Can you build muscle following a vegan diet?

Posted by Alfie Austin on

Can you build muscle on a vegan diet?

Is plant based protein as good as animal protein?

If you’re following a vegan diet, just looking into more healthy eating, or are concerned with vegan protein in take, it can be hard to know what to do, especially with all the myths online, from friends and family, and even more so from fellow gym goers if you’re going to the gym.

But following a vegan diet doesn’t mean you can’t find really good cheap healthy meals or have to compromise when finding plant based protein sources. In fact, plant based protein, and vegan protein can actually help you achieve a heart healthy diet as they tend to be full of fibre, vitamins and minerals, often lacking in animal protein sources, and essential amino acids that help you recover and gain muscle.

A vegan diet can be full of protein, carbs and fats, and will not hinder your muscle building efforts.

‘I’ve been following a vegan diet plan for around 5 years now, having previously been a meat eater, then a vegetarian. I’ve competed in power lifting, with a squat and deadlift that more than double my body weight. I also gained more than 30kg in muscle in my first year eating purely plant based protein sources.’ - Alfie, gym bunny member

Plant based protein sources

What are the best vegan protein sources?

Not all protein sources are created equal. Plant based protein sources offer some benefits that animal proteins cannot match.

  • Red Lentils
    Red lentils are super cheap, very versatile, are 1 of your 5 day, have B vitamins, potassium, zine & iron, are chock-full of complex carbohydrates and of course, a have good dose of vegan protein!

    In fact, 80g of red lentils has 20g of protein and 47g of carbs - perfect fuel for muscles! They also have very, very little fat, making them a great choice for heart healthy foods too.

    The jury is still out on whether ‘superfoods’ are really a thing, but if they are, red lentils should be on that list!

    Check our some of our vegan recipes that use red lentils, to help you make some delicious meal prep!

  • Seitan
    If you’re keeping you eyes on carbs, prepping for a competition or a weigh-in, Seitan is a great plant based protein option. Made of vital wheat gluten, with the a lot of the carbs being washed away with some of the starch as its being made, it's a high protein, low carb choice.

    It’s easy to make at home, so you can control exactly what’s going into it, like how much salt, what flavour and what fats & oils you want to add.

  • TVP
    Textured Vegetable Protein or ‘TVP’ is purely soya protein. It's extremely nutritious and is full of fibre. TVP has a similar texture to mince, and so it work really well in meal prep friendly healthy cheap meals like bolognese, casseroles, soups, stew, and chilli. TVP absorbs spices and flavour really well, so it is an extremely versatile vegan protein.

    TVP has a massive 52g of protein per 100g! It also comes in flakes or chunks, so you can mix up your recipes.

    Tip: Cook or soak it in veg stock to add some flavour before you’ve added any other spices.

  • Leafy Green Veg
    To understand why leafy greens are on this list, you need to know that ‘protein’ is a bunch of amino acids. We make some of them in our body, others we need to eat to get them in, and leafy greens are a great source of amino acids. Leafy greens contain higher levels of the amino acids leucine, lysine, phenylalinine and valine.

    Cabbage, kale, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, collard greens, bok choy, swiss chard - there’s so many! They are a great source of vitamin K which helps protect bones, full of anti-oxidants, vitamin A, fibre, folate, magnesium, calcium, iron, and potassium.

    Tip: Add spinach to a red lentil dhal for a delicious highly nutritious healthy lunch.

Vegan Protein Powder
Protein powders are made of ‘protein isolates’ such as soya, pea, rice  and hemp. There are so many options, and none of them are wrong. Its about finding the one for you, what works with your vegan diet and your tastes. Protein shakes are a good way to boost your protein in take, especially after exercise or if you’re on the go.

Soya is one of the cheaper options, and is more likely to come in nicer flavours than other singular isolates. It’s quite fine. It's not a good choice if you struggle digesting soya, but otherwise, it's a great plant based protein.

Pea tend to be the next cheapest. It’s a little more coarse than soya, but is less likely to clump if you shake it or blend it properly. Its doesn’t have any of the major allergens in it, and works great in smoothies.

Rice and hemp are less popular, but you will often find them in vegan protein powders with different isolates in them. These tend to come in nice flavours like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, peanut butter; pretty much anything you can think of.

Vegan foods for muscle gains

Do I need to eat ‘complete proteins’ when eating a plant based diet?

Simply, no.

As mentioned earlier, ‘protein’ is a bunch of amino acids, that are found in food. It’s true that some plant based foods do not contain all amino acids, but it’s not essential to ‘protein combine’ when eating meals to ‘complete’ the protein. For example, it was once believed that you needed to eat rice with lentils to complete the protein, but this is no longer considered true. It is now understood that the body stores amino acids, so if you are eating a good balanced vegan diet with whole grains, plant based protein sources and plenty of veg, you’re probably okay.


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