Building Muscle with Plant Protein


Taking the time to do weight lifting improves a person’s strength and health.  And, most people prefer to use animal protein sources to help build up their muscles faster. Some people, however, do not want to use animal proteins for health or ethical reasons. They either feel compassion for the animals and animal suffering. Or, they want to maintain heart and kidney health by choosing options that are free of cholesterol, foreign DNA, or
saturated fat. This raises the option of using plant protein.

Plant Protein

plant protein

It is possible to build muscle with a moderate amount of plant protein sources, but it will be at a slower pace. The advantage is for better health, stronger bones, and improved immune system. All plants actually have protein, although many types have higher amounts.
 Beans, many vegetables, tofu, nuts, and seeds are all excellent sources. The secret is to get enough to eat for energy and then to get plenty of protein for building muscle on top of that. There are some good sources of wholesome carbohydrates that offer the good type of starch complete with fiber for good digestion. These types of food help a person to have energy and they also are decent sources of protein. Good examples are the whole grains, potatoes, beans, corn, and winter squash.  For example, one cup of quinoa (cooked grain) has 11.0 grams of protein.
lentils and rice
However, when the goal is to build muscle, then a person needs to also incorporate plenty of higher protein plant sources. Some excellent choices would be all types of beans, nuts, tofu, and certain vegetables. See the chart below for a sampling of certain food items and the amounts of protein they contain:
  • 1 cup cooked broccoli = 4.65 grams protein
  • 1 cup cooked asparagus = 5.31 grams protein
  • 1 cup whole wheat spaghetti = 7.46 grams protein
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter  = 8 grams protein
  • 1/4 cup almonds = 8 grams protein
  • 1 cup boiled black beans = 15 grams protein
  • 1 cup boiled lentils = 17 grams protein
  • 1/2 cup firm tofu = 19.9 grams protein
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds = 23.4 grams protein
  • 1/2 cup Seitan = 24.0 grams protein

The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine gives these recommendations for meeting daily protein requirements:

  • Grains – 5 or more 1/2 cup servings averaging 3 grams of protein per serving
  • Vegetables – 3 or more servings; 1/2 cup cooked or juiced, 1 cup raw, averaging about 2 grams per serving
  • Legumes – 2-3 servings of 1/2 cup beans, firm tofu or tempeh, 1 cup soy milk, or 1 oz. of nuts (2 Tbsp nut butter/1/4 cup nuts)

The secret to building muscle while eating plant foods is to get plenty of food to eat beyond the bare requirements listed above. Choosing more of the higher protein plant foods will be of benefit. But, it’s important for health to have a variety.  After a workout, have some fresh fruit. Even though the protein amount in fruit is minimal, it is easy to digest and makes a good energy renewal snack.

It’s possible to do weight-lifting while on a plant-based diet. While the muscle building will be somewhat slower, you will be able to grow bigger muscles. The benefit to accessing your protein requirements with plants will be a better functioning body and more alertness.
Byline: Janet Hailstone is a nutrition and cooking instructor for Community Education of Dixie State College in Southern Utah. She has a blog that offers health ideas for nutrition, inspiration, and exercise at And, she recommends for excellent muscle development of the legs.


1 comment on “Building Muscle with Plant Protein”

  1. Lonnie Parsa Reply

    Lentils are also commonly used in Ethiopia in a stew-like dish called kik, or kik wot, one of the dishes people eat with Ethiopia’s national food, injera flat bread. Yellow lentils are used to make a nonspicy stew, which is one of the first solid foods Ethiopian women feed their babies.

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