Gaining Muscle on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet? - The Muscle PhD

Gaining Muscle on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet?

You’ve seen them on forums, you’ve seen them in your comments, you might even know someone personally. They always ask about whether or not you can gain muscle on a vegan or full vegetarian diet.

If that’s all you’re asking about, then yes, you could 100% gain muscle on a vegan diet. What you need to ask yourself is this though, is it going to be difficult to do so? Yes, incredibly difficult.

However, you’re not really asking that, are you? What you really want to know is can you gain muscle on a vegan diet the same way you can gain muscle on a carnivore diet. The answer to that question would be a scientifically backed and resounding NO.

The Vegan Problem

Vegan diet for bodybuilders

The problem with all the “100% plant protein sources diets” that vegans have been following, is that they show how they can combine different vegetarian protein sources in order to get a full protein intake.

That’s when you add all of the essential amino acids to your body. However, while they figured out the direction to take in order to get all the protein their body needs, this doesn’t take into account the quantity needed to build muscle.

A certain study conducted back in the 90s had two groups train for a couple of months, with one being on a vegan diet, and the other being on an omnivorous diet. Keep in mind that they had dieticians control both of the groups’ protein intake. 

In the end, while both groups trained extremely hard for 2 months, the vegan group ended up gaining fat and losing muscle, while the group that was on an omnivore diet gained muscle and lost fat. You can imagine how the other group felt.

Getting Enough Protein on a Vegan Diet

We know that for a lot of people, being vegan isn’t just a choice, it’s an obligation. Whether you do it for moral, ethical, or religious reasons, we realize that you shouldn’t stop yourself from getting into the shape you want just because of your lifestyle choice, so we’re looking to provide guidance!

When we talked about a complete protein intake before, we were talking about all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. These amino acids are ones you can only get from external sources.

The problem with vegetarian protein sources, such as grains, beans, or legumes, is that they’re lacking in these amino acids. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have these EAAs, it’s that they are not present in great enough quantities for muscle growth.

Take the amino acid leucine for example, which is one of the biggest essential amino acids in triggering protein synthesis. Rice, pea, and wheat proteins have only about 5%-6% leucine in them. You’d need around 40-50g of leucine to maximize your protein synthesis, while with whey or chicken you might only need around 20-30g! 

The only way to stimulate your protein synthesis on a vegan diet as much as a carnivore diet is by eating vegan protein sources in high amounts, for around 50g of protein intake. Consuming a vegetarian source of protein at lower doses simply is not enough stimulate protein synthesis. So you end up gaining a bunch of fat, and lose muscle.

The Solution to Gain Muscle on a Vegan Diet: BCAAs

To get as much protein as your body needs and at the same time eat reasonable portion you need Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). When taking wheat protein and supplementing it with BCAA and leucine, you’ll be able to stimulate as much protein synthesis as if you were consuming whey protein.

The key point is that you absolutely need to supplement your diet with essential amino acids if you’re on a vegetarian lifestyle. Not only that, but we recommend supplementing with multivitamins and minerals as well.

We also can’t stress enough how important it is to supplement your body with iron, especially for women, as this nutrient is usually consumed at a lower level while on a vegan diet.

Consuming enough–and the right type–of proteins on a vegan or vegetarian diet truly isn’t as simple as combining rice and beans. We hope you were able to learn from this article and find out how you can actually gain muscle on a vegan diet.

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