Are You A Vegetarian Body Builder? Then This Is How You Build Muscle!

Updated on December 20th, 2019
vegan foods Build Muscle

Protein is essential to build strong muscles and lose unwanted fat. But how to reach your bodybuilding goals on a vegetarian diet?

With so many options, hype, and claims – along with strict eating preferences, food sensitivities, and allergies – it’s no wonder that eating in the right proportion consistently can be a significant hurdle.

Most people looking to maintain a healthier lifestyle prefer to go vegan. The catch? It tends to get tough to fill the massive gaps with a meatless diet, particularly in terms of protein that is extremely important for losing fat and building muscles.

However, building muscles on a strictly vegetarian diet don’t have to be difficult if you follow the right approach. This article describes how you can maintain your preferred plant-based diet and still gain all the nutrients, vitamins, and proteins your body needs to gain lean muscle mass.

Before discussing how we can build muscles even on a vegetarian diet, first let us understand how muscles grow, that is the mechanism behind bodybuilding.

What Is Muscle Building?

Muscle Building Women

Following a workout session, your body works to repair and replace the damaged muscle fibers with a cellular mechanism wherein your muscle fibers fuse to create myofibrils, that is new muscle strands formed with protein.

The repaired myofibrils gradually increase in number and thickness for creating muscle hypertrophy (also known as growth).

As a thumb rule for bodybuilding: muscles grow when the muscle protein synthesis rate is more than the muscle protein breakdown rate. Also, the growth of muscles does not take place when you lift the weights; it instead takes place while your body rests.

Satellite cells help add new muscles to the muscle cells.


Satellite cells act similar to stem cells for the muscles. Upon activation, satellite cells help add nuclei to your muscle cells and, thus, directly contribute to a muscle cell or myofibril growth.

Activation of the satellite cells is what separates those freaky hard gainers from the moderate ones.  

In a recent study, researchers found that people who are “extreme responders” to the growth of muscles, with an excellent 58 percent myofibril hypertrophy had 23 percent satellite cell activation(1). Also, the study showed that modest responders, with a 28 percent myofibril growth, had 19 percent satellite cell activation.

Role of Proteins in Muscle Building

Proteins are essential macro-molecules that consist of amino acid chains. Quality protein provides high-quality amino acids required by your body for protein synthesis. As such, your body can’t produce these amino acids on its own.

When you work out, your muscle tissues get damaged and need protein to be repaired, rebuild, and grow through the synthesis of protein. That’s what bodybuilding is all about.

Merely consuming more protein does not mean you will be gaining muscle mass. To gain mass, you need to exercise and lift weights, along with eating a balanced and nutritious diet with complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables.

The amino acids in protein trigger a lot of processes and reactions in your body(2). While lifting the weight, you induce micro tears in the muscle fibers. Your body breaks down the protein you consume after a weight-training session and the amino acids aid in repairing those tiny tears. The amino acids get injected in those micro tears and fill them us, thence making the muscles stronger and bigger.

[Read: Ayurvedic Diet for Healthy Life]

Challenges Faced By Vegetarians

Vegetarian Body Builder

While not impossible, building large and strong muscles on an entirely vegetarian diet can be a little challenging as compared gaining muscles on a meat-based diet.

The major problem surfaces because of the poor choices the majority of vegetarians tend to make. Most vegan diets are incredibly heavy on carbs and lack the required amount of protein, think of the typical potato- or rice-based food.

A healthy and balanced vegetarian diet to gain muscles must consist of a wide range of beans, with sufficient combination of pulses and cereals; nuts, and dairy products.

Vegetarian diet often fails to provide a consistent quantity of protein and the required amount of calories for building muscles. Together with enough protein, ensure you take high-quality fats from vegetarian food sources such as butter, ghee, and coconut oil to facilitate healthy production of hormones. One of the most prominent challenges vegetarians face is to consume a sufficient and consistent amount of fat, a lack of which leads to low production of testosterone that is extremely vital for building bigger and stronger muscles.

Did you know?

