If you are a vegetarian then you’ve would have been told atleast once that “it’s gonna be very difficult for you to build muscle”, well that might not be the case for most of us. Wanna know how you can build muscle on a vegetarian/vegan plant based diet, read below to get the details or you could scroll down to get the conculsion and get some of our recommendations to achieve your goal on a Vegetarian/Vegan diet.

Why do you follow a plant based diet

 Multiple studies have shown that a plant-based diet does not have a superior effect on health and longevity when compared to a well-structured and complete Non vegetarian diet(2,3,4). But Whatever reason maybe for you to follow a plant based diet, we are here to help you understand the concepts of what a plant based diet should contain, what it could lack if not taken into account and is it possible to loose fat or gain muscle mass with a vegan diet, the answer is yes BTW.

Energy Balance

    1. Energy Balance is one of the primary factors that affect the change in body composition i.e. gaining or loosing of weight in the form of fat and/or muscle mass. The basic concept in a very broad sense is that to gain muscle mass or gain weight in general you have to be in an energy surplus(higher energy than your total Daily Energy Expenditure) and to lose weight as fat mass or loose weight in general you need to be in an energy deficit(lower than Total Daily Energy Expenditure). Now that you understand Energy Balance, you know that you must eat a little higher amount of foods to be gaining weight.
    2. According to the study done by Huang, R.-Y., et al.(5), due to increased Fiber content in vegetarian diet the satiety (hunger) decreases. Which is a good thing if you just want to loose weight but could turn into an issue if you are trying to build muscle mass. Well a workaround for this is cheese. You can add cheese to your diet to get your energy consumption all throughout the day to a surplus. For vegans you can use peanut butter or any sort of nut butter that you like to get to the surplus of energy, once you’ve hit your macros.
Image of cheese on grey background
Adding cheese will help you increase yout total daily energy consumption.

Protein

  1. Most of the plant-based foods have a protein to carb ratio leaning towards to carb more than protein which can lead to an intake of carbs more than you’d want. In a review by Helms, E.R., et al., during dieting phase (weight loss phase) the amount of protein needed to retain muscle mass is around 1.8 – 2.7g/kg body weight(6) and 1.6 – 2.2g/kg(7). during a caloric surplus diet. This amounts to around 150 – 190 gms of protein for an average individual. Since the quality of protein(amino acid profile) that is taken from a complete plant based diet protein is inferior to that of meat based diet, it is recommended to be on the higher end of the range of protein intake

2. SOY PROTEIN :-

Multiple concerns with soy protein are that it causes a reduction of hormone testosterone, and the studies show that it depends on how you metabolize soy. Liu, B., et al.(8). Since the studies on the affect of Soy on hormonal levels are still unclear so our suggestion on the bases of the current evidence is to limit soy intake to 1 serving per day for males. In case of females this is not an issue as it causes the increase in estrogen is not very drastic copared to the pre-existing estrogen levels(9).

image of soy beans

Continuing the issue of a complete protein source in a plant based diet. A study done by Babault, N., et al.(10), shows that muscle growth was higher in the group that was given a pea protein.

Research data on effect of pea protein and Increase in muscle mass
Research data on effect of pea protein and Increase in muscle mass

Upon comparison the amino acid profile of Pea isolate + Rice Concentrate and Whey concentrate, the amino acid profile is just about the same making it a good option to add in your diet.

For vegetarian’s whey is still a better option but if you are vegan it is recommended to consume a blend of Pea (70%) + Rice protein (30%) not necessarily in those exact ratio.

Micronutrients

What are some of the micronutrients that a vegetarian diet must add via supplementation: –

    1. B12 :- is only present in animal sources. Deficiency may cause permanent neurological damage(11). The issue could take years to manifest. Vegan/Vegetarians should supplement with B12(12)
    2. Vitamin D3 :- absorbed from sunlight. Due to the lack of outdoor activity a lack of D3 is quite probable case for most of us. A deficiency of D3 is associated with increase rates of illness in athletes(13,14) .So it would be suggested to almost all individuals to supplement with D3, but best practice is to get your levels checked before you supplement with it
    3. Calcium :- only a problem if not consuming dairy. Many vegetables have high levels of calcium but they also have high levels of nutrient Oxalates and Phytates which reduce the absorption of Calcium in the vegetables(15)
    4. Healthy Fat (EPA/DHA) :- these are nutrients which are available in fish oil and now are available in vegetarian/ vegan sources too. Study by Welch et al 2010 shows that consuming supplement with 1-2g of EPA/DHA everyday reduces the symptoms of depression, risk of cardiac death and blood pressure.(16)
    5. Other micronutrients that you should check if following a vegan/vegetarian diet are Iron, Zinc and Iodine.(17,18).For females following vegan/vegetarian diet it is recommended to get checked for iron deficiency and supplement with iron if needed.

