Build Muscle with a Plant-Based Diet
Protein-packed plant options are a must for vegetarians and vegans, but anyone can benefit from fulfilling nutrient needs with a variety of foods in a balanced way.
By Kathleen Papandrea, RD, and Mary Parsons, MS, RD
It’s only possible to build muscle by supporting your exercise regimen with a diet that supplies enough protein, the major building block for muscle tissue. Many athletes think that the only way to get serious about protein to build muscle is to load up on massive quantities of meat, eggs, and whey supplements – but don’t overlook the power of plant-based foods!
If you worry that a plant-based diet can’t supply enough protein to build muscle and support an athletic lifestyle, be sure to ask yourself: How much protein is enough? There are many variables affecting exactly how much protein will suit your unique needs (a registered dietitian can help you customize an individualized plan), but it’s often less than you might expect. For a quick example, a healthy adult female weighing 150 lbs. with a moderate physical activity level may be recommended to eat between 70-80 grams of protein each day. That works out to just 25 grams in each meal, without even taking snacks into account.
Protein-packed plant options are a must for vegetarians and vegans, but anyone can benefit from fulfilling nutrient needs with a variety of foods in a balanced way. Including plenty of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes will not only provide adequate protein but also improve the overall quality of your diet with extra vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients. Additionally, a high quality plant-based protein powder can be added to smoothies, soups or in other creative ways to get a boost in protein intake.
The exact numbers will vary from product to product, but here is the protein content of some of our favorite powerful plant foods:
Brown Rice (1 cup): 5 grams
Almonds (1 oz.): 6 grams
Hemp Seeds (2 Tbsp.): 7 grams
Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp.): 8 grams
Quinoa (1 cup): 8 grams
Tofu (4 oz.): 9 grams
Garbanzo Beans (1 cup): 12 grams
Black beans (1 cup): 15 grams
Lentils (1 cup): 18 grams
Protein powder: Varies generally 10-25 grams
How do you ensure you’re getting enough protein – both plant-based protein and other sources – to build muscle?