The Truth About High-Protein Vegan Foods | A Lifters Guide
What every vegan bodybuilder needs to know about the untapped power of high protein vegan foods.
Stereotypical bodybuilders think that vegans are skinny and weak. I used to think the same.
They believe that plant-based diet meals are not enough to build muscle.
Bodybuilders have especially ascribed to this narrative, sceptical about becoming vegans. They believe that animal meat is the only food option with quality protein.
When they think of protein, their first thought is almost always meat. Meat’s a good source of protein but it’s not the only source of high-protein food and it’s certainly not ethical.
Are you an ex-bodybuilder between the age of 25 and 35? Do you seriously want to explore the idea of bodybuilding purely with a vegan diet?
If your answer is ”Yes” then you’re in the right place. Firstly, you need to understand what protein is and its role in building muscle in the human body.
What is protein?
The human body requires 3 micronutrients which are Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein. Protein provides your body with the energy it requires. It also helps in your body in building and repairing body tissue.
Muscle, brain cells, nails, skin and hair are a few of the body parts that protein is responsible for. The building blocks of protein are known as amino acids. These amino acids combine in chains to form different kinds of proteins.
How Protein Works to Build Muscle
You know that protein is made up of amino acids, the amino acids bond together to form chains that are essential for building body mass. Depending on the protein source these chains can be short or long. Protein works to help build muscle because of its constituent parts.
Whenever you consume protein, enzymes break it down into small peptides and free amino acids. These amino acids find their way into the bloodstream through the small intestines.
When they get into the bloodstream, amino acids stimulate the mTOR pathway. The mTOR pathway is a process that causes protein synthesis.
Protein synthesis is another process where new proteins are produced in the muscle cell (coded specifically for your DNA).
Muscle Protein synthesis (MPS) helps to repair and restore the damaged muscle fibres that are caused by resistance training when you go to the gym. This constant repair of your damaged muscle fibres causes the muscle fibres to adapt and grow.
In other words, this is how vegan bodybuilders grow.
The Protein Obsession
There’s no doubt about it, our body needs protein, it’s important. We’ve become obsessed with protein and “spiking MPS”. While protein foods do spike MPS, the biggest factor is training.
Training’s consistently shown to boost muscle protein synthesis, so if you aren’t training like a freak your muscles will not soak essential amino acids and nutrients up no matter how much protein you chug down.
And those hard working muscles run primarily on glycogen. When you need a shot of performance and glycogen isn’t readily available, you’ll gas out quickly.
Why animal protein can be bad for your health
Now that you know how building muscle with protein works, you need to understand why consuming animal protein (meat) is not the best idea. Although, animal foods may promote muscle growth there are ethical issues and risks involved.
Ethically, it’s wrong to kill animals just for human consumption especially when there are other options; high protein plant based meals. There are many health risks involved in consuming animal protein frequently.
- Animal protein contains high saturated fat and cholesterol. Therefore regular consumption can lead to cardiovascular diseases.
- When cooked under high temperatures toxins known as heterocyclic amines are produced which may cause indigestion and colon cancer.
- In addition, animal protein such as beef and pork has a higher risk of bacterial contamination which can cause food poisoning.
By changing hormones and making testosterone more active, you may also be accelerating cancer growth and ageing.
Most meat is high in fat and full of environmental contaminants, so bulking up may come at a cost. This is why some athletes who consume a vast amount of animal protein may have digestive issues and get sick easily.
Protein Composition and Quality
If you want to understand the core concepts of protein composition, these are the three areas to consider. They are Digestion, Micronutrients, and Protein Quality.
Digesting plant-based protein is often considered a little more difficult because they contain a component called cellulose that cannot be broken down into amino acids for absorption in the small intestines. Animal protein does not contain cellulose.
You shouldn’t worry too much about this because during the processing of plant based foods the cellulose is removed. High protein vegan meals can therefore be fully digested and absorbed in the body.
Animal protein is rich in vitamin B12 and iron but still contains bad fats. Vegans rely on fibre and phytochemicals to acquire this essential nutrient.
Proteins are ranked based on their amino acid profile, a protein source that has every essential amino acid, is considered complete. A scale was created to determine the quality and digestibility of protein.
The scale is known as Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). It is simple to interpret, if the score is 1 it means that that particular protein source contains all the essential amino acids and can be digested.
You should note that many plant based protein sources don’t have a scale of 1. You need to combine different sources to acquire all essential amino acids.
