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May 27, 2020 9 min read

You may have heard that different sources of protein provide your body with the different things you need, and that your protein sources can make a huge difference in your strength, longevity, and overall health and well-being.

That's why understanding the difference between plant-based protein and animal-based protein is so important, especially when you’re looking for big gains!

The protein your body uses to build muscle is made up of smaller molecules called amino acids.

And while there are 20 amino acids your body needs to grow and function properly, only 9 of these amino acids are considered 'essential'.

Your body uses all 20 amino acids for all your bodily functions but a 'complete protein' is one that is made up of the following 9 'essential' amino acids:

  • histidine
  • isoleucine
  • leucine
  • lysine
  • methionine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • valine

Your body needs a consistent supply of all these amino acids to perform its best and they can be found in a wide variety of both plant and animal sources.

What’s So Great About Amino Acids?

Amino acids help your body grow, break down food, supply energy, and repair body tissue. So getting enough amino acids every day means your body is getting what it needs to repair muscle tissue, because as you know, every time you pump iron you tear muscle tissues that need fuel (amino acids) to repair and continue growing. 

Not only do they need to be warmed up and cooled down through stretching, but they also need the right nutrition to recover. If your muscles get the proper nutrition, they’re going to be ready for more muscle building, and sooner. 

To see serious results you want to hit the gym (whether it’s a home gym or public) at least three times a week, but preferably five. For that amount of time and energy spent on a daily basis, you really need to give those muscles every bit of nutrition they need to perform the way you want them to. 

How Do You Get Enough Protein With All the Amino Acids?

Maintaining a vegan diet while building muscle really isn't that difficult. Like any lifestyle shift and commitment to growth, it requires dedication and diligence to have a lifetime of success.

First, you'll want to get a baseline idea of how many calories you need for your muscles to grow and how best to design your lifestyle to support your muscle-building goals. If this is new for you, it may take a few weeks to learn the best plant-based sources of protein but after a while, it’s going to be second nature for you. 

Here’s How to Do It:

  • Start with a daily goal. Health organizations agree that an adult needs .5 grams to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day. So as you build muscle, that amount will slowly increase. From time to time, just weigh in and recalculate. Even if you’re building serious muscle fast, it takes a while before you have to seriously up your grams of protein. 
  • Find out how much protein is in what you normally eat. This will give you a good base to go off so that you know what changes or improvements you need to make. To give you a starting reference point, here are some of the best sources of plant proteins, with details about how many grams of protein are in each one: 
  • Quinoa: One cup of cooked quinoa will give you 8 grams of protein. 
  • Beans: One cup of beans contains 14 grams of protein, fewer calories, and lots of fiber, the one thing your body needs most and can't get from animal products. (Note: 1 can of beans contains 2.5 to 3.5 cups. That means a can of beans has the same amount of protein as an 8-ounce steak. Beans are one of the most impressive foods when it comes to improving overall health and longevity. Black, navy, garbanzo, kidney, the options are endless!) 
  • Seeds: The amount varies slightly between varieties of seeds, but as a general rule of thumb, one ounce of seeds has 5 to 9 grams of protein and all the other things required for life. 
  • Oatmeal: One cup of dry oatmeal makes about 3 cups of cooked oatmeal and provides 10 grams of protein and only contains 300 calories. 
  • Edamame: One cup of cooked edamame will have about 17 grams of protein. 
  • Tofu: Consuming half a cup of tofu will put 10 grams of protein into your body.
  • Seitan: For every 100 grams of this wheat-based product, you’ll get 75 grams of protein. Seitan can be used to cook BBQ among many other tasty dishes.
  • Peanut butter: In two tablespoons of peanut butter you’ll get 8 grams of protein. (Just make sure to buy the brands with no added sugar or oil)

In contrast, here are some popular sources of animal proteins and how much they contain. 

  • Steak: In an 8-ounce steak, you’ll get 42 grams of protein. 
  • Chicken: In one cup of chopped or diced chicken, you’ll get 38 grams of protein. 
  • Egg: Each egg contains about 6 grams of protein. 
  • Salmon: In an 8 ounce serving of salmon, you’ll get 47 grams of protein. 

A bowl of oatmeal.

One quinoa and veggie bowl with black beans and seeds as a base provides 30 to 40 grams of protein. Add some kale, spinach, or other leafy greens, a piece of seitan steak or tempeh, and some spices and you'll not only have a delicious meal that provides plenty of protein but also a ton of other micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals you can only get from plants.

A simple change in perspective is all it takes to try a vegan lifestyle. 

Whether it's a response to animal cruelty and abuse, a passion for saving the environment, or the desire to live a healthier lifestyle, many top athletes that have made the decision to eat a plant-based diet. 

Athletes including former Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan, Nate Diaz of the UFC, 9-time Olympic Gold Medal champion Carl Lewis, Scott Jurek, the world-class ultra-marathon runner, tennis champ Venus Williams (sister of Serena Williams), or 6-time F1 championship race car driver Lewis Hamilton have all adopted a vegan lifestyle with tremendous results. 

If you’re worried about the extra effort it takes to build muscle on a vegan diet, just take a look at others who have paved the way and know that it’s possible to stick with it and build incredible muscle mass. 

Meal planning is a fantastic way to save time and a vegan diet is no different.

Calculating what you’ll need to get your protein requirement for each day will make each day go smoothly and prepping ahead can save you a lot of time

Here are some ingredients you can make ahead of time to meet your protein needs and save time when you’re rushing off to work or tired after an intense lifting session:

Oatmeal: Making up a big batch of oatmeal will save you time and frustration. Steel-cut oats are by far the best type of oatmeal as a source of protein for your body. And they have the largest protein intake. But they take a long time to cook! When you just want to wake up and have a nice vegan breakfast, making steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast is not a very sustainable option. 

