If you want to know the facts about the pescatarian diet, and how to build muscle and lose fat without eating meat, then you want to read this article.
- The pescatarian diet is a vegetarian diet that includes seafood, and sometimes dairy and eggs.
- The pescatarian diet is higher in some nutrients than vegan and other vegetarian diets.
- As long as you manage your diet properly, you’ll have no trouble building muscle and losing fat while eating a pescatarian diet.
Plant-based diets are more popular than ever, and for good reason.
Research shows that people who eat an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains tend to live longer and stay healthier than those who eat little.
You probably know this and, understandably, are considering a major overhaul to your diet, but aren’t wholly sold on the idea of cutting out animal products entirely.
Well, the short answer to each of those questions is “yes,” but it’s not necessarily easy because certain animal foods make it much easier to improve your body composition and stay healthy.
That’s why more and more people are turning to “modified” vegetarian diets like the pescatarian diet, which is simply a vegetarian diet that includes seafood.
Some pescatarians also eat eggs and dairy, as well, which is technically known as “lacto-ovo-pescatarianism.”
As you’ll see, pescatarian diets require a little more fine-tuning than regular omnivorous diets, but if you understand and address the downsides and limitations, you’ll have no problem using this diet to get that lean, muscular, and healthy body that you really desire.
By the end of this article, you’re going to understand the pros and cons of a pescatarian diet, the most common mistakes that stop people from building muscle on a pescatarian diet, and how to use this diet to maximize muscle growth, fat loss, and strength gains.
Let’s start by defining exactly what a pescatarian diet is.
- What Is the Pescatarian Diet?
- The 3 Major Benefits of the Pescatarian Diet
- 1. The Pescatarian Diet Is Generally Associated With Better Health
- 2. The Pescatarian Diet Is High In Key Nutrients
- 3. The Pescatarian Diet Is Easier to Follow Than Strict Veganism
- The 3 Major Problems with the Pescatarian Diet
- 1. It Can be High in Mercury
- 2. It Can Be Lower in Certain Key Nutrients
- 3. It’s Harder to Follow than a Plant-Centric Omnivorous Diet
- How Good Is the Pescatarian Diet for Losing Weight?
- How Good Is the Pescatarian Diet for Building Muscle?
- Fish & Seafood
- Dairy & Eggs
- Plant Proteins
- The Best Supplements for Pescatarians
- The Bottom Line on the Pescatarian Diet
- What's your take on the pescatarian diet? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Table of Contents
Do a Google search for “pescatarian diet,” and you’ll find endless opinions on what you’re supposed to eat.
Some say that you can only eat plants and fish. Others say you can eat plants and any kind of seafood, like mussels, shrimp, etc. And still others say that you can even throw eggs and dairy into the mix and call yourself a pescatarian.
Well, to cut through the confusion, let’s use the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition for a pescatarian:
“One whose diet includes fish but no other meat.”
So, really anyone who follows a plant-based diet and eats seafood but no poultry, beef, pork, or flesh from other land animals, is following a pescatarian diet. Most pescatarians also eat eggs and dairy, but that’s not always the case.
The term “pescatarian” comes from combining the Italian word for fish, “pesce,” with the word “vegetarian.”
Some people also refer to this style of eating as “vegequarianism,” which is a combination of the words “vegetarian” and “aquatic.”
There are three main benefits to following a pescatarian diet:
- It reduces your risk of developing a number of diseases, like cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
- It’s high in nutrients that many people’s diets lack.
- It’s easier for most people to follow than strict plant-based diets.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into each of these points.
The scientific literature clearly shows that, on the whole, people who follow a pescatarian diet tend to be healthier than omnivores.
A multitude of studies have found that people who get the majority of their calories from plants have a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and just about every other modern ailment.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should all stop eating all types of meat, though.
Contrary to what you might have heard in books or documentaries du jour, the reason pescatarians tend to be healthier isn’t necessarily because they avoid meat. Instead, their superior health appears to be due to three factors:
- Cutting out meat eliminates many foods that are high in calories, saturated fat, and potentially unhealthy ingredients like trans fats, and increases fiber intake.
- Eating more fish is tied to a number of health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease (which are largely thanks to higher omega-3 intakes).
- People who follow pescatarian diets also tend to live healthier lifestyles on the whole–they smoke less, exercise more, and eat less junk food and more fruits and vegetables.
In other words, pescatarianism is especially appealing to many health-conscious people who are naturally more conscientious about what they put into their bodies and why, and that partially explains why pescatarians tend to be healthier than your average omnivores.
If you’re currently eating like most Americans, switching to a pescatarian diet will drastically increase your micronutrient intake.
