virtually all protein removed) is present as part of the meal. Cereal and milk, cottage cheese with salad, jacket potato with cheese, and even simply pizza are all good meals (or snacks) in terms of protein. Even having a pot of fruit yoghurt at the end of a meal will ensure that the meal has at least some complete protein source. Be warned – avoid eating chips alone as an entire meal. They provide little worthwhile nutrition of any kind.
For a person who really wants to build up, at least four of five meals or even six meals a day may be required. Some of these can be snacks (even just a large glass of milk). Try your best to get some protein at breakfast. Finally, a word on protein supplements. They will definitely come in useful if you are trying to muscle up a lot, or if you for whatever reason can’t eat properly. But for many people they will not be necessary, provided the advice in this article is followed.