Vegetarian diet plan for muscle gain is a very hard thing to do simply because there are not many products out there that can provide you with everything your body needs when lifting extremely heavy weights plus on a vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian Diet Plan For Muscle Gain
Building muscle on a vegetarian diet sounds impossible to some people, even some trainers. But, we can’t really blame them because for years the system made us believe that you need to eat animal protein to gain muscle and that protein can only be found in animal foods.
Allow me to give you the good news here; building muscle on a vegetarian diet is absolutely doable. Contrary to popular belief, you can get enough protein as a vegetarian to build muscle.
The American Dietetic Association mentions that a well-balanced vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for protein.
The major difference between animal and plant-based protein foods is that animal sources of protein are considered complete proteins, whereas most (but not all) vegetarian protein sources are not.
It means that vegetarian protein sources don’t contain all nine essential amino acids that need to be obtained through diet.
In this article, you will find our tips to build a successful plan on a vegetarian diet for muscle gain.
How to Build Muscle Mass on a Vegetarian Diet:
Plan your diet well
A well-planned vegetarian diet that meets your daily energy requirement and contains a variety of plant-based proteins can provide enough protein to gain muscle mass.
The first thing you should do is to have some sort of a daily meal plan to make sure you’re getting enough protein. Especially on the days you exercise, it helps to have protein within 60 minutes after a workout to help with muscle recovery and muscle gain. This could either be a post-workout snack or just a regular meal with a good helping of protein.
How To Build MUSCLE As A Vegetarian (The Truth About Protein Intake)
How To Build MUSCLE As A Vegetarian (The Truth About Protein Intake)Play Video
Besides protein, carbohydrates also play a crucial role in gaining muscle. They provide you the fuel needed to complete your workouts. Simply put, they are “the gas in the tank to drive the car”. So don’t deny your body them.
In fact, one study compared subjects that ate the same amount of calories and protein but different carbohydrate intake. The results showed that subjects who ate the required amount of carbohydrate gained 1.3 kg of muscle mass, while those who ate a low-carb diet gained none.
As a bonus, you can also choose from high protein grains like quinoa, teff, amaranth, and spelt to get both good quality carbohydrates and protein. Are we in a win-win situation or what?
Make sure to get enough calories
To increase muscle mass, make sure you eat enough calories to gain muscle. To build muscle you should ideally be in a calorie surplus; so if you’re training to build muscle but not eating enough calories… Well it won’t be particularly effective!
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should indulge in chips or high-carb snacks. You should choose healthy and calorically-rich options like nuts, nut butters, avocado, dried fruits, seeds, etc.
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re getting enough calories throughout the day, track your intake with one of the applications you can download on your phone.
Eat protein with each meal
I can hear the first question that comes to your mind: “how much protein should I eat to gain muscle?” Here is your answer.
Although the amount of protein each person needs depends on age, activity level, and other factors, the current advice is that adults should consume a minimum 0.8 g of protein for each kilogram of body weight.
However, if you want to build muscle, your goal for daily protein intake should be between 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight.
It is best to divide and balance your protein intake among your daily meals and snacks for optimal muscle growth.
Some good vegetarian protein sources are:
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt providing 20 g protein
- 180 g tofu providing 16 g protein,
- ½ cup cooked beans providing 8 g protein,
- ¼ cup nuts providing 7 g protein,
- 1 medium egg providing 6 g protein
Here is a daily menu of high protein vegetarian meals to build muscle mass:
- Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal cooked with soy milk and topped with nuts. Then have beans with rice for lunch and a nice salad with hemp seeds, quinoa, and a hard-boiled egg for dinner. Also, throw in some Greek yogurt with berries as a delicious snack.
Get all nine essential amino acids
As mentioned in the introduction, most plant-based proteins don’t contain all nine essential amino acids that have to be obtained through diet, except for soy, quinoa, chia, nutritional yeast, spirulina, and hemp seeds.
More recent evidence suggests that the whole ‘incomplete protein’ issue isn’t as bad as once thought. Your body is clever enough to make use of what it already has in a ‘protein pool’ and pair up amino acids to carry out its required functions.
However, pairing protein incomplete protein sources is probably helpful when it comes to optimally building muscle, so you can pair plant foods (such as grains) to make a complete protein.
Building Muscle on a Vegetarian Diet
For years, the conventional belief that ruled professional and amateur athletic training programs was that consuming meat was the only way to build muscle. Today, we know a balanced vegetarian diet that includes plant-based protein assists muscular development … no steak required.
