One of the most revered macronutrients is protein. Although typically associated with meat and animal products, protein is plentiful in plants. Before we highlight the top vegan protein sources to help build muscle, let's discuss a bit more about protein.
There are 20 amino acids. Our body can manufacture 11 of these amino acids and the remaining 9 amino acids are coined "Essential Amino Acids". Plant foods contain all of the essential amino acids and all plant-based foods can form complete proteins within the body once ingested.
All plant-based foods can form complete proteins
within the body once ingested.
Once food is ingested, Pepsin, the protein-digesting enzyme in the stomach, works to break the peptide bonds of the proteins and the proteins are further processed in the small intestines. The resulting amino acids are absorbed into the blood stream and ultimately are sent and stored in amino acid pools that are stored in the tissues.
Excess amino acids are converted by liver enzymes to keto acids and urea. Keto acids can be used as a source of energy, converted to glucose, or stored as fat. Urea is sent out of the body via sweat and urine.
How Much Protein Do You Need To Build Muscle?
The US Department of Agriculture recommends that all adults should consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. That translates to about 0.37 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For optimal muscle building potential, look to up your protein intake to 0.6 grams to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
These numbers may seem surprisingly low to many, however, many studies have consistently failed to find any benefits from consuming over 0.82 grams per pound of body weight and have concluded that 0.82 grams per pound is the upper limit at which protein intake benefits body composition (Phillips & Van Loon, 2011).
Plant-Based Protein Sources
Tofu is a versatile food that may be considered plain if served directly from its cold watery container, however, the texture and flavor of tofu can be altered through some good cooking.
Half a block of firm tofu is about 18g of protein and over 20% of your daily recommended calcium.
Everyone knows beans are a great source of protein. Below is a chart that outlines some of the top protein-rich beans
Hummus (a chickpea mash essentially) has sparked a lot of other new fun products like edamame hummus, black bean hummus, etc. Keep an eye out on your next grocery spree.
Quinoa has been the popular protein-packed grain over the past few years, but check out these other grains:
Vegan Protein Powders
Although not a necessity on a plant-based diet, a vegan protein powder can be very helpful in meeting your protein goals if you are looking to gain muscle or add some extra protein to your diet. I've tried many plant-based proteins on the market and to be completely candid, some taste terrible, some absolutely tear your stomach apart, and some cause embarrassing gas. The one plant-based protein that has never let me down is Vega.
Vega is a fully-vegan-friendly brand that prioritizes quality nutrition and environmental sustainability. Their products are certified vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and made without dairy, soy, artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners. Most importantly, it tastes good!
Even if you are not interested in fully committing to a plant-based diet, opting for a plant-based protein instead of whey protein can be beneficial.
Nuts and Seeds
It is no secret that nuts and seeds are a great source of protein. The typical list is almonds, pecans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, etc. but don't forget about hemp seeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, tahini and nut butters.
Seitan is essentially another name for wheat gluten. Although there are valid arguments to omit wheat gluten from your diet and some people have a serious intolerance to gluten, it is still a notable source of protein. 100 calories of seitan packs in a whopping 21g of protein!
Tempeh was an enigma to me for my first 4 years as a vegan, until I learnt how to create a crispy bacon-tasting topping out of it. 1/2 a cup of Tempeh contains 160 calories and 15g of protein.
Wild rice, red rice, black rice, brown rice, and even white rice contain notable amounts of protein. Protein is everywhere.
If you have not tried nutritional yeast yet, you have been missing out! This cheesy topping is a world-wide favorite among vegans. Not only does it contain B12, but it also contains 4g of protein per tablespoon.
Vegan Body Builders
Still not convinced you can build and maintain muscle on a plant-based diet? Check out these incredible and noteworthy bodybuilders: 20 Vegan Bodybuilders That Will Change Your Outlook on Protein.