Vegan Muscle Building - impossible?
Muscle building is often associated with a lot of protein. Many people believe that after working out, you have to drink protein shakes and eat turkey breast, and that if you decide to become a vegan it’s difficult to build muscle. This is not true, and every day thousands of top athletes prove the opposite. We’ll explain how you can follow a vegan diet and build muscle.
What is protein anyway?
Protein, in addition to carbohydrates and fats, is one of the three important macronutrients we eat daily. Proteins consist of amino acids, which are assembled in chains and form different proteins depending on their sequence. There are 20 different amino acids in nature, which are the building blocks for all important metabolic processes – also for building muscle. We cannot absorb proteins directly through the diet. These must first be decomposed into amino acids, so that our body can then absorb them. However, we do not need every amino acid in equal amounts. There are amino acids that the body can produce itself (non-essential amino acids) and those that it cannot produce itself and therefore must be absorbed through food (essential amino acids).
Each protein-containing food has its own composition of amino acids and thus its own “biological value” with which our bodies can use the protein, among other things, to build muscle. The ideal guideline value – 100% biological value, as it were – is the whole egg, as well as whey powder or other food combinations that can actually exceed 100%. As a rule, plant-based foods have a lower biological value than animal ones, since we are evolutionarily more closely related to the cow than the soybean. However, the average German usually exceeds his daily protein needs several fold. Building muscle on a vegan diet is therefore totally achievable. A well planned vegan diet is ideal for building muscle!
Vegan Muscle Building - The Myth Protein
Protein is important, and there are many people who are intensely involved in fitness or nutrition who still believe that animal protein is essential for successful muscle building. However, many of these myths about protein have been refuted by practice and scientific research. We have summarized below the most common protein myths.
“Protein makes muscles”
No one has gotten bigger muscles by just drinking protein shakes. The truth is, that it’s the combination of training (with the right stimuli), enough regeneration, and proper nutrition that makes muscles grow. Of course, protein is an important factor in building muscle, but it is only part of it.
“The more protein, the better”
This myth is related to the previous one. Often you read that 2.0g-2.2g of protein per kg body weight is optimal for muscle growth (Our BMI calculator calculates not just your optimal weight but also your perfect protein intake.). The fact is, experts don’t agree on which amount of protein is optimal. A study was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition which found that there was no significant difference in strength between athletes who consumed 1.6g of protein to those who ate over 2.0g of protein per kg of body weight. The optimal amount of protein seems to be a very individual value. If the body has the right training stimuli, this protein is used to build muscle – excess is then burned as an energy source or becomes extra fat on your hips.
“Maximum of 30g protein per meal”
According to this myth, your body can absorb no more than 30g of protein per meal. Often, even the recommended amounts in protein shakes and other supplements are adapted to this number. Scientists however, are not quite in agreement on this point. With muscle building, it makes no difference if we eat 30g of protein in several, smaller meals or in larger portions all at once. The nitrogen content in our blood (the marker for protein intake, so to speak) is the same in both cases.
“Animal protein is unhealthy, but better than vegetable protein”
This myth is a combination of several misunderstandings. For one thing, animal protein is simply compared to animal fat and therefore labeled as unhealthy. And at the same time, it is said that animal protein has a higher biological value and is, therefore, better for the body. However, as already explained, the protein intake is not a limiting factor.
Vegan Muscle Building—now for the straight talk
More and more competitive athletes are going vegan. Strongman Patrick Baboumian, athlete Carl Lewis, and the tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams have all made the switch to a vegan diet. These are athletes who have not only measured themselves against the best in the world, they also often led the way for those following in their footsteps. Building muscle on a vegan diet is not only possible, it may even bring benefits, not only for building muscle, but also for improving athletic performance overall. So why bother changing your diet so drastically? The two most common answers to this question are ethical and health-related.
In the field of competitive sports, the psychological component often plays a decisive role. Only those who are fit mentally and feel comfortable in their bodies can deliver the best performance. For many, that means being in harmony with their environment and and staying true to their values. Anyone who loves animals and cannot ethically feel right about harming them frees their minds, and does something good for the environment, by becoming vegan.
The second reason is a medical one. Animal foods are often associated with increased digestion time and unhealthy fats, which affects your performance and ability to exercise. You just don’t train as well with a full stomach. A high-fiber vegan diet also boosts your immune system and improves your overall health. These factors all speak positively for vegan muscle building.
Which foods help with vegan muscle building?
A vegan diet for muscle building should include an array of foods such as legumes, in the form of lentils, peas, beans or soy (also known as tofu), rice, wheat protein in whole grains or seitan, nuts, and all sorts of vegetables such as broccoli or cabbage. A vegan diet should above all be colorful and varied. In case of emergency, protein shakes from pea, rice, hemp, or lupine protein can also be used for vegan muscle building. The market for vegan products is currently booming. Almost every supermarket carries many vegan options. The selection of alternative products is increasing steadily, but supposedly healthy, vegan products should always be looked at with a discerning eye. Some of these are so heavily processed that it would be better to resort to fresh products. Vegan recipes for toning are also found in our diet plans.
Vegan Nutrition Plan
With the right nutrition, the answer to whether a vegan diet is healthy is a very clear “yes!”. However, as with any type of diet, the prerequisite is a conscious, varied, healthy diet, and hard training. We want to help you with that. With our Nutrition Plan Configurator, you can easily create your personal (vegan) Nutrition Plan. We support you on your way to reaching your goal weight and take your personal nutritional needs 100% into consideration.
(see Georg Löffler (ed.) Petro E. Petrides (ed.) Peter C. Heinrich (ed.) Biochemistry and pathobiochemistry)
(See Hoffmann et al (2006): Effect of Protein Intake on Strength, Body Composition and Endocrine Changes in Strength / Power Athletes)