Sunday, May 8, 2011

Protein and Strength Training

Every vegan and vegetarian has been asked how we get enough protein in our diets. The short answer is: It's easy. But for me, protein is especially important because I'm building muscle.

I've just completed the fourth week of the routine my personal trainer created for me. (If you've read my previous posts here and here, you'll know that last year I lost 30+ pounds and wanted help from a personal trainer to learn how to maintain it.) In this first phase, I'm using weight machines instead of the free weights I've been using. My schedule is something like this with 160 minutes of strength training, 130 minutes of cardio, one yoga class a week, plus short, daily walks.
  • Sunday: Upper body and core; 40 minutes cardio
  • Monday: Lower body and core
  • Tuesday: 30 minutes cardio
  • Wednesday: Rest or active rest with yoga
  • Thursday: Upper body and core
  • Friday: Lower body and core
  • Saturday: Spinning class (60 minutes)
After four weeks, I've really noticed a difference. My upper body and core had definition from all my strength training last year, but I've noticed even more definition. And now I'm seeing a lot of definition in my lower body. I'd never done calf exercises before, and now my calves have a lot of definition. My quads have gotten more definition, and my legs in general are leaner and more firm. Even my butt, whose shapelessness runs in my family, now has shape (on a recent trip to visit my family, I said, "Look Mom--I have a butt!") And I've lost a half-inch from both my hips and waist.

I'm getting the firming results I wanted, but that's not the only reason I love strength training. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest, it's easier to maintain my weight loss the more muscle I have.

Muscle building requires protein. And while it's true that excessive protein can actually be harmful (see this and this), I do need to make sure I'm getting all the protein I should be, which is about 51 grams a day for me, and try to eat slightly more. Here's how I typically do it:

  • 1 banana: 1 g protein
After workout:
  • Smoothie with 1 cup soymilk (6 g), 2 tbsp flax seed (3 g), 1 banana (1 g), 1 cup strawberries (1 g): total 11 g
  • Homemade whole-wheat toast: 5 g
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter: 3 g
  • 2 slices Quiche with Greens: 13 g
Total: 32 grams protein (Note that a big benefit of eating so much protein at breakfast is that it keeps me full and satisfied all morning, and I'm less likely to be hungry and want to snack all through the day.)

  • Mediterranean Bowl with 1 cup cauliflower (2.5 g), 1/2 cup chickpeas (6g), 1/2 cup brown rice (2.5)
  • Salad with romaine, spinach, tomatoes & small handful of walnuts (4 g)
Total: 15 g

  • 1/2 cup mexican-style black beans (7.5 g)
  • whole-wheat tortilla (3 g)
  • 2 cups steamed kale (4 g)
  • vegan cheese sauce made with soymilk and nutritional yeast (3 g)
Total: 17.5

Daily Total: 64.5 grams protein

And that doesn't include fruit, veggies, and nuts I eat throughout the day as snacks. Another typical snack is a slice of wheat toast (5 g) and peanut butter (3 g). So I'm easily getting about 10 more grams of protein in addition to these meals.

Even though I'm strength training four times a week and building muscle, I easily meet my protein needs every day and then some. Here are some other good resources for good vegan protein sources:


  1. Wow, that is awesome! This has also inspired me to change up my workout routine as well. How long do you typically do your workouts for Monday/Thursday/Friday? That will be a great starting point for me as well!
    Thank you!

  2. i know you're gonna hate me soon enough, but i have a lot of documentation to show that 64 grams of protein is FAR too much for the average human, including athletes. your meal plan doesn't have nearly enough healthy saturated fat :-/ coconut or avocado should be a daily edible for an athlete. if you need any documentation or studies let me know because all i do is research health and nutrition. good luck! most personal trainers are actually clueless frauds and haven't done close to the research that other true health nuts have.


  3. Rick, protein needs are based on how much you weigh...and I don't think I ever said how much I weigh! I need a minimum of 51 grams a day. Building muscle requires a little more protein. If I were sedentary or not lifting weights, I'd be fine with 51. My protein intake is right for me and my fitness program. I saw a vegan bodybuilding article where the guy was consuming 145 grams of protein a day, which seems excessive. I've also consulted both a nutrition counselor and my general practictioner on all of this. Believe me, I don't take nutrition lightly.

  4. One more thing! The food I listed isn't everything I eat in a day. I didn't include foods that have no or minimal protein, like oils or chocolate.

    Chelsey, my trainer created these workouts for me, but they use the basic machines at a gym starting with big muscles and ending with smaller muscles. If you don't go to a gym, the home routines in any of the fitness mags (Shape, Fitness, Women's Health) are good--I did them primarily before I started working with this trainer. Good luck!

  5. Congratulations! You are doing an awesome job. I have got to get my act together and start myself an exercise plan. I keep saying that, but haven't done anything yet. I used to love strength training a few years back.
    I love that you posted about the protein. I am always explaining that I get plenty of protein in my diet. :o)