So make up a big pot, divide it into daily portions, and then put it in the freezer. If you have some frozen blueberries or raspberries that will all the better when you wake up the next day. Just grab one portion plus a handful of berries and throw them into the microwave or stove to heat up. 

It only takes five minutes to make some oatmeal and you can add extra protein with pumpkin seeds or walnuts and some soy milk and you’ve got a healthy, delicious, and protein-packed breakfast. 

Brown rice: This is a great vegan protein source that can be cooked in bulk and frozen for future use. White rice has very little nutritional benefit since it is bleached and therefore stripped of all the natural goodness that brown rice and whole grains have to offer.

Pro Tip: When reheating rice add a small splash of water and cover the rice when you heat it in the microwave so that the moisture rises up as steam and fills the container, re-moisturizing the rice and it will taste perfect every time.

Here are a few delicious recipes that are easy to cook and full of flavor:  

Chickpea curry:  If you like to cook (or even if you don’t), this meal is quick, easy, and delicious. 

To make it, you’ll need:

  • Coconut milk
  • One white onion
  • Red curry paste
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Green chilis
  • Turmeric
  • Coriander
  • Garam Masala
  • Lemon
  • Cilantro
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil (olive or coconut)
  • One Potato
  • Two Carrots

Best part? The cooking instructions are really simple!

Here's how to do it:

  1. Coat the bottom of the pan with some oil and then add the chopped white onion and all the spices. Let the onion cook on medium heat until it’s translucent. 
  1. Add an 8 oz. can of coconut milk, 2-3 teaspoons of fresh ginger, the green chilis, the chopped potato and 2 chopped carrots. Let the coconut milk boil then bring it down to a simmer. Cover the pot and let it simmer until half of the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are cooked through. 
  1. Serve the curry over rice, top it with squeezed lemon, chopped cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. 

You can make this sauce in bulk and it lasts in the freezer forever, as long it’s kept in an airtight container, like a sturdy Tupperware or Ziploc bag. It can be pulled out and eaten for lunch every day for one week, or just taken out on one day of the week. Adding Monday night curry to your routine will be something you won’t regret. 

Vegan Chili: You don’t want to spend your whole weekend cooking for the week, you’ll need a chance to relax! So to prepare vegan chili for the week ahead here’s a very basic recipe you can use for a base. When you pull it, frozen, out of the freezer, just add whatever additional seasonings or fun ingredients that you have on hand (or you’re in the mood for). Preparing this easy base breaks the process up in half so that you don’t have to do all the work in just one way. 

To make it, you’ll need:

    • Garlic
    • Onion
    • Carrots
    • Bell Peppers
    • Celery
    • 2 cups of crushed tomatoes
    • Red kidney beans (optional)
    • Lentils (optional)
    • Pinto beans (optional)
    • Cooked, ground tofu (optional)
    • Vegan sour cream (optional)
    • Chopped scallions or green onions (optional)
    • Nutritional yeast
    • Avocado (optional)
    • Cooked sweet potatoes (optional)
    • Chili powder
    • Cumin
    • Oregano
    • Cayenne pepper

Step 1: Start by sauteeing these vegetables in a medium pan:

  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Bell Peppers
  • Celery

Add the following spices the vegetables while they’re cooking. 

  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Cayenne Pepper

Step 2: When the vegetables are thoroughly cooked through with the spices, add crushed tomatoes and water and transfer into a big pot.

Step 3: Add as many of the veggies labeled 'optional' above to the big pot as you'd like and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes.

Step 4: Enjoy!

After it's done cooking and when it cools down and you can put it in the freezer so it’s ready for you whenever you decide you’re in the mood for chili! This recipe can make enough food to eat for 5 or 6 days!


These are just a few initial suggestions designed to spark your culinary creativity and open you up to all the possibilities and options you have when it comes to eating plants. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plant-based eating...and we haven't even talked about dessert!

A Saturday or Sunday spent meal prepping can not only provide delicious food and enough meals for the week that are packed with ample protein but it can also save you a lot of time as you work towards your muscle-building goals.

A avocado.

It’s Not Always What You Eat But Also When You Eat

When you’re building muscle at an extreme pace, fueling your body with whole foods at the right times is a huge boost to your progress and daily recovery rate. 

Experts say eating simple carbs before you exercise provides you the energy for an intense workout and making sure you're eating enough calories throughout the day will help build muscle.

While enough protein is crucial for muscle building, energy production is just as important. The majority of your energy comes from carbohydrates so you definitely can’t overlook those when it comes to your diet. 

Variations In the Vegetarian Diet for Bodybuilders

Some people get their energy from healthy fats, especially those who follow the keto diet. Since the body stores carbohydrates and then breaks them down into energy, it’s an efficient way to fuel your body, especially if you’ll be lifting weights right after you eat them.

vegan keto diet emphasizes healthy fats and carbohydrates as the main source of nutrients and muscle building. 

Melt Body Fat and Increase Muscle Mass on a Vegan Diet

When it comes down to it, the safest and surest way to build muscle is to ensure you're eating enough calories from whole food sources every day of the week to fuel your body's caloric requirements.

The key is to get enough macronutrients to compliment the hard work you're doing building muscle every day and a simple protein shake can give you the boost you need. 

The best part about eating only plants is that they are full of all the nutrients your body is craving without a heavy caloric load (except for nuts!). Your digestion will improve and so will your energy levels.

Here are a few more great protein sources:

  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Soy milk
  • and much more!

You don't have to do it all at once either!

Start by learning how to create just one delicious plant-based meal that you love and once you master that you'll develop the confidence in your cooking skills to try more. You can also always add some  vegan plant-based supplements to your diet as well.