There are usually lots of questions when it comes to protein.
For example, “Which are the best proteins to build muscle?” or “What are the cleanest proteins?” Gaining an understanding of amino acids and different types of protein sources is crucial if you want to make the most out of your training or muscle building.
In this post I’m going to break it down for you a bit more. I will also speak about my personal experiences of ONLY consuming plant proteins and eating a plant based diet for the last 2 years as a case study for you.
What I do for fitness
In my fitness regime I do a regular mix of running, power walking, weights and swimming. And, I use the plant based diet to power myself through this. My previous diet was already what I considered to be healthy (well at the time anyway) with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and dairy. Not to mention a shed load of supplements that I probably didn’t need.
I wanted not to catch the bugs and colds I caught every year without fail. Most of all I wanted my incessant and debilitating insomnia to improve. As much as I was working out (I was going at it like a Trojan) and trying harder and harder with both diet and exercise, things just weren’t moving to that extra level I wanted.
In hindsight (and after medical tests), I realise now that hammering my body so hard whilst also not getting adequate sleep had thrown my whole hormonal system out of whack. This left me with adrenal burn out and a sluggish thyroid.
This horror of this made me clearly see that sometimes you just have to find a balance in life and not to over do anything. Your body doesn’t like being pushed this hard, not when you are not giving it adequate nutrition and rest.
The Plant Based Diet
It was this stalemate when I was getting nowhere fast. In fact, feeling worse than ever. That made me realise that I needed to change my routine and my life before the situation became worse.
Having studied nutrition, specifically sports nutrition, I decided to go a step deeper and look into some of the studies conducted on the athletes themselves. These athletes had found that they were experiencing their best ever endurance and faster times with the plant based diet.
The Iron Man champion
One of the athletes I studied that stands out the most to me was Brendan Brazier. A Canadian Iron Man champion who is basically a raw vegan AND happens to be one of the fittest men on the planet. He’s super strong and toned and he built THAT body on just plants.
Reading this incredible guy’s autobiography blew my mind. The facts about what the plant based diet can really do for you were coming straight from this champion’s mouth. It was this information, along with my own feeling that I needed to take things a step further for my health, that was the catalyst for me to start my own plant based journey.
I’m not going to pull any punches, it was hard at first and I fell off the wagon 3 times before something just ‘clicked’ into place. But, after that I just knew it was for good and I haven’t looked back since.
I didn’t go completely raw like Brendan Brazier, but I did make the vow to go fully plant based to see how my body reacted.
Benefits of a Plant Based Diet
1. MORE ENERGY
This had to be first on the list simply because it’s such a major feature in my life now. I seem to have relentless energy and don’t really ever feel tired (even after a hard workout). I know this is down to my highly alkaline, anti inflammatory diet crammed full of antioxidants and other life-giving nutrients.
The thing about inflammation…
Chronic inflammation can wreak havoc in the body when out of control. And, many of us are suffering from it, due to highly acidic diets (i.e. diets filled with junk foods, refined sugars, and too many animal products – especially dairy). Some of these animal products are worse than others, but for the most part they are usually acidic.
I know (for me personally) that ALL the benefits I had on this list are due to less inflammation in my body. And, as I never ate junk foods before, it must have been the animal products that were keeping me feeling under par.
2. LESS MUSCLE SORENESS AFTER EXERCISE
I really don’t ache so much after a hard workout like I used to. It’s pretty awesome. And, if I do, it’s nowhere near as much as before, plus my recovery seems much quicker too.
Again, I believe this must be down to less inflammation in my body (I can find no other explanation) and consuming adequate amounts of plant protein to help rebuild muscles.
3. BETTER DETOXIFICATION
Eating less inflammation causing foods has allowed my body to detoxify itself more efficiently. That and also consuming green super food powder every day. Together with an anti inflammatory plant based diet and regular exercise they have worked in harmony to boost my skin, hair, nails and immunity to new levels.
4. BETTER SLEEP
Better sleep is due to my body being able to detoxify itself more efficiently, due again to having less inflammation to deal with along with my low GI plant diet. I now sleep more deeply than I ever did before. This is obviously good in terms of muscle repair after exercise, not to mention super high energy levels and many other good effects having adequate sleep brings.
