Image credit: *Noelley
To gain broader perspective and see whether vegetarian protein can substitute protein derived from animal sources with the same efficiency when it comes to strength training in powerlifting or any other sport that requires strenuous physical activity let’s first define vegetarianism and its forms.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat everything but animal flesh.
- Lacto vegetarians eat everything but animal flesh and eggs.
- Ovo vegetarians eat everything but animal flesh and dairy.
- Vegan vegetarians (vegans) eat everything but animal flesh, eggs and dairy. They also refrain from processed foods containing these or other animal-derived ingredients, for example, gelatin. Many vegans also do not eat honey.
Important Protein Facts
Intake of complete protein foods should be an imperative to anyone trying to build muscle seriously. Since complete proteins are mainly found in foods derived from animal sources, this is a problem for vegans and vegetarians who only eat plant foods like vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains or nuts which are mainly built from incomplete proteins. Initially, it was suggested that vegetarians should eat both plant foods that contain incomplete and complete proteins so that the proteins inside them would combine to a complete form. The same person that suggested this theory, Frances Moore Lappé, changed her opinion in the 1981 edition of Diet for a Small Planet, by stating the following:
“In 1971 I stressed protein complementarity because I assumed that the only way to get enough protein … was to create a protein as usable by the body as animal protein. In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought.
“With three important exceptions, there is little danger of protein deficiency in a plant food diet. The exceptions are diets very heavily dependent on  fruit or on  some tubers, such as sweet potatoes or cassava, or on  junk food (refined flours, sugars, and fat). Fortunately, relatively few people in the world try to survive on diets in which these foods are virtually the sole source of calories. In all other diets, if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.”
Side-Effects of Vegetarian Protein Diet
As you can see, vegetarian protein and vegan protein foods are beneficial for the body of an average active person but I’m not going to explain why, since the Internet is full of such information. But what I will do is tell you why I think such way of eating would not be good for people active in powerlifting and other strength sports. In my opinion drawbacks to such nutrition are many but two of them stand out as the most prominent.
- Fat Gain (Vegetarian protein foods are mainly high in carbohydrates. To ensure a sufficient intake of protein and achieve desired sport goals you need to handle a lot more carbohydrates than you normally would with eating animal-derived meals. Serious calorie management should be done on high protein vegetarian diet to avoid the accumulation of body fat. Also, learn how much protein per day you need to eat, depending on your activities).
- Low Testosterone (Testosterone is the hormone responsible for development of muscle mass and strength, regulating cholesterol, energy production and libido. Consuming animal products is the best way to increase its levels in the body. Depriving yourself from such diet can set you back and apart from other athletes that consume animal based foods and not to mention health issues this situation might cause).
Vegetarian Protein Sources
- Milk, whey, cheese, yogurt, eggs (Lacto-ovo vegetarians only).
- Milk, whey, cheese, yogurt (Lacto vegetarians only).
- Eggs (Ovo vegetarians only).
- Soy (Beans, tofu, cheese).
- Nuts (Walnuts, pistachio, cashew, almonds).
- Beans (Black, garbanzo, hummus, kidney, fava, winged, mungo, lima).
- Legumes (Lentils, peas, peanuts, peanut butter).
- Seeds (Sesame, flax, pumpkin, hemp, sunflower).
- Grains (whole) (Oats, brown rice, quinoa, granola, wheat, whole bread).
- Vegetables (Broccoli, asparagus, spinach, kale, collard greens).