You can find out more about Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score here.
The conclusion over vegan protein:
Some vegan proteins don’t have all the essential amino acids which require planning and education before transitioning to a vegan/plant based approach.
However, plant-based sources like Mycoprotein, nutritional yeast, and soy do contain all essential amino acids. If you plan on bodybuilding with plant based diet meals, make sure you include a wide variety of sources in your diet.
Misconceptions of Plant-Based diet in Bodybuilding
1. You need a lot of animal protein after working out.
First of all, the amount of protein from calories needed daily for recovery and growth of muscle is just a mere 10%. Not only can plant-based protein meet this need but they also fibre that helps with digestion.
Sufficient intake of protein, calories, and several micronutrients are all important for you. Once you stimulate MPS maximally, it doesn’t matter how much more protein you eat at that meal, you’re not going to increase it any more.
2. Animal protein is better than plant-based proteins
Some people think that you will miss out on quality protein that is not present in plant-based foods. A vegan diet from foods like vegetables, nuts and grains, all contain enough levels of protein.
A bodybuilder can also use the following tips so they aren’t missing out on important nutrients from their high protein vegan foods.
- Eat fruits with good quantities of vitamin C to adequately increase absorption of plant-sourced iron.
- Use dairy supplements like calcium and remember to consume separately from foods with iron.
- Use nutritional yeast to acquire vitamin B12.
3. You can’t gain mass as a vegan Bodybuilder.
There’s a notion that consuming only plant based foods will never result in bulky muscle gain. Many people believe that vegans lack energy and strength required for building muscle. For you to build muscle, your nutrition and training should be optimized by:
- Eating enough plant-based diet meals that contain protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Including enough carbohydrates with your protein. Muscle primarily runs on glycogen.
- Eating in a calorie surplus.
- Heavy Compound lifts in your gym sessions.
Vegan bodybuilders and athletes do exist. For example here are vegan bodybuilders and athletes that have taken-up plant-based or vegan diets;
- Six-time Iron Man world champion Dave Scott
- Bodybuilder and 4-Time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl
- Ex Professional Boxer Vegan Mike Tyson
- Bodybuilder and Mr. Universe Billy Simmons
- Former professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier
- Track Star Carl Lewis
- UFC fighter Rashad Evans
You can also read this blog about a bodybuilder and his vegan journey here.
4. A Vegan Diet Will Make You Weak
Only ignorant people can have such sentiments. Trust me I was that person.
Weakness is not determined by what you consume but by how you decide to live your life. Your eating habits are going to determine whether you’re going to be weak or strong.
By simply using information from this very article you will have the knowledge to introduce the right amount of high protein vegan foods into your diet. Integrating the right vegan diet and weight lifting should inevitably give you strength.
Vegan foods to eat like a bodybuilder
Protein plays a key role due to the new development of muscle tissue. For you to optimise muscle growth, protein intake should be high at around 1.4–2.2 grams per kg of body weight per day.
The plant-based kings of high protein vegan food sources you should consider are:
|Protein (per 100g)||Kcals||Protein (g)||Fats (g)||Carbohydrates (g)|
The below foods also contain all the essential amino acids:
This is a protein grain that contains all 9 essential amino acids. It’s from South America and the name Quinoa means ”mother of all grains” It is gluten free and you will find it easy to digest.
Other nutrients it contains are iron, fibre and magnesium. Granted you’ll have to eat this in larger quantities, but it’s truly a superfood, jam packed with micronutrients.
Soy gives you one of the best alternatives for high protein vegan foods. You can consume it as edamame, tofu or soy milk. Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score scale shows soy comes in at 0.91.
Soy is one of the few plant sources that provide complete protein. One cup of cooked soybeans contains over 20 grams of amino acids. Other than containing all the essential amino acids, it’s also packed with vitamins and minerals.
As far as plant based protein is concerned soy is unmatched.
This type of yeast offers a complete protein. You can use nutritional yeast to cook delicious meals and you will be set to hit the gym. It also contains vitamin B12 that keeps your blood cells healthy. A great addition to smoothies.
Other good sources of protein(not complete proteins):
- Sunflower seeds
See the 37 High protein vegan foods to build muscle here.
Vegan macros meal plan
Protein is vital for mass and muscle gain. Likewise you need the other micronutrients to achieve your desired ripped body. You should be consuming:
- 1.6 grams of protein for every kg of bodyweight.
