It's possible to be a bodybuilder and follow a vegan diet. The key to bodybuilding is working to develop muscle mass. That's accomplished through the consumption of protein, total energy intake, and the stimulus of resistance training. If you follow a vegan lifestyle, but you still want to develop strong, impressive muscles, it's possible with the right amount and type of protein intake. So what is the best protein for bodybuilding as a vegetarian or vegan?
Why does protein matter so much to bodybuilding? Protein is an essential nutrient for muscle, hair, skin, and bone health. It aids in the rebuilding of tissue within the body, including muscle development. What's particularly important are the amino acids found within protein. These nutrients are what helps build muscle tissue, increasing the size and function of the muscles. Because the human body doesn't store amino acids, it needs a constant supply of them.1
In bodybuilding, weight lifting creates small tears in the muscle tissue. When amino acids work to repair those tears, they add more muscle tissue, creating larger muscles that give bodybuilders the physique they seek.2
Bodybuilders need protein to build muscle mass. So what’s the best protein for bodybuilding?
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How Much Protein Do You Really Need for Bodybuilding?
It's not true that eating as much protein as you can is an acceptable way to build muscle mass. There is a limit to what the body can take (which will change as your muscle tone changes). However, it's a general goal to consume an absolute minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. For those who wish to build muscle mass, consuming more may be necessary.3
How much protein you need to consume to build mass over and above your body's daily intake needs depends on various factors. If you are a high-energy person who is very active, you'll need to take in more protein than those who get in a single, 30-minute workout routine each day. To gain weight, including muscle mass, it's ideal to consume between 1.4 to 2 or more grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. To determine this, aim to consume between 0.5 and 0.8 grams of protein for every pound you weigh.4
Plant-Based Protein vs Animal-Based Protein for Bodybuilding
The source of protein you consume, which is often referred to as the protein "package," is important. However, for vegans, meat of any sort is not an option.
Healthy protein sources include beans, nuts, and some vegetables, as well as fish and lean cuts of meat, such as chicken and turkey. Some research indicates eating less processed meat (like sausage, deli meats, or bacon) and more healthy sources of protein can help reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, bone health, and diabetes.1
Amino Acids and Vegan Bodybuilding
Your body needs amino acids, and protein sources provide these. However, there are 20 types of amino acids your body requires to maintain proper function and to ensure the body performs at its best. There are three groups of amino acids:
Essential Amino Acids
These amino acids are those the body needs to take in because it cannot produce them on its own. They need to come from the food you eat. There are a total of nine of these that are essential:
Nonessential Amino Acids
These amino acids are those that the body can produce if it does not get it from the food consumed. These are still important for health (don't be fooled by their name). They include:
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
Conditional Amino Acids
This final group refers to those that are not essential most of the time. These are amino acids that your body doesn't need when you are healthy. However, they do become important when the body is fighting illness or facing stress. For bodybuilders, intense workout regimens can stress the body, making these amino acids important in some situations. They include:
The body doesn't need amino acids at every meal, but it needs a balance of a variety of both essential and nonessential amino acids throughout the day.5
Vegan and Vegetarian Protein for Bodybuilders
When selecting a protein source, it's important to look for a whole-food source. Seek out a diet that includes complete sources of protein that include all of the essential amino acids within them.
It's also valuable to look beyond protein. Some sources of protein also contain other nutrients in them that are important for overall health. Antioxidant-rich foods, for example, can help to support cell health regeneration. And, consider the other side, too. Some animal sources of protein incorporate a higher level of unwanted fat and cholesterol. Finding a balance is essential.6
When choosing nutrition for vegan bodybuilding, seek out a diet that's not lacking in any of the nutrition your body needs. Many vegan diets miss the mark on nutrients such as:
- Calcium and vitamin D (broccoli, cabbage, okra, sesame seeds, tofu, tahini)
- Vitamin B-12 (nutritional yeast, soy/almond milk, fortified cereals)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (hemp/flax seeds, seaweed, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans)
- Iron (lentils, tempeh, tofu, molasses)
- Zinc (wheat germ, beans and legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds)
- Iodine (sea vegetables, strawberries, green beans, corn, potatoes, iodized salt)
By choosing a vegan source of protein that addresses these needs, it's possible to consume enough amino acid-rich protein as well as these nutrients. The key is seeking out a rich source of protein capable of achieving all of these goals.7
Which Vegan Protein Is Best for Building Muscles?
The best overall source of protein for bodybuilding is one that packs in the nutrition in an easy-to-digest manner, promoting muscle health. Clean Lean Protein powder by Nuzest is a pea protein isolate that provides 18 to 21 grams of protein at about 100 calories per serving. This protein is easy to digest, satiating, and highly bioavailable, meeting many lifestyle needs.
Other key advantages exist with this pea protein as well. It's an ideal source of protein for vegans who want to skip the eggs, milk, and whey-based products on the market that are often marketed towards bodybuilding. Milk, for example, contains about 20 grams of protein and 100 calories, pea protein is easily comparable, with fewer calories per serving.
Pea protein hits the mark for bodybuilders, especially those trying to work on building muscle with vegan sources of protein. It is a complete source of protein and provides your body with the 9 essential amino acids required each day.
Along with this comes the benefits of maintaining a vegan lifestyle, one that fits your ethical beliefs and helps to reduce our carbon footprint. Bodybuilding as a vegan is possible, especially with access to a healthy, whole foods-based diet and pea protein, such as Clean Lean Protein by Nuzest.
Tips for Vegan Bodybuilders
All of this information is incredibly valuable, but how do you put it into practice in order to see the results you want? Here are some tips for bodybuilding on a vegan diet:
- Get enough to eat! Vegan diets are naturally lower in calories, so it’s important to consume enough calories during the day to support your nutrition and fitness goals.
- Eat small meals throughout the day so you’re receiving a flow of nutrients throughout the day. It also helps to rev up your metabolism and burn fat, both of which are critical in gaining muscle mass.
- Don’t be afraid of fat. Healthy fats, such as avocados, are important to consume and should account for 20-30% of your daily calories.
- Eat a variety of foods. It’s important to vary the food you eat so you get the full benefit of amino acids and micro and macro nutrients. Plus, a variety of food keeps it interesting!
- Stay hydrated. This is important advice for all of us, but it’s essential that bodybuilders consume enough water so that it flushes toxins and metabolic waste products from the body.
- Supplement your diet with high-quality, plant-based protein, such as Clean Lean Protein by Nuzest.
- Workout in short, energetic bursts, such as 30 minutes at a time. This uses fewer protein stores, and thus helps you maintain the nutrients you need to support muscle growth.
- Rest, rest, rest! Your muscles (and body in general) need time to recover in order to see the changes you’re seeking.
- Stretch. It’s vital to stretch before and after your workout sessions to prevent injury, and help prevent muscle imbalances, as well as improving flexibility.