Many people think that building muscle and a plant-based diet do not go together, but just how correct is this assumption? Muscle growth is often associated with whey, chicken, and other high-protein animal products. However, the truth is that you may not need these animal products to build muscle, and plant proteins are more sustainable than animal proteins.
How Does Protein Work?
Proteins are made from chains of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that act as building blocks to form protein, and 11 of those amino acids can be created by the body. However, there are nine amino acids that the body is unable to produce and must be obtained from food. Foods that provide all nine amino acids are considered complete proteins.
These amino acids are vital to building muscle. Not every source of protein will provide you with all of the amino acids you need, but maintaining a diverse diet can help you obtain all of them.
Can You Build Lean Muscle With Plant-Based Protein?
In order to build muscle, you need a calorie surplus, an adequate amount of protein, and a consistent exercise routine.
Building muscle is also supported by the two other macronutrients — carbohydrates and fats, which provide fuel for your workouts. The reality is that you can obtain ample amounts of all of these macronutrients from plant-based sources. There are many vegan bodybuilders who are thriving on plant-based diets.
Although plant-based protein can support muscle growth, many plant proteins lack some amino acids. As a result, varied diets with many different plant proteins are more effective in providing the necessary amino acids and supporting muscle growth.
How Can You Build Muscle With Plant-Based Protein?
When it comes to building muscle, the source of protein is not as important as other factors. If muscle growth and repair are your fitness goals, you should obtain plenty of calories and enough protein to follow a consistent training regimen.
A healthy person with a sedentary lifestyle should generally obtain about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound. If you are trying to build muscle, then you may need to strive to eat between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or in other words, between 0.5 and 0.8 grams per pound.
Of course, you should find a strength training routine that works for you to help you train your muscles and increase muscle mass. In order to support the extra exertion, you should also make sure to obtain an adequate amount of calories from whole foods. You should strive to consume more calories than you exert in order to maintain a surplus that allows you to build new muscle.
How Does Plant-Based Protein Compare to Animal Protein?
Once you discover that you can build muscle from plant-based proteins, the next question becomes — should you? As far as protein content, plant and animal protein sources vary slightly, but the protein itself is not necessarily more or less valuable. Here’s how they stack up against each other regarding a few specific factors.
Fewer Complete Proteins
The one drawback of plant-based proteins is that not all plant-based protein sources are complete proteins. Most animal products provide all of the essential amino acids to form a complete protein. However, that does not mean it is impossible to form complete proteins with plant-based sources.
Plant-based foods like quinoa, soy, and chia and hemp seeds are all complete proteins. You still have several other options if you do not eat these foods regularly. You can also form complete proteins by combining foods that will give you all of the necessary amino acids. Common combinations include:
- Legumes and whole grains
- Nuts or seeds and whole grains
- Legumes and nuts or seeds
On the bright side, you do not have to obtain complete proteins with every meal. As long as you obtain a range of amino acids throughout the day, the body can synthesize them into complete proteins as needed.
Obtaining all of the necessary amino acids ensures that your body can use the proteins you consume to effectively build muscle. As long as you make sure to consume foods that give you all of the amino acids you need, there is little difference in consuming plant-based proteins compared to animal-based proteins for building muscle.
More Total Carbs
Another challenge of plant-based proteins is the fact that you can't escape carbohydrate content with plant sources of protein, which can pose a bit of a challenge when trying to stay within set macro limits.
Since animal protein is naturally free from carbohydrate, this is one area where it can seem like meat-eaters have the upper hand. Rest assured that scores of plant-based bodybuilders around the world have found a way to balance their carbohydrate intake while focusing on plant proteins!
In addition to offering more complete proteins, animal products are often more protein dense. For example, 100 grams of chicken provides around 27 grams of protein. There are pros and cons to this fact — the downside is that when following a plant-base diet, you may have to work a bit harder to obtain your daily intake of protein.
The benefit is that many plant-based foods are not very calorie-dense, so you can obtain a wide variety of plant proteins as you strive to get your nutrients without worrying about overeating.
However, if you are really trying to bulk up, you will want to eat plenty of carbs, fats, and proteins from plants to get enough calories. Additionally, eating more plants means taking in a greater diversity of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Some plant proteins, like seitan, tofu, and tempeh, are comparable to animal products, offering around 20 grams of protein per serving each.. Although animal proteins tend to be more protein dense on average, this shouldn’t be seen as a limiting factor by any means.
Additional Health Benefits
Plant and animal proteins do not differ too much, but your protein source can certainly affect what other ingredients are tagging along.
For example, plant-based foods provide many additional nutrients, like fiber, antioxidants, and a range of vitamins. Fiber helps support healthy digestion, and antioxidants promote healthy aging. You should strive to obtain a wide range of nutrients in your diet, especially when building muscle.
Although they do offer some benefits as complete proteins, animal products are often high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which may contribute to various health risks, like high cholesterol levels in the blood. However, animal products contain other nutrients that are more sparse in plant-based foods, like vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.
If you are on a plant-based diet, you can obtain these nutrients through vegan supplements. iwi life, for example, provides a completely plant-based omega-3 supplement that provides DHA and EPA fatty acids. So, if you prefer to obtain your protein from plants, you do not have to stress about missing other important nutrients.
Compared to proteins from animal foods, plant-based proteins are more sustainable. This is thanks to the fact that they require fewer resources, and thus have less of an impact on the environment.
The meat and dairy industries both require extensive amounts of land and water, and are major contributors to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. So, if you’re working to become a bit more sustainable in your everyday life, switching to plant-based proteins may be a great step to take.
What Are Some Good Plant-Based Protein Sources?
There is a wide variety of excellent plant protein sources. Plant proteins provide a mix of complete and incomplete proteins. Regardless, by including as many plant proteins in your diet as possible, you can support the growth of strong muscles. The following are some excellent options for plant-based proteins:
- Soybeans, including tempeh, tofu, soy milk, and edamame
- Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans
- Nuts like cashews, almonds, and peanuts
- Seeds like hemp seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds
- Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread
- Leafy, green vegetables like spinach and kale
Support Your Muscle Gain
Plant protein is just as valuable as animal protein, as long as you are sure to get enough amino acids from various sources to obtain complete proteins. However, protein is not the only way to support your body’s strength; other important macronutrients like carbohydrates and healthy fats also play an important role in building muscle.
To support your body in building muscle as well as supporting other systems like your joints, heart, and eyes, try taking an omega-3 supplement. iwi life’s omega-3 supplement is a great addition to your daily routine, giving you the necessary EPA and DHA omega-3s in just two softgels. Try iwi life’s omega-3 supplement for yourself and see the many benefits that omega-3s can provide in supporting your health.
PROTEIN INTAKE FOR OPTIMAL MUSCLE MAINTENANCE | American College of Sports Medicine