There is a belief that the only way to increase your muscle mass is by consuming protein from animal sources such as beef, chicken, fish, etc.
But think for a moment about the powerful musculature of a horse or the imposing strength of a gorilla—totally herbivorous animals.
Can you build muscle mass by turning to other types of food, and would they provide you with the necessary amount of nutrients to get the muscular body you want?
Find out below.
Vegetarian or vegan?
Regarding the above questions, you can rest assured whether you are vegetarian or vegan: The answer is YES.
Of course, it is not the ideal option, because if it is already complicated to gain muscle mass for carnivores, being vegetarian, and especially vegan, even more so. It may be more difficult, but it is by no means impossible.
If you are vegetarian, that is, you consume eggs and dairy (ovo-lacto vegetarian), or perhaps you consume eggs, but not dairy, it is easier for you to have a proper diet focused on muscle gain.
Now, if you are vegan, it is essential that you deepen your knowledge of nutrition so that you get the protein and nutrients you need to maintain both optimal health and muscle.
The importance of protein
The problem to solve in this case is how to obtain the necessary proteins for our organism. The nutritional composition of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, cereals, and tubers, is mainly made up of carbohydrates and fats, and to a lesser extent of proteins.
Let's see: Proteins are composed of essential and non-essential amino acids. The first ones are those that we cannot produce by ourselves, and therefore we must get them in our diet. The latter are produced by our body.
It is necessary to look for food sources that provide us with all the essential amino acids we need daily.
The biological value of proteins
When we talk about biological value, we refer to the purity of a protein.
For example, lean meats, fish, eggs, cheeses, and milk contain the highest biological value. Vegetable proteins, on the other hand, have a lower biological value.
As vegans, it is a matter of learning how to combine foods correctly to obtain a protein of high biological value.
Another example: legumes (alfalfa, beans, peas) are deficient in the amino acid methionine but high in lysine. The opposite is true for cereals (rice, wheat). If we combine both foods, we take advantage of the complete protein. We will be ingesting a protein of high biological value.
A common problem in vegans/vegetarians
It often happens that when we want to consume the total calories we need from protein by combining vegetables, we probably end up exceeding the number of carbohydrates we require throughout the day. This also tends to cause us to ingest more calories than we need and increase our weight in fat when we want to gain muscle mass.
This is why we must plan our diet according to our daily requirements in order to achieve our goal.
How do I plan my diet?
Well, first, we suggest you go to a nutrition specialist, who will do a thorough evaluation to make personalized planning of your diet.
However, we can give you a guide to provide you with an idea of how to encourage muscle anabolism in your body if you want to minimize the number of animal products you ingest.
A person who wants to build muscle needs between 1.3 and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If we are talking about a person weighing 75 kilograms, he/she should ingest between 97.5 and 135 grams of protein per day.
As the quality of vegetable protein varies, it is recommended that vegans using a high-intensity training routine aim for the maximum daily protein intake, i.e., between 1.8 and 2 grams.
With a mistake-resistant, plant-based hyper-protein diet, you won't have to worry about less than optimal results.
Example of a plant-based high-protein diet
- 6 slices of bread = 10.5 grams of protein
- 2 glasses of soy milk of 200 ml each = 9.2 grams of protein
- 5 servings of vegetables and fruits (70 grams) = 8 grams of protein
- A handful of peanuts (30 grams) = 7.6 grams of protein
- 30 grams of lentils = 6.95 grams of protein
- 30 grams of rice = 2.17 grams of protein
- 50 grams of tofu = 4 grams of protein
- 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds (20 grams) = 4 grams of protein
- 50 grams of quinoa = 8.2 grams of protein
- 3 tablespoons wheat germ (30 grams) = 8.6 gram of protein
- 30 grams of oatmeal = 3.5 grams of protein
- 20 grams of dried spirulina (20 grams) = 11.6 grams of protein
- 100 grams of seitan = 24 grams of protein
TOTAL = 108.3 grams of protein
Properly combine each ingredient to achieve complete protein through supplementation.
Example: eat 6 slices of whole wheat bread with tofu for breakfast and drink soy milk.
Lunch lentils, rice stew, cooked vegetables, and sprinkle wheat germ.
Dinner grilled seitan with quinoa and vegetable salad and dried spirulina.
Combine cereal with legumes, seeds with nuts to get a sufficient quantity and high quality of protein.
- Follow a good training program based on hypertrophy.
- Consume enough protein daily (between 1.3 to 2 grams). Get essential amino acids with Amino Performance https://www.iconnutrition.com/products/amino-performance-30-serv?variant=21442692022357
- Consume more calories than you expend. So eating at maintenance with a small surplus of 5-10% total calories.
- Take a multivitamin that includes vitamin B12. Check out Icon Nutrition's Vitamin B12 https://www.iconnutrition.com/products/vitamin-b12-100-tablets?variant=32897133314133
- Get more sunshine (vitamin D).
- Take 5 grams of creatine daily (creatine is present in red meat and helps build muscle mass). Boost your strength with Icon Nutrition's Creatine Performance: https://www.iconnutrition.com/products/creatine-performance-30-serv?variant=21442669314133
- Consume healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, sesame, peanut, walnuts, and almonds. These help hormone synthesis and nutrient absorption and give you the calories you need.
- If you are vegetarian, take whey protein (the one with the highest biological value) to get your daily protein requirements. Check out Icon Nutrition's Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder: https://www.iconnutrition.com/pages/grass-fed-whey-protein
- If you are vegan, try taking pea protein powder, which is usually mixed with rice protein and is high in leucine.
- Get plenty of rest.
Being vegetarian or vegan is not incompatible with your goal of getting stronger and having a more powerful physique.
Nor is it any more or less healthy. It is possible to be healthy on a plant-based diet, just as it is possible to be unhealthy as an omnivore—it all depends on making the right food choices.