Is It Possible to Build Muscle On a Vegan Diet?

Leucine is one of the most important amino acids when it comes to building muscle tissue. In this article, we'll be taking a closer look at whether or not a vegan diet can provide sufficient levels of leucine to allow for muscle development.
Is It Possible to Build Muscle On a Vegan Diet?

Last update: 04 August, 2020

While many people might find it hard to believe, it’s actually possible to build muscle on a vegan diet. However, in order to do this effectively, there are a number of dietary criteria you’ll have to take into account.

Firstly, it’s important to monitor the amount of protein in your diet and to increase your daily calorie intake. It’s also essential to include foods that are rich in vegetable protein, with the aim of achieving a good supply of essential amino acids. We’ll tell you more about it in this article.

Muscle development and protein intake

Vegetable proteins are of a lower quality than animal proteins. They’re less digestible and lack some essential amino acids. As a result, it’s important to combine a variety of different foods in order to maintain a healthy supply of these nutrients.

You also need to remember that, of all the different amino acids, leucine is the most important when it comes to developing muscle tissue, as indicated in an article published in the journal, Nutrients.

If you want to make sure you’re getting enough leucine in your diet, you can use supplements. However, with a varied diet – even a strictly vegan one – it’s possible to consume sufficient amounts of leucine.

If you want to gain muscle mass, you’ll need to combine a mixture of nuts, legumes, and pseudocereals with high protein content. Together, these should allow you to meet your nutritional requirements.

How to build muscle on a vegan diet: monitoring your calorie intake

Vegan diets are often associated with low-calorie intake. However, if your goal is to build muscle, this has to change. In order for lean tissue to develop, your body has to be in an energy surplus.

A woman eating a bowl of cereal.

With this in mind, it becomes essential to include a large number of good quality carbohydrates in your diet. The aim is to stimulate the production of insulin, and the anabolic pathways of your metabolism. One such pathway, which is closely linked to an increase in muscle mass, is the mTOR pathway. This is indicated in an article published in the journal, Scientific Reports.

To stimulate this anabolic mechanism, you need to increase your overall calorie intake, as well as the number of carbohydrates in your diet.

At the same time, cereals such as oats and some types of wholegrain can help to stabilize blood sugar levels. This helps to ensure that your body remains in an anabolic state, which is ideal for building muscle mass (with the right training, of course).

Exercise is essential for increasing muscle mass

There’s no point in maintaining a strict diet if you’re not using the right training methods. Muscle hypertrophy can be achieved in two ways.

The first is by mechanical tension, which involves introducing a muscular stimulus by mobilizing large weight loads. This helps to activate the anabolic hormonal pathways, which increases the production of testosterone and growth hormone.

The second way to stimulate muscle hypertrophy is to use metabolic stress. This mechanism takes advantage of the build-up of metabolites in the muscles. This includes chemicals such as lactic acid, which is produced when the tissue is subjected to strenuous physical exercise. The presence of these substances in the muscles stimulates the pathways involved with muscle growth.

How to build muscle on a vegan diet: supplements

If you’re looking to build muscle on a vegan diet, there are a number of supplements that are suitable for vegans and which can help to improve this process. The best examples include creatine and HMB. Both of these substances can help to improve body composition, both in amateur sports enthusiasts and elite athletes.

Supplements can help you to build muscle on a vegan diet.

There are also a number of high-quality protein compounds which can be a good option to keep in mind if you find that you’re not meeting your daily protein requirements.

Optimize your diet to increase your muscle mass

If you’re aiming to achieve muscle hypertrophy, you’ll need to optimize your diet. This is fairly straightforward, even on a vegan diet. The most effective solution is to increase your daily protein intake and incorporate a variety of foods that can compensate for any amino acid deficiencies.

It’s also important to ensure that your body remains in energy surplus and that it has a regular supply of carbohydrates to stimulate the anabolic metabolic pathways. Finally, you also have the option of introducing a variety of supplements, such as creatine or HMB, which can help to improve body composition.

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  • Stokes T., Hector AJ., Morton RW., McGlory C., Phillips SM., Recent perspectives regarding the role of dietary protein for the promotion of muscle hypertrophy with resistance exercise training. Nutrients, 2018.
  • Cai X., Zhu C., Xu Y., Jing Y., et al., Alpha ketoglutarate promotes skeletal muscle hypertrophy and protein synthesis through akt/mTOR signaling pathways. Sci Rep, 2016.