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Top Foods to Eat for Building Muscle on a Vegan Diet

Top Foods to Eat for Building Muscle on a Vegan Diet

When you ask a seasoned vegan “But how do you get your protein in?” your most common response will be an eye roll to the back of the head. Or, if they don’t show this outwardly, you can guarantee it’ll be happening internally, as they’re all too familiar with this question, and having to explain that there are, in fact, plenty of plant-based foods which naturally contain enough protein, without needing a slab of meat to accompany them.

If you’re a newbie to working out on the reg’, however, and are looking for advice on how to up your daily protein intake to help you build muscle effectively on a vegan diet, it’s important to do your research. Or, if you’re considering veganism, but you’re worried about whether it’s sustainable with your current fitness regime, again, worry not, it’s achievable, but research is key.

Whilst protein is, of course, essential when it comes to repairing and building muscles after a workout, you need to ensure you’re getting it from a range of different sources with all of your other essential macro and micro nutrients included. You need these so your body is functioning at its best, and can therefore respond to physical activity better and faster.

Here’s a list of foods that are great for building muscle whilst helping you to maintain a healthy, balanced vegan diet:

Foods which are high in protein with low amounts of fat and carbs:

  • Seitan: 28g = 21 g
  • Plant-based protein powder: 30g = 20g
  • Spirulina: 2 tbsp = 8g
  • Nutritional yeast: ¼ cup = 8g

It’s recommended that you need to eat around 1 gram of protein for every pound of your own body-weight if you live a highly active lifestyle and lift weights, so these are great, easy foods to incorporate into your diet that’ll help you head towards that target quickly. From healthy meat-free hotdogs, to vegan shepherd’s pie and spirulina smoothies, there’s a variety of mouth-watering ways you can use these ingredients to clock up the grams.

It’s important, however, to not rely on these foods too much to reach that goal, as there are many other sources that contain other essential nutrients you need to give you a healthy balance, and necessary amino acids to support your dietary needs.  

Foods with a moderate amount of protein and carbs, whilst being high in fibre and low in fat:

  • Lentil pasta: 85g = 26g
  • Lentils: 1 cup = 18g
  • Soy beans: 1 cup = 16g
  • Chickpeas: ½ cup = 8g
  • Kidney beans: ½ cup = 7g
  • Black beans: ½ cup = 7g

There are plenty of easy, tasty meals you can make with these fibrous protein sources. From bean-based chillis and chickpea curries, to delicious lentil pastas with your fave sauce and veggies. These are some of the best types of meals to bulk cook, saving you time and energy during the week.

Foods with a moderate to high amount of protein, as well as containing some carbs and fat:

  • Tempeh: ½ cup = 15g
  •  Extra-firm tofu: 85g = 11g
  •  Edamame beans: 1 cup = 8g
  •  Soy milk: 1 cup = 8g
  •  Hemp seeds: 2 tbsp = 6g
  •  Chia seeds: 2 tbsp = 5g

Create delicious Asian dishes like vegan noodles or stir-fries with rice using your extra-firm tofu or tempeh, edamame beans and any extra ingredients that you love cooking with. Mushrooms, for example, contain around 5 grams of protein in per cup, which is a relatively low amount, however, when you mix these up with your tofu or tempeh, you’ll have yourself a protein-rich plate.

Other vegetables including relatively low amounts of protein but accumulate over the course of the day:

  • Green peas: 1 cup = 9g
  • Artichoke hearts: 1 cup = 6g
  • Asparagus: 1 cup = 5g
  • Cooked spinach: 1 cup = 5g
  • Broccoli: 1 cup = 2.5g

Mix that lentil pasta up with a selection of the veggies above, and make lots of different tasty combos for dinner! Or broccoli, green peas and asparagus are all easy sides to accompany hearty mains such as vegan cottage pie.

High-protein whole grains:

  • Cooked quinoa: 1 cup = 8g
  • Cooked wild rice: ½ cup = 6g
  • Cooked buckwheat: ½ cup = 6g
  • Cooked millet: 1 slice = 6g
  • Rolled oats: ½ cup = 5g

All whole grains have some protein in, but it’s best to include a range of the above in your diet. Whether it’s porridge for breakfast using rolled oats, or swapping your regular rice for wild rice or quinoa to go with your bean-based chilli, or stir-fry, there are plenty of ways to incorporate these high-protein whole grains into your diet.  

Nuts and seeds with some protein in, and are low in carbs but high in fat:

  • Peanuts: 28g = 7g
  • Peanut butter: 2 tbsp = 7g
  • Tahini: 2 tbsp = 7g
  • Sunflower seed butter: 2 tbsp = 7g
  • Almond butter: 2 tbsp = 6g
  • Almonds: 28g = 6g
  • Walnuts: 28g = 5g
  • Cashews: 28g = 5g
  • Pumpkin seeds: ¼ cup = 5g
  • Brazil nuts: 28g = 4g
  • Sunflower seeds: 2tbsp = 3g

Create your own home-made nut mix with raisins, and eat these as a healthy snack in between meals. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are also great salad toppers that add extra texture and flavour to your greens.

So next time you’re asked ‘But how do you get your protein in?’, you can tell them your long meatless list, and save the next vegan another eye roll.