Home Exercise and Lifting How to Increase Protein in Indian Vegetarian Diet (With Desi Diet Plan)

How to Increase Protein in Indian Vegetarian Diet (With Desi Diet Plan)

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Note: This article has been written for North Indian diets (vegetarian and no eggs).

When I started lifting (or bodybuilding, as everyone in India calls it), I knew eating lots of protein was important, but I could not figure out how to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet.

I read all the articles on the topic and found them to be nonsensical and unhelpful. Over the years, I’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t, and I can say that most of the information online is garbage.

(Here’s a fun rant, after which I’ll get to the meat of the article.)

Rant: Most articles on “How to get more protein for vegetarians” are written by people with zero practical experience

I read all the articles about high protein vegetarian Indian diets online back in the day, and even today, I find that most articles on the topic are written by journalism interns and people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

For example, most articles on how to get more protein as a vegetarian say “eat mung sprouts”. It’s often their #1 recommendation. And it’s utterly ridiculous.

While it’s true that mung sprouts are protein-rich (they’ve got a decent amount of protein on a per calorie basis), there’s just no way that you can eat enough of them to get a decent amount of protein in you.

Let’s say you eat 400 grams of mung sprouts. That’s a LOT of mung sprouts. It’ll make a hefty lunch for many people.

And how much protein did you get for your entire meal?

Only 16 grams.

In other words, there’s no way you can get a decent amount of protein eating tons of mung sprouts, despite the fact that mung sprouts are “rich in protein”.

The same applies to a lot of other foods that are recommended in these articles: pulses, legumes, dals, etc. – while it’s true that they are protein-rich, but there’s no way you can eat them in the large quantities you’d need to get the amount of protein you require as someone who’s strength training.

I’ve even read articles that recommend eating soy. This is horrible advice. Soy is terrible for a man’s hormonal balance (because it contains plant-based estrogens), and if you are a man, you should avoid processed soy as much as possible.

Most articles on getting more protein for vegetarians are written by people with zero practical experience. They appear to be written by people who don’t lift, but went to school and learnt that “soy and dals and legumes and sprouts are high in protein” in science class and are just regurgitating the same things in their articles in different words.

[Note: This is not to demonize mung beans. Mung is rich in micronutrients and should absolutely be consumed. However, if they form your primary source of protein, you’re living in a make-believe academic world.]

(Rant over)

How much protein do you need to maximize muscle gain?

There are a lot of bad articles about this topic as well, but for different reasons. I’ve seen estimates as high as 2 grams per pound of bodyweight, but they’re all mostly written by companies trying to sell you lots of protein powder. If you listen to them, you’d be eating 5 scoops of whey per day and still struggle to meet their minimum protein goals.

I won’t get too much into this, because it’s off-topic, and I’ve gone plenty off-topic already, but if you want the science and studies behind it, read this article.

Here is the short version: There is normally no advantage to consuming more than 0.82g/lb (1.8g/kg) of protein per day to preserve or build muscle for natural trainees. This already includes a mark-up, since most research finds no more benefits after 0.64g/lb (1.4g/kg).

(Further, this assumes that you’re lean. If you’re obese, you’d need to deduct the body fat % from your weight to find out your lean body mass and use that as a metric to calculate how much protein you need to eat.

For example, if you’re 120 kg and are at 40% body fat, you’d need to use 120*(1-0.4) = 72 kg as your lean body mass metric.

To calculate your body fat percentage, all you need is a pair of skinfold fat calipers.

Fill your skinfold measurements up here, and it should give you a pretty good estimate.)

If you are strength training, you should aim to get at least 1.4 grams of protein per kg of lean body mass and ideally try to get 1.8 grams per kg.

You can eat more protein if you like – it’s healthy and is the most thermogenic of the three macronutrients – there are no disadvantages to eating more protein. However, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably struggling to hit your 1.4-1.8 grams a day, and not worrying about overshooting.

Most vegetarian Indians eat about 40-50 grams of protein in a day, which is really low. Other than a lack of exercise, this is one of the reasons why most Indian youths are physically weak (almost always either obese or skinny fat) – they just don’t get enough protein in.

If you want to be strong, you need to eat enough protein. Your muscles are made up of protein, and if you’re not eating enough protein, you won’t have enough muscle, and you won’t be strong.

How to Increase Protein in a Vegetarian Indian Diet

I will recommend only three main changes:

1. Add besan to your rotis:

Most of you are eating wheat rotis. Besan has more than twice the protein content (22 grams protein per 100 grams besan) of wheat flour (10 grams protein per 100 grams wheat flour).

