Strengthening muscles for vegetarians : Your guide to building muscles

BY Jaber Posted August 10, 2023 Update August 14, 2023
Strengthening muscles for vegetarians : Your guide to building muscles

"Discover effective muscle-strengthening tips for vegetarians. Learn how plant-based diets can promote strength and fitness. Empower your vegetarian lifestyle!

Table of Contents

Many people believe that protein is only found in meat and poultry sources. However, there are many plant based sources that contain protein. Therefore, if you follow a vegetarian diet, you can still get the necessary protein to build muscles from plant based sources. In this article, we will explain how to build muscle if you are a vegetarian.

The difference between animal and plant proteins:

 The American Dietetic Association notes that a well planned vegan diet can meet current protein recommendations. The main difference between animal and plant protein sources is that animal protein sources are considered complete proteins, while plant protein sources are not.

This means that plant protein sources do not contain all nine essential amino acids that must be obtained through the diet.

Types of vegetarians:

  • Lacto vegetarian: 

In this vegetarian diet, dairy products are allowed. 

  • Pescetarian: 

They are allowed to consume only fish as a source of meat.

  • Lacto ovo vegetarian:

They are allowed to consume dairy products and eggs. Vegetarian: No animal products of any kind are allowed to be consumed.

How to build muscle if you're a vegetarian:


Plan your diet carefully: 

A well planned vegetarian diet can provide you with the daily energy you need and contains a diverse range of plant based proteins in sufficient quantities to help you gain muscle mass. Therefore, the first thing you should do is have a meal plan to ensure that you are getting enough protein, especially on days when you are exercising. It is very helpful to consume protein within sixty minutes after exercising as this helps in muscle recovery and growth. This can be either by having a light meal after exercise or simply a main meal with adequate protein.


 Carbohydrates also play an important role in building muscles, along with protein. Carbohydrates provide you with the necessary energy to complete your workouts and exercise routines.

One study showed that people who consumed the same amount of calories and protein but consumed different amounts of carbohydrates gained 1.3 kilograms of muscle mass. Meanwhile, people who followed a low carbohydrate diet did not gain any muscle mass.


 To increase muscle mass, you need to make sure you are getting enough calories to gain more muscles. To build muscles, you need to have a calorie surplus, so if you are training to build muscles but not getting enough calories, it will not be effective.

However, this does not mean overindulging in fried potato chips or high carb snacks. You should choose healthy options that are rich in calories, such as nuts, nut butter, dried fruits, seeds, and others.

If you are not sure whether you are getting enough calories throughout the day or not, you can track your daily calorie intake through one of the applications that you can download on your phone.

The amount of protein you need to gain muscle:

 The body needs about 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to build muscle. We recommend distributing your daily protein intake throughout the day, with approximately 20 to 35 grams per meal.

Also, make sure you get enough of the essential amino acid lysine, as it acts as a key stimulator for muscle protein synthesis. The more lysine a food contains, the better it is for stimulating muscle growth. Nutrition experts recommend that men consume at least two meals a day containing 2.5 to 3 grams of lysine.

However, you should keep in mind that animal proteins such as chicken, beef, and milk contain higher quality protein than plant proteins. This is because they contain larger amounts of leucine and other essential amino acids.

How to get enough protein from a plant based diet:

 You should consume a variety of high and sufficient amounts of protein sources throughout the day, and make sure you have a complete list of essential amino acids.

For example, on a vegetarian diet, avoid meat but allow for eggs and dairy products. Therefore, it is easier to obtain sufficient amounts of high quality protein rather than a completely plant based diet.

There are plant based protein powders available in the market that are designed to be better on isolated proteins such as soy, rice, or peas. They can significantly increase their digestibility, making them a good addition to post workout shakes or even when added to oatmeal.


Important protein sources in a plant based diet: 

Soy Protein:

 Soy protein is a common alternative to dairy based whey protein among plant based individuals. Soy protein is low in fat and cholesterol. Soybeans offer more flavor options than other plant based proteins. However, one should read labels carefully as some soy products may contain milk or fish products.

Pea Protein: 

Pea protein is easily digestible and cholesterol free. It contains a high percentage of protein and solid amino acids.

Hemp Protein:

 Hemp seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. They also contain high levels of iron and magnesium. Additionally, one serving of hemp seeds provides about half of the daily recommended intake of dietary fiber.

Other plant based protein sources:

  • Beans.
  • Legumes. 
  • Nuts. 
  • Seeds.
  • Tofu. 
  • Soybeans. 

Some other good plant based protein sources include:

1 cup of regular Greek yogurt provides 20 grams of protein. 180 grams of tofu provides 16 grams of protein. A quarter cup of nuts provides 7 grams of protein. A cup of cooked beans provides 8 grams of protein. 1 medium egg provides 6 grams of protein.