- 0.3 grams of fat for every kg of bodyweight.
- Other calories are carbohydrate sources.
In most cases eating 25-33g of high protein vegan foods every 4 hours will be sufficient because that amount yields 1-2g of Leucine. For optimal results bump it up to 45-50g around the workout window.
Example Simple Muscle Gain Plan:
80g oats – Soak overnight
200ml Almond milk
30g Hemp seeds
1 Scoop plant protein
Cooking Method – Boil in the pan on a low heat until soft and creamy.
You can always swap out the hemp for a pea or hemp protein powder if you need to cut calories.
150g marinated tofu cooked
250g microwave quinoa
1 avocado (100g) chopped
Side serving of greens
½ pak choi,
2 tablespoons of salsa
Tin of drained chickpeas – 230g
50g Chopped mushrooms
150g Chopped broccoli
½ chopped onion
15g cashew nuts
350g sweet potato mashed
Sprinkle with sesame seeds
Vegan friendly Korean Sesame Soy sauce 100kcals
Cooking method – Boil the chickpeas separately. Fry off veggies in a pan with some avocado oil. Halfway through cooking, add boiled chickpeas and soy sauce and cook until piping hot, ensuring not to overcook veggies.
Vegan mass gainer.
In addition to this plan you will want to use supplements but be careful about what supplements you need to use.
I also like to add in this my favorite protein powder.
Do enough research on what supplements to use with your plant based meals.
The Supplements EVERY Vegan Needs To Take
Building muscle on a vegan diet isn’t easy and you’ll have to be a little more strict with your food choices. The choice is for the greater good of animals, your own health and the environment.
Many meat eaters will often say a diet you have to supplement with is the wrong diet. However meat eaters are certainly void in many nutrients.
The purpose of supplements is to ensure that you don’t miss important nutrients for building muscle and mass. An insurance policy.
A positive move that will influence health.
Regardless of the diet you eat, your body can’t produce Omega 3s. Essential fatty acids are the king of good health for your brain, heart and joint health. Algae derived Omega 3 does not deprive the world’s oceans. You’ll have no fishy aftertaste. This is by far my favourite EFA I’ve tried.
Animal protein contains iron which is digested and absorbed easier into the body.
There are two types of iron. Heme (from animals) and non-heme (plants).
The absorption of heme is around 7-35%.
The absorption of non heme is around 2-20%, slightly lower but not a great difference.
Still, It’s worth supplementing. Combine iron rich foods with vitamin C to increase absorption.
Lack of enough iron in your blood can lead to deficiencies in anaemia. Some of the symptoms are:
The right dosage to consume is 13 mg of iron per day.
The natural way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure. This vitamin is important to your body as it helps in the metabolism of calcium. This is a mineral responsible for bone strength.
Before you decide to take vitamin D supplements it is advised to check your deficiency level.
If you realize you are indeed lacking vitamins, you should supplement. The recommended use is between 2000- 5000 IU daily. This will supply you all enough nutrients that the body requires.
It’s easy to say vegans may be a little low on calcium. But what about paleo, advocates who don’t consume dairy. One thing to note, 500g of calcium fortified tofu will provide the recommended intake of calcium.
Eliminating dairy is likely to result in the need to consume a calcium supplement.
Vitamin B12 –
Animal protein is rich in vitamin B12 but it’s quite the opposite with vegan foods. Plant based diet food sources have few offerings of this essential vitamin. Although Nutritional yeast does contain B12 there is a need to supplement it. The dose should be around 2.4 – 2.8 μg daily.
Get the best B12 on the market here.
The number 1 supplement you can use for muscle, strength and size. Increases muscle cell volume is a key mechanism to trigger more muscle growth. It’s impossible to get this key ingredient from foods so supplementation is key.
Find out about this natural steroid here.
Using a high-protein vegan diet for bodybuilding is different but efficient. This is because vegans lose fat faster than people who use animal protein in their diets.
This rapid weight loss allows your muscles to stand out since you have less fat in your body. Ultimately, It’s quite rewarding to know that you got completely shredded without consuming any animal products.
Once you successfully build muscle, you can challenge your family and friends who use animal protein to try out this vegan based option.
If you want a one-time solution then visit here.
They have all the information you’ll need to transform from using animal protein diets for building muscle to using a vegan based diet and you will get to be that bodybuilder that you want to be.
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