Gaining Muscle on a Vegetarian Diet: Tips to Build a Successful Plan
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Building muscle on a vegetarian diet sounds impossible to some people, even some trainers. But, we can’t really blame them because for years the system made us believe that you need to eat animal protein to gain muscle and that protein can only be found in animal foods.
Allow me to give you the good news here; building muscle on a vegetarian diet is absolutely doable. Contrary to popular belief, you can get enough protein as a vegetarian to build muscle.
The major difference between animal and plant-based protein foods is that animal sources of protein are considered complete proteins, whereas most (but not all) vegetarian protein sources are not.
It means that vegetarian protein sources don’t contain all nine essential amino acids that need to be obtained through diet.
In this article, you will find our tips to build a successful plan on a vegetarian diet for muscle gain.
How to Build Muscle Mass on a Vegetarian Diet:
Plan your diet well
A well-planned vegetarian diet that meets your daily energy requirement and contains a variety of plant-based proteins can provide enough protein to gain muscle mass.
The first thing you should do is to have some sort of a daily meal plan to make sure you’re getting enough protein. Especially on the days you exercise, it helps to have protein within 60 minutes after a workout to help with muscle recovery and muscle gain. This could either be a post-workout snack or just a regular meal with a good helping of protein.
Besides protein, carbohydrates also play a crucial role in gaining muscle. They provide you the fuel needed to complete your workouts. Simply put, they are “the gas in the tank to drive the car”. So don’t deny your body them.
In fact, one study compared subjects that ate the same amount of calories and protein but different carbohydrate intake. The results showed that subjects who ate the required amount of carbohydrate gained 1.3 kg of muscle mass, while those who ate a low-carb diet gained none.
As a bonus, you can also choose from high protein grains like quinoa, teff, amaranth, and spelt to get both good quality carbohydrates and protein. Are we in a win-win situation or what?
Make sure to get enough calories
To increase muscle mass, make sure you eat enough calories to gain muscle. To build muscle you should ideally be in a calorie surplus; so if you’re training to build muscle but not eating enough calories… Well it won’t be particularly effective!
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should indulge in chips or high-carb snacks. You should choose healthy and calorically-rich options like nuts, nut butters, avocado, dried fruits, seeds, etc.
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re getting enough calories throughout the day, track your intake with one of the applications you can download on your phone.
Eat protein with each meal
I can hear the first question that comes to your mind: “how much protein should I eat to gain muscle?” Here is your answer.
Although the amount of protein each person needs depends on age, activity level, and other factors, the current advice is that adults should consume a minimum 0.8 g of protein for each kilogram of body weight.
However, if you want to build muscle, your goal for daily protein intake should be between 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight.
It is best to divide and balance your protein intake among your daily meals and snacks for optimal muscle growth.
Some good vegetarian protein sources are:
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt providing 20 g protein
- 180 g tofu providing 16 g protein,
- ½ cup cooked beans providing 8 g protein,
- ¼ cup nuts providing 7 g protein,
- 1 medium egg providing 6 g protein
Here is a daily menu of high protein vegetarian meals to build muscle mass:
- Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal cooked with soy milk and topped with nuts. Then have beans with rice for lunch and a nice salad with hemp seeds, quinoa, and a hard-boiled egg for dinner. Also, throw in some Greek yogurt with berries as a delicious snack.
For more, check out our article on Vegetarian High Protein Foods.
Get all nine essential amino acids
As mentioned in the introduction, most plant-based proteins don’t contain all nine essential amino acids that have to be obtained through diet, except for soy, quinoa, chia, nutritional yeast, spirulina, and hemp seeds.
More recent evidence suggests that the whole ‘incomplete protein’ issue isn’t as bad as once thought. Your body is clever enough to make use of what it already has in a ‘protein pool’ and pair up amino acids to carry out its required functions.
However, pairing protein incomplete protein sources is probably helpful when it comes to optimally building muscle, so you can pair plant foods (such as grains) to make a complete protein.
Some good examples of complete protein pairings are:
- Lentils and rice
- Hummus and pita bread
- Beans and bulgur wheat
- Nut butter and whole-grain bread
- Oats and nuts
Refuel after workouts
It’s crucial to replenish your body after a workout to help muscle recovery and build muscle afterward. You should aim for about 20-30 grams of protein and some easy-to-digest carbohydrate sources within an hour after a workout.
Here are some great examples that can fuel you after your workout:
- 1 medium banana with 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter
- Handful of raisins with almonds
- Hummus with pita, carrot, and celery sticks
- Avocado whole-grain toast topped with a hard-boiled egg
- Chocolate milk or cashew milkshake
- Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts
As you can see from this article, consuming meat is not the only way to gain muscle. You don’t need to devour grilled steak or boiled chicken every day to build muscle.
A calorically and nutritionally well-balanced vegetarian diet that includes plant-based proteins such as beans, grains, nuts, and seeds may very well help you to gain muscle. Follow these simple steps to build muscle on a vegetarian diet.