If you’re eating a whole foods plant based diet and in training of any kind, then you will definitely be able to feel and see many benefits from eating lots of the high protein power foods on this list, and among these will be the building of lean muscle.
In this post you will find the best plant based protein sources for muscle growth that also contain an impressive spectrum of all the amino acids vital to this function.
It is totally possible to eat just plant foods and be a body builder at the same time; I’ve seen it for myself first hand with people I know personally and it never fails to amaze me. There was a time when this was never believed possible, but attitudes are changing due to the undeniable evidence to the contrary that you can find in social media groups, Youtube videos, gyms across the land, and even the vegan body building contests that are gaining popularity these days.
The last few years has seen veganism and plant based eating explode, and this has happened in the world of athletes too. You can find plant based Footballers, Climbers, Body Builders, Iron Man champions, Runners, Tennis players, and many more, all at the top of their game and even SMASHING previous records due to the effects of the anti inflammatory plant based diet.
If you need proof of this then check out this list of some of the awesome, super fit people I’m talking about; I promise you’ll be blown away by the true power of plant foods and their effects on the human body.
As confirmed by the above athletes, the plant based diet has improved their performance and even helped them to reach goals and beat times that they couldn’t beforehand. This is the first hand experience of those who use the plant based diet correctly and with attention to detail.
To reach such high goals, you must be sure you understand the art of food combining correctly, macronutrients, plant based amino acids, and how to obtain everything you need from the food you eat. This can be hard when you start out, as you may find that you need time for your body to adjust to such big changes both mentally and physically.
What are the plant based diet benefits for athletes?
Fueling yourself on plants for your workouts can boost your performance by giving you extra energy. Fill up on wholegrains, fruits, pulses and vegetables such as those below:-
High carbohydrate plant based foods
- brown rice
- Brown pasta
- Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, parsnips and beetroot.
- Pulses and lentils
- All fresh fruits
- Whole fruit smoothies
- Green smoothies
All of these foods help to fuel muscles before and after a workout. They are also low GI and low sugar, both of which will give you a slow energy release, refuel muscles, and help sustain your workouts.
2. FASTER RECOVERY
You will find that once you have removed most of your usual acid forming animal products from your diet, you will have much faster recovery times after exercise sessions. This is more than likely due to having less chronic inflammation in your body to begin with, coupled with the fact that you are taking in much higher amounts of antioxidants – both of which can help supercharge recovery.
This is one of the main benefits I noticed after changing my diet to include more plant based whole foods – I literally did not have the muscle aches the next day like I used to. In fact, it it meant I could do much harder workouts more frequently because I was no longer spending so much time in the recovery period.
This is the big one, and seems to be the main side effect of plant based eating that comes up time and again with endurance athletes. They are seemingly able to keep going for longer periods, probably due to the many benefits the highly nutritious plant based diet naturally brings with it.
That, coupled with the fact that plant foods are just a lighter energy, which is something that cannot be explained, only experienced. But, for some reason you just feel ‘lighter’ inside when you eat nutrient dense plant foods.
4. STRONGER IMMUNITY
The addition of so many antioxidant rich foods really goes that extra mile in boosting your immune system to another level. This can be of enormous help when you are in any kind of training or exercise plan, due to the fact that even slightly over exercising can batter your immune system and leave you susceptible to bugs, viruses and illnesses. Have you ever noticed getting sick after over-training?
It stands to reason that the less time you spend being ill, the more training you can do – which means the fitter you can become in a faster period of time.
Best plant proteins for muscle gain
There are an abundance of plant foods that are rich in the amino acids needed to grow muscle, and some have more of the essential amino acids than others. But it is still crucial you eat a broad range of all of these foods to ensure you obtain a good array of all of them.
Animal derived protein in the form of meat, fish, dairy and eggs are already complete proteins; whilst most plants aren’t. A complete protein is a food that contains all the 9 essential amino acids necessary in the human diet, but this is not a problem once you understand food combining and plant based amino acids.
