Building your muscles on a plant-based diet is possible, and despite what you might have heard, it does not require extra effort compared to muscle-building on a meat-based diet. It may even be easier on a plant-based diet because you will likely deal with less inflammation, and your recovery time may be shorter.
But that does not mean it is easy. The essential components of muscle building are consistent regardless of your diet, and no matter what you eat, it takes work. So, where do you begin? Let’s quickly look at three common pitfalls or misunderstandings about muscle building.
The first misconception is that protein is the king of kings and that it’s nearly impossible to get enough protein for muscle building on a plant-based diet. Like many misconceptions, this one has a kernel of truth: the truth is that protein is critical. After all, it is an essential nutrient. Protein is especially important if you want to increase muscle mass because it makes up much of the structural components of our tissues.
However, you can get enough on a plant-based diet.
In most industrial countries, protein deficiency is rare, even when consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet. This is because protein is found in varying amounts in all foods except for highly processed food fragments like oils. While the protein levels in foods vary, as long as you consume enough calories from a wide range of whole plants, you will get an adequate amount to meet your body’s demands.
The next time someone at the gym asks where you get your protein from, feel free to share this list of plant-based protein powerhouses:
Another common error when trying to develop your muscles is never establishing a consistent strength training routine. You can indeed improve your overall fitness by doing cardio workouts—jogging, swimming, biking, etc.—and each of those activities will gradually improve your strength in certain muscle groups, but to increase overall muscle mass throughout the body, you must perform strength training exercises.
When we overload muscles with resistive exercises such as weightlifting, microtears form in the muscle fibers. These microtears signal to the body to send nutrition and blood flow to the muscle tissue for repair. Repeatedly microtearing and rebuilding muscle tissue results in hypertrophy—an increase in muscle mass.
You should return to your strength training exercises regularly, especially in the beginning when you are establishing a routine. For optimal muscle growth, aim for three to five strength training sessions per week.
Lastly, you must not neglect rest and recovery! In their enthusiasm to get stronger, many people push their bodies non-stop. This is not a recipe for success. In fact, rest days are crucial for muscle building. Resting allows your body to overcome and adapt to the stress of strength training.
Rest days can be either passive or active. Passive recovery days involve taking the entire day off from exercise, whereas active recovery days include light activities like stretching, walking, or gentle yoga. Most rest days should include some active recovery, and you should aim for one to three rest days per week, depending on the intensity of your workouts.
Make no mistake—you can transform your body on a plant-based diet. As with all exercise, there may be challenging times, particularly when you start. But ultimately, if you take heed of the three components above, you will be well on your way!
Copyright 2023 Center for Nutrition Studies. All rights reserved.