There are countless misconceptions about health and fitness when it comes to following a vegan diet, with one of the most prominent topics being how realistic it is to build muscle.
Some people in the fitness world will tell you that you can’t build a strong body without consuming animal products. Even with overwhelming amounts of evidence to disprove this idea, this is still an annoying opinion that you’re likely to hear.
It can be difficult to differentiate between fact and opinion when it comes to nutrition theories. Fortunately, there is a large amount of research on the topic, and I’ve covered some of the most basic principles of veganism and bodybuilding in this article. I hope that the information is easy to digest, but if you have any questions then please feel free to contact me anytime.
So, if you’re following a vegan diet (or thinking about getting started with a vegan diet) whilst also wanting to increase your muscle mass, then this post is for you.
Bodybuilding can be a difficult process to get results with, regardless of whether you are vegan or not. However, if you take the time to understand what you need to put into your body to get the results that you want, then there is no reason that a vegan diet will hinder your goal of getting bigger.
What Even Are Muscles?
Your muscles are made up of two different types of filaments – actin and myosin. Both of these filaments are proteins. And, as with all proteins, actin and myosin are made up of amino acids linked together.
In order for muscles to grow, then more actin and myosin needs to be created. This can only happen when amino acids are joined together inside of a muscle.
I’m going to get more into amino acids later on in this post, but for now let’s take a look at how much protein you REALLY need to maintain your muscle and to build more.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
It’s a scientifically proven fact that a high protein diet is more effective for building muscle than a low protein diet. However, the amount of protein that people believe they need is usually much higher than the actual figure.
A person who IS NOT trying to bulk up will generally need to consume 0.8 grams of protein every day for every kilogram of body mass that they have.
For example, as I weigh 60kg, I would times 60 by 0.8 to figure out how much protein I should eat every day.
60 x 0.8 = 48g of protein
Wondering what 48g of protein looks like?
It is as simple as:
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa – 8g of protein
- 1 cup of cooked oats – 5g of protein
- 200g of tofu – 16g of protein
- 1 cup of boiled lentils – 9g of protein
- 1 cup of cooked chickpeas – 9g of protein
Actually that adds up to 47g, but you get my point. It’s not a lot of food and you could easily include this much protein in your diet every day.
Now if we consider that in order to build muscle we more or less need to double the amount of protein that we consume, then my 60kg needs to be multiplied by 1.6 in order to figure out my new protein requirement.
60 x 1.6 = 96g of protein
96g of protein might look like:
- 100g of seitan – 25g of protein
- 100g of cooked edamame – 11g of protein
- 177g of cooked kidney beans – 15g of protein
- 100g of green peas – 5g of protein
- 75g of boiled lentils – 9g of protein
- 165g of cooked chickpeas – 9g of protein
- 2 tablespoons of spirulina – 8g of protein
- 230ml of soy milk – 8g of protein
- 42g of chia seeds – 6g of protein
It is also possible to get a dose of additional protein by choosing to supplement with a shake. A typical vegan protein shake will provide around 19g of protein, making it really easy for you to hit your quota.
If you’re looking to add a new vegan protein powder to your diet, then check out Reflex Nutrition. Use promo code ‘PTCOE122’ for 20% off your purchase.
Here are some other plant-based foods that you can choose for their protein content:
- Brussels sprouts – 3.4g of protein per 100g
- Broccoli – 2.4g of protein per 100g
- Sweet potato – 1.6g of protein per 100g
- Courgette – 1.2g of protein per 100g
- Avocado – 2g of protein per 100g
- Hemp seeds – 32g of protein per 100g
- Almonds – 21g of protein per 100g
- Cashew nuts – 18g of protein per 100g
- Hazelnuts – 15g of protein per 100g
- Walnuts – 15g of protein per 100g
Arguably the best time to consume additional protein is immediately after a workout. It can be additionally helpful if you also consume complex carbohydrates as you take in this portion of protein. For example, a banana and a handful of mixed nuts would be a quick and simple option.
Consuming this combo of protein and carbs after a workout really helps to replenish your glycogen stores (which are being used up when you exercise), and to give your body the fuel it needs after a period of strenuous physical activity. This combination of protein and carbs will help to limit the amount of muscle protein breakdown, whilst also increasing muscle growth and enhancing recovery time.
A Quick Warning About Too Much Protein:
If you are consuming more than 2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day then this could actually lead to weight gain (fat not muscle). Excess protein in the body has also been linked to increased levels of calcium leaving the body when you urinate. This is bad news for the health of your bones, among other things!
Back to Amino Acids
As I mentioned before, we need amino acids in order to build more actin and myosin, which in turn enables us to build bigger muscles.
There are two different types of amino acids – essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.
Essential Amino Acids – The body can’t make essential amino acids by itself, so we must get them from dietary sources. There are nine essential amino acids.
The two amino acids that arguably you should pay the most attention to when following a vegan diet are lysine and methionine.
Lysine and methionine aren’t found in large quantities in many plant-based foods, however, if you deliberately opt for foods that it is contained within then you shouldn’t have any problem getting enough each day.
Some of the best dietary sources of lysine are:
- Black beans
- Soy milk
- Pumpkin seeds
Some of the best dietary sources of methionine are:
- Sunflower seeds
Non-Essential Amino Acids – The body can produce this type of amino acid, and it is therefore not as important to pay close attention to getting enough through your diet.
Set Realistic Expectations
Even if you figure your diet out and challenge your muscles regularly with workouts, then there is still no guarantee that you are going to build muscle at the rate you might expect.
Your ability to build muscle will also be dependant on genetic factors, as well as the types of exercise that you are doing. It is also important to mix up your workouts regularly so that you are pushing your body in different ways.
Regardless of how hard we work out and how well we eat, the majority of us are not going to end up looking like vegan bodybuilder Patrik Baboumian, aka Germany’s strongest man in 2011, aka the guy I’m fan-girling over in the pic below, anytime soon. BUT we can get stronger, get bigger, and feel better – all in the absence of animal products.
On veganism and fitness, Patrik has the following to say,
“This is a message to all those out there who think that you need animal products to be fit and strong. Almost two years after becoming vegan I am stronger than ever before and I am still improving day by day. Don’t listen to those self proclaimed nutrition gurus and the supplement industry trying to tell you that you need meat, eggs and dairy to get enough protein. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources and your body is going to thank you for stopping feeding it with dead-food. Go vegan and feel the power!”
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