This may make you wonder why it would not just be easier to eat animal protein and be done with it, and the main answer to that is less chronic inflammation. Animal products are acidic, and plants for the most part are more alkaline – and a highly alkaline diet is much more preferable to health for the simple fact that it will mean consuming LOTS of nutritious plant foods such as pulses, nuts, seeds, and an abundance of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables.
Studies suggest that eating certain anti inflammatory and phenol rich foods such as nuts, colourful fruits (especially berries), tomatoes, and green leafy vegetables help to reduce inflammation markers, and along with it reduce you risk of certain inflammatory diseases.
Highest plant based protein foods list
You should be adding these great plant proteins for muscle growth to all your meals if you want to be sure you are reaching your requirements. They are in order of the highest protein first in terms of the amount you would eat in a serving. You will see soy based products feature high (the first 3 on the list) because they closely resemble animal products in nutritional profile, but it’s not always wise to eat soy every day due to it being estrogenic.
There is much confusion in the plant based and vegan world about this potential problem with soy product, but due to conflicting studies it seems the official stance about soy is that it is absolutely fine to be consumed at least a couple of times a week. In fact, it seems to be a much healthier alternative to red meat, for instance; and its estrogenic affect varies depending on the person’s own hormone levels, or even their ethnicity.
- Soya products
- Kidney beans
- Green peas
- Black beans
- Wholewheat bread
- Pistachio nuts
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Ground flax
- Sesame seeds
- Chia seeds
- Cashew nuts
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Macadamia nuts
- Dried coconut
‘Complete protein’ plant foods
Most plant proteins do not contain a complete amino acid profile like animal protein does, but there are some that come very close and also contain good amounts of all the essential amino acids. They should of course, be eaten as much as possible in your plant rich healthy diet to be sure you hit your requirements. These are:-
Using plant based protein powders
I’m not gonna lie, if you’re exercising hard, or even if you find it hard on certain days to meet your protein requirements then protein powders can be the quickest and easiest route to remedying this. They are just SO convenient; they take just minutes to prepare and can easily be transported to the gym, or for a snack at work.
There are a variety of vegan protein powders on the market due to such popular demand. Because they are plants they don’t ALL contain a complete amino acid profile, therefore some need to be mixed with others to make them complete.
But, be aware that getting all your amino acids in one hit is not as crucial as was once believed as your body can store them, so you don’t need to get hung up on the details too much. However, you will need to be sure that you are getting your full array of the essential ones in at some point in the day even though it’s not necessary at the same time.
Fortunately, many companies are now producing plant protein blends to cover all bases, but you can easily buy singles and mix your own if you prefer. Among them you can find:-
- HEMP – Offers a FULL amino acid profile, and is actually one of the most nutritionally dense foods known to man. Full of fiber, magnesium, iron and zinc, it’s also an immune booster due to its unique protein boosting enzymatic function in the blood. You can use this one on its own but it’s one of the most expensive.
- RICE – Another complete amino acid profile, and also a plant protein proven to build muscle, strength, and body composition just as well as animal derived whey protein when taken in high doses (such as a supplement, not just eating rice whole rice grains) – without the acid forming side effects of dairy products course.
- PEA – Almost complete, though slightly low on methionine which can be remedied by alternating or using with brown rice protein. If you also eat animal products then this won’t be a problem, and means you can use the pea on its own. Pea protein is also great for weight loss as it contains enzymes that can help lower your hunger hormone ghrelin – making it great for cutting fat and building muscle mass. This is another protein isolate shown in studies to rival animal based proteins.
- PUMPKIN SEED – Another nutritionally complete protein that can be used alone, pumpkin also offer an amazing nutritional profile of omega 3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, magnesium and l- arginine (a libido booster). It also is one of the best tasting protein powders out there, albeit it’s more on the expensive side.
- SUNFLOWER SEED – The sunflower seed is cheaper than the pumpkin seed, but is still nutritious. It contains a good array of all the essential amino acids, but isn’t as high in vitamins and minerals so a good one to alternate with some of the others.
