Strength Training on Vegetarian Diet

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CorvusCorax77
CorvusCorax77 Posts: 2,536 Member
edited November 2022 in Fitness and Exercise
I have been strength training for years. YEARS. Eight years to be exact. My max weights have plateaued for years. YEARS. About six years to be exact. While I continue to keep lifting through injuries and medical issues, I would really like to see my one rep max numbers go up.

I highly suspect the problem is my diet.

For a while, I focused really hard on hitting my protein goals each day (approx 110 grams of protein) but it was predominantly soy protein (vegetarian problems, amiright???LOL). Then for a long time I didn't focus on my macros and just kept lifting because I love it. My bestie is a med student and she highly suggested I focus more on animal protein.... so I'm currently doing a high protein, animal protein based diet ..ie Eggs. I'm stoked to see if this means my one rep maxes will go up.

Point of this post: has anyone had this experience and what was the outcome? Is anyone else a vegetarian lifter who has had success gaining strength on vegetarian diet?

FTR- I'm female and my squats and DL's maxed out around 225. My bench max is 110. I have girlfriends who DL over 300, bench 145 and the big difference between them and me (from what I can see) are: (1) age - they are ten years younger; and (2) diet- they eat meat.

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  • CorvusCorax77
    CorvusCorax77 Posts: 2,536 Member
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    Also, I'm not willing to start eating meat. I actually tried some roadkill deer. The results were not good. So. Not. Good. I have been a vegetarian since 1995! And I was vegan for 11 years as well.
  • yirara
    yirara Posts: 9,426 Member
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    So can you tell us what your training looks like throughout the week?
    When in the course of the day do you go to the gym to train?
    Do you do other exercises as well and when relative to strength training?
    Are you in a calorie deficit, maintaining or trying to gain?
  • CorvusCorax77
    CorvusCorax77 Posts: 2,536 Member
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    yirara wrote: »
    So can you tell us what your training looks like throughout the week?
    When in the course of the day do you go to the gym to train?
    Do you do other exercises as well and when relative to strength training?
    Are you in a calorie deficit, maintaining or trying to gain?

    Over the course of the years? Or what I'm doing this week? LOL. I'll try to explain both.

    The one thing that has been consistent is I do wendlers 5/3/1. For some of the time, I was consistently going four days a week. There have been some surgeries/medical issues that put me on bed rest. And then for a good chunk of time I would only lift maybe two days a week.

    Also over the years I have done different assistance work. I have always done warm up and work sets. Sometimes that would be it. Other times I would do wendler assistance work outs (5x10 at 50% ORM, plus counter exercises so like lat pull down for OHP, or pendlay rows for Bench). I went through a period of doing hypertrophy work outs as my assistance work, and a period of doing some exclusive booty work outs as assistance work. Generally on lift days I would do ten minutes of cardio, but went through periods of no cardio. I also hate deload week so I often would up my cardio instead of doing deload weeks. Also on a monthly basis or so I bag a mountain.

    I am not going to pretend I have been consistently working out four days a week. That's just a fact. I did for years, but then I would work out twice a week for some time.

    Currently, I am doing four days a week of 5/3/1 routine, plus 20 mins cardio. I'm doing reasonable assistance work. My lifting sessions are generally an hour.

    I generally work out after work. But some days I work out before work. So either early morning or in the afternoon.

    Currently I am eating about 1600 calories a day, 110 grams of protein.
  • JBanx256
    JBanx256 Posts: 1,477 Member
    edited November 2022
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    I was vegetarian (lacto-ovo) for several years; the last powerlifting meet I did while veggie, if I'd made my final deadlift attempt, I would have totaled elite. I think I was 27 years old at the time.

    Now I'm omnivorous and the last PL meet I did, I totaled elite at 38 years old (IIRC, it was 315 squat, 215 bench, 365 pull). I feel absolutely confident I could have gotten those same numbers without eating meat. As far as age is concerned, I am now 40 and most recently pulled 382.5.

    Wendler's 5/3/1 is great for a lot of things, but it's not a "forever program" either. I think addressing your programming should be your first line of attack.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 32,370 Member
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    I'm skeptical that it's the vegetarianism, too. Truth in advertising: I'm not a lifter. I do a strength-y short-endurance CV sport (on water rowing), am F, 66, 5'5", around 130 pounds right now. I've been ovo-lacto vegetarian since 1974. I lift some in the off-season, but I'm not going stat for stat with you on lifts. Still, I don't seem to have a problem gaining strength.

    Are you maintaining on 1600 calories, or losing? (That doesn't seem like very many calories, but I get that we're all different. I maintain on 1850+exercise plus a little, usually eat 2100-2400 or so, with an extra indulgent day over that now and then. Quite a few of the female lifters I know maintain high, though I don't have any theoretical basis for why that would be so to that extent.)

