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A common apprehension expressed by several clients who come to me for a diet consultation is related to the efficacy of diet and fitness regimen due to they being vegetarians. I realise that this often stems from misplaced notions about the lack of adequate proteins in vegetarian food. The good news is that one can maintain a fit, strong and healthy body with a pure vegetarian Indian diet; there are ample sources of proteins for vegetarians.

Don’t just take my word for it- numerous examples abound of celebrities with extremely fit and enviable “hot” bodies who are vegetarians. Shahid Kapoor with an amazing physique, is a self-proclaimed vegetarian, as are several top-notch leading ladies from our very own Bollywood. Several members of the present Indian cricket team- which now has a reputation for establishing stringent fitness benchmarks- are also lifelong vegetarians.

Besides these anecdotal examples, there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that vegetarian diets don’t have any adverse impact on fitness or athletic/sports performance. Research published by both the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2012 and the European Journal of Applied Physiology in 2011 on cyclists and sprinters, respectively, proved that results from sportsmen on vegetarian diets were the same as those from sportsmen on meat-based diets.

Benefits of consuming plant-based proteins

Contrary to the myth around vegetarian diet mentioned above, there are several benefits of adding plant-based protein in your food intake. These benefits are not merely dietary, but also at a much bigger and macro-environmental level.

Fibre facilitates easy digestion: First and foremost is the fibre or roughage that plant-based proteins provide. In contrast, non-vegetarian sources lack fibre even though they contain higher amounts of amino acids– both essential and non-essential. Common vegetarian sources of proteins such as dals/legumes/pulses provide adequate roughage as well, thus making them easily digestible and ‘light’ on the system. The paucity of fibre in non-vegetarian sources- especially red meat- makes them harder to digest.

High quality protein: Plant-based proteins are of comparable, if not better, quality than animal protein. In fact, rice – which many people don’t associate with anything more than carbohydrates- offers one of the best-quality proteins compared to other cereals. While the quantity of protein that rice offers is limited, the presence of all 8 amino acids in proper proportion, makes rice an excellent source of high-quality vegetarian protein. Similarly, rice protein has a “biological value” (defined as the extent of ability to retain nitrogen) of 86, compared to the figure of 70, which is deemed acceptable quality.

Tastes just as good: For many, the lure of non-vegetarian food lies in its taste and texture as much as on its nutritional value. Thanks to the rich Indian tradition of using a multitude of spices in our incomparable array of cuisines, taste is seldom a big issue with vegetarian Indian food. Who can question the taste-worthiness of dals and pulses such as Rajma, chole, etc.? From a tasty breakfast item or snack such as misal pav” — recognized some time back as the world’s tastiest vegetarian snack—to desserts such as moong dal halwa, options galore for adding vegetarian protein into our system!

More environment-friendly: At a macro-level, meat production is a significant drain on natural resources as rearing animals requires more food and energy. It is not only land-based animal meat production that poses an environmental challenge; rampant and excessive fishing driven by the quest to supply omega 3 to humans, is also leading to an irreversible collapse of the world’s marine ecosystem.

Contrast this with pulses and legumes – a major source of vegetarian protein- that actually help keep nitrogen in the soil and retain usable nitrogen concentrations for future crops! Year 2016 was hence, declared as “International Year of Pulses” by the UN. The aim was to increase public awareness of nutritional benefits of pulses and its role in transforming modern agriculture, solve hunger and malnutrition and contribute to food security. One of the areas for change that the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO) propose to deal with climate change, to bring ‘zero hunger’ for everyone on the planet is to eat ATLEAST one meat-free meal every week.

No wonder, there is the growing ‘reducetarianism’, a movement to cut-down on animal-based protein and rely more on vegetarian protein. Infact, fibre-rich, unripe jackfruit is being eaten as ‘meat substitute’ in the West due to the meaty texture and feel it offers.

How to ensure sufficient protein intake

Vegetarians can get their required quantity of proteins through dals, pulses, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. In addition to having these as part of main course along with your grains (rotis/ rice/ bhakri/ thepla), incorporating them in your mid-meals (like a handful of nuts) will give a good protein boost. For example, a small bowl of sprouted moong dal or black channa/cholle (you can add a dash of lemon juice and black salt to make it tastier) can be a great complement to fresh home-made Indian breakfast.

One thing to bear in mind is that vegetarian protein sources have limited amino acids. So it is best that these are eaten in complementary food combinations such that the limited amino acids in one food item is adequately supplemented by amino acids in the other food item. For example, rice is deficient in the amino acid lysine but rich in methionine, while dal is deficient in amino acid methionine and has plenty of lysine. Therefore, to get the full benefits of all the essential amino acids/complete protein profile, a combination of rice & dal works very well. This concept (and wisdom) of using complementary food items and complementary proteins is deeply entrenched in Indian cuisine from time immemorial, as we can see from our staples like rice-dal, khichdi, rice-kadhi, roti-dahi, etc.

As a dietitian with considerable focus and interest in Indian diets, I’d like to categorically state that vegetarians can really rest assured about getting their requisite protein intake without having to switch to eating meat. Don’t switch dietary habit simply on the basis of a misconception. What’s more, in the world of vegetarian ‘mock-meats’ that we live in today, there is the option to “have it and eat it too” (well, almost!).

Read these other diet & nutrition tips

1. Expert diet tips for teenage boys & girls

2. Getting diet right for Entrepreneurs

3. Improving productivity at work with a balanced diet

Confused by the misinformation about potential health problems with traditional Indian foods? Get in touch with award-winning Mumbai dietitian and nutritionist, Munmun Ganeriwal, a strong advocate of the holistic, wellness benefits of fresh, local, and traditional Indian foods.

