5 Plant-Based Foods that Will Help You Build Muscle

The decision to go vegetarian is a tough one sometimes. I know that we have been talking a lot about living the vegetarian life for a few weeks now, but this is something that we partially try to live by. By partially, what I mean is that we eat a ton of veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds (etc.), but we still eat the white meat from chicken, as well as a ton of fish.

One reason that we still indulge in these types of meat is partly because we enjoy the taste, but mostly because I have found that they help with our overall health and state of well-being. When this fall hit a month or so ago, the Heroic Health team decided that one of our shared goals for the rest of this year is that we want to focus on building more muscle, especially in our cores. A noble goal, maybe, but also a tough one sometimes. And so we figured that we should adjust our diets a wee bit to make them more conducive to building muscle. Makes sense, right?

But it’s important to note that not all individuals are created equally, and that things like gender, age, weight and so on all play a factor in your muscle-building dietary journey. For anyone, protein is a key part in gaining and maintaining muscles. In order to build muscle, it “requires the consumption of 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight,” says vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke. And to maintain it requires “0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.” Granted, this amount of for people who are serious about bulking up the amount of muscle on their bodies, but for people into body building and are really serious about their workouts, it’s pretty standard. Also, let’s not forget the other two important macronutrients: carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates give you quick bursts of energy for intensive workouts, while fats helps slow down your body’s absorption of these carbs so that you can have constant energy.

One of the misconceptions that people have is that body building and heavy working out is that it requires protein for the purpose of building and maintaining their muscles… but this isn’t entirely correct. Yes, it does work and yes, protein does contain the necessary components for building muscle. But look at Popeye! He ate little other than spinach, and look at his muscles! There is a surprising amount of evidence out there that says that a plant-based diet can be just as good for building and maintaining muscles as meat-based protein can. So here are five plant-based foods that are sure to help you build Popeye-worthy muscles.

Legumes come in some amazing varieties

Legumes come in some amazing varieties

  • Tempeh & Tofu: these two plant-based meat alternatives are great muscle-building foods. Both are extremely versatile and can soak up the flavors of any sauces, vegetables, and whatever is cooked with it. Tempeh is easier to digest because of its fermentation process but both soy products are amazing substitutes for meat-laden dishes. One cup of tempeh gives you 30.78 grams of protein! Try to incorporate this traditional Indonesian staple into your diet more frequently
  • Beans & Legumes: combining beans and rice can make for a great complete protein-filled side dish for any meal. Beans and rice, of course, also provide you with the necessary carbohydrate fuel you need to keep going in a workout. Just one cup of chickpeas (used in hummus) boasts 39 grams of protein, 121 grams of carbohydrates and 7.7 grams of unsaturated fat
  • Nuts: there are so many nuts to choose from out there that it would be silly not to incorporate some into your diet (unless, of course, you are allergic. In that case, please kindly skip my advice for this food option and move on to the next plant-based food). Did you know that just one cup of whole almonds provides 30 grams of protein and 71 grams of “good” fat? All nuts are packed with protein and are great to add into salads or just grab by the handful to munch on. This also includes nut butters, so make sure that you always have some on hand
Quinoa is a fabulous source of plant-based protein

Quinoa is a fabulous source of plant-based protein


  • Seeds: seeds, including flax, chia, sesame, hemp, sunflower and more are packed with protein and “good” fats. Add a tablespoon of flax or chia seeds to your post-workout smoothie for the ultimate recovery drink. Both flax and chia seeds have a nutty taste to them, with flax being more prominent. Both flax and chia seeds contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants. Snacking on sunflower seeds or adding them to a salad is a great way to incorporate seeds into your diet
  • Quinoa: quinoa looks a lot like rice, and many cook quinoa like any other grain. However, quinoa is actually a seed. It can grow to become a leafy vegetable if it’s not harvested. This super food is a complete protein, with all nine of the essential amino acids the body can’t always produce on its own. Did you know that there are over 120 varieties of quinoa? Even the pickiest eater could probably find one variety of this super food they like! One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein – a complete one at that! Quinoa is also a great source of carbs that won’t burn you out during a long, intensive workout

It is 100% possible to successfully become involved in body building (at whatever level you want) while eating a plant-based diet. So many people are completely dependant on meat to get their recommended daily protein, not even thinking about the many veggie options that are out there that serve the same purpose. So whether you are just beginning or continuing on your journey towards building muscles like the Hulk, take these five plant-based foods into consideration. Your body will thank you!

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