How to Build Muscle on a Vegetarian Diet

If you’re looking to build muscle, you’ll find plenty of info out there extolling the virtues of lean meats and fish. But what if you’re vegetarian or vegan? Is it possible to maintain muscle on a plant based diet? And can you build muscle on a vegetarian diet?

Traditional muscle-building diets are stacked with recommendations for a protein-heavy menu: steak and eggs for breakfast, salmon for lunch, shakes after the gym, and chicken for dinner.

That may be well and good if you’re a meat eater, but what if you’re following a plant-based diet? What then? What can you eat to build muscle when you don’t eat meat?

If you choose to eat a vegan(like me) or vegetarian diet, then you’re probably used to people making comments about your diet already. Do you get enough iron and calcium Do you have to take supplements? Where do you get your protein? Vegetarians and vegans have heard them all.

Yes, you can make mistakes, but a plant based diet can support your health and help you drop pounds. But what about muscle?

So what should you be eating if you want to build muscle as a vegetarian or vegan? And do you need to supplement your diet?

Does Being a Vegetarian Affect Muscle Growth?

Does being a vegetarian affect muscle growth? Nope. You can build muscle even if you give up meat!

As long as you’re eating enough food to fuel the amount of training you’re doing, then a plant-based diet can provide all the energy and nutrients required to train at any level.

A healthy diet should contain whole grains, beans, and lots of vegetables, especially leafy greens. In fact, plant based diets can be beneficial as they’re high in antioxidants, which may speed up recovery — and the sooner you recover, the sooner you can work out hard again!

What Foods Do You Need to Eat to Build Muscle?

The reason many muscle-building diets include lots of lean meats is because they contain protein. When you work out, especially when you’re doing resistance training such as lifting weights, you create microscopic tears in your muscles.

Protein supplies essential amino acids, which help repair and rebuild your muscle fiber so you gain strength and build muscle.

While meat is a good source of protein, there are also plenty of quality vegetarian options Eggs, milk, and yogurt are all protein-rich, as are some nuts (particularly peanuts and almonds), seeds, and pulses — including beans, lentils, and split peas.

However, while you should be including protein in your diet to build muscle, there’s no need to get too hung up on it. Protein is often over emphasised for athletes and other nutrients, like iron, which helps transport oxygen around the body to keep you feeling energised, and carbohydrates, which provide energy and are easy to get these from a plant-based diet.

Vegetarian sources of iron include beans, nuts, dried fruit, whole grains (such as brown rice), fortified breakfast cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables, like kale. When it comes to carbohydrates, opt for healthy minimal processed options such as whole grains, beans, fruit and vegetables.

Complex Carbohydrates are filling and packed with additional nutrients and fibre, and they release energy into the body much more slowly than processed carbs, such as white bread and pastries.

Refined carbs, which are stripped of natural fibre, can cause spikes in blood sugar, leaving you feeling hungry.

How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle?

How much protein do I need to build muscle? If you look at some of the people you see hitting the weight bench at the gym, you’d think your diet should be all protein, all the time.

But you probably need less protein than you think you do.

Those who are training regularly may need to consume more protein, so I recommend 0.8g- 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day when people are active.

For a 150-pound person, that’s about 54-89 grams of protein per day (one kilogram equals 2.2 pounds). If you’re following the nutrition program I use, you'll get a set amount of red containers, which determines your protein intake, each day so you will not need to count grams .

The Bottom Line

You can build and maintain muscle mass on a meat-free diet. Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can meet your needs while still eating a balanced diet. Yes, you do need protein, but you don’t need to overload on it or overlook other key macronutrients.

For more information on the nutrition program I use send me an email at

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