For example, pescatarians get more vitamin A, B2, C, and E, and other nutrients like carotene, calcium, folate, phosphorus, and fiber than meat-eaters. They also eat less cholesterol and sodium (which aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they’re generally signs of high junk food consumption).
Thanks to their larger than average fish consumption, pescatarians also get more omega-3 fatty acids than omnivores, which benefits the body in many ways, including…
- Reducing the risk of disease (heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in particular)
- Decreasing systemic inflammation
- Improving mood, cognitive performance, and brain health
- Helping prevent weight gain
- Optimizing fat loss
- Accelerating muscle growth
The reason for this is some fish are especially abundant in two crucial types of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Research shows that a combined intake of 500 milligrams to 1.8 grams of EPA and DHA per day is adequate for maintaining sufficiency, but additional health benefits can be seen up to a combined intake of 6 grams per day.
A single serving of fresh or frozen salmon has 0.7 to 1.5 grams of total omega-3s, so it doesn’t take much to hit the recommended amounts.
Vegan and vegetarian diets have their merits, but many people find them very hard to stick to.
Not only do they have to give up some of their favorite foods, they have to get creative to get enough protein every day if they exercise regularly and they often struggle to find appropriate foods when eating out and socializing.
The pescatarian diet, on the other hand, is more inclusive and flexible and thus more enjoyable and easier to stick to.
So, the bottom line is this:
The pescatarian diet is leagues ahead of how most people eat. If everyone in America were to become pescatarians tomorrow, we would see a long-term decline in just about every major disease and dysfunction that currently plagues us.
That said, it does have a few drawbacks you need to understand and address.
The three main problems with the pescatarian diet are…
- It can be high in mercury.
- It can be lower in key nutrients than a diet that includes meat.
- It’s harder to follow than a plant-centric omnivorous diet.
Let’s start with the first issue.
If you work out regularly, you’re going to have to eat a lot of fish to get enough protein.
That’s good for getting plenty of omega-3s and other nutrients, but many fish also have surprisingly high levels of mercury.
This isn’t a problem if you’re only eating a few servings of fish per week, but it can be unhealthy when you’re eating two, three, or four servings of fish per day, as some pescatarians do. For example, high intake of mercury can cause nerve and brain damage, especially to developing babies, and DNA damage.
The good news is that most of the fish that people eat on a regular basis aren’t that high in mercury, with the worst being the following:
- Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
- King Mackerel
- Bigeye Tuna
- Orange Roughy
- Spanish Mackerel
- Tuna (every other kind)
And the seafood with the least mercury? They are…
- Canned salmon
- Fresh or frozen salmon
Generally speaking, the smaller the fish, the less contaminated it is due to the principles of biomagnification.
You may have also heard that many fish contain toxins like dioxins and PCBs. While that’s true, the levels in fish and seafood are similar to that of other animal products, and so small that the benefits of eating more seafood far outweigh the risks.
As long as you minimize your intake of the fish that are highest in mercury and prioritize the fish that are lowest, you should be fine.
Avoiding all poultry and meat reduces your intake of several key nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron.
It can be hard to get enough vitamin D on a strict plant-based diet because the primary dietary sources are fatty fish, fortified dairy foods, and breakfast cereals (and most people in general don’t get enough sun exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels).
The pescatarian diet is slightly better in this regard because some seafood is high in vitamin D, like salmon, herring, and sardines, but other kinds like shrimp, clams, and tuna have very little.
So, if you’re going to follow the pescatarian diet, then it’s a good idea to make sure you eat several portions of salmon per week or supplement with vitamin D.
Another thing you’ll want to watch out for on the pescatarian diet is a vitamin B12 deficiency, which is common when animal foods are cut from one’s diet.
Most fish have very little B12, but sardines, mackerel, and salmon are good sources along with dairy and eggs. If you aren’t going to eat any of those foods regularly, you may want to take a B12 supplement.
Despite what you may have heard, pescatarians actually get more iron in their diet than most meat-eaters. The problem is that they get the majority of their iron from plants, which only contain non-heme iron, which isn’t absorbed as well and doesn’t confer the same health benefits as the kind found in meat, called heme iron.
The easy solution here is regularly eating oysters, clams, shrimp, and other shellfish, which tend to be higher in iron than other kinds of seafood. You can also try cooking more of your food in cast iron cookware, which increases the iron content of your meals.
Think about how many popular cuisines and dishes include plentiful amounts of beef, pork, poultry, and dairy.
A rather long list, right?
Accordingly, the more of those foods that you cut out of your diet, the harder and harder it is to keep your meal plans interesting. And while a pescatarian diet offers more choices than a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s still far more constrained than an omnivorous diet.