    Complete protein (in essential amino acid terms) - whether from animal sources, complete veg sources, or complementarity - is going to matter. Leucine matters. Lysine can be limiting, in some cases. Etc.

    But training and calories may matter more. I'm not going to bring up genetics, because you obviously can't control that.
  • CorvusCorax77
    CorvusCorax77 Posts: 2,536 Member
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    JBanx256 wrote: »
    I was vegetarian (lacto-ovo) for several years; the last powerlifting meet I did while veggie, if I'd made my final deadlift attempt, I would have totaled elite. I think I was 27 years old at the time.

    Now I'm omnivorous and the last PL meet I did, I totaled elite at 38 years old (IIRC, it was 315 squat, 215 bench, 365 pull). I feel absolutely confident I could have gotten those same numbers without eating meat. As far as age is concerned, I am now 40 and most recently pulled 382.5.

    Wendler's 5/3/1 is great for a lot of things, but it's not a "forever program" either. I think addressing your programming should be your first line of attack.

    In your opinion, is the problem that I shouldn't be on any one program forever, or is it that 5/3/1 just isn't a good pick?

    If there are programs that are good "forever" programs, what would you recommend?
  • cwolfman13
    cwolfman13 Posts: 41,874 Member
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    I don't think it's a protein issue or a vegetarian issue. Could be a programming issue. I did 5/3/1 after Starting Strength and I didn't respond to the program all that well but perhaps I jumped into it too early after SS, or maybe I just found it boring, IDK...I ended up running it for awhile but then went to the Texas Method which I responded to better. I was also in maintenance by this point and eating more...and when I went to the Texas Method I was eating even more.

    Which brings me to your 1600 per day calorie intake. I would wager that is a bigger issue than protein or being vegetarian...it's just not very many calories and seems low to me for trying to put in the work to try to make the gains you're trying to make. At some point, you also run out of those neuro adaptive gains and to get stronger you have to put on mass. Also, when I was doing the Texas Method I ran that for a good 6 months or so and it was my primary training and I was 100% focused on those strength goals. I used all of my off days for recovery and needed it; the most I did on those 4 days off was walk my dog
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 32,370 Member
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    I still think it's unlikely that diet is the issue. But I'm going to share some info that I recently posted to another thread, in case you want to take a deeper dive into that particular rabbit hole.

    Repeating: Calorie intake or program seem more likely as limiting factors, to me, unless your overall nutrition is really sub-par in some important way.

    But here goes:

    FWIW, there's a bunch of athlete nutrition information offered publicly by the Team USA (Olympic Team) organization and US Olympic Committee (USOC).

    A general info main page is here, but you have to scroll down a bit to get to the factsheet links:

    https://www.teamusa.org/nutrition

    One of the factsheets is aimed at vegan/vegetarian special issues:

    https://www.teamusa.org/-/media/TeamUSA/Nutrition/VegetarianFactsheet2020.pdf

    There's a downloadable PDF nutrition guide here, and it also includes some info for vegetarians:

    https://www.teamunify.com/kslst/UserFiles/Image/QuickUpload/usoc-nutrition-guide-081416_077258.pdf

    Of all of the above, I found these to be most related to your situation: The Team USA vegetarian factsheet; and the USOC (Teamunify) doc's page 8 (about BCAAs, not via supplement but via food) and pages 27-28 to be most related to your situation.

    There's nothing radical or startling about any of this: It's pretty much good common sense about nutrition, not "insider secrets" (I think there aren't insider secrets).

    Again, I think the issue is not likely to be diet.
  • feisty_bucket
    feisty_bucket Posts: 1,047 Member
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    Also, I'm not willing to start eating meat. I actually tried some roadkill deer. The results were not good. So. Not. Good. I have been a vegetarian since 1995! And I was vegan for 11 years as well.

    A vegetarian can't just eat some meat and have it go well, because they've lost the enzymes to digest it. If you were to go omnivore, you'd have to very gradually reintroduce it to your diet.

    I think your problem is that you're not eating enough, and your protein is low-quality.
  • cwolfman13
    cwolfman13 Posts: 41,874 Member
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    To add to my comment, a common complaint about 5/3/1 is that progress is very slow and it's usually run by late intermediate to advanced lifters who have pretty much maxed out any kind of linear gains...not necessarily workout to workout increases, but week to week or progress every couple of weeks type of linear gains. Most people I know who've run 5/3/1 make very nominal gains only every 3-4 weeks or so and they're tiny because they're pretty close to maxed out.

