For those following a vegan diet or a plant-based diet and interested in building muscle from their gym workouts, it can be challenging to know what vegan foods to eat to help maintain a healthy body mass and build lean muscle.
It is possible to maintain muscle strength when eating a vegan or a vegetarian diet.
It is somewhat easier for those on a plant-based diet to consume healthy fats and protein from animal products such as eggs and whey protein powder, which are superior sources of protein to consume post-workout.
It can be hard for those looking for alternative plant-based protein to find something quick and easy to eat or drink that contains all the essential amino acids that animal products provide.
However, there are some good quality vegan protein shakes and foods that you can choose to help boost the amount of protein you consume.
It can also help your training performance and muscle gain results if you spread out your intake of plant-based foods throughout the day for better muscle protein synthesis.
Let’s take a look at some of the top vegan or plant-based protein foods you should aim to include in your diet if you want to maintain and improve your muscle mass and strength.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a great source of plant-based proteins and can also add a decent level of bone-fortifying calcium into your diet. Look at mixing it up and adding plenty of variety by eating peanuts, almonds, hemp seeds, and pistachios.
Although peanuts are technically legumes, combining them with nuts will give you a healthy dose of protein, fat, and fibre. They are easily transportable, too, so you can bag some up and take them to the gym to eat as a post-workout snack.
Peanut butter and seed butters are also excellent sources of fat and protein to help keep your energy levels up. Adding a couple of spoons of nut butter and some nutritional yeast to a protein shake makes an excellent post-workout protein drink.
We tend to lump legumes and beans together, and while legumes are very similar to beans, they are different plant species. Legumes make an excellent addition to your meals and are one of the best protein sources for vegans and vegetarians.
Legumes are low in fat and contain no cholesterol. They are a very versatile source of protein as they can be cooked and consumed alone or added to soups and stews. Look at adding high-quality legumes to your diet for a protein boost, such as lentils, peas, chickpeas, edamame and soya beans.
Coming in as a good source of plant-based protein, the humble bean is actually the second-highest source of protein after meat. Although it is true that the protein in beans is not complete, you can combine beans with other sources of protein to get everything you need for muscle-building.
Cooked beans are also very versatile and can be eaten alone, combined with soup, casseroles and stir-fry dishes to help boost the protein level of your meals.
To add more interest to your meals, try to combine a few bean varieties, such as black, pinto, navy, kidney, etc. Beans are cheap and plentiful, so there will be no problem adding them to your diet at little cost.
Plant-based milk alternatives
For those following a plant-based diet, it will be much easier for you to get a good source of high-quality protein from using whey protein powder. However, for vegans, this isn’t an option.
Instead, you can look for calcium-fortified plant-based milk alternatives that provide you with a good dose of plant protein. Hemp seed milk, for example, has about 3g of protein per serving. Soya milk packs an even bigger punch with an average of 8g of protein per serving.
You can make a breakfast smoothie using good-quality plant-based milk, some fresh or frozen berries, some nutritional yeast and a spoon of peanut butter for a boost of protein before hitting the gym. Alternatively, you can use this protein shake as an excellent post-workout drink.
Plant-based protein powders
Plant-based protein powders have come a long way since their early days of gritty-tasting, clumpy, grey looking drinks. These days you can buy high-quality plant-based and vegan protein powders made from a wide range of plants, including pea protein, nuts and hemp seeds.
From a nutritional standpoint, pea protein powder is one of the best protein sources for anyone following a strict vegan diet. These plant-based protein powder formulations are engineered to be as close as possible to matching levels of animal protein.
For those looking to retain muscle mass or make lean muscle gains in the gym while following a plant-based diet, it is recommended to get a minimum of .5 – .7g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily.
A good time to consume protein is just before or just after your workout. It is also recommended to eat protein at every meal, so your body is supplied with protein throughout the day. It is also advised to take a good-quality multi-vitamin each day that includes iron, magnesium, vitamins D and B-12, and zinc.