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Vegetarians and Muscle Mass

Q2: I’ve recently decided to go vegetarian, but I’m worried about losing muscle mass. What can I do to prevent that from happening?

A: Those who exercise — especially those who lift weights — need approximately 50 to 75 percent more protein than those who don’t. Fitness industry professionals argue about exactly how much is enough, but a good rule of thumb is 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram (the equivalent of 2.2 pounds) of body weight. So, a 200-pound person’s protein range would be 110 to 164 grams of protein per day (200 ÷ 2.2 x 1.2 = 110; 200 ÷ 2.2 x 1.8 = 164). This is totally doable even on a vegetarian diet, says Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at the University of California at Davis. “The only time I see athletic vegetarians struggle is when they don’t have a protein source every time they eat — shoot for at least 20 to 25 grams each meal.”

As for where that protein should come from, for lacto-ovo vegetarians (who are still down with eating animal products, just not meat), Applegate suggests Greek yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese and eggs. For full-on vegans, Applegate heartily endorses soy. “Soy is as good a protein source as chicken or fish,” says Applegate. “The research supports this — any undesirable effects tend to occur when you try to isolate the isoflavones through supplementation. With the protein and fiber in food, there are no problems.” But other experts counter that soy is a common allergen — and very often genetically modified — and suggest using a combo of rice and yellow pea protein instead.

Applegate allays the common worry about getting enough “complete” proteins (found most often in animal products, and created through veggie pairings such as beans and corn), saying that what you eat over the course of the day naturally pairs up in your system to form such proteins. But, she notes, you can’t eat only beans day in and day out — variety is important. “The strength training you do will help you retain lean muscle, too,” she adds. “Just don’t dramatically cut back on calories when you go meat-free, and you’ll be fine.”

Spot Reduction

Q3: This may seem like a weird question, but how do I lose fat from my armpits?

A. While that may seem like an oddly specific question, most people have a particular area of their bodies they wish would just cooperate already. If armpit sculpting tickles your fancy, so be it. But I have to warn you: Spot reduction is largely a myth, so to improve the pits, one must improve the whole package.

“There are two remedies: Lose fat or build muscle,” says Rachel Cosgrove, author of The Female Body Breakthrough: The Revolutionary Strength-Training Plan for Losing Fat and Getting the Body You Want. Ideally, you’ll do both: Eat unprocessed foods (including protein, veggies, fruits and good fats) to prime your body to burn fat, and do regular, high-intensity exercise to boost metabolism and improve body composition.

What you can’t do is choose where you shed fat first, or change where you’re genetically predisposed to carry it. If you’re already pretty fit and lean, your upper arms might just happen to be one of the last places that you, individually, see a difference. But the good news is, if you lose enough fat, it will eventually come off your stubborn spots, too, says Cosgrove.

Meanwhile, you can add shape and reduce jiggle by strengthening the muscles in your back, shoulders and arms. This will improve your posture and give your arms (and armpits) definition where once there was none. Cosgrove says exercises such as pushups, pull-ups, body-weight rows and overhead presses will do the trick.

Fitness Fix: Avoiding Sit-Up Back Strain

In your quest for sexy abs, you may be jeopardizing the health of your spine.

By now, you’ve probably heard that conventional sit-ups are not the most effective ab exercise in the world. What you may not know is that they can be bad for your back.

Our vertebrae are separated by flexible, shock-absorbing spinal discs. When we flex the spine and squish those discs repeatedly, it can cause a disc bulge or herniation. These conditions can create pain, weakness, and tingling in the back and legs, lasting for weeks or even months. “When you do sit-ups, you’re replicating a very potent injury mechanism,” explains Perry Nickelston, DC, founder of Stop Chasing Pain, a sports rehabilitation center in Ramsey, N.J. “The spine can withstand wear and tear, but only to a certain point.”

While you may feel the so-called burn in your abs when you do a sit-up, you’re mostly working the psoas (a hip-flexor muscle), explains Nickelston. “The psoas is already tight in most people because we sit so much. So does it make sense to sit on your butt all day and then do sit-ups? Crazy when ya think about it.”

Plus, he notes: “Sit-ups only work your abs in one plane of movement, which leads to a boxy look and no real development of the side abs, like the external obliques or transverses abdominis, which give you a lean, tapered appearance.” His advice: “Train several vectors of motion, including rotational, diagonal, and side to side.” And, include more hip and glute work so your abs naturally get more developed. “One of my all-time favorites is a walking lunge with a twist,” adds Nickelston. Try another fave, Stability Ball Russian Twists (below), for three sets of 15 repetitions per side twice a week.

Stability Ball Russian Twists

Stability Ball Russian Twists

Stability Ball Russian TwistsStability Ball Russian Twists

[vc_column_text• Sit on a stability ball with your feet flat on the floor.

• Lean backward and walk yourself out along the ball until your shoulders and upper back make contact on the ball. Your thighs and torso should be parallel to the floor. Your feet should be hip-width apart. Pull your shoulder blades down and together to make firm contact with the ball. Maintain this position throughout the exercise.

• Extend your arms above your chest, pressing your hands together.

• Stiffen your torso by contracting your core muscles to stabilize your spine and slowly rotate your torso to one side, keeping your hands together and arms straight. Make sure the majority of your rotation comes from your thoracic (middle) spine rather than from your lumbar (lower) spine. Keep your feet firmly on the floor, and don’t let your hips droop. Do 15 alternating repetitions per side.

• Add more of a challenge by moving your feet together or using resistance by holding a medicine ball.[/vc_column_text]

Jen Sinkler

Jen Sinkler, PCC, RKC-II, is a fitness writer and personal trainer based in Minneapolis. Her website is

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