    I mentioned the Texas Method previously and you might want to look into that. I had pretty much maxed out with Starting Strength, but started seeing good gains again every week or two with the Texas Method. If you run it right it's pretty brutal and you'll need your recovery, but I think you'll make the gains you're looking for.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 32,370 Member
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    I still think it's unlikely that diet is the issu
    Also, I'm not willing to start eating meat. I actually tried some roadkill deer. The results were not good. So. Not. Good. I have been a vegetarian since 1995! And I was vegan for 11 years as well.

    A vegetarian can't just eat some meat and have it go well, because they've lost the enzymes to digest it. If you were to go omnivore, you'd have to very gradually reintroduce it to your diet.

    I think your problem is that you're not eating enough, and your protein is low-quality.

    Since OP mentions hitting animal sourced protein - especially eggs - hard as a protein source right now, and previous soy, I'd put lower odds on the theory that protein quality is a big deal in this particular scenario. It can be, in a generic sense, but here? While it's possible, I'm not so sure.

    I'm absolutely not one of those "plants are so fabulous that we don't need to worry about protein, let alone essential amino acid balance" vegetarians. But realistically, EAA balance is not IMO a huge stretch for someone who's informed and paying attention. Every individual food need not be EAA complete, just combinations over relatively short time periods; I'd still encourage people to be using major sources of EAA complete protein, of course. It makes things easier.
  • Chieflrg
    Chieflrg Posts: 9,097 Member
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    I have been strength training for years. YEARS. Eight years to be exact. My max weights have plateaued for years. YEARS. About six years to be exact. While I continue to keep lifting through injuries and medical issues, I would really like to see my one rep max numbers go up.

    I highly suspect the problem is my diet.

    1. Are you competing? If not why are you concerned specifically about 1RM?
    2. If you haven't seen progress for "months" or "years", it is more than certain your programming, not diet. I can't go into great detail without knowing more data on you specifically, but I assure you this is extremely common with the majority of lifters from lack of adequate programming for their level of adaptation.
  • CorvusCorax77
    CorvusCorax77 Posts: 2,536 Member
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    So For what it's worth....I'm reporting back with what I have done.

    In November, my doctor told me I have to net 1500 calories a day- so I am doing that.

    In December, I began to focus heavily on getting 112 grams of protein a day, and predominantly animal protein- so eggs, yogurt, but still using some vegetarian items like soy-free protein shake and fake meat products.

    I'm still doing 5/3/1 as it is for whatever reason the program I enjoy doing. I joined a gym in January and that honestly did help me be more regular in doing assistance work, etc, because my home gym is in my garage and it's freezing in there. I was doing my warm ups and main lifts, but no assistance work. I also started in January doing cardio after lifting, instead of as a warm up.

    By Feb 1, my PR's all went up! My DL went up 10 lbs, my bench went up 15 lbs, my squat went up by 15 lbs.

    Someone asked why I want my PR's to go up- largely because hitting new PR's is fun.

    Anyways, so my guess is that I was stuck because at any given time I was making one of the following mistakes:
    (1) trying to lose weight too fast and eating 1200 net cals
    (2) not eating enough protein
    (3) eat enough protein, but predominantly soy
    (4) only doing main lifts and not enough assistance work.
    (5) doing cardio before lifting and not after (only ten minutes, but maybe that was part of the problem?)

  • cupcakesandproteinshakes
    cupcakesandproteinshakes Posts: 1,092 Member
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    I’m not sure what you’re asking but it’s definitely worth considering some different programming with a focus on RPE. Have a look at barbellmedicine.com for more info. Clever programming is the key to progressing on lifts once you are beyond beginner/intermediate
  • Retroguy2000
    Retroguy2000 Posts: 1,530 Member
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    Clarence Kennedy was unbelievably strong and he was vegan for a few years. Admittedly, he built most of his strength before that though. This article talks about his diet, and the parts about amino acids and micronutrients may be of interest to you, e.g.:

    He accurately points out that a risk for vegans isn’t of not consuming the full spectrum of amino acids, but rather that they may not consume them in the right quantities. Wary of becoming lysine deficient, he consumes both grains and legumes in high quantities because the former is high in methionine and low in lysine, while the latter is high in lysine and low in methionine. Put ’em together, and you’ve got an amino acid profile that’s comparable to animal products.

    https://barbend.com/clarence-kennedy-vegan-diet/

    If it's a programming issue, or progressing while advanced, Alexander Bromley and Renaissance Periodization on YT both have tons of good videos on the former and the latter respectively.

    Btw, 10 mins of cardio before weights is a good warm-up. That wasn't the problem, it was probably helping. If it were a long cardio session first, yeah that wouldn't be ideal.