Vegan muscle building foods

At the time of writing this article (mid February 2021) I’ve just lost the weight I’d put on over Christmas. Too many vegan Baileys (although delicious!), vegan cheeses (also delicious!) and vegan chocolates which were most definitely very very delicious! It was a very indulgent week so January was spent loosing that weight, which I’ve just done. If you’re interested in losing weight on a vegan diet and lifting weights check these articles out:

Losing weight on a plant based diet

How to lose belly fat with weights

Now to the main task at hand for this year, building muscle. For this I need to eat the best vegan muscle building foods. But which foods are they? Find out later on in the article. First let’s look at why diet is so important for vegan muscle building.

What builds vegan muscles?

Woman with muscley back

Well the same as what builds non vegan muscles, lifting heavy weights and eating the right foods, namely protein. If you don’t eat enough protein your body can’t build the muscles you so desperately want. But what makes the muscles and what does protein actually do in the muscle building process?

How do muscles get bigger?

You may have heard the saying “protein is the building blocks of gaining muscle”. This is absolutely correct. Your body needs protein and a lot of it to repair your torn muscles after your workout. Torn muscles may sound bad but it’s this that makes your muscles bigger. If you’re lifting heavy your muscles will tear on every workout you do, when your body repairs these torn muscles they’re ever so slightly bigger. After one or two workouts you wouldn’t notice much of a difference but after maybe 15 or 20 workouts, so 15 or 20 times your muscles have been torn and repaired you would start to notice a difference. Lifting weights three times a week this would be after about 6 weeks of training. Imagine how much of a difference there would be after 50 or 100 workouts or a year of lifting? It takes time to build muscle, and protein of course!

Protein in building muscle

Back to the “protein is the building blocks of gaining muscle” we’ve all heard or read about.

Protein is made up of amino acids and it’s these amino acids that make up the muscles and tissues in our bodies. If you’re trying to build muscle and you don’t eat enough protein your body is unable to repair the muscles after your workout building bigger, better ones. So protein is important right? Oh yes!!

Eating the right protein is also important though as there are some amino acids our bodies can’t produce, 9 in total. These we must get from the foods we eat so it’s important to eat a balance of different proteins. Foods like the ones mentioned later in the article. Some vegan foods contain all 9 essential amino acids – soy, quinoa and buckwheat all do.

Carbs & Fat

It’s not just protein that helps to build muscle, carbs and fats play their part too.

Carbohydrates- rice and pasta


Carbs give your body fuel to perform your workouts in the first place. They get converted to glycogen which is stored for energy in your muscles. Lifting heavy weights is hard work, your body needs the fuel to be able to do this in the first place. No energy to workout = no workout. No workout = no muscles. Not what we want.


Whilst fat gets a bad wrap it’s an important macronutrient in building muscle. Having enough fats in our body (omega 3, 6 and 9) helps our bodies absorb the vitamins and minerals we eat. What’s the point in eating all those healthy foods if our bodies aren’t making use of them!? Whereas, if your body is absorbing all the good stuff you’ll be able to perform much better on your workouts. Just having that slight edge could make the difference in you hitting a personal best.

Eating the right fats also increases your levels of good cholesterol, or HDL. This in turn produces more growth hormone which in turn produces more amino acids. And we know what amino acids are right? Amino acids make up protein and are “the building blocks of gaining muscle”. I know, I know, you already knew that!


Woman performing a compound exercise - barbell squat

All this talk of protein, carbs and fat and we haven’t even gone into the workouts yet! The food side is important of course but so is the exercise part. If you’re not lifting weights in the first place, and heavy weights at that they’ll be no muscles to repair and make bigger to start with. So think BIG!

Compound moves use more muscles at once so are great for building muscle. The ones I perform all with a barbell are:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Row
  • Shoulder press
  • Bench press

Other exercises like bicep curls for example only work one muscle group. I like to get my money’s worth so compound moves working multiple muscle groups at the same time works great for me. It will for you too. So what foods are best to eat to get those nice big muscles?

Vegan muscle building foods

The foods listed below are the highest protein vegan foods I have found available to buy. There are other foods available that are relatively high in protein, but we’re just focusing on the highest concentration of protein. That way you give your muscles a big old dose of protein to repair them and make them bigger. For some generally high protein foods check this article out.

Seitan – 75g of protein, 370 calories, 1.9g fat, 14g carbs per 100g

Seitan (pronounced say-tan) is the vegan food with the highest amount of protein in, 75g per 100g is huge! It’s made from vital wheat gluten so wouldn’t be suitable for coeliacs or anyone with a gluten allergy. It’s made by mixing the wheat gluten with water and other flour (I use chickpea), kneading it to make a dough, then cooking it in a broth to add flavour and firm up. The end product has a similar look and consistency to meat and can be used in the same way. Add it to stir-fry’s, bake it, put it in a casserole or make it into a burger or steak. It’s very versatile. Because it’s made it’s considered a processed food so it’s not recommended to eat it every day but because of its high protein content it tops the list for vegan muscle building foods.

