Every lifter knows that he needs protein to build muscle, and meat and other animal-derived foods are great sources, containing all the essential amino acids that the body needs. That’s why bodybuilding gurus and trainers have advised us for years to eat copious amounts of meat to gain muscle and strength, offering few alternatives for the vegetarian.
The truth is, you don’t absolutely need meat to build muscle. Whether you’re a vegetarian (no meat), vegan (no animal products), or just a regular guy who’s concerned about animal rights or has grown weary of swallowing meat at every meal, we have a plan to bulk you up without beef, chicken, eggs, or any other animal product. You’ll make gains just as quickly as you would on a meat-rich eating plan and may even stay leaner and healthier while you do it.
The perceived problem with a vegan diet is that it lacks quality protein sources. Beans and nuts, both protein staples for vegans, do not contain all nine essential amino acids. Rather, most are missing one or more of the needed muscle-building nutrients. Nevertheless, you should always count them in your daily protein intake (which should be between 0.6 and 0.8 grams per pound of body weight each day) if you’re trying to gain muscle. Numerous studies have shown that when coupled with training, diets based on plant proteins can yield the same results in both muscle growth and fat loss as their animal counterparts.
Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, you can take your diet a step further by combining plant proteins in the same meal as often as possible to ensure that you get all the necessary aminos in one shot. This isn’t difficult to do: Many foods that go together anyway will provide the full spectrum of amino acids when eaten concurrently. A good rule of thumb to follow is to eat grains with beans. Eating brown rice with green beans, for example, will provide complete protein. See “Killer Combinations” (below, bottom) for a list of foods that go together to form complete protein meals and follow “The No-Meat Menu” (below), where some proper combinations have already been arranged for you.
One of the great benefits in following a vegan diet is that you don’t have to worry about eating excessive amounts of saturated fat as you do when chowing down on animal products. Instead, by focusing on healthy, unsaturated fats–mainly nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils–you can support the production of muscle-building hormones and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels at the same time. These good fats will also help you take in the necessary calories you need to build muscle.
But how does a vegan diet taste? Even a die-hard meat-and-potatoes guy can make the switch to veganism without too much adjustment. You can eat plenty of fresh fruits, nuts, and grains, and with some spices, make even seemingly bland meals taste delicious. The menu plan we outline here is designed to help you make the transition slowly and takes into account a hectic schedule. Vegan supplements have also been included for your convenience.
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