You want to eat rotis that have 70-80% besan and only 20-30% wheat. This is because 100% besan rotis are hard to digest and very hard to make (it won’t stick together because it has no gluten).

Further, it’s a good thing to have some wheat in your rotis because plant protein is not complete protein. Each source of plant protein is deficient in one or the other of the 9 essential amino acids (‘essential’ means your body can’t produce its own supply i.e., it needs to be in your diet) you need to eat, so it’s a good idea to eat more than one plant source at once.

Most dals are deficient in an amino acid called methionine, which wheat is rich in. So if you’re eating dal and roti, you should eat it with wheat rotis.

Other than that, I say go 70-80% besan for all of your rotis.

Also, a note to everyone who says, “my ancestors ate wheat for thousands of years, why are you suddenly asking me to reduce it?”:

Wheat wasn’t as popular in India before the green revolution.

When India became independent, we were short of food. We had famines, so in the late 1960s, we decided to adopt high yielding variety seeds of wheat (which are also more resistant to spoilage) and modern farming methods like tractors and chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

And now that wheat was the most available grain, everyone started eating wheat from the 70s and 80s.

Your ancestors were not eating lots of wheat flour. They were eating whatever grains grew locally, for example, bajra, jowar, ragi, rice, etc. (millets) depending on where they lived and what grew there.

Most north Indians today eat potatoes and wheat as their staple foods. Did you know that potatoes aren’t an Indian food at all? They were introduced in India by the Portuguese in the 1700s (i.e., only about 300 years ago). Your forefathers who lived 400 years ago didn’t know what a potato even was.

Tomatoes were introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century i.e., 400 years ago. Your forefathers who lived 500 years ago didn’t know what a tomato was.

The vegetarian diet your ancestors ate 5,000 years ago and the vegetarian diet you eat today are almost entirely different diets, but that’s a different article for a different day.

2. Eat More Paneer (and dairy in general):

As a vegetarian, dairy is your primary source of animal protein.

Animal protein is the best source of protein there is. Period.

Animal protein is complete protein (not deficient in any of the nine essential amino acids) – you do not have to play the amino acid balancing game if your diet is rich in animal protein.

Animal protein does not come loaded with carbohydrates like plant protein.

To illustrate, here’s a chart showing the split of the macro-nutrients in 500 calories worth of portions of three foods:

Boiled Rajma
(Kidney Beans)
Paneer Chicken
Calories 500 kcal 500 kcal 500 kcal
Protein 35.4 g 33.7 g 56.5 g
Carbohydrates 90.6 g 7.6 g 0 g
Fat 2 g 37.2 g 23.6 g

Note: While it may seem like rajma is just as good as paneer as a source of protein, this is an illusion that results in the impractical advice you see in articles that I rant about above. To eat 500 calories in boiled rajma, you’d need to eat about 393 grams of it, which isn’t something you can pull off regularly (and you wouldn’t want to – it’s a very gassy food).

I’ll repeat: As a vegetarian, dairy is your main source of animal protein.

And in dairy, other than whey protein, paneer is your best source of protein.

You can also have curd or dahi, but it suffers from the same problem most plant sources do – you can’t eat enough of it to get a reasonable amount of protein.

(100 grams of dahi has just 4 grams of protein. Even if you eat 200 grams, that’s still only 8 grams of protein. Just because a food is rich in protein doesn’t mean you can eat it in large enough quantities.

That being said, you should eat dahi because it’s still a protein-rich food that goes along with most other veg sabzis. Just don’t be under the impression that you ate a lot of protein because you ate dahi.)

Increase your dairy consumption, including whole milk and curd, but more specifically – eat more paneer.

I eat about 150 grams of fresh paneer almost every day.

P.S. I don’t usually eat packed factory-made paneer. I get my cow’s milk from a local milkman who also brings me freshly made paneer. When he doesn’t, we can just make it from whole milk. If you’re buying paneer from a shop, I recommend getting firm paneer, not malai paneer.

Malai paneer is soft and I’m not a fan of the softness. Firm paneer tastes really good. Stir fry it with vegetables, etc. or make parathas out of them to eat with dahi – recipes are beyond the scope of this article.

3. Supplement with whey protein:

Not pea protein, not hemp protein, not soy protein. All plant proteins are deficient in at least one of the nine essential amino acids, so unless you find a way to mix different plant protein powders in some well-researched ratio, stick to whey protein.

