5 Plant-Based Foods That Can Help You Build Lean Muscle


What do elephants, horses, Venus Williams, and Colin Kaepernick all have in common?

They’re plant-based eaters who exhibit incredible strength and endurance.

If you’re a plant-based eater wondering if you can build lean muscle, these magnificent herbivores and world-class athletes are a testament that you most certainly can.

Plant-Based Protein for Muscle Gain

When it comes to building lean muscle, protein reigns supreme. But protein doesn’t need to come from animal sources. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that plant protein and animal protein equally benefit your muscles.

Increased protein intake, animal or plant, contributes to greater strength and muscle mass gains when coupled with resistance exercise. Protein is also needed to recover from training and to repair and grow muscle tissue. Adequate protein helps your body maintain muscle mass, too.

Carbs and Fats

Building lean muscle from a plant-based diet is about more than just protein. You need quality carbohydrates and healthy fats as well.

Carbohydrates are vital for sustained energy, athletic performance, and overall muscle building. They help to increase your glycogen stores, which you need to power your workouts. And they refuel your body post-workout.

Healthy fats provide satiety and help you store energy, absorb nutrients, synthesize protein, and maintain healthy hormone levels.

5 Plant-Based Foods that Promote Lean Muscle

Plant-Based Foods With Protein


The following five plant-based foods are rich in macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats) as well as micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants), and can help you on your way to building lean muscle.

 1. Can You Say Quinoa?

Quinoa is an ideal food for building muscle as it’s naturally gluten-free, yields about 8 grams of protein per cooked cup, and roughly 40 grams of complex carbohydrates. It also provides 5 grams of fiber, which ensures sustained energy and helps with satiety.

Quinoa is rich in important minerals such as magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous.

Magnesium plays a role in muscle contraction, boosts energy levels, and helps to reduce muscle cramps and fatigue. Manganese helps with protein and amino acid digestion. Phosphorous is needed for the body to make protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues.

Be sure to enjoy other whole grains, including brown rice, oats, barley, buckwheat, and spelt, to name a few.

 2. Top-Seeded Hemp

Hulled hemp seeds (also called hemp hearts) deliver quality protein (about 9 grams per ounce) to your body along with the perfect ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Hemp contains a complete profile of essential amino acids. They’re a bounty of micronutrients, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E.

Try them on salads, hot cereals, or in rice dishes or a smoothie for a protein boost.

Enjoy other nutrient-dense, protein-rich seeds such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. And don’t forget nuts – almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, and more – similarly provide your body with protein, healthy fats, and a host of vitamins and minerals.

 3. Your Go-To Tofu

Made from condensed soy milk, tofu is an excellent source of protein and a fantastic meat substitute. A half-cup serving yields roughly 10 grams of protein and all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs. It’s also a good source of calcium and iron, which support proper muscle function and bone health.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the link between soy protein consumption helping to promote fat loss while preserving muscle mass and supporting lean body mass gains.

Enjoy it scrambled for breakfast with onions and spinach, use it in a vegetable kabob, stir-fry or casserole. It’s versatile and easy to flavor.

You can try other soy-based products, including soybeans, soymilk, miso, tempeh and edamame. The beans and edamame are great sources of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein, and zinc.

 4. Get a Pulse

Pulses include low-fat protein-, nutrient- and fiber-rich beans such as kidney beans, black beans, mung beans, pinto beans, and garbanzos (chickpeas), as well as lentils and split peas.

Lentils and split peas lead the pack in terms of protein content. Pulses also contain important vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and folate. What’s more, they’re inexpensive, highly versatile, and relatively simple to make.

Use them in a soup, in hummus, add them to a salad, or combine them with rice.

 5. How Sweet It Is

One of the healthiest foods on the planet, sweet potatoes, can be eaten at any meal. They’re the perfect complex carbohydrate. The sweet potato’s low glycemic index stabilizes blood sugar and reduces insulin resistance while fueling the body before or after strength training.

Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, a potent antioxidant responsible for aiding growth and repair of the body’s tissues, which includes muscle.

Remember, all potatoes (provided they’re not fried) are great sources of complex carbohydrates. And they do offer some protein! (A medium-sized russet potato contains about 4 grams of protein.)

In addition to these foods, there are many vegetables that contain protein, albeit in smaller amounts. Bananas and dried fruit are other terrific sources of complex carbohydrates and key minerals. Combine them with nuts and seeds for a power-packed snack.

Bottom line: plant-based eating gives you myriad options for strengthening your body. There’s no reason a plant-based eater can’t reach optimal levels of fitness!

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Kim Henderson
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Gary Saville

What about Purslane very high in protein.