Protein is king in the world of bodybuilding, and getting enough of it on a plant-based vegetarian diet can be challenging. Making gains in the gym doesn’t need to come at the cost of missing out on the health benefits of a plant-based vegetarian diet though. In this post we’ll be covering 23 of the best high protein low carb vegetarian foods for bodybuilding and strength gains.
A vegetarian diet isn’t quite the same as a vegan or whole plant foods-based diet. According to Mayo Clinic, there’s 5 different variations of the vegetarian diet.
- Lacto-Vegetarian: This is a diet that excludes meat, fish, poultry and eggs, but allows for animal byproducts like milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt.
- Ovo-Vegetarian: This diet excludes all animal products except for eggs.
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Excludes all animal products except for dairy products and eggs.
- Pescatarian: Excludes all animal products except for fish.
- Vegan: Excludes any and all animal products whatsoever.
People follow vegetarian diets for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) decreasing their carbon footprint, enhancing their health and well being, and prolonging their lifespans. According to a study by Cambridge University, people following a Western vegetarian diet tend to have lower BMI, lower cholesterol, and a lower mortality risk than those following a non-vegetarian diet. They also tend to have a lower risk for other diseases like constipation, gallstones, and appendicitis.
Eliminating meat from your diet and reducing your overall consumption of animal-based products in general allows you to displace those calories with nutrient-packed alternatives like fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds; all of which are packed with health-promoting nutrition.
Bodybuilding and Protein
A bodybuilder is anyone who strives to improve their strength, athleticism, physique, and overall fitness through resistance training. A bodybuilder enters the gym with the goal of breaking down their muscle fibers so they can grow back bigger and stronger.
One of the mechanisms through which your body carries out this process is protein synthesis. To maximize your body’s muscle-building response to training, you’re going to need protein.
Getting Enough Protein On A Vegetarian Diet
Despite its health-promoting benefits, one of the areas where a vegetarian diet can prove difficult is in finding foods that provide sufficient protein for muscle building, especially if you’re following a low carb diet. Foods that make up the bulk of a vegetarian diet tend to be high in carbohydrates, so finding high protein low carb vegetarian foods for bodybuilding can be challenging.
High Protein Low Carb Vegetarian Foods for Bodybuilding
The following is a compiled list of 22 of the best high protein low carb vegetarian foods for bodybuilding and strength gains. They are broken down by category.
1. Egg Whites
Egg white is the clear liquid within the egg of a chicken. Eating only the egg white allows you to exclude the saturated fat and cholesterol contained within the yolk. Egg whites are an excellent bodybuilding food because nearly every calorie is from protein!
- Carbohydrates: 0.2 grams
- Protein: 3.6 grams
2. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is different from regular yogurt in that it has been strained to remove most of its whey. This typically results in less fat, less sugar, less carbs, and more protein; making it one of the best high protein low carb vegetarian foods for bodybuilding.
- Carbohydrates: 7 grams
- Protein: 18 grams
3. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is cheese that is made by draining it instead of pressing it. 1 cup packs 28 grams of protein and only 6.1 grams of carbohydrates.
- Carbohydrates: 6.1 grams
- Protein: 28 grams
4. Fat-Free Cheese
Fat-free cheese is a cheese product that is made with skim milk as opposed to regular whole milk. Fat is removed by a centrifuge, leaving behind a rather dry cheese. The removal of fat calories allows room for more protein calories though!
- Carbohydrates: 2.8 grams
- Protein: 4.7 grams
5. Pinto Beans
Beans come in many different variations, including (but not limited to) green beans, white beans, black beans, Pinto beans, and more. Beans can be cooked by boiling and consumed as side dishes. Beans are also prepared in a variety products like bean chips, bean pastas, and various types of baked snacks.
The most common type of bean (in Western cuisine anyway) is the Pinto bean. Although beans tend to be high in carbs, they’re also high in fiber, which means they’re low in net carbs. Plain boiled pinto beans contain 44.8 grams of carbohydrates, but they also have 15.4 grams of fiber, meaning they really have 29.4 grams of net carbs. They also come packed with 15.4 grams of plant-based protein.
