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How A Vegetarian Builds Muscle

© By Steve Holt

The Vegetarian Bodybuilder

March 4, 2008.


It’s a fact. A properly conceived vegetarian diet is healthy.  Meat-eaters no longer argue about it. They’ve conceded that we do have something good going on. There are health benefits. Yes, it’s true. But the current and very persistent misconception nowadays is that vegetarians are thin.  They have to be thin. Even those who exercise can best be described as, well… sinewy. Wirey. Definitely not big and muscular. Not a linebacker or a bodybuilder.


It’s time to put that idea to rest.


Just how does a vegetarian pack on addition lean body mass?


  1. Resistance Exercise (weight training)
  2. Protein


The body is an efficient organism, and its objective is to reach a state of balance, or stasis. It will meet the demands placed upon it, but no more. Unless those demands are increased, the organism will remain unchanged. When those demands are increased, adaptation is the result. One of those adaptations is hypertrophy, or muscle tissue growth.


If you lift or push a weight that is beyond the body’s normal capability, adaptation begins. In essence, the body says, “Jeez. This sucks. What the heck is going on? We don’t want to be overloaded like this again. Let’s make some adjustments, so it will easier next time.” The adjustment begins with an increase in neural activity, followed by an actual increase in muscle fiber. However, the muscle fiber growth will be minimal without additional protein.


Imagine a work crew building a house. Suddenly a notice from head office arrives, instructing the crew to increase the size of the house. More workers arrive to handle the increased work load. But, unless head office also sends a truck with more bricks and mortar, it will be impossible for the increased work force to actually add to the size of the house. Similarly, it is impossible for the body to add muscle without additional protein.


Muscle is how the body stores protein. The body utilizes the additional protein in conjunction with the additional requirements. In other words, resistance exercise causes the body to utilize the excess protein. If weight training is minimal or non-existent, the excess protein will be converted to glucose for energy, and in the (very likely) event of a surplus of glucose, this excess ends up being converted to bodyfat.  Bodyfat is the way the body stores excess glucose. 


OK, so you need both – weight training and more protein to build more muscle.

Now let’s talk about protein.

I can personally attest to the fact that extra protein is required for new muscle growth. When I first started weight training, very little happened. I spent many hours in the gym  pushing the weights around, and I lost some body fat. But the changes were minimal . Then I added an additional 90 g protein in the form of 2 protein powder shakes per day, and once I did this, the change in my physique was astounding. The truck with the bricks and mortar had arrived, and the crew jumped to their task. Muscles grew with amazing rapidity.


To learn precisely how much protein you can add to your diet, click here.


Now about weights.


So where do you start? Assuming you’ve never done any of this stuff before, or perhaps it’s been so long that it seems like another life….


It doesn’t take much. You start by working on and developing proficiency in a few compound lifts. And you do this around the same time you increase your protein intake.


For a sample beginner workout, click here.

To learn more about weight training, click here.


One final note for females: Women are typically afraid of weight training because they think they’re going to look like female bodybuilders "I don't want to get big," they say. But of course they won't get big simply by doing basic weight training. It is easier for men to build muscle because of their androgenic hormonal balance, with its higher concentrations of unbound testosterone and lower concentrations of estrogens. For that reason, women simply cannot build the kind of muscle that men can. However, weight training is a fabulous aid to fat loss, more efficient than pure aerobic exercise. Weight lifting women are not muscularly big; they look like beautiful women.