5. BRAIN POWER
Brain power is another side effect that is yet again down to lower inflammation and the better detoxification of pollution and heavy metals from the environment – all of which affect the brain. I have seen all these benefits in myself since going plant based.
Also, better memory capacity because my body is now cleaner, allowing me to think more clearly and have more clarity.
6. HORMONAL BALANCE
No more of that nasty monthly PMS for me either! Before I went plant based, I was loading my body up with animal hormones which may well have affected my own hormonal balance. Or, I could just be extra sensitive, but I do know I feel about 90% better in this department too.
7. ANTI AGING
A low GI plant based diet may help slow down the aging process on many different levels. The most prominent being through blood sugar control. When you have stable blood sugar, you aren’t having constant insulin spikes and troughs. All of which accelerate the aging process and the problems associated with it.
Another reason could be because the plant based diet, by its very essence, means you will in fact be eating a lot more PLANTS. These include fruits, vegetables and legumes, all of which are bursting with nutrients and antioxidants, and are anti aging free radical scavengers.
Too many free radicals in the body from junk food, smoking, alcohol, trans fats and environmental pollutants accelerate the aging process on both the inside and out.
Next up: Let’s talk protein
There are many sources of plant based protein, and you may need to mix them up a bit for a nutritionally complete amino acid profile.
New research suggests that you don’t actually need to have the complete profile in one hit. You can actually spread it out across the day, which is much easier and allows for a more natural way of eating. Plus, it means you don’t have to worry too much if you aren’t packing lots of protein into one meal.
Alongside your protein source, it’s a good idea to eat all the macronutrients with as many meals as possible for the simple fact that this will make them lower GI meals.
This means protein, complex carbs and a little healthy fats with every meal or snack. This way of eating will not only keep you fuller for longer, but can also help the fat burning process. This is down to the fact you will be eating less food overall as you won’t feel the need to snack as much.
What Is A Complete Amino Acid Profile?
A complete amino acid profile means a food or meal has to contain all 9 essential amino acids. On a plant based diet it means you will need to mix legumes such as lentils, beans, soy beans and peas with grains such as wheat, rice, corn, amaranth, millet and pearl barley.
You do not need to go over-board worrying too much about this. Try to eat whole foods plant based as much as you can and you will naturally be hitting your protein requirements.
Quinoa – A Complete Protein
Quinoa is a truly ‘complete’ plant protein (along with soy, hemp and buckwheat) and should become your best friend on a plant based diet. This amazing seed also contains omega 3’s and impressive amounts of calcium and iron as an added bonus too!
You can use quinoa very easily in place of rice, potatoes or any other carb you would normally have with a meal.
High Protein Plant Foods
There are some plants that are much more impressive in amino acids (the building blocks of protein) than others (see below). These should be added to your diet every day. The rest will just come to you naturally in your food, especially so when you are eating a whole food, low GI diet.
There are two lists here: One for the best whole food proteins and one for the best plant based protein powders. If you are in a training program and eating a plant based diet, then you will more than likely need to incorporate some of these protein powders to be doubly sure you’re getting all that your body requires under strenuous circumstances.
Not everything on this list is necessarily the highest protein plant products per 100 grams. But, they will work out to be the highest considering they are going to be the main components that add bulk to your meals. Plus, you will be eating a lot more of them by weight.
For instance, almonds and pistachio nuts are higher in protein than chickpeas per 100 grams. However, you wouldn’t really eat that amount of nuts in one sitting because of too much fat and calories. But, you could easily eat 100 grams or more of chickpeas as the main component to a meal, thus getting in MORE protein than the nuts if that makes sense.
The 10 Highest Plant Based Protein Sources
Here are some of the best plant proteins that you should add as the bulk ingredient to your meal and their amounts of protein PER 100 GRAMS:-
- SOY BEANS 36.0g
- LENTILS 24.6g
- KIDNEY BEANS 24.4g
- PEANUTS 24.4g (make peanut butter protein balls)
- GREEN PEAS 23.8g
- BLACK BEANS 21.6g
- CHICKPEAS (hummus) 20.0g
- TEMPEH 20.3
- QUINOA 14.1g
- WHOLE WHEAT (bread, pasta)
Best Plant Based And Vegan Protein Powders
Here is a list of the best plant proteins that are available in powder form for easy consumption. All of these contain a pretty good amino acid profile, with hemp, soy and quinoa being the better ones for this. Always rotate or buy different powders to keep things varied.