- Net Carbohydrates: 29.4 grams
- Protein: 15.4 grams
6. Puy Lentils
Lentils are an editable lens-shaped legume. They come in a variety different shapes, sizes, and colors, but the lentil with the most protein is the Puy lentil. Puy lentils are a variety of French Green lentils that are grown in the volcanic rich soil of the Puy region of France. Although they tend to be high in overall carbohydrates, they’re also high in fiber, meaning they’re lower in net carbs.
- Net Carbohydrates: 48 grams
- Protein: 36 grams
Chickpeas, otherwise known as Garbanzo beans, are a pale, beige variety of bean with a very neutral flavor, making them a very versatile ingredient. They can be made into a variety of dips and spreads. They can also be ground into flour and used as a baking ingredient.
- Net Carbohydrates: 32.5 grams
- Protein: 14.5 grams
No vegetarian diet would be complete without tofu — a bean-based curd made from soy milk (soy beans). It can make for a great meat substitute when prepared right.
- Net Carbohydrates: 4 grams
- Protein: 20 grams
When you think of the best high protein low carb vegetarian foods for bodybuilding, you don’t typically think of grains. Grains tend to be high in carbohydrates and relatively low in protein. However, quinoa is the exception. It’s an excellent source of plant-based muscle building protein.
- Net Carbohydrates: 34.2 grams
- Protein: 8.1 grams
If you’re focused specifically on eating a plant-based low carb diet then you absolutely cannot overlook almonds, which have less than half as much net carbs as protein.
- Net Carbohydrates: 2.2 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
Not only are walnuts a great source of plant-based low carb protein, but they’re also loaded with fiber and healthy omega 3 fatty acids, making them one of the best high protein low carb vegetarian foods for bodybuilding.
- Net Carbohydrates: 0.9 grams
- Protein: 1.9 grams
The cashew nut is actually a seed that grows from the fruit of a tropical evergreen tree. They have a mild, neutral flavor that makes them a versatile ingredient in many plant-based dishes.
- Net Carbohydrates: 7.7 grams
- Protein: 5.2 grams
Pistachios are a member of the cashew family. They have a distinct earthy flavor that makes them great for snacking, and they’re pack with tons of health-promoting nutrition.
- Net Carbohydrates: 2.7 grams
- Protein: 3.1 grams
14. Natural Peanut Butter
What separate natural peanut butter from regular peanut butter is the ingredients. Natural peanut butter should have no other ingredients than peanuts and maybe salt. Natural peanut butter typically has less carbohydrates and more fiber.
- Net Carbohydrates: 2.2 grams
- Protein: 3.8 grams
15. Almond Butter
Much like natural peanut butter, almond butter should have no other ingredients than just almonds and maybe salt. This cuts out a lot of the carb calories that are typically found in standard almond butters.
- Net Carbohydrates: 2.8 grams
- Protein: 2.4 grams
16. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds make for a great low carb plant-based snack. They contain one and half times more protein than net carbs!
- Net Carbohydrates: 1 gram
- Protein: 1.5 grams
17. Pumpkin Seeds
Not only is the protein in pumpkin seeds more than triple its net carb content, but they’re also an excellent source of iron and magnesium.
- Net Carbohydrates: 2.7
- Protein: 9.3 grams
18. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are used quite commonly in baking. They can make for a great egg substitute in recipes, and they contain health-promoting omega 3 fatty acids.
- Net Carbohydrates: 1.7 grams
- Protein: 4.4 grams
19: Flax Seeds
Much like Chia seeds, flax seeds are commonly used in baking. In addition to their omega 3 content they also contain lignans, which can aid in digestive health.
- Net Carbohydrates: 2 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
20. Baby Spinach
When you think of high protein foods you probably don’t typically think of spinach, but believe it or not, spinach is an excellent source of protein. It has double the amount of protein as it does net carbs, making it by far one of the best high protein low carb vegetarian foods for bodybuilding.
- Net Carbohydrates: 1 gram
- Protein: 2 grams
As if broccoli didn’t already have enough health benefits, it’s also an excellent source of plant-based protein!
- Net Carbohydrates: 3.5 grams
- Protein: 2.5 grams
If you’re looking for a protein-packed side for one of your meals, don’t sleep on asparagus! It packs nearly 3 grams of protein per cup.
- Net carbohydrates: 2.5 grams
- Protein: 2.9 grams