How to Build Muscle with a Vegan Diet - PLUS Recipe

How do I build muscle on a plant-based diet?

Losing fat and building muscle is the goal of a large proportion of athletes in training, particularly the recreational athlete. The question is whether this is possible, particularly when consuming a plant-based diet. There are a couple of essential considerations, according to science, when these are the goals. The first is energy balance, and the second is protein intake.


Exercise increases energy needs and, in some instances, can more than double energy requirements. There is a key equation used in sports nutrition relating to dietary intake and energy expenditure.

Dietary energy availability is defined as EA = EI - EE where:

  • EA is energy availability
  • EI is energy intake
  • EE is daily energy expended

Thus, Energy Availability is the difference between Energy Intake and Daily Energy Expended.

The manipulation of energy intake and expenditure can be used to either gain (EI>EE) or lose weight (EE>EI). To gain muscle, the plant-based athletes must ensure that they consume adequate energy (calories) to fuel their training and at least maintain energy balance (EI=EE). If EE>EI then the athlete will tend to lose weight and reduce body fat but will also