Well-planned vegetarian diets that meet energy needs and contain a variety of plant-based protein foods, such as soy products, beans, lentils, grains, nuts and seeds can provide adequate protein for athletes without the use of special foods or supplements. However, consideration must be made for the type of vegetarian diet an athlete follows:
- Vegan – a vegetarian diet that excludes all animal products, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products, and which relies on plant protein only to meet protein needs.
- Lactovegetarian – a vegetarian diet that excludes meat, poultry, fish and eggs but includes dairy products, like fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, which are all sources of protein.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian – a vegetarian diet that excludes meat, poultry and fish but includes eggs and dairy products, which are also sources of protein.
Athletes need to eat an appropriate amount of calories and a variety of protein foods throughout the day in order to meet their protein requirement. Amino acids make up the protein that our bodies need. Meat, eggs and dairy foods are typically the most coveted protein sources because they contain all nine essential amino acids in the ratios that humans require. Most sources of plant-based protein are lacking in at least one of the nine essential amino acids. Soy and quinoa are two exceptions. Including a variety of plant-based protein foods will ensure all of the essential amino acids are being consumed.
Eat Protein Throughout the Day
Vegetarian athletes should include a quality source of protein with meals and snacks. Here are some tips for meeting protein needs without consuming meat:
- Eat five or six small meals per day that not only include a protein food, but also a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plenty of water.
- More than half your calories each day should come from quality carbohydrates, which fuel your muscles.
- Choose heart healthy sources of fat, like olive oil, almonds, walnuts, avocados and canola oil.
- Find a registered dietitian nutritionist who can work with you to create a personalized vegetarian eating plan that meets your individual needs.
Tips for plant-based eaters
While protein sources may differ between meat-eaters and vegetarians, most other recommendations for building lean body mass are the same for both groups. These tips will help you increase your muscle in no time.
1. Figure out your protein needs
Protein is a hot topic right now, but the daily requirement is actually much less than you may think. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound – the best way to calculate the minimum amount of protein your body needs (in grams) is to multiply 0.36 by your body weight.
For a 150-pound person, that’s only 54 grams of protein per day! Athletes need a bit more protein, around 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 1.0 grams per pound. That’s about 75 to 150 grams of protein for a 150-pound person.
2. Eat different types of protein throughout the day
For optimal muscle growth, aim to eat 20-30 grams of protein at each main meal. Vegetarian foods that pack a protein punch include:
Beans & Lentils
Versatile and nutritious, beans and lentils provide up to 15 grams of protein per cup when cooked. Use dried beans and your slow cooker to make these Vegan Tacos with Walnuts. Or try lentils in a Moroccan Lentil Soup or Greek Lentil Power Bowl.
A cup of milk provides 8 grams of protein, and the protein in ½ cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese is closer to 12-15 grams. My favorite way to use yogurt is in a smoothie, like this Sunshine Smoothie.
Soy milk packs just as much protein as dairy milk, and other soy foods, like tofu and tempeh, have up to 10-12 grams of protein per cup. Check out these 17 Tofu Recipes of 14 Tempeh Recipes!
sushiAlong with many other nutrients, whole grains add a surprising source of protein to the diet. Among grains with the highest protein levels are quinoa and whole wheat pasta (8 grams per cup), old-fashioned or steel cut oats (5 grams per ½ cup), and whole wheat bread (5 grams per slice). Quinoa is a great base for a salad, like this simple one with black beans and a honey-lime vinaigrette. Or make It a vegan sushi night with this quinoa bowl.
Nuts & Seeds
Making a great addition to salads, smoothies, and yogurt, nuts and seeds also contribute a good amount of protein. Examples include hemp seeds (10 grams per 3 Tablespoons), almonds (6 grams per ounce), and peanut butter (4 grams per Tablespoon). Whip up these Cinnamon Roasted Almonds for a yummy mid-day snack.
3. Plan your meals to include protein
Consuming protein from a variety of sources helps you get a range of nutrients in your diet.
For example, you might eat a bowl of oatmeal with walnuts and a glass of milk at breakfast, a black bean quesadilla for lunch, and a salad with hemp seeds, tofu, and a hard-boiled egg for dinner. These meals alone provide over 60 grams of protein!
If you throw in snacks such as Greek yogurt and a peanut butter sandwich, that number jumps up to nearly 100 grams – an amount of protein that would easily meet the needs of a 150-pound person looking to build lean body mass!
4. Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are essential and provide energy for all sorts of activities. If you limit carbs, you will not be able to perform at your best or build lean body mass efficiently. Aim to make 45-60% of your diet come from carbs.
5. Eat complementary proteins
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. The body can make some amino acids, but it relies on the foods you eat to supply other amino acids. The ones it cannot make are called ‘essential amino acids’. Why am I telling you this?
There are two types of protein– ‘complete protein’, which contains the 9 essential (the ones the body cannot make) amino acids and ‘incomplete protein’, which does not have all 9 amino acids. Most plant-based proteins are incomplete, except for quinoa, soy, hemp, and chia. In comparison, ALL animal proteins are complete proteins.
Since most vegetarian proteins, such as beans, lentils, and brown rice are incomplete, it’s important to pair them with other foods to make a complete protein. Pairing two or more vegetarian sources together so that they provide the essential amino acids is referred to as ‘complementary proteins’.
Some pairings that make complementary plant-based proteins are:
- Beans and rice
- Nut butter and whole grain bread
- Lentil and barley
- Hummus and pita
- Oats and almonds
6. Vary your workouts
Regardless of how much protein you consume, building muscle without lifting weights or doing some other form of strength training is nearly impossible. If you primarily focus on cardio workouts, try adding some form of strength or bodyweight activities to your routine. If you are new to strength training, you can try out a circuit class, find a personal trainer, or watch YouTube videos to get started.
7. Don’t skimp on iron
While there are plenty of vegetarian iron sources, plant-based sources of iron are not absorbed as well as animal sources. Iron plays a main role in carrying oxygen throughout the body and making red blood cells. If you don’t eat enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which could potentially lead to iron deficiency anemia. [See 12 plant-based sources of iron here.] Long story short, stock up on those iron sources such as legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.
8. Include snacks in your diet
Believe it or not, the average American consumes just as many snacks as meals each day. But most snack foods are rich in carbs and low in protein. Make sure you’re getting enough protein at snacktime with these options:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Nut butter with sliced fruit or veggie sticks
- Chocolate milk
- Roasted chickpeas
- Hummus and veggies
- Cottage cheese on a whole wheat English muffin
- Chia seed pudding
- Guacamole & veggies
- Loaded oatmeal
9. Track your intake
If you’re doing all of the above and are still not seeing results, you may be skimping on protein or taking in more calories than you need. If you’re not sure how much protein you’re getting on a daily basis, try tracking your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal.
Tracking calories can be an efficient tool to assess overall protein, carbs and fat intake. It’s not something you need to continue long term, but even tracking for 5-7 days can open your eyes to how much or little you’re consuming. (Note: if you have an eating disorder or history, tracking calories is not advised.)
What About Carbs?
Athletes who engage in resistance training or exercise hard every day have a high requirement for dietary carbohydrates. Carbs play an important role in fueling your body for athletic endurance and strength training. During the initial bulking stage of bodybuilding, when you want to muscle growth and development, your body needs an adequate amount of carbs in the diet to maintain and restore glycogen levels.
During intense physical activity, muscle glycogen particles are broken down, freeing glucose molecules that are used by muscle cells required for muscle contraction. Consuming a carbohydrate snack prior to working out can reduce glycogen depletion, which may enhance performance, says a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in May 2014.
The rate at which muscle glycogen is used depends upon the intensity of the exercise, according to the April 2018 article in Nutrition Reviews. The review reports the recommendation for daily carb intake from your diet needed to replenish muscle glycogen stores in liver and muscles is 8 to 12 grams per kilogram of body weight.
When adding carbohydrates to your vegan bodybuilding meal plan, choose complex carbohydrates that are unprocessed in the form of vegetables, grains and fruits. They should provide more than 20 grams of carbs per serving and include dietary fiber, choline, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E and C, advises the Nutrition Reviews article.
Examples of good high-carbohydrate foods that contain the required nutrients, according to the study, include:
- Baked potato with skin
- Black beans, canned and drained
- Enriched penne pasta, boiled
- Enriched wheat bran cereal with raisins
- Whole-wheat bread
Foods such as breakfast cereals are often fortified with vitamin B12, a nutrient that is difficult to get in a plant-based diet. You should ensure that your bodybuilding diet includes vitamin B12 to keep your blood cells and nerves healthy, as well as to prevent anemia.