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It does not matter as much how hard you train, as it matters how well you “refuel” your body post-workout session. In order to get the desired results from your training- be it the sculpted, toned body you are looking for or getting fitter & stronger is your goal- what you eat following exercise is crucial and can have a major impact on your results.

Why is “Recovery Nutrition” important?

Post a workout, your body is in a catabolic state (process of breakdown) because of many biochemical, metabolic & hormonal changes that has taken place during the exercise. It has depleted its muscle glycogen reserves (body’s stored fuel), the catabolic hormone cortisol has been on a surge & then there are the free radicals (chemically unstable molecules) that have been generated during the exercise. The good news is that this presents an “anabolic window of opportunity” Anabolism refers to the process of building up. By consuming proper nutrients post-workout, you will be able to arrest further muscle breakdown, initiate the re-synthesis of fuel reserves, initiate the rebuilding of damaged tissue, bring down cortisol levels, accelerate removal of metabolic by products (lactic acid, CO2). Hence, having a post-workout fuelling strategy in place is extremely important for improvements in both body composition (fat loss) and exercise performance, faster recovery, preventing fatigue and resisting injury.

What is “Recovery Nutrition”?

Insulin sensitivity is heightened immediately after exercise, which means that ideally you should consume your post-workout meal as soon as you finish your workout. The quicker you feed your body, the better nutrient delivery to the muscles and more nutrient & glucose uptake by them to utilize for repair. Another physiological effect of exercise is the immediate increase in the blood flow to the muscles. Hence, the delivery of protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, water etc. is also enhanced, resulting in greater muscle protein synthesis.

But since we live in a ‘real’ world v/s an ‘ideal’ one, it may be possible that at times, you are unable to consume your post-workout meal immediately after cooling down at the gym (for e.g. some day you may be rushed for office) Then know that, all is not lost. The “anabolic window of opportunity” lasts for at least a couple of hours following exercise so if not right after workout, do make sure you take in the nutrients as soon as you can!

The “Recovery Nutrition” comprises of the four F’s backed by exercise physiologists all over the world, which are-

1.Fluids It is crucial to make up for the loss of fluids and electrolytes as your body is in a dehydrated state post-workout. Among other health benefits, staying properly hydrated will help your body be better able to deliver the nutrients that your cells and muscles need in order to repair themselves.

The bottom line: Ensure you have water post exercise and also later through the day. The best way to check if you are having enough water is to look for your urine colour- should be crystal clear, not cloudy. Caffeine has shown to disrupt post-exercise insulin action, thereby impairing your body’s ability to replenish glycogen stores and utilize protein for muscular repair. Hence, if you do want to indulge in your cup of coffee or tea, wait for a couple of hours after your workout.

2.Food One of the primary goals post-exercise is to replenish glycogen reserves (stored carbohydrate in muscle & liver) that gets depleted during training.

Post-workout, you should consume carbohydrates that come from simple, high-glycemic sources so that they can quickly do its job. They will break down quickly in your gut, sending a surge of sugar into your bloodstream and raising your blood glucose which in turn, will spike insulin levels. Since insulin has both anabolic and anti-catabolic functions, it will accelerate protein synthesis, inhibit protein breakdown, and shuttle glycogen into cells. And this is one instance where elevated insulin won’t promote increases in body fat. Because your muscles & liver are literally starved, nutrients will tend to be used for muscle building & repair rather than fat storage.

Other than being high GI, carbs that you consume should be light and easy to digest so that it does not overload the gastro-intestinal system, disrupting the blood flow to the worked-out muscles.

Some research shows that carbohydrate-rich foods containing a combination of glucose and fructose is ideal, here. This is because glucose is converted to muscle glycogen, whereas fructose preferentially replenishes liver glycogen (glucose is of limited utility to the liver, a phenomenon called the “glucose paradox”). Thus, the two types of sugar work in synergy to replenish the glycogen stores of the body.

The bottom line: Include a variety of carbohydrates post-exercise. Few good choices are sugarcane juice, banana, boiled potato, potato sandwich.

3.Fast Acting Proteins The other main nutritional objective post-workout is to supply sufficient amino acids (protein) for muscle tissue repair. If protein intake is sub-optimal following training, recovery is hampered and results are compromised. When amino acids are consumed following training, protein synthesis increases, optimizing the development of lean muscle tissue. Increase in lean muscle tissue is important for fat loss, change in body composition and improved exercise performance.

Protein should preferably be in the form of a high-biological value (BV) protein powder, that which is easy to digest and readily available, absorbed & assimilated in the body. A fast-acting protein such as whey works best. Because it is rapidly assimilated, whey reaches your muscles quickly, thereby expediting repair. The BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) in whey protein keeps the insulin sensitive and boosts your immunity, amongst many other things.

The bottom line: Once you have had your carb-rich food, have a whey protein shake mixing whey protein powder in water.

4.Free Radical Management Make sure to incorporate key vitamins and minerals in your post-workout meal that will help to recover and repair faster. Antioxidants is of prime importance here as it will negate the free radical effect of exercise that interferes with body’s recovery mechanism. Important antioxidants are Vit C, Vit E, Vit A, and minerals Selenium, Zinc, Chromium. Apart from its antioxidant effect, these minerals also have an insulin-like effect thus accelerating the anabolism process post workout.

The bottom line: Take separate vitamin supplements (of A, C, E) along with a supplement of Zinc, Selenium, Chromium with your post work-out meal.

Plan your post-workout meals right and get incredible results from your workout! Stay fit, stay young!

NOTE: This article was written by me for MyBeautyGym.Com & was published on 18th August 2017.


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