There are lots of negative theories and/or lack of confidence as to whether a plant-based diet can really help build muscle, with the question;
Can you really build muscle and get stronger without eating animal products?
The answer is a resounding YES. More and more athletes – including bodybuilders and power-lifters are turning to a plant-based diet to build a muscular physique.
Can You Build Muscle Eating A Plant-Based Diet?
As evidence builds and more and more people convert to a plant-based lifestyle, athletes are showing that we no longer associate bodybuilding with just meat, eggs, and gallons of milk.
Increased research around protein intake, has allowed people to understand that we don’t need to be eating quite as much as was once encouraged, but also that high amounts of protein can also be easily gained from plant-based sources such as legumes and grains. Even the recommended amount of protein intake has moderated over time– it’s still the key macronutrient for muscle growth and repair, but people are beginning to understand they no longer need to ingest protein in such crazy amounts to reach their goals.
All of this is good news for plant-based diets. We now know more than ever it’s not imperative to eat animal protein to gain muscle, and that a more balanced approach and intake of protein, carbohydrates and fats is a smarter approach.
You absolutely can build muscle eating a plant-based diet. A diet without animal products can provide the macro and micronutrients your body needs to train, recover, and build strength and mass .
So what elements are needed to build muscle?
Protein is a crucial factor in gaining muscle, but it’s not the only element. Proteins (which are made up of amino acids) help the body respond to the training stimulus by laying down new muscle tissue and maintaining existing muscle. It’s important to ensure you get a wide spectrum of amino acids, particularly the 9 essential amino acids across your daily protein intake.
Putting your muscles under stress through training will have them respond by growing in size and strength. All kinds of training are useful for a training response, but strength and resistance training are key if your goal is muscle gain.
You need calories to build muscle. Not only will calories give your body the energy it needs to train hard and keep making progress, but these additional units of energy will allow your body to lay down new muscle tissue.
Carbohydrates and Fats
Protein is key for muscle gain, but carbohydrates and healthy fats have their place too. Carbohydrates are an important energy source for training, and fats have an important role in hormone health, immune strength, repair and recovery. Plant-based foods have a better balance of protein, carbs, and fats than most animal products do.
Training is important but so is rest and recovery. Training response actually happens when you recover between sessions. So be sure to get enough sleep, take rest days, and program de-loads if you want to really make muscular gains.
The Best Plant-Based Foods for Muscle Gain
- Tempeh, seitan, tofu and Quorn products
- All vegetables including leafy greens and root vegetables
- Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains including rice, oats, and quinoa
- Nuts and seeds, plus nut/seed milks, butter and oils
- Beans (dried and canned), soybeans (edamame), pulses, lentils and legumes
- A quality plant-based protein powder like CNP Plant – a blend of four plant proteins
8 Examples of Plant-Based Athletes
- World champion heavyweight boxer David ‘The Hayemaker’ Haye
- MMA fighter James Brett Wilk
- Powerlifters Yolanda Presswood and Hulda B Waage
- Crossfit athlete Ed Bauer
- Tennis Champions Venus Williams and Novak Djokovic
…..and many more!
Key Nutritional Considerations
for Building Muscle
Without Animal Protein
Get enough protein
It isn’t difficult to eat sufficient protein from a plant-based diet, but it pays to keep an eye on your intake. Most plant proteins are paired with either carbohydrates or fats think lentils and pulses (protein and carbs), or nuts and seeds (protein and fats). It is more difficult to get pure protein from a plant-based diet. That’s where a good plant protein powder will come in useful.
For the best muscle-building plant-based diet, get creative with your meals. Don’t get stuck in a rut of the same recipes and go-to lunches. Combine different protein sources with whole grains, vegetables, and complex carbs to keep your diet full of micronutrients with a wide spectrum of amino acids.
Calories and protein aren’t the only things you need to look at. Food quality is also a key consideration for building muscle. The more whole foods you can eat, the more nutritious your diet will be. This means more bang for your buck with every mouthful, plus vital support for your immune system and energy levels. Try to avoid too many man-made and processed vegan foods. Focus on vegetables, berries, fruits, pulses, beans, lentils, legumes, root veggies and whole-grains plus nuts and seeds (and their oils).