How to build muscle while eating a plant-based diet

May 16, 2023

Muscle building is hard work. Switching to a vegan diet can be challenging, too.

Are you doing both simultaneously? This can be overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be.

When approached in a certain way, eating only protein derived from plants is just as effective at building muscle as protein derived from animals for anyone, including bodybuilders, athletes, and the average person.

Here’s how.

Amino Acids, Protein, and Making Muscle

Let’s start with the basics. How does your body gain muscle?

Healthline reported that Megan Hilbert of Top Nutrition Coaching told Healthline: “When you do weight-bearing exercises, tiny tears in the muscle fibers are created, which leads to increased inflammation and blood supply to affected areas.”

Hilbert said, “This will bring a lot of substances that can help to repair and grow muscle tissue.”

The protein is a substance that belongs to this group.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Twenty amino acids are essential for maintaining healthy body functioning.

All the amino acids your body requires are found in meat from animals. Plants do not contain the essential amino acids your body needs.

Plant-based foods do not contain all essential amino acids. It is important to be careful when selecting the ingredients for your meals.

Because muscle-building relies on adequate protein availability, anyone who wants to gain muscle mass should pay extra attention.

Muscle building isn’t only for athletes.

It’s essential to build muscle mass, but it isn’t the only purpose of protein.

They are also the building blocks for cartilage and bone. “They also play a role in immune function, hormone health, maintaining pH and fluid equilibrium, driving metabolic reactions, and maintaining the balance of our body’s fluids and pH,” said Hilbert.

Protein is essential for muscle building, and not only bodybuilders or athletes should consider it.

As we age, all of us begin to lose muscle mass. It starts in your 40s and continues to get worse as you age. This can affect metabolism, endurance, and balance. Hilbert says that we should all be conscious of the importance of maintaining or even increasing muscle mass as we age.

Stephanie Nelson is a registered dietician with MyFitnessPal and a nutrition expert. She told Healthline that she agreed.

Nelson said, “Our muscle fibers are constantly breaking down and must be replaced.”

Nelson said, “Everyone builds muscle daily — even if you aren’t trying to gain muscle mass. You must meet your daily protein requirements to avoid muscle loss.”

Kate Cohen is a registered dietitian with the Ellison Clinic, part of the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine, and Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. She told Healthline other groups may have different protein and muscle needs.

Cohen explained that decreased estrogen after Menopause may also lead to muscle loss. Therefore, consuming high-quality protein is essential for many people, not just weightlifters.

Cohen continued, “[Protein Sources are] a concern to people who wish to lose weight or who cannot tolerate a diet high in fiber.

Some diseases, such as cancer and emphysema, can cause a decreased appetite.

How can you ensure that you are building muscle and eating plant-based food?

How much protein can you eat on a vegan diet?

Hilbert said that research had shown no difference between omnivorous and plant-based diets regarding the ability to gain muscle when you consume enough protein.

How can you get enough protein without eating meat?

Gabrielle Reyes is a vegan chef and MyFitnessPal Partner. She told Healthline the first step to achieving your goal is to frame it correctly.

Reyes suggested that people should eat colorful and vibrant meals instead of avoiding meat.

Reyes said the easiest way to consume a healthy amount of plant protein throughout the day was with a large green smoothie. This comprises dark leafy greens, frozen berries, plant-based protein powder, and hemp seeds.

Reyes suggests buying steak, chicken, or pork seasonings if you need to get used to eating meat.

Variety is the key to a vegan diet since it’s the only sure way to consume all the essential amino acids. It can help to prevent burnout.

Reyes suggests including four categories of food in every plant-based meal.

  1. A carbohydrate element can be cauliflower or quinoa. It could also be tortillas, Brown Rice, whole grain bread, or brown rice.
  2. A vital ingredient like chickpeas or lentils.
  3. a fresh element, like leafy greens, fresh herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, noodles, pomegranate seeds
  4. a creamy element like cashew cream dressing, avocado sauce, protein pesto hummus, or creamy tofu ranch

Why eat a diet based on plants?

Many benefits to green

A plant-based lifestyle may require a bit more planning at first, but there are many benefits to eating less meat (or none at all). Not surprisingly, the health benefits are at the top.

Plant-based diets are high in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fats. Nelson said that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated is the best way to reduce cholesterol.

The other way to reduce cholesterol is by increasing fiber intake through plant-based food high in fiber. Nelson said that heart diseases are the leading cause of death in America.

Hilbert said that “eating more plant foods increases our antioxidant intake, which helps fight inflammation and reduces the risk of many diseases such as certain cancers and heart disease.”

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the impact of the global commercial meat industry has also been increasing.

Hilbert stated that “animal agriculture can be environmentally taxing, as it contributes greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.”

Cohen said that if Americans cut their meat intake by 25%, the annual greenhouse gas emissions would be dramatically reduced.

Avoiding common pitfalls

It can be challenging to build muscle on a vegan diet. What can you do to stay ahead?

If you’re cutting out all animal products from your diet, include nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and selenium. You can do this by eating good plant-based foods or supplementing. Hilbert said that vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for people on a plant-based diet.

Divide your daily protein requirements by the number of meals and snacks you consume, and focus on achieving the total calories and protein goal in just one meal. After you have mastered one meal, try the next. You’ll eventually learn what foods you can add to meals to reach your protein goals,” Nelson suggested.

Be aware of the tradeoffs: Some products are higher in sugar, carbs, or fat. So, read the labels. Cohen said low-sodium canned beans are an easy and convenient staple for your pantry.

The plant versus animal protein teams is very polarized, diverting people from the essential message of a varied diet. Cohen said, “I believe the Mediterranean Diet is the best protein strategy.”

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