Tempeh – 21g of protein, 208 calories, 11g fat, 1.8g carbs per 100g


Similar to tofu but firmer and with a more nutty taste, tempeh is up there in the high protein vegan muscle building foods. It does contain a lot less protein than seitan and more fat, but it also has fewer calories and carbs so it’s good to alternate between the two. For example if one day you’ve already consumed quite a few calories and carbs have tempeh for dinner, if you’ve had lots of fat go with seitan instead. Tempeh can be used in many different dishes, it’s great in stir fries, curries, stews, and sandwiches. It’s not a chicken replacement but it can be used in the same way.. I mostly have it in stir fries with broccoli and wholewheat noodles, delicious and protein packed!

Edamame beans – 14.4g protein, 196 calories, 11.7g fat, 5.3g carbs per 100g

Edamame beans

Edamame beans are immature soy beans, the same soy beans that our friends tempeh and tofu are made from. They look similar to peas in a pod (don’t eat the pods) and you may have seen them served in Asian restaurants with salt or chilli flakes. I’m lazy so I buy the ones from Tesco that have already been taken out the pods. They taste similar to green peas but with more of a creamy taste and are firmer when you bite into them. They go great in stir-fry’s or just eat them on their own for a high protein snack.

Tofu (firm) – 12.6g protein, 123 calories, 6.9g fat, 2.9g carbs per 100g


Tofu is one of the most well know plant based protein sources. If I tell someone I’m vegan I often get the comment “oh I could never go vegan, that tofu stuff looks horrible!”. Or some other silly comment. I personally like tofu, it’s not as high in calories as it’s cousin tempeh plus it’s low in carbs and pretty much goes with anything. It can be fried, baked, scrambled (like eggs) or grilled. It absorbs flavours as well so tastes even better if it’s marinaded first.

Red kidney beans – 7.7g protein, 111 calories, 0.8g fat, 13.5g carbs per 100gRed kidney beans

If you’ve ever had a chilli con carne you’ve probably had red kidney beans in that. The great thing about a vegan chilli con carne (we’ll leave out the con carne actually and just call it chilli) is you still get the delicious kidney beans but without killing a cow in the process. Add some black beans and some veg like mushrooms and red pepper and you’ve got yourself a delicious, high protein vegan chilli! Have it with brown rice for an even bigger carb and protein boost! Red kidney beans can also be eaten in salads, curry’s, and stews. Another versatile food.

Lentils (red split) – 7.3g protein, 96 calories, 0.8g fat, 11.7g carbs per 100g

Red split lentils

I use red split lentils in my cooking a lot as I have daal for lunch at work at least a few times a week. If anyone doesn’t know what daal is it’s a lentil curry made using spices like turmeric, coriander and cumin. It’s healthy, filling and delicious which is why I eat it a lot. Other dishes that can be made with lentils are bolognese, soups, and curries. Lentils are low fat and low calorie but with their protein are great for muscle building, especially if you’re on a cut. Although they’re still great if you’re on a bulk because you can eat more of them and pair them with things like pasta and potatoes, yum!

Other high protein vegan muscle building foods

There are other high protein foods (per 100g) but we probably wouldn’t eat 100g worth. For example pumpkin seeds (30g per 100g), hemp seeds (31g), nutritional yeast (52g), and spirulina (57g). They all contain more protein per 100g than the foods listed above, except for seitan. But because you’d only eat a few grams of them (something like 5g of nutritional yeast or 20g of pumpkin seeds) they wouldn’t give you the big protein boost you need for building muscle. However they are a great addition to your meals, add pumpkin seeds to your smoothie or porridge and add nutritional yeast to your sauces or pastas to give them a cheesy taste.

What foods will you pick to build vegan muscles

Hopefully there are a few foods on the list above that you can incorporate into your vegan muscle building routine. I eat all the foods above but my top three are seitan, lentils and tempeh. Even though I’m using the same foods I mix up the recipes so I don’t get bored. For example, I might have a tempeh stir-fry on Monday then a tempeh curry on Wednesday. Eating fruit and veg is also important so don’t make it all about the protein! Get enough sleep, keep hydrated, don’t drink too much booze and of course lift those heavy weights and you’ll have vegan muscles before you know it!

I hope you found the article useful. Let me know what you think and how you’re progressing with your muscle building by commenting below.

Until next time


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