Can I still grow muscle at the same rate on a vegan diet?

Can I still grow muscle at the same rate on a vegan diet?

Posted by Bulk Nutrients on May 21, 2021

Estimated reading time: 8mins

Can I still grow muscle at the same rate on a vegan diet?

It's a valid fear that most vegans have: can I still grow muscle at the same rate on a vegan diet? It's possible, but you'll need to be committed and consistent with a calculated dietary protein strategy. This article will outline how to do this and why it's important, so vegans can be sure they won't miss out on any muscle gains!

What to eat to grow muscle on a vegan diet

Muscle growth effectively comes down to adequate levels of protein intake and good quality protein at that. For vegans, this can be a challenge because their protein comes from plant-based protein sources that are simply lower in protein when compared to an omnivorous diet. Take a look at the table below for a clear example:

Food typeProtein content (g) per 100g
Meat proteinView
Plant proteinView

Source: British Nutrition Foundation.

You can see how plant proteins yield significantly less protein.

With current recommendations to consume 1.7 grams - 2.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for optimal muscle growth, it can be difficult for vegans.

Moreover, it's recommended that vegans eat on the larger side of this number, as plant protein isn't as rich in the muscle-building amino acid leucine; one of the three BCAAs. This is a very critical component to a vegan looking to grow muscle; without eating adequate leucine you're leaving potential muscle gains on the floor. And this is what puts you at risk of not growing muscle at the same rate on a vegan diet.

It's recommended vegans eat more protein to ensure optimal muscle growth.
It's recommended vegans eat more protein to ensure optimal muscle growth.

Muscle building plans for vegans: How to get enough protein and leucine from plant sources

Omnivores have it easy: they can sleep-walk and still get adequate protein and leucine levels by eating standard servings of chicken, eggs, and any other animal products during the day.

But for vegans, plant proteins are also lower in leucine and are less digestible than animal proteins.

So how is this overcome? Vegans must consume the right food and supplements high in leucine:

Food Protein per 100 g
Pumpkin seeds (dried, uncooked)30.2
Lentils (red, split, uncooked)24.6
Black beans (uncooked)21.6
Almonds (raw)21.2
Tofu (calcium set) 17.3
Oats (rolled)16.9
Quinoa (uncooked)14.1

Table adapted from Rogerson, 2017.

We've catered for vegans passionately here at Bulk Nutrients, with two supplements to put an end to any protein and leucine concerns!

Vegan bodybuilding: The best vegan supplements for muscle growth

Here are two of our biggest weapons:

  1. Our Bulk Nutrients Future Whey protein powder -- contains 22 grams of protein and 3.4 grams of leucine! (flavours: berry, cola, and lemonade).

  2. Our Bulk Nutrients BCAAs -- boasting 2.5 grams of leucine a serve.

To ensure you're gaining as much muscle as possible, current leucine recommendations for everybody is approximately 40-45 mg per kilogram of body weight per day. For someone who weighs 70 kilograms, this would be 3.2 grams of leucine a day.

Our Future Whey has been manufactured to deliver vegans 3.4 grams of leucine per serve.
Our Future Whey has been manufactured to deliver vegans 3.4 grams of leucine per serve.

And here's a potential issue: scientists still haven't decided how much leucine those of us who exercise need, so that's why it's better to eat on the higher side (maybe 6 grams or more) just to be safe. Again, this is where omnivores have the upper hand.

Let's take the example of Bulk Nutrients customer Natasha, a vegan who weighs 68 kilograms:

Protein requirements: 2 grams of protein x 68 kilograms = 136 grams

Leucine requirements: 45 mg x 68 kilograms = 3 grams of leucine (double to be safe = 6 grams of leucine).

So with the use of the aforementioned supplements and foods above, Natasha can get enough protein and leucine for muscle growth. And here's the second piece of good news for vegans: there's no evidence to suggest a nutritionally balanced vegan diet hinders athletic performance.

Vegan protein vs animal protein: how do they compare?

Many studies have examined this directly, here are some of the findings:

Pea protein is a great source of leucine
Pea protein is a great source of leucine

However, pea protein is still high in leucine: 100 grams of whey protein and pea protein will give you 8.6 grams and 6.4 grams of leucine respectively, making it a terrific option for muscle-seeking vegans.

The safest way to ensure maximal growth for vegans might be to take 1 and a half servings of pea protein. We've created our own great-tasting pea protein here at Bulk Nutrients used by many vegan customers looking to maximise muscle size.

It boils down to this: vegans might want to consume 20-30% extra protein a day in line with current recommendations. They must pay special attention to getting enough leucine via food and supplements, such as pea protein, BCAAs, and vegan whey protein options just like our "Future Whey" product. If appropriate attention is paid to adequate protein and leucine requirements, then vegans should be able to grow muscle at the same rate.

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