Who doesn’t want to be lean, mean, and strong? By now, most of us know it’s very easy to eat a plant-strong diet and obtain enough nutrients, specifically protein, B vitamins, iron, and many others. However, for those of you that are healthy, perhaps a bit more strength is something you desire. Or, for those looking to gain a little more lean muscle, a few tips can make all the difference. Forget all those pieces of dieting advice – you don’t need them. A plant-based diet that’s derived from whole, unprocessed foods will provide all the right nutrients you need. From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out how you need to alter your protein, carb, and fat intake to adjust to your needs.
Don’t fall for those diets that promote animal protein for lean muscle mass or strength. Animal protein is not necessary and has been linked to everything from diabetes to cancer. It’s also very aging and can promote a shorter lifespan– how’s that for gaining strength?!
If you’re looking to build lean muscle and gain strength, try out these five simple tips and better yet, share any you might have too!
1. Eat Protein With Each Meal
Yes, protein is one of the most overrated nutrients that plant-based eaters have to hear about, but the truth is, your muscles do need protein, especially if you’re looking to build strength. Now, here’s the kicker: you do not need tons of chalky protein powders, processed protein products like bars and shakes, or even processed forms of vegan alternative products like veggie burgers (though you can make your own from whole foods.)
Plant-based whole foods are filled with amino acids that your body uses to form complete proteins. Eat from the following and aim for one or two sources at each meal: leafy greens (kale and spinach are best), broccoli, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, kidney beans, black beans, edamame, green peas, lentils, quinoa, oats, teff, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and almonds. All beans and legumes are incredibly high in protein so if you digest them well, prioritize those over other sources for lunch and dinner. For breakfast, include quinoa, oats, or teff, some nuts and seeds, and if you really happen to enjoy vegan protein powders, feel free to stir in an extra tablespoon for a boost. Vanilla does actually work well in porridge, as does coconut flour, which is another unexpected source of protein. You could, of course, just down a delicious protein-packed superfood smoothie.
Bottom Line: protein is important to gain strength because it’s like pure food for your muscles. Your body will appreciate simple plant-based sources, with vegan protein powders being a secondary option when whole foods aren’t available. Or, an alternative would be using hemp protein powder, which is made only from cold, raw milled hemp seeds and is technically a whole food. Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight if you want to pack on more muscle, but don’t go overboard since more isn’t always better.
2. Don’t Forget the Veggies!
You might not think veggies help you get strong, but alas, they certainly do. Veggies help your body produce enough oxygen to stimulate cells to work properly, including muscle cell growth. Veggies’ high water and fiber content also keeps things moving along through your body so it doesn’t slow down and make you sluggish, tired, and weak-feeling. Lastly, many veggies are rich in protein! One half cup of broccoli, asparagus and artichoke hearts all contain 4 grams each, while 3/4 cup of green beans provides 5-6 grams of protein for just under 50 calories. Compare this to an egg which has 6 grams, yet over your entire day’s worth of cholesterol, 70-80 calories, and 4.5 grams of artery-clogging fats to go along with it! Choose any veggies you want- none are off limits. Talk about food freedom!
3. Don’t Cut All Complex Carbs
So many people fear all carbs and if you want to build muscle, you may want to rethink this unnecessary fear. Complex carbs like sweet potatoes, whole grains, ancient grain -like seeds, nuts, seeds, and starchy veggies (think carrots and beets) are rich in fiber, and starch that your body breaks down more slowly. In the process, they provide you with energy and will fuel muscle growth by restoring glycogen in muscle cells, which they need for growth, repair, and strength. While some complex carbs like processed wheat bread and whole grain crackers might not be doing much for you or your muscles, sprouted grains or sprouted grain bread, and whole grain oatmeal or yams will definitely yield results, especially if you exercise. No need to go crazy with carbs, but including a moderate portion with each meal will do the job.
4. Lift Some Weights
Weights are a dead giveaway for those looking for tips to gain strength, so don’t leave them out of the equation whether you’re plant-based or not. Lifting weights will challenge your muscles in ways no amount of cardio will. They’ll also prevent your body from developing osteoporosis and bone loss, and even boost your mood. Plus, did you know that lifting weights stimulates growth hormone in the body naturally? Human growth hormone that’s naturally derived through activities like lifting weights and getting enough sleep, has been proven to fuel muscle growth, slow aging, and even aid in weight loss. Don’t worry if you can’t get to a gym- you don’t need one. Kettlebells can be bought and used right in your living room, and are extremely affordable if you don’t want to choose hand weights, which also make working out at home a cinch (though they’re a little pricier.) Don’t forget to start out with a weight you can lift at least 10 times each, but don’t keep lifting the same amount for an extended period of time. Increase your weight as soonas you’re able to easily lift through 15 reps. Challenge yourself to do 15-20 reps per exercise to build strength and up that to 30 after a few weeks.
5. Do Bodyweight Exercises
Aside from lifting weights, bodyweight exercises are essential to building muscle. Walking, yoga, and Pilates are all some of the best for strengthening your body on its own. High intensity interval training, running, and kickboxing are also great, though they challenge your endurance levels more so than building strength. Go for a hike, get your downward dog on, and try a little core work with some Pilates videos. Exercises that build core muscles help strengthen you naturally, and give you great abs as a bonus!
6. Don’t Forget to Rest!
You can’t expect to be strong and fit without enough rest, so don’t even try it! Your muscle cells need adequate time to recover and repair themselves. Skimping on sleep only sets you up for failure. Not to mention, a lack of sleep interferes with the proper secretion of human growth hormone mentioned above, and it can cause you to become more hungry, which will likely lead you to overeat on foods that don’t support a lean, strong body (think sugary carbs and junk foods which the body craves naturally without enough sleep.) You know the drill: 7-8 hours minimum!
Already doing all of these? Then you may want to check out more of our tips on building lean muscle and gaining strength for further advice:
- 5 Plant Based Foods That Will Help You Build Muscle
- How Plant Protein Gives You Strength (Without Aging You)
- Plant-Based Nutrition and The Strength Athlete
- Vegan Bodybuilder Smashes ‘Weak’ Stereotypes with Insane Strength Workout
- How to Rock a Clean, Mean, Protein-Packed Post Workout Smoothie
Now, let’s get strong and buff the plant-based way, shall we?
Image source: Openstax College/Wikimedia Commons