A list of supplements that are recommended for a vegetarian/vegan: –

    1. A vegan/vegetarian multivitamin containing B12 and iron.
    2. A Vegetarian Protein source would be whey, for vegans Pea protein Isolate or some sort of Pea Protein blend is suggested.
    3. An Algae based EPA/DHA supplement
    4. Lichen based D3
    5. And for if you want to up your performance then it’s better for vegetarian/vegans to take a multi ingredient performance supplement that contains

So if all of these factors have been kept into consideration, you could build your diet around it with energy balance kept in a deficit to loose weight, and keeping yourself in an energy surplus to gain weight.

Tips to build muscle on Vegan Diet
Tips to build muscle on Vegan Diet

At the end we would suggest you consult your physician before you make any drastic changes in your diet as it may cause some deficiencies which maybe not in that very instance but in the long run, cause some permanent issues.

References

  1. MASS research review, By stronger by science.
  2. Key, T.J., et al., Mortality in British vegetarians: review and preliminary results from EPIC-Oxford.The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003. 78(3): p. 533S-538S.
  3. Chang-Claude, J., et al., Lifestyle determinants and mortality in German vegetarians and health-conscious persons: results of a 21-year follow-up.Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 2005. 14(4): p. 963-8.
  4. Chang-Claude, J. and R. Frentzel-Beyme, Dietary and lifestyle determinants of mortality among German vegetarians.Int J Epidemiol, 1993. 22(2): p. 228-36.
  5. Huang, R.-Y., et al., Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2016. 31(1): p. 109-116.
  6. Helms, E.R., et al., A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes.Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2014. 24(2): p. 127-38.
  7. Morton, R.W., et al., A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults.Br J Sports Med, 2017.
  8. Liu, B., et al., [Equol-producing phenotype and in relation to serum sex hormones among healthy adults in Beijing].Wei Sheng Yan Jiu, 2011. 40(6): p. 727-31.
  9. Kurzer, M.S., Hormonal effects of soy in premenopausal women and men.J Nutr, 2002. 132(3): p. 570s-573s.
  10. Babault, N., et al., Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein.Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2015. 12(1): p. 3.
  11. Herrmann, W., et al., Vitamin B-12 status, particularly holotranscobalamin II and methylmalonic acid concentrations, and hyperhomocysteinemia in vegetarians.Am J Clin Nutr, 2003. 78(1): p. 131-6.
  12. Alexander, D., M.J. Ball, and J. Mann, Nutrient intake and haematological status of vegetarians and age-sex matched omnivores.Eur J Clin Nutr, 1994. 48(8): p. 538-46.
  13. Crowe, F.L., et al., Plasma concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans: results from the EPIC-Oxford study.Public Health Nutr, 2011. 14(2): p. 340-6.
  14. Bjelakovic, G., et al., Vitamin D supplementation for prevention of mortality in adults.Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2011(7): p. Cd007470.
  15. Weaver, C.M., W.R. Proulx, and R. Heaney, Choices for achieving adequate dietary calcium with a vegetarian diet.The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999. 70(3): p. 543s-548s.
  16. Welch, A.A., et al., Dietary intake and status of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in a population of fish-eating and non-fish-eating meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans and the product-precursor ratio [corrected] of alpha-linolenic acid to long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: results from the EPIC-Norfolk cohort.Am J Clin Nutr, 2010. 92(5): p. 1040-51.
  17. Hunt, J.R., Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets.The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003. 78(3): p. 633S-639S.
  18. Leung, A.M., et al., Iodine status and thyroid function of Boston-area vegetarians and vegans.J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2011. 96(8): p. E1303-7.