Building muscle on a vegetarian diet how effective is it?
The idea that one cannot build muscle because you are a vegetarian or even as a vegan is absurd. Yet, there are many people who think that because you do not eat meat that you cannot build muscle. Tell that to the supplement industry who rakes in billions each year selling soy and other plant-based proteins. The key to building muscle is not meat, but protein. In this article we will learn if building muscle on a vegetarian diet is possible.
A look at Proteins
Muscles are proteins and proteins are made up of small building blocks called amino acids. Meat is a complete protein, but proteins from plants are not always complete. What that means is that of the 20 amino acids available only 11 are produced by the human body. That means in order to obtain a complete set of amino acids you need to consume the other nine (essential) amino acids. Essential amino acids are not made by the human body and they come 100 percent from our diet.
So, when people say that vegetarians or vegans cannot build muscle because they do not eat meat, those people are wrong. In fact, there are bodybuilders who are vegetarian and vegan.
- Torrey Washington
- Joe Coleman
- Julia Hubbard
- Derek Tresize
- And many others.
The reason that these athletes can build muscle is that they are consuming a complete set of amino acids. Our body is a processing plant and the things that we process are chemicals. We take chemicals in the form of food and break it down (digest) into base chemicals – amino acids, lipids, and carbohydrates. In fact, our body stores these building blocks until it needs them. Lipids are fats, amino acids are proteins, carbs are sugars. When our body needs a specific type of protein it pulls the amino acids or peptides or long-chained branched peptides, etc. and it constructs whatever type of protein it needs.
In short, we eat, digest, store, and then recreate based on what our body needs.
If you don't have all of the amino acids needed to make a specific type of protein, then your body cannot manufacture that protein. In dire cases, it can rob nutrients from other parts of your body, such as your organs or muscles and reuse those nutrients to build what it thinks it needs. That, however, is malnutrition.
How Do Vegetarians Build Muscle?
The simple answer is that they consume all the nine essential amino acids that their body needs and they exercise. It is really that simple. When you have a well-balanced diet you have all of the tools needed to build muscles.
The more complex answer is that they have a specialized diet that allows them to consume all of the base ingredients our body needs to build muscle. Those include plant pairings that make complete proteins. A classic example of this is beans and rice. There are plants that produce foods that are complete – they contain all nine essential amino acids. Those include:
- And a few others.
A complete protein is not just all nine essential amino acids but all nine essential acids in a high enough quantity to matter. That is one reason we read food labels to discover how much protein is in a food.
Vegetarians should think about food in terms of complete proteins. We mentioned beans and rice earlier. This is a pair of plant-based foods that make a complete protein. There are many others, such as peanut butter and whole wheat bread. Legumes plus a grain usually equals a complete protein.
In the supplement world, there are many choices for vegetarians. In fact, a vegetarian or vegan bodybuilder has many choices when they want to supplement their diet with protein powders. They also might have a little bit of an advantage over meat eaters. Vegetarian and vegan meals tend to be naturally lower in fats. If you want to build muscle then you probably also want to shed fat so that you show off those muscles. Vegetables have added fiber, healthy fats, and a complete list of nutrients such as enzymes that help your body to do more, be healthier, and to grow muscles.
Is a vegetarian diet optimal for building muscle?
Many will say that it is. There are many pros to being vegan, you can lower cholesterol, reduce fat intake and it will definately get you shredded. Some vegan bodybuilders get a lot of protein from soy products, some claim this can increase estrogen levels which can have certain side effects. While you can increase muscle mass on a vegan diet some will say that it is not an optimal diet for building mass.
Everyone has to make their own individual choice and decide if a building muscle an a vegetarian or vegan diet is possible. While there are some guys that have managed to gain a decent amount of muscle this is not the norm for most vegan bodybuilders.
So how do vegetarians grow muscles? They do it just like everyone else – with a healthy diet that offers all 20 of the known amino acids and a whole lot of exercise.