How to Build Muscle as a Vegan: Your Complete Guide

You are reading this page for a reason. And most likely that’s because you want to know if it’s possible for vegans to build muscle. So let’s get that out of the way.

Think of elephants, gorillas, and rhinos. They are the biggest and strongest animals on the planet. And they are plant-eaters. This can only mean one thing – meat is not essential for building strength and muscle mass.

So yes, absolutely. Vegans can build muscle and strength just like meat-eaters. Got that? Okay, good. But before we discuss how vegans do it, let’s try to answer a few questions first.

What does vegan mean?

The word vegan refers to anything that’s free of animal products: no meat, milk, eggs, wool, leather, and so forth. That means food is not the only thing than can be described as vegan. Some personal and household products can also be vegan, like shampoo, cosmetics and even your couch.

Vegan also refers to people who actively avoid the use of animal products for food, clothing, or any other purpose.

Why do people go vegan?

People choose to become vegan for a number of reasons. It can be because they’re passionate about the ethical issues of animal rights or environmental protection. It can also be religious, nutritional, or simple personal preference. At present, there are hundreds of millions of vegans worldwide and the number is growing.

Can you be a vegan based on diet alone?

The answer is YES. The overwhelming majority of animal use associated with our lives has to do with our food choices. So no matter how far you’d further take the vegan concept, it makes sense to begin the transition by actively choosing not to eat any animal products or anything derived from animal products.

So now, the big question: How do vegans build muscle?

Great physiques take time and commitment, regardless if you’re vegan or not. But here’s the good news: Studies show that if you’re getting the right amount of protein per day (0.6 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight), it doesn’t matter what form it comes in—plant, animal, or supplement.

Aside from the obvious— that a vegan diet is totally meat-free — the process and objectives are basically the same as with any other diet. Just follow the simple formula for successful muscle protein synthesis: Weight training plus adequate protein— that is, getting enough protein and spreading intake throughout the day.

To build muscle you need to take in more calories than you burn metabolically and through exercise. You will also need to create the demand for more muscle through hard training and adequate recovery. Lastly, you need to do these things consistently, day in and day out, long enough for change to take place.

Where do vegans get their protein?

One thing that annoys vegans the most is when people automatically assume they’re not getting enough protein just because they don’t eat meat, eggs, and dairy. It’s simply not true.  There are plenty of protein-rich vegan foods that, when prepared correctly, are just as delicious as any juicy steak or cheese omelet.

NUTS – Nuts of all types also pack a hefty dose of protein. Toss a handful in stir-fries, snack on them solo, or make your own trail mix. They’re also a good way to squeeze in bone-fortifying calcium into your diet without indulging in dairy.

BEANS – Beans are the second-highest source of protein after meat. All bean varieties (black, pinto, navy, kidney, etc.) average about 15 grams of protein, and they’re loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

LEGUMES – Think lentils, peas, chickpeas, and soybeans. They’re low in fat, have no cholesterol and are the best sources of protein for vegans. Cooked lentils boast nearly 18 grams of protein; add the brown variety to soups and the green to salads for an added boost.

SOY MILK – Whole-food sources of soy, like soy milk, provide a quality source of protein and other nutrients like calcium. And don’t worry, drinking some regularly isn’t going to lower your testosterone levels down to that of a little boy, or make you grow man boobs.

CHIA SEEDS – Loaded with protein, good fat, and omega 3s, chia seeds are one of the greatest food options for you to snack on or add to dishes. One tablespoon of chia seeds is 60 calories and yields three grams of protein. Sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt or add to smoothies for a boost of protein.

HEMP – Hemp is another word for the cannabis plant, but specifically refers to varieties that contain little to no Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Thirty grams of hemp seed provides about 10 grams of protein. Add it to Greek yogurt or use it to top a salad.

Are vegan protein powders and bars good for you?

It’s better not to be overly reliant on protein powders and energy bars and to stay within the realm of natural foods instead, as much as possible.  While these are vegan, they are still packaged foods, which come with additives and preservatives. Powders and bars can also produce unpleasant side effects such as bloating and gas.

Vegan athletes: meat-free and strong

If the elephants, gorillas and rhinos that I mentioned earlier weren’t enough to convince you that it is not necessary to eat meat to build muscle and strength, let me tell you that many athletes have decided to go vegan with outstanding success. Many of them have also found that a plant-based diet delivers more energy, better sleep and, they believe, helps extend their careers. Among them are David Meyer, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion; Scott Jurek, an ultramarathon runner; and Mac Danzig, an MMA fighter. You can read about them here.

Ready to make the change?

Plant-based nutrition is known to improve long-term health. If you’re hesitant to make this healthy lifestyle change only because you thought it wasn’t possible to build muscle on a vegan diet, now’s the time to make the change. Here’s to a great start of making some new plant-based muscle gains!

What do you think?