Regardless of the reason, which may vary from health and religious views to moral and ethical beliefs, meatless eaters are on the rise.

However, we often find that vegans or vegetarians gravitate toward whatever falls into the ‘safe’ category without giving much thought to constructing a meal or meal plan that will help them to reach their transformation, body shaping goals. Often there is very little consideration give to:

  • Exactly what type of vegetarian plan?
  • What are the science-based health benefits?
  • Are there nutritional deficiencies to be aware of?
  • Vegetarian eating vs vegetarian eating for transformation?
  • What is the difference?
  • How to I incorporate vegetarian eating into my Program?
Well firstly, there is a difference between following a vegetarian diet and a vegetarian diet for transformation.

MP Level 4 Transformation Specialist Dave Oulton expanding his vegetarian selection

So how DO we construct a successful vegetarian plan for transformation?

Let’s take it step by step.

1. Metabolically Precise meals need to be developed for INSIDE and OUTSIDE the metabolic window.

2. Pre and post workout nutrition are still paramount.

3. Obviously we need to address possible deficiencies.

So where do we start?

Foremost, if we're talking Metabolically Precise meals,  the same rules apply. They hold true no matter what we are willing or not willing to eat. However, of all the macro nutrients (the protein, the carbs and fats) there are a few key differences and areas of modification which we will provide. 

The Proteins

Obviously, the clearest difference regarding vegetarian eating is the selection of proteins. See table below. Metabolically Precise eating requires the identification and consumption of first class proteins at every meal. The key benefit is the low fat content but high concentration of essential amino acids (EAA) in these food choices.

The EAA activate protein synthesis, regeneration, muscle repair and growth. They are also essential for a host of chemical reactions in the body that support healthy immune system and metabolism. The research is clear - rapid recovery and results from exercise training (strength, lean muscle gains and body shape changes) come down to constructing meals that keep a high concentration of EAA in your blood stream.

Trying to build a premium body that excels in any type of athletic performance requires the right sources of EAAs at frequent intervals throughout the day. Understanding the differences in digestion and absorption kinetics of various proteins, learning how to construct meals and daily plans that speed results is a unique aspect of Metabolic Nutrition.

See the table above. Often vegetarian eating requires the restriction or elimination of some or all first class protein choices which can restrict the ability to achieve the right blood amino acid levels that maximize results from exercise. Before commencing an exercise program its really important to determine what type of vegetarian the individual is.

Creating vegetarian MP meals isn’t quite as challenging as you may think. Most vegetarians will include some first class proteins in their day. Where can you find these if you are a vegan?

Great question!

Remember, we must have a fairly constant supply of EAA to stimulate a high rate of muscle protein synthesis. In particular, a special kind of EAA called the branch chain amino acids (BCAA). The BCAA are in fact pivotal regarding getting results from intense exercise. The BCAA are essential to activating a high rate of all anabolic (building) mechanisms. However, they are also sacrificed first to fuel the immune system and energy production, particularly during times of energy (calorie) restriction. Think of it as a tug-o-war for the right proteins between muscle recovery/building and energy/immune function, and it's a battle that's constantly waging, it never stops 24-7.

Now for transformation, muscle mass matters! It's muscle that keeps our immune system strong and our metabolism revving. We MUST eat and exercise to support our lean muscle mass. This becomes more of a challenge for many vegetarians simply because of the lower concentration of EAA and BCAA in food choices. See below, the chart listing just a few options of vegan protein sources along with their EAA and BCAA content.

Going nuts?

Nut's often become a staple protein source of many vegan eating plans. The downside is the amount and type of fat contained. For example, a small handful of raw almonds, approx 30grams (15-20 nuts) yields only 6gms of protein and a whopping 16.4 grams of fat! For more satisfying snacks that's in sync with your goals see the FDN Tutorial Going Nuts.

Aside from the amount, a quick check of your MP manual will help you determine whether you're likely to have an omega-3 deficiency and the exact type of fat most nuts provide. Despite popular belief most nuts do not have an essential fat ratio that is likely to improve an omega-3 deficiency- which 95% of folks have.

Now hear us vegans! We are not saying never have another cashew or almond again in your life! We are saying these choices cannot afford to be consumed as protein staples if you are after success. However, nuts can and should be used prudently to add taste, texture and satisfaction to an array of salads and other plant-based meals. See the MP Cookbible On-line for great ideas.

This brings us to another great plant-based source of proteins, the legume family. There is a wide variety to choose from, garbanzo beans to chick peas and everything in between. Legumes must be a great, versatile staple in any vegetarian plan for transformation.

When prepared correctly, every legume is a delight to eat but vegans know this.  What they may not know is the amount of bioavailable protein contained within is quite low compared to animal-based products. To meet protein needs that optimize results from training, a much higher volume needs to be consumed. This for many people can be difficult. I know this first hand living with a few vegan athletes in my college years...walking down the hallway you'd swear there was a Salvation Army Band "tuning up" in each room!

