Plant-based nutrition is a great way to enhance your muscle mass by giving the body beneficial vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and complex carbs that meet the body’s needs on a number of levels. You may hear of many athletes and those looking to gain muscle eating lots of meat, eggs, dairy, or the like. While those foods will build muscle, they might also lead to excess inflammation and come with other health risks when eaten in heavier amounts needed to promote muscle mass.
A plant-based diet not only contains adequate calories needed to build muscles, but many foods are also structured uniquely to help compliment one another in their ability to assist with lean muscle formation. For example, vegetables contain high-quality minerals muscle cells need for energy, complex carbohydrates needed for energy and muscle repair, and many even have amino acids to help build protein cells in the body. All of these are essential for building muscle, not just protein like many believe.
Let’s take a look at five other ways a plant-based diet will build your muscles in a healthy way that will have you feeling great for years to come!
1. It Nourishes the Cells
Plant-based foods nourish the body on a cellular level. Think of your food as a message to your body; a food can nourish or destruct. Plants from the earth contain valuable nutrients such as raw amino acids, anti-inflammatory sources of zinc, iron, and B vitamins that muscle cells need not just for building, but also regrowth, recovery, and repair.
2. It’s More Alkaline
A plant-based diet is not 100 percent alkaline; there are many acidic-forming plant-based foods (certain grains, processed oils, certain sweeteners, and even certain vegan products on the market), however, for the most part, 100 percent, whole plant-based foods are more alkaline to the body than all animal foods are. Plant-based foods promote less inflammation in the body (overall) and therefore don’t contribute to muscle breakdown as much. Inflammation tears down the body, while an anti-inflammatory diet assists with overall healing and repair. This is important not just after exercise, but also when you’re tried to build muscle mass. If your muscles don’t recover, they’ll never become larger for the long-run and you may suffer fractures and weakness later on.
3. It’s Energizing!
Plant-based foods are incredibly energizing! Think of how you feel after you eat a sweet potato, a piece of fruit, or another healthy source of carbohydrates; these foods give you energy and therefore make you more active. Though a balance is needed between starchy and non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and/or nuts and seeds, and that ratio will differ for each person, overall, a plant-based diet is incredibly energizing. These foods are higher in not just carbohydrates but also magnesium, B vitamins (except B12), manganese, and micronutrients that the cells use for immediate energy to help you move more easily, and therefore build muscle as a result. Remember, you don’t have to be in a weight room to build muscle … everyday activities count like walking, hiking, moving around more, yoga, and being energized to just do more in general.
4. It’s Full of Variety
Another benefit of plant-based nutrition is that there is so much variety! And not just in what you put on your plate, but also the ratio at which you get to implement nutrients. Beans don’t work for you? Don’t eat them! Not into grains or lots of fruit? Fill up on vegetables, greens, nuts, seeds, root veggies, and legumes. Tailor plant-based foods to work for you and work them in however you can. If you don’t like to cook too much, then don’t. Use hemp seed protein powder in smoothies, nuts and seeds with your meals, and stock up on leafy green veggies, soak oats instead of cook them, or make raw energy bars for your snacks. This allows for much more variety than just downing eggs or egg whites, chicken breasts, cans of tuna, and having to cook all your meat to build muscle with an animal-based diet.
5. Plant-based Proteins Are Less Destructive
And finally, when it comes to protein, studies show that animal-based proteins are very easy to eat too much of while plant-based proteins do not lead to these issues. For instance, too much animal protein (specifically meat) has been linked to kidney damage and cancer, but because plant-based foods are so full of fiber and other nutrients besides just protein, it’s much harder to eat too much of them. Plant-based proteins also haven’t been linked to disease like animal-based proteins have, and while you don’t want to eat too much of anything to maintain a balance in the body, there are less risks with eating plant-based sources of protein than animal-based sources. What does this have to do with muscle mass? Because over the long run, it’s important to think about building the body and maintaining muscle mass, not just short terms gains. Think about your overall health when you’re considering building muscle cells. Giving it foods that won’t lead to health issues later on is a much better choice not just to build muscle, but also to ensure you don’t run into issues later that will be much more serious than packing on five pounds of muscle.
Overall, it’s important to focus on muscle-building foods that come from whole foods in terms of eating a plant-based diet. Focus on leafy greens, all vegetables and fruits, pseudograins like quinoa, millet and amaranth (which are all higher in protein and minerals than grains), healthy fats, nuts, seeds, and whole grains if you enjoy them. Balance these out and see some of our menu ideas for the BodyBuilding Vegan Athlete.