Whey protein is the highest quality protein out there and has the best amino acid profile.

It’s very, very difficult to get 1.8 grams of protein in a reasonable amount of calories on a vegetarian diet without whey protein – so you should be supplementing with it.

I take two scoops a day, every day. This is the brand I use.

Note: Whey protein does not cause kidney stones. This is a myth circulated mainly by people with zero knowledge of nutrition and fitness and blindly repeat whatever they hear. These people will drink all colas and sugar teas and eat biscuits, but when it comes to protein, they’ve got all kinds of nonsense. (I’m talking strictly about whey protein, not mass gainers, which I’ve never used and never researched.)

The only real reason to not use whey is if you’re lactose intolerant, but in my life, I haven’t yet met a north Indian who was lactose intolerant, so it should be a non-issue.

Example of a High-Protein Vegetarian Indian Diet Plan

Here is a desi high protein diet (no egg) example that a north Indian can eat regularly. It’s about 2150 calories – you will need to adjust it to your daily protein requirements (1.8 g per kg of lean body mass – see above).

Food Calories Protein Fats Carbs
Breakfast: Whey Protein in Milk
Whole Cow’s Milk (425 ml) 295 14 18 19.3
Whey Protein (2 scoops) 210 42 3.8 2
Breakfast Total: 505 56 21.8 21.3
Lunch: 2 Paneer Parathas with Dahi
Fresh Paneer (150 grams) 444 30 33 6.8
Dahi (200 grams) 123 8 6.2 8.8
Ghee (2 tsp i.e., 6.3 grams) 57 0 6.3 0
Wheat Flour (70 grams) 239 8.5 1.2 48.6
Masala, chili, jeera powder, etc. 20 0 0 5
Lunch Total: 883 46.5 46.7 69.2
Note: Feel free to use besan in your paneer parathas. I just find that it tastes better with wheat – it’s a mild indulgence.
Snack: Dried Fruits (useful for covering micro-nutrients)
Unsalted Pistachios (2 pieces) 9 0.3 0.8 0.2
Cashews (4 pieces / 6 grams) 36 1.3 2.8 1.3
Almonds (5 pieces / 6 grams) 39 1.3 3.5 0.6
Walnuts (10 grams) 69 1.6 6.5 1.1
Dates (2 pieces / 16 grams) 51 0.4 0.1 12.1
Raisins (10 grams) 31 0.2 0 7.5
Snack Total: 235 5.1 13.7 22.8
Dinner: 2 Besan Rotis with Sabzi (Whatever vegetables you like)
Sabzi/Vegetable Dish
(estimated nutrients)
200 5.5 11.8 18
Besan/Chickpea Flour (55 grams) 210 12.3 3.7 31.8
Wheat Flour (15 grams) 52 1.8 0.3 10.4
Ghee (2 tsp i.e., 6.3 grams) 56 0 6.3 0
Masala, chili, jeera powder, etc. 20 0 0 5
Dinner Total: 538 19.6 22.1 65.2
Day’s Total: 2162 127.2 104.3 178.5

 

This is a pretty nice diet for someone who weighs about 80 kg and is lean i.e., about 15% in body fat. (I use this diet while cutting since it’s high in protein and low in calories.)

If you need or want more protein, I’d say replace the dinner vegetable dish with something with higher protein and replace the dried fruit snack with higher protein foods.

For more variation: you can switch around the snack with different foods, for example, mung bean sprouts (hah), roasted makhanas, oil-free popcorn, etc. If you can have eggs, then have eggs.

You can also cook the paneer differently; for example, instead of making parathas, you can stir fry it with vegetables or make a sandwich out of it.

Play around with it, have fun, and figure out what works for you in the long run. Remember, if you can’t stay consistent with a diet, it’s not a good diet for you.

If you need fewer calories, I say skip the snack meal with dried fruits, reduce ghee to 1 tsp per meal, and adjust food quantities to fit your caloric requirements. If you don’t know your caloric requirements, use this TDEE calculator to find a rough approximation.

If you want more calories, you can have another glass of milk with your dinner and have something along with your morning whey protein. Figure it out.

This diet plan was just for illustrative purposes.

You’ll need to buy a cheap weighing scale to help you measure your food while cooking. Don’t eyeball your food quantities, and use an app to track your diet. I use HealthifyMe – I find that it has the best database for Indian foods.

Hope this article was useful for you.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section.

Your man,

Harsh Strongman

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