Luckily, with the right recipes, you can keep things fresh and interesting. Here are some of our most popular vegetarian, vegan, and seafood recipes:
- 20 Surprisingly Easy Sushi Recipes That You Can Make at Home
- 20 Easy Vegetarian Recipes So Good You Won’t Miss the Meat
- 20 Healthy Shrimp Recipes You Have to Try This Summer
- 10 Canned Salmon Recipes You’ll Want to Eat Every Week
- 20 Meatless High-Protein Recipes That You’ve Got to Try
- 20 Healthy & Delicious Seafood Recipes You’ll Love to Eat
- 20 Healthy Salmon Recipes That Are Easy to Make and Oh-So-Good
(Not all of these are 100% pescatarian, but you can easily substitute meat with another protein).
So, in terms of health, it’s really hard to poke holes in the pescatarian diet. Now let’s see how effective it is at helping us lose fat and build muscle.
As I’ve written about many times before, weight loss is about how many calories you eat, not what foods you eat.
The bottom line is this:
If you want to significantly decrease your body fat percentage, you must feed your body less energy than it burns.
When you do this, your body will slowly whittle down its fat stores to obtain the energy it needs.
None of that changes when you follow a pescatarian diet. Energy balance is still king.
A pescatarian diet can help in your weight loss efforts, though, by making it easier to eat fewer calories, snack less, and make sure that you’re losing fat and not muscle. These are several of the reasons why research shows that pescatarians generally maintain a lower body weight than regular meat eaters.
So, while I’m not generally a fan of cutting out whole food groups to lose weight, if you’re going to follow a more restrictive eating plan, the pescatarian diet isn’t a bad choice.
That said, if you’re going to get the results that you really want, you’re going to need to know how to create a pescatarian meal plan that works.
Check out this article to learn how to do just that:
When it comes to building muscle, decades of anecdotal and scientific evidence have proven that certain elements of your diet and training are more important than others.
For example, if you want to maximize muscle growth…
- You want to ensure you’re not in a calorie deficit.
- You want to progressively overload your muscles.
- You want to focus on compound exercises.
- You want to limit your cardio.
- You want to eat plenty of carbs.
- And you want to eat enough protein.
As long as you’re checking off all of those boxes, you’ll have no trouble building muscle following a pescatarian diet.
The part that many pescatarians struggle with, though, is that last point.
Dozens and dozens of well-designed and well-executed studies have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that a high-protein diet is superior for building muscle and losing fat than a low-protein one.
In terms of an exact amount, research shows that optimal protein intake for bodybuilding is between 0.8 grams and 1.2 grams per pound of body weight per day.
For a 200 pound man, that’s 160 to 240 grams of protein per day–a huge amount by most people’s standards.
Fortunately, with a bit of planning, it’s not hard to meet your protein requirements on a pescatarian diet.
There are many different kinds of seafood to choose from, some of which you probably haven’t considered.
Here are some of my favorites:
Fish & Seafood
If you simply get the majority of your daily protein from high-quality sources like these, you’ll have no trouble gaining muscle and strength on a pescatarian diet.
You don’t have to supplement while on a pescatarian diet, but I highly recommend that you consider it.
First, while you can get all of your protein from whole foods, this can be easier said than done, and a high-quality protein powder makes it much easier.
In terms of the specific type of protein powder, I would recommend a whey isolate protein like WHEY+:
Or a plant-based protein like THRIVE:
Second, as you now know, the most commonly lacking nutrients on plant-based diets are omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D and B12.
We also recall that many fish are high in omega-3s, which makes it easy to hit the minimum requirement intake, but if you want to enjoy benefits associated with higher levels of intake, including increased muscle growth and reduced muscle soreness, you won’t be able to rely on just seafood alone. To reach those levels, you’d have to eat 4 to 8 servings of salmon per day.
That’s why it’s much easier to just take a fish oil supplement, like TRITON:
And to make sure that you get enough vitamin D and B12 (as well as every other essential vitamin and mineral), I recommend a well-formulated multivitamin, like TRIUMPH:
At bottom, you can think of the pescatarian diet as a flexible vegetarian diet. It gives you the health benefits of a plant-based diet as well as some of the nutritional benefits of eating meat.
That’s why the pescatarian diet is generally associated with better health and a higher nutrient intake, and why most people find it easier to stick to than a strict vegan diet. It’s also better than veganism for improving body composition because you have more options for high-quality protein.
That said, pescatarianism does have a few drawbacks.
Some fish contain high amounts of mercury, and if you eat too much of them, you can harm your health.
Going pescatarian can also reduce your intake of several key nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron.
Finally, because the pescatarian diet involves eliminating meat from your diet, most people find it harder to stick to than a plant-centric omnivorous diet.
These disadvantages are easily mitigated though by simply limiting your intake of mercury-rich fish, supplementation, and getting creative in the kitchen.