A daily list of vegetarian protein rich meals for muscle building:

First, start your day with a bowl of oatmeal cooked with soy milk and nuts. Then, have beans with rice for lunch. Next, for dinner, have a vegetable salad with hemp seeds, quinoa, and boiled eggs. Finally, you can enjoy Greek yogurt with fresh berries or pieces of strawberry as a delicious snack.

Get all nine essential amino acids: 

As mentioned before, most plant based proteins do not contain all nine essential amino acids that must be obtained through the diet. Except for soybeans, quinoa, chia, nutritional yeast, spirulina, and hemp seeds.

Some good examples of complete protein sources include:

  • Lentils and rice.
  • Chickpeas.
  • Beans and bulgur.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Whole grain bread.
  • Oatmeal.
  • Nuts.

Examples of plant based protein rich meals after exercise:

It is very important to provide your body with the necessary nutrients after a strenuous exercise to help your muscles recover. Additionally, these nutrients, especially proteins, can help you build muscle and increase muscle mass. Nutrition experts and dieticians recommend consuming about 20 to 30 grams of protein and some easily digestible carbohydrates within an hour after exercise.

Here are some great examples that can help you recover and build muscle after exercise, especially strenuous exercise:

  • One medium sized banana with a spoon or two of your favorite nut butter, but make sure you are not allergic to it.
  • A handful of raisins with almonds.
  • Hummus with carrot and celery sticks.
  • Avocado toast made with whole grain bread and a boiled egg.
  • A cup of chocolate milk.
  • Cashew milkshake with banana (one serving of cashew milkshake contains 17 grams of protein and 61 grams of carbohydrates).
  • Full fat Greek yogurt with fruits and nuts.

Side effects of a plant based diet:

 People who follow a plant based diet for long periods may be at risk of lacking some important micronutrients that are essential for health and the body, which can cause some side effects. The most important of these nutrients are iron, calcium, and zinc.


 Iron can be divided into two types: heme and non heme. Heme iron is a type of iron that is easy to absorb and is found in animal protein. Heme is the substance that gives blood its distinctive red color. Non heme iron, on the other hand, is found in plant protein and is sourced from leafy vegetables such as spinach, nuts, beans, dried peas, lentils, artichokes, and dried fruits. Non heme iron is not combined with heme protein, and this difference is the reason for the body's lower ability to absorb non heme iron. Women are more prone to iron deficiency and anemia compared to men due to blood loss during the menstrual cycle.


Calcium is an important mineral necessary for maintaining bone strength and health. Low levels of calcium in the body can cause muscle cramps during exercise, hindering performance.

Over the long term, calcium deficiency can also lead to osteoporosis and bone thinning. Both dairy products, spinach, broccoli, and almonds are good sources of calcium.


Zinc is an essential mineral for healthy body growth and development. The best sources of zinc rich foods generally depend on animals. However, there are some plant based sources rich in zinc, such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, oatmeal, and grains.

If you are following a plant based diet, you should add these micronutrient rich foods to avoid any complications or side effects resulting from a lack of these essential minerals in the body.


Can vegetarians build strong muscles without consuming meat?

Yes, vegetarians can absolutely build strong muscles without consuming meat. While meat is a well-known source of protein, there are plenty of plant-based protein options available that can support muscle growth and repair. A balanced vegetarian diet, along with proper exercise and lifestyle choices, can be equally effective in strengthening muscles.

What are some high-protein plant-based foods beneficial for muscle building?

There are numerous high-protein plant-based foods that can aid in muscle building. Some excellent sources of protein for vegetarians include legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans. Soy products like tofu and tempeh are also rich in protein. Additionally, nuts, seeds, quinoa, and edamame are valuable additions to a muscle-building diet.

How can vegetarians ensure they meet their protein requirements for muscle development?

To meet their protein requirements, vegetarians should focus on consuming a diverse range of protein sources throughout the day. It's essential to incorporate a variety of plant-based proteins into meals, including legumes, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and plant-based protein powders. Additionally, incorporating protein-rich snacks like nuts, protein bars, and Greek yogurt (for lacto-vegetarians) can be beneficial.

Can vegetarian athletes and bodybuilders get enough energy for workouts and muscle recovery?

Yes, vegetarian athletes and bodybuilders can obtain sufficient energy for workouts and muscle recovery by carefully planning their diet. Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy and can be obtained from foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, and olive oil are also essential for energy and overall health. Additionally, consuming an adequate amount of calories is crucial to support physical activity and muscle repair.

Are there any specific vitamins or minerals that vegetarians should focus on for muscle strength?

Yes, some vitamins and minerals play a significant role in muscle strength for vegetarians. Iron is essential for oxygen transport and overall energy, and it can be found in foods like tofu, lentils, and spinach. Calcium is vital for muscle contraction and can be obtained from plant-based sources such as fortified plant milks and leafy greens. Additionally, vitamin D, obtained from sunlight or supplements, is necessary for calcium absorption and overall bone health, which indirectly supports muscle function.

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