  • Black beans provide 15g of protein in just a 1-medium-cup serving – that’s more than the amount of protein in a chicken drumstick(3).
  • One full cup of cooked lentils offer about 18g of protein – that’s more than the amount protein in a hamburger.
  • One full cup of soybean has nearly 31g of protein – that’s more than the amount of protein in a 4-ounce turkey burger.

List of Vegetarian Foods That Are High In Proteins

Now that you’ve understood that protein is the most crucial aspect of bodybuilding on a vegetarian diet, let’s go through this list of top ten vegetarian foods that are rich in proteins:

1. Greek Yogurt

It contains 23 grams of protein per medium cup.

The Greek yogurt is one of the most abundant vegan sources of protein and offers a delicious taste when layered with fruits or added to smoothies. Also, it can be used as a flavorsome sour cream alternative in dips or on tacos.

Greek yogurt is also rich in gut-healthy probiotics and calcium that will support your metabolism and enhance protein absorption. Prefer plain Greek yogurt over flavored ones to save the added sugars.

2. Lentils


They contain 9 grams of protein per 1/2 serving of a medium cup (cooked).

Another protein-rich vegan food is lentils. Not only they provide vegetarian protein, but a medium 1/2 cup of cooked lentils also provide around 8 grams of fiber that boosts your metabolism to support your bodybuilding plans. Fiber also keeps your heart functioning normally.

3. Chia seeds

Each one tablespoon of chia seeds contains 3 grams of protein.

Similar to hemp, chia seeds provide a diverse and dense nutritive value. They are an excellent source of protein, omega-3, and fibers. You can combine them with smoothies, or prepare a chia-seed jam for bread.

4. Quinoa

Quinoa seeds

They contain about 8 grams of protein per medium cup (cooked).

Quinoa is a unique type of plant-based protein since it consists of all the nine essential amino acids, hence making it a perfect and complete protein source that helps build muscle mass rather quickly as compared to other plant-based protein sources. Also, quinoa is an excellent source of folate, thiamine, iron, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium.

5. Cottage Cheese

Each ½ medium cup of cottage cheese contains 14 grams of protein.

Cottage cheese is back in the good books of plant-based protein lovers. As it’s slightly high in term of sodium supply as compared to Greek yogurt, you must take care of your overall salt intake. Enjoy it as a savory dip or blend it with fruits for a sweetened taste.

6. Hemp Seeds

Hemp Seeds

Each tablespoon of hemp seeds contains about 4 grams of protein.

Along with being an excellent source of vegan protein, hemp seeds provide all essential omega-3 fatty acids to boost your heart health. They are delectable when sprinkled on smoothies or oatmeal.

7. Beans (black beans, chickpeas, etc.)

Beans contain about 8 grams of protein per 1/2 medium cup (cooked).

Similar to lentils, beans are rich in fiber that boosts your digestive mechanism and aids protein synthesis. They are also an easy and affordable way to add vegan protein to soups, salads, tacos, and dips.

8. Edamame

Each ¼ medium cup (shelled) contain 5 grams of protein.

Edamame is also known as green soybeans. You can find them on any sushi restaurant menu as well as in the frozen section at any grocery store. Edamame can be bought in the shell or shelled. Shelled Edamame is a great way to add quality protein to stir-fries, grain bowls, and salads.

9. Green Peas

They contain about 8 grams of protein per medium cup.

Peas are also an excellent source of protein. They add a great flavor when added to salads or soups, or when prepared as a side dish.

10. Peanut Butter

Each tablespoon contains around 3.5 grams of protein.

Peanuts and peanut butter are full of fat, protein, and fiber. A winning combination of nutrition aids you in building strong muscles. Blend peanut butter into smoothies, apply on toasts, or prepare a peanut sausage for dishes.

Building bigger and stronger muscles on an entirely vegetarian diet is quite possible. The thumb rule remains the same as for a meat-based diet: eat a little extra, prioritize essential fats and protein, get sufficient sleep and rest, and follow a well-planned weight-training plan.

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