For vegetarians and vegans, adding in plenty of nutritious plant-based foods poses no problem, however, for those that want to focus on building muscle, you’ll need to be sure to include certain foods in your diet that contain valuable amino acids. Though fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of nutrients for our health, preserving and building lean body mass to enhance muscular health requires a bit more.

Thankfully, you don’t have to turn to processed vegan foods (bars, store-bought burgers) to help you build muscle. You also don’t even have to eat soy foods unless you just want to. The key is to focus on foods with a high amino acid profile and be sure to include a variety of them throughout your day.

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Here are five protein-packed foods to choose from that are also easy to incorporate into many of your meals:

1. Hemp Protein

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Quite possibly one of the most popular plant-based proteins of all, hemp is a fantastic source of all essential amino acids, dietary iron, B vitamins, magnesium, and anti-inflammatory chlorophyll. If you’re looking for an especially lean way to incorporate hemp into your diet, try hemp protein powder since it’s lower in fat and higher in protein than hemp seeds per serving. Hemp protein’s flavor is nutty, mild, slightly and earthy. The benefits of using hemp protein powder is that most all brands on the market are organic, raw, minimally-processed and contain no additives if you choose plain varieties. The powder can be bought in several different varieties that all come with different protein measurements to meet your needs. Most all hemp protein powders come with at least 15-16 grams of protein and 8-9 grams of fiber! It will help you preserve and build lean muscle, along with keep you energized and improve your mood thanks to its special nutritional profile. Hemp protein is also low in carbs aside from fiber, easier to digest than other types of protein powders, and is the most alkaline protein powder choice you can make, denoted by its green hue. Here are some ways to use hemp protein powder aside from just smoothies to give a try.

2. Legumes

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Green peas, chickpeas, and lentils are some of the most popular types of legumes and are also some of the healthiest for you. Legumes are like little energy bombs and are full of B vitamins, amino acids, and are lower in starch than beans making them a bit more tolerable. Legumes are also great for building muscle since many are also good sources of iron (such as lentils). Just 1/4 – 1/2 cup per day is a great way to add more lean muscle foods into your diet. Legumes are also fat and cholesterol-free, full of fiber, and packed with protein and complex carbs to support lean muscles and a healthy metabolism. Try these recipes using legumes to pack on some lean muscle in a delicious way: Coconut Cauliflower and Chickpea Soup, Ginger Garlic Chickpeas, Lentil Loaf With Tomato Glaze, Lentil Tacos, Stuffed Lentil Quinoa and Mushroom Peppers, or Oats and Chickpea Pilaf.

3. Pea Protein

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Heather McClees

Much like hemp seeds are made into hemp protein powder, peas (specifically yellow peas that are exceptionally higher in protein than green varieties) are also being made into pea protein powder. The result is an extremely alkaline protein that’s packed with amino acids and as another bonus, also free of all common allergens. In terms of amino acids, it’s not a complete protein source, but is comprised of 90 percent protein and is very high in the amino acid leucine, which is harder to get from plants and normally only found in animal-based sources. Leucine contributes to lean body mass and muscle repair, making pea protein an excellent choice if these are some concerns you have. Taste-wise, pea protein is also silky smooth, slightly sweet, low in calories, and typically free of excess starch and sugars. Look for organic and raw varieties if possible, and always choose non-genetically modified proteins as much as possible. You can also find pea protein in many raw or organic vegan protein mixes on the market, or you can make your own DIY protein mix using pea protein and other ingredients.

4. Greens

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Leafy greens can do no wrong, especially for your muscles! If you want lean muscles, it’s important not to just focus on grams of protein, but how clean those protein choices are, how your body can use them, and what other benefits they provide. Leafy greens may not come with skyrocketing high amounts of grams on their label, but they are very rich in easy-to-digest amino acids that your body can use to form protein. Since they’re low in calories and alkaline, they also indirectly contribute to a healthy metabolism and lean body mass. Plus, being rich in fiber, iron, and magnesium, they keep all parts of your body working at optimal levels so you feel pretty awesome around the clock! See other benefits of using leafy greens here and how to improve their protein content even more by pairing them with protein-packed seeds!

5. Seeds

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Speaking of seeds, they’re pretty much a little package of lean muscle building properties! Sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flax, hemp, quinoa and sacha inchi seeds are all great sources of amino acids, many being complete sources too. Quinoa, chia, hemp, and sacha inchi seeds are all complete sources of protein, but other seeds shouldn’t be left out of the diet either. Pumpkin seeds for instance, are packed with protein; you can even buy pumpkin seed protein powder made from raw sprouted pumpkin seeds. Flax and sunflower are great sources of anti-inflammatory fats that provide support for the muscles, while sesame seeds (and/or tahini) pack in a ton of iron that optimize energy levels and metabolic function. If you don’t enjoy or tolerate typical sources of protein like beans (or even legumes), try adding more seeds to your diet. They’re denser in nutrition than nuts, and a little will go a long way in building your muscles fast!

If you’d like more tips on how to build muscle quickly, see 5 Plant-Based Foods That Will Help You Build Muscle and check out our Plant-Based Nutrition Protein Guide. 

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What’s your favorite way to build lean muscle on a plant-based diet?

Lead Image Source: Protein-Packed Breakfast Quinoa Bowl