- POTATO – This protein has a high biological value that is close to whey or egg, so again a complete protein source. It also has a great texture for smoothies and protein shakes.
- QUINOA – Is a superior and excellent source of protein for plant based eaters, be it in it’s natural form OR as an isolated powder. It contains the full spectrum of all nine essential amino acids, along with EFFA’s, a good array of B-Vitamins, fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, copper, iron and zinc.
High Protein Chocolate Pudding Recipe
Protein is also low GI and fills you up, so therefore is a great weight loss aid as well. One of my favorite breakfasts is a chocolate protein pudding as it’s just so creamy and is literally like eating a desert for breakfast – except it’s healthy! Here’s how to make this guilt-free thing of beauty:-
- 25-30 grams of sugar-free protein powder (make sure this is a TOTAL of 25-30g of protein – which could mean 50g of actual powder depending on its protein content). The tastiest powders for this are pumpkin, brown rice and peanut as they taste creamy, but you should test the others if it’s all you have in.
- 1X tablespoon of carob or cacao powder.
- Roughly 100ml of unsweetened plant milk of any kind.
- Half a medium ripe avocado (best cold from the fridge to keep the pudding cold).
- Sugar-free sweetener to taste, such as xylitol or stevia.
In a powerful blender add all ingredients (milk fist to stop the clogging of powders in the bottom). Be sure to only add enough nut milk for it to turn into a thick pudding. You may need to add it a little bit at a time, but I find 100ml is usually the right amount.
Blend until thick and creamy then serve immediately. I just eat mine straight out of the blender with a long spoon to avoid any wastage.
Burning fat and gaining muscle is attained by many different variables, and obtaining enough protein your diet is most definitely one of them. If you’re a whole food plant based eater then it is totally possible to get what you need through diet and possible protein supplements (you may need these, especially if you’re in some kind of training).
Just do your homework, and make sure you get what you need, which is usually between 0.8-2g of protein per 1kg of body weight depending on your circumstances. Go on the higher end if you are trying to lose weight and/or build muscle. And go for a mix of ALL the different protein sources to ensure you obtain high nutrition too.
If you’re a beginner to plant based eating and exercise, then check out my easy guide to help you get started.
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16 thoughts on “Best Plant Based Protein Sources for Muscle Growth List”
Very informational and well written.
I am not one to really diet per say however ready the material here especially (#2) about the faster recovery, it makes a lot of sense has me thinking twice about switching up my eating habits!!! Awesome and very informational.
I have never payed much attention to most blogs such as this but I appreciate this post/blog more than I thought possible. Kudos!!
Wow, thanks so much, and what an awesome comment that you appreciate my blog! It’s exactly why I do what I do; to help people see a different side to nutrition and its benefits without boring them to death haha. You have definitely given me incentive to carry on creating posts on this topic.
Anyway, I wish you luck if you decide to change your eating habits. Just remember to start off slow; little changes at a time is always the best way to go an they soon become habits. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of further help to you. Thanks again!
What a well written article! I have always believed in the power of plants, and this article really breaks down the reasons to use plant based protein. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!
Thanks Danica, yes plants are amazing and the plant based diet has been a life changer for me, hence the reason for this website. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
I’ve tried Hemp protein powder, like three years ago. I remember it was highly effective and much different than anything else that I’ve tried. Although the taste was awful, the powder itself was a fantastic experience. It’s highly recommended for all athletes, pro, and amateur. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Ivan, yes, all things hemp seem to be great huh?
It’s one of my favorites just because it’s so nutritionally superior, but unfortunately it’s not my favorite taste wise. Oh well, that’s life I suppose haha.
Great post. I recently started training again and lack of energy is certainly something that I am looking to increase. I will be taking up some of your advice, many thanks for it!! I think that the most straightforward one is to purchase protein powder, correct?
Yes, a protein powder is definitely one of the easiest and fastest ways to get amino acids down you whilst eating plant based, however, I would make sure to be obtaining as many different sources of protein as possible. It’s always a good idea to keep your diet as varied as you can for a better chance of obtaining a complete array of nutrients.
