Building Muscle with a Plant-Based Diet

Learn how to choose the right kind of plant-based protein to help you build and sustain muscle.
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Many women are shifting toward a plant-based diet or are thinking about eating less meat, but they’re worried they won’t get enough protein, especially if they’re strength training.

But it is possible to build muscle on a plant-based diet. It’s about choosing the right kind of protein to help you build and sustain muscle.

The Role Of Protein

Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a key role in how your body functions. Your daily protein intake is vital to your overall health. If you want to lose fat, build muscle, or just improve the way your body looks and/or performs, protein (and how much of it you consume daily) becomes even more important.

How much protein is ideal for you, and most importantly, how do you consume adequate amounts of protein on a plant-based diet?

Most women require 0.8 – 1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to maintain muscle. But in order to build muscle your body often requires 1.0- 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For the average, healthy adult female with a primary goal of building muscle or maintaining muscle while losing fat 1–1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is required.

Getting Enough Protein

So how do you get that protein on a plant-based diet? There are plenty of nutrient-dense foods with high protein content. Here are some of the top plant-based choices and their protein content:

Vegetables

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1 avocado: 10 grams of protein

1 cup of broccoli: 5 grams of protein

1 cup of spinach: 5 grams of protein

2 cups of cooked kale: 5 grams of protein

1 cup of boiled peas: 9 grams of protein

1 cup of sweet potato: 5 grams of protein

Legumes

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Legumes, specifically, lentils and beans, which have served as the foundation of many diets for centuries. Legumes are high in protein and dietary fiber. Legumes are generally feel-good foods for satiety, balancing blood sugar, maintaining weight and energy.

1 cup of soybeans: 28 grams (1 cup of tofu: 22 grams; 1 cup of tempeh: 30 grams)

1 cup of lentils: 18 grams

1 cup of refried beans: 15.5 grams

1 cup of garbanzo beans (and hummus): 14.5 grams

1 cup of pinto, kidney, black beans: 13–15 grams

1 oz. of peanuts: 6.5 grams

Nuts and Seeds

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These are a staple in most plant-based diets. Nuts and seeds offer high amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and are easy to incorporate into a snack or meal.

1 oz. of cashews: 4.4 grams

1 oz. sesame seeds: 6.5 grams

¼ cup (2 oz.) of walnuts: 5 grams

1 oz. pistachios: 5.8 grams

2 tbsp. almonds: 4 grams

Nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower seed butter): 2 tablespoons provides approximately 8 grams of protein.

Non-Dairy Milk

This includes Soy, almond, Hemp, ancient grain (rice milk) coconut.

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1 cup gives you approximately 7–9 grams of protein

Grains

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Grains (Ancient grains, sprouted grains, multi-grains) are a major part of the plant-based diet.

1 cup of cooked Quinoa (versatile and delicious): 9 grams

1 cup of cooked Amaranth (gluten-free/oatmeal alternative): 9 grams

1 cup of cooked brown rice: 5 grams

1 cup of cooked oat bran: 7 grams

1 cup of cooked bulgur (used like rice in Mediterranean countries): 6 grams

¼ cup of cooked wheat germ: 8 grams

Creating a plant-based meal plan is easier than you think. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds contain protein, making it easier for you to meet the daily recommendations for protein on a plant-based diet.

So whether you’re introducing more plant-based proteins into your existing diet or making a long-term lifestyle choice, you can still get plenty of protein in your diet. Simply eating more beans (27% protein) lentils (36% protein), chickpeas (33% protein), peas (30% protein), and kale (22% protein) will provide you with the greatest opportunity to obtain the protein needed to train, maintain and/or gain muscle on a well-balanced and plant-based diet.

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