The Carbs

Vegetarians have to go through carbs to get to their proteins. There is no way around this. The problem for many vegetarians attempting a transformation is the use of meals with high energy carbohydrates as a protein source. Not only do carbohydrates such as rice (all kinds), oats, quinoa, amaranth and the other premium grains, belong in the metabolic window.

Vegetarian eating for transformation is not like this.

Although many of these choices have a reasonable amount of protein, the concentration of EAA and BCAA is quite low. So vegans probably need to make sure they keep the high energy carbs, such as grains inside the metabolic window during their first 12 week Metabolic Re-program.


Just because a protein source has a good amount of EAA and BCAA it will help to build and maintain muscle, right? Well, no. How their amino acids are presented to muscle can be as important as how much.

More progressive research shows us that a higher net protein accretion (gain in muscle protein after a meal) seems to be predominantly determined by the pattern or appearance of the aminoacidemia or "flood" of amino acids into the system. Some floods are much better than others. Interestingly, aminoacidemia that creates better muscle recovery and preservation of lean tissue typically comes from supplementation. See Cutting-edge: Protein Patterns for More Muscle.

Typically, studies have indicated that supplements containing mainly soy protein and soy protein isolate do not support lean muscle mass as whey isolate and dairy proteins do[1].

However, there are many other good plant-based alternatives now available. As we're typing this, researchers are presenting a new study analyzing the effects of brown rice protein isolate versus whey protein isolate on muscle protein synthesis. What Jager et al found was that supplementing with 48g brown rice protein isolate was just as effective at improving lean body mass, strength, and hypertrophy as supplementing with 48g whey protein isolate [2].

When choosing a supplement, if the "whey to go" is not animal based for you, incorporating brown rice protein isolate and even chick pea isolate will provide some clear advantages when it comes to building a lean, mean physique that excels in athletic performance.

Vitamins, minerals and deficiencies

Much press is given to the possible deficiencies faced by vegans. Certain vitamins and minerals are found only in animal products. For instance Vitamin B12 is found only in animal/fish flesh. In fact, beef has the highest Vitamin B12 content at 83.1 mcg per 100 grams of beef. This is in contrast to .20 mcg per 100 grams of chicken breast. Plant based foods will not contain any Vitamin B12 unless they have been fortified. Fortified food products are also ones that have undergone some type of processing. Use caution when choosing from these sources.

Plant sources of calcium, iron, and zinc are less bioavailable than those derived from animal sources. For this reason, these minerals are high on the list of possible deficiencies. Oxalates, pyhtates, soy protein, polyphenols and tannins (present in coffee, tea, bayberry, nuts chamomile, St. John’s Wort), further inhibit absorption.

Oxalates and phytates by themselves are organic molecules with negative charges. Because of their negative charge they can combine with positively charged ions such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Not only does this render the calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc completely unavailable to the body, these insoluble compounds may cause kidney stones.

A vegetarian/vegan diet will undoubtedly be higher in oxalates and pyhtates due to the increased consumption of foods that have high concentrations, such as:

Oxalates- chocolate, cocoa, coffee, most berries (especially strawberries and cranberries), most nuts (especially peanuts), beans, bell peppers, black pepper, parsley, spinach, swiss chard, summer squash, sweet potatoes, tea, buckwheat, star fruit, purslane, poppy seeds, rhubarb, tea, plantains, ginger, garden sorrel, mustard greens, soybeans, tomatillos, beets and beet greens, oats, pumpkin, cabbage, green beans, mango, eggplant, tomatoes, lentils, and parsnips.

Phytates- bran, wholegrain cereals (corn, wheat, rice, oats), pulses (peas, beans, and lentils) and nuts. Grinding and baking of grains destroy phytic acid, particularly when bread is leavened.

Limiting food choices increases the likelihood that our intake of certain nutrients is compromised. This occurrence is not limited only to vegan/vegetarian eating and can occur in the picky omnivore as well.

Generally speaking there are certain nutrients that vegans and vegetarians need to pay specific attention to:
1. Iron
2. Zinc
3. Magnesium
4. B12
5. Vitamin D
6. Omega 3

Deficiency in these nutrients along with generalized low energy intake may result in, but are not limited to: fatigue, depressed testosterone levels, decreased strength, reduced ability to recover from training, and impaired nutrient absorption. There will be times when supplementation may be recommended to provide optimal intake.

Metabolic Precision gives fitness professionals many clear advantages. One is a cutting-edge approach to Vegetarian Eating for Transformation.
  • What type of vegetarian?
  • Why vegetarian?
  • Is vegetarian eating better?
  • What are the real science-based health benefits and the draw backs?
  • Are there nutritional deficiencies to look for?
  • Vegetarian eating vs vegetarian eating for transformation?
  • -Is there a difference?
  • A complete guide on how to implement MP with all vegetarians.
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