If you are suffering from lack of energy specifically , then it sounds like you could benefit from some fast acting green superfood powders. These ae my go to when I suffer that afternoon slump as they just lift me right out of it within about 20 minutes. Check out these reviews of my favorites here Best Green Superfood Powders of 2019
This is a great article for the athlete who wants to try going vegan or even just vegetarian. So many vegans are just skinny and look like they’re going to blow away with the wind. Your article is very enlightening. Thanks for sharing!
Ha ha Cathy, I just laughed out loud there! I know what you mean, as I too know vegans like that and they give veganism the wrong image I feel.
That’s why I like to explain to people the difference between the plant based diet and being vegan. Veganism is predominantly about animal welfare which means it’s not always about health. You can eat copius amounts of sugar, fats, and many other junk foods on the vegan diet. And with a lack of other choices many vegans do (I even know a vegan who doesn’t like vegetables or salad!)
The Plant Based Diet on the other hand is more about health and steers clear of refined sugars and fats, and is instead aimed towards whole foods such as fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes etc. So as you can see, BIG difference! Ha ha
What a wonderful article here, I really enjoyed reading it.
I have always known that including more plants into our diets is very beneficial to our health, but, unfortunately, I can’t change my habits of eating animal products, I like meat too much 🙂
Still, it is great that even with a plant diet it is possible to obtain the desired results in muscle building. I know there are many athletes that prefer to not eat animal products which is also great!
Hi, and thank you for the compliment. I do understand how hard it is to give up eating meat, I had a nightmare with it when I first went plant based. In fact, it took me 3 attempts until I finally did it, but that 3rd time I just know a it would be for good and I’ve never looked back since. I guess something just clicked because I wanted it to.
Yes, lots of athletes are now using the plant based diet and finding it incredible for their training. I’ve been looking a lot into this area lately and am more and more convinced by it and by the stories I hear. I guess in the future this will be the way forward.
My husband told me years ago, while the carb-free craze was in full swing, that healthy carbs help give you fuel to keep going. There are so many healthy carbs in good foods that it would be ridiculous to delete those from your diet.
However, because I deal with slug, what I’d like to know is are there any good meal replacements that you can suggest. I know these can fuel workouts, but I can use a good wholemeal one.
Hi Lane, yes. I totally agree with your husband, you do need healthy carbs, but many people are still advocating the keto and Atkin’s diet which have recently been proven to be bad (well, that is what I heard on the mainstream news here in the UK). Either way, I tried keto for myself some years ago and it threw me into a depressive episode. I realise now that our brains need carbohydrates to make serotonin, so if you suffer depression then it’s not a god diet to follow.
If you feel slugish and tired then this could be because of lack of protein at meals, so be mindful of that – especially at breakfast. Protein plays a crucial role in slowing down the release of your carbs (ie sugars) into the bloodstream. This is why it’s always good to eat a mix of complex carbohydrates such as wholegrains and pulses, with your protein source. When you eat low GI foods like this you will keep your blood sugar from crashing, keep your mood stable, and also keep your energy up. Therefore, it’s really worth it to make this effort for all those great benefits. Hope that helps!
Thanks for your awesome chocolate pudding recipe. Definitely wrote that one down. For someone who has a sweet tooth, it sounds pretty good.
I have a silly question. Is sushi bad for you? Because some people say it is, and some people say it’s healthy. I go to eat it a bit so I was wondering if you could help me answer that?
Hi Brooke, yes, it’s great stuff if you like sweet things! Yum.
As for sushi, to be honest, I have never eaten fish, even before I went fully plant based, but I’m sure in moderation it can be healthy if you’re a fish eater. As with everything, you probably need to be sure you only eat decent sushi from pure fish sources and not the stuff that’s processed etc. I think if you’re going to eat something raw like this then you have to be especially vigilant. But it’s definitely not my cup of tea! Lol