- BROWN RICE
- ORGANIC SOY (in moderation)
How To Use Plant Based Protein Powders
Mix them up! Don’t stick to one and use a couple at a time. OR, you can buy already made up blend that will taste so much nicer and often have lots of added nutrients to make it all the more nutritious. Some even have added greens and probiotics, making them a complete meal in themselves.
Be careful of added fillers and chemicals. To be safe from pesticides, always go for organic.
You will find a comprehensive list of all the most highly rated available protein powder supplements, how to use them, their amino acid profiles, and everything else you need to know on this list of the best vegan protein powders.
Be sure to pick one that suits you specifically as they are all different. For instance, you can find a different powder for weight gain, weight loss, muscle building, and some are even full meal replacements in themselves.
Points to remember on your plant based diet:-
- Always be sure to get an array of amino acids by practicing good food combining throughout the day.
- Make sure you eat foods every day from the plant based calcium list.
- Eat at least 10 PORTIONS of fruits and vegetables a day for antioxidants and fibre.
- Have a protein shake after training.
- Cut out all refined sugars.
- Eat in moderation your healthy fats, especially avocado, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil.
- Buy a good quality, green super food powder and have a shot every day. This are my number one tip if you want more energy, clarity and literally the best skin you have ever had. Plus, green powders can work fast – sometimes within 20 minutes! There are so many to choose from. As with the protein powders, they all have their own unique qualities so it may be worthwhile looking for one that’s more specific to your needs.
- Eat lots of high protein meals such as this amazing spaghetti bolognese recipe.
14 thoughts on “Best Protein To Build Muscle – 10 Plant Based Superstars”
Interesting read. I just don’t think I could get myself to only eat fruits and vegetables. I need my meats. But I hear all that you said it improves and that is amazing. My wife needs to go vegan for the PMS. Lol. I better not let her see this. No seriously I still exercise also and I do get quite sore and that was enough to make me say hum. I need to see some kind of meal plan on eating this way.
Ha ha I really think you should show this to your wife Ronnie, you’ll only be helping yourself in the long run! But on a serious note, yes, recovery time after exercise is just SO much quicker on a plant based diet due to having less inflammation from all those alkaline foods – it’s great!
But I do understand how hard it is for most people to give up meat. However I think it’s the dairy products that are the worse culprits as they are less natural to us than meat, but that’s just my opinion from once trying the Paleo diet where I wasn’t able to have dairy.
Hi Stefanie, thanks for your comprehensive post. I learnt a lot from it as I’m in the infancy of learning about all of this. I’m quite pleased with myself as quinoa is now a regular fixture in my weekly menu planning.
I don’t understand the part about inflammatory foods. Perhaps because I don’t have a good understanding of what happens to the body in inflammation (?). Would you mind going into more detail about what happens here, and what it is about dairy that makes it considered inflammatory?
Thanks Stefanie, your article has been great and has given me lots to think about.
Hi Melissa, I,m really happy you have decided to start your healthy eating journey, and quinoa is a good place to start as it such a perfect food. Yes it does get a bit confusing the whole inflammation thing I know. Basically, short term ‘acute’ inflammation is a good thing because it is an immune response and alerts us to an injury, an illness or a foreign invader in the body. Like if you bang your knee then the area will become inflamed to protect it from further damage. That’s when it’s needed.
But these days many of us have what’s called chronic inflammation, sometimes caused by our environment, such as eating junk foods and other certain foods, smoking, alcohol and environmental toxins all of which trigger inflammation in the body’s bid to protects itself. This kind of inflammation is usually long term and is what can eventually lead to disease and illness. Eating anti inflammatory foods help to keep this inflammation under control, and fortunately the plant based diet is mostly alkaline (an alkaline diet soothes inflammation, and an acidic diet inflames it).
