Although more and more professional athletes are adopting a plant-based diet, from Venus Williams to David Carter to Carl Lewis, many people still believe that if you want to build muscles, strength, or compete as an athlete, eating lots of meat is part of the training. This misperception is simply not true.
Hear Carl Lewis describe how he won Olympic medals while eating a healthy, plant-based diet in this video:
You don’t need to eat meat to develop muscles.
Eating a diet heavy in animal products is not necessary to develop muscles. If you are looking to increase your muscle size and strength, two conditions are required:
First, you need to consistently engage in resistance training such as lifting weights or doing other strength-building exercises or activities. This kind of regular activity creates micro-tears in the muscle fibers.
Second, you need to consume sufficient calories to support muscle repair and growth. A portion of those calories need to be amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, and which help us recover from exercise, as well as rebuild and strengthen micro-tears in our muscle tissues.
How Diet Factors into Muscle Development
What you eat plays a critical role in muscle development.
If you burn more calories than you eat, chances are you will lose weight, but you might not build much muscle. Using a Harris-Benedict calculator will help you determine the number of calories you’re burning, based on gender, age, height, weight, and activity level.
Don’t forget, not all calories are created equal! If you’re consuming too many calories from fats and proteins and not carbohydrates, you’ll have lower energy levels that will negatively impact your training and exercise program.
Carbohydrates give you immediate energy for exercise, while fats help you to have a steady supply of constant energy over the long term. Ideally, you’re looking to have 70 percent of your calories coming from plant-based carbohydrates and 15 percent each from proteins and fats. When you eat following this ratio, you’ll have a good balance for energy, muscle growth, and overall good health and wellness.
5 plant-based foods that help build muscles:
Quinoa is a complete protein super food that has the nine essential amino acids the body needs. One cup of cooked quinoa gives you 8 grams of protein. Quinoa is also rich in carbohydrates, so you’ll get both a quick boost of energy as well. Try Tommy’s Fiesta Quinoa on its own as a pre-workout snack or as part of a full meal.
Nuts have plenty of protein, and they are easy to add to salads and pasta dishes. They are also quite delicious as nut butter (but be sure to make your own or look for brands without lots of added sugars). One cup of almonds gives you 30 grams of protein and 71 grams of healthy fat. Skip the fast-food “burger” and keep a bag of nuts in your car for when you’re on the go and feeling hungry!
3. Beans and Legumes
One cup of chickpea hummus has 39 grams of protein, 121 grams of carbohydrates, and almost 8 grams of unsaturated fat. That’s a great combination for sustaining an active lifestyle when you’re in training. In addition to chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), black beans, red beans, and lentils also make delicious, healthy alternatives to meat. Our Fiesta Quinoa also has pinto beans added for an extra protein boost.
Whether you’re eating flax, chia, sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower, seeds are loaded with protein and healthy fats. Add some to a smoothie for a healthy post-workout drink. You can also sprinkle on a salad or pasta, add to soups, or enjoy on their own!
5. Tofu and Tempeh
Tempeh and tofu are plant-based alternatives to meat that support an athletic lifestyle. Both take on the flavors of sauces and vegetables they are cooked with and have a consistency that is very similar to meat. Add some to Tommy’s Super Greens for an easy snack or lunch!
Make Vegetables the Center of Your Plate
When you decide to eat a plant-based diet, you’re not only consuming carbohydrates but also protein, fats, fiber, water, vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health.
In contrast, if you eat a diet that is heavy in processed and refined foods, you lose many vital nutrients, as well as take on unnecessary fats and cholesterol, refined sugars and flours, and artificial colors, additives, and preservatives.
If you’re looking to improve your athletic performance, build muscle, and improve your health, it’s easy to see how a plant-based diet will get you where you want to be!
Athletes and Exercise Fanatics! What’s your favorite plant-based meal?
Do you have a favorite meat-optional veggie-friendly recipe? Share some inspiration by posting in the comments, tagging us on social media, or submitting your favorite recipes right here on our website.