However, that’s not to say that ALL animal products cause inflammation, as Oily fish is anti inflammatory. But most of them do, which I discovered for myself when I suddenly stopped eating them and gained so many benefits, but also, this was my own personal experience. Please read this attachment as it explains it better than I can, and I really hope this has helped you https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
Hi Stefanie! What a great and complete article! I have lost a lot of weight in the last 7 years and can not seem to gain it back. I use to run but haven’t in quite some time. I have lost a lot of muscles in my legs and was so happy to see this post. I have a digestive disorder, so I can not eat a lot at one time. I am very intrigued by the Pea Protein Powder. I have used Hemp in that past, but it was rather expensive. Do you have a suggestion on a green powder as well? Thank you
Hi Colleen, I’m sorry to hear about your digestive problem. I understand it may be hard for you to get the nutrients and protein you need when you have this issue which is where protein and green powders can come in really handy as they are easy to drink and digest. I think the best thing you can do if it’s possible for you, is to do some weight bearing exercise on your legs to build up the muscle. This could be something as simple as power walking, or even better, hill walking. This along with an extra protein shake could start to build up your muscles more.
Hemp is actually more expensive than pea, so you could just try the pea (it often doesn’t taste great unfortunately, unless you buy it blended with other things to make it tastier and ready to drink, however this does make them more expensive). OR, you could just buy the plain pea and mix it yourself with your favorite milk, some cocoa powder and maybe some healthy sweetener alternative.
As for green powders, my absolute favorite is the Dr. Schulze’s Super Food Plus powder like mentioned in the article, this is expensive I’m afraid but you really do get what you pay for. If you want a cheaper powder then usually the wheatgrass and barley grass are pretty inexpensive and still quite rounded in terms of nutrients. You may also find this post helpful
Hi Travis, I’m really glad this post has helped you out. Good luck with it all and please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or problems along your way.
Thanks for the praise Sarah, I just love helping people with health and nutrition and I’m glad to have the feedback that it’s also actually very interesting to read as that’s half the battle. I think if you want to start going plant based just do it slowly and make gradual changes, that way you don’t feel like you are missing out on anything. Also, it’s so easy to find recipe’s online these days as this becomes a bigger and bigger thing.
Straight from the champion horse’s mouth…hahahaha. That’s very funny, but also incredible that there’s an Iron Man champion who’s also a raw vegan. I had no idea that plant proteins could, in the right combination, help people get that “muscle-y” physique that I guess I always associated with steak steak and more steak.
Thanks for the fascinating read!
I like to inject a little humor ha ha. I know, that blew my mind too, the Iron Man champion. I actually have one of his books and in it he explains his whole career and journey with food. He says it was only when he became raw vegan that he was getting faster times than he ever had, and being an athlete he had experimented with food his whole life until he found what works best for his body.
It’s certainly true too, as I once went completely raw for about 10 days and I could feel and see things changing in my body almost immediately, I cannot even explain it but I felt so alive, almost like I could feel my own life force running through me. It was bizarre, and obviously how humans are supposed to feel naturally if we didn’t numb ourselves out with dead foods.
You might ask why I didn’t stick with this if it was so great, but the truth is I wasn’t quite ready for such a massive change in my lifestyle and in how I felt. Which is why I always say that the road to healing and complete health is a journey. I know that one day I will be ready to do it, but for now I stick with my plant based diet which I make sure is at least 50% raw, and I will do it gradually from here. I already feel good doing this but I do also know there is more.
Been thinking of going vegan for years. I have reduced my meat intake to just chicken and fish. I do notice that the days I eat salad only, I feel great. This article has inspired me to do further research.
Hi William, i’m realy glad my article has inspired you to a more plant based lifestyle. Sounds like you have already taken the first steps anyway, and doing it slowly is definitely the way to go. If you would like some further reading you may like this post. And good luck!
Wow, this is such an amazing post. Normally people have a lot of misconceptions about protein based muscle building so they need expert advice on it. You have provided some really useful information and I am thankful for that. I am going to share it on my social media because I want everyone to know the right things to do when it comes to health and fitness.
Great work Stefanie and looking forward for more useful advice from you.
Yes, many people have misconceptions about protein, especially in the fitness industry. A lot of people actually take way too much believing that it will help them build muscle more quickly, but the reality is we can only use and synthesize so much at a time.(most people about 30 grams). Any more than that in one hit will probably be a waste.
It is best to space it out over the day and make sure you get about 1-2 grams per kilo of body weight depending on how hard you are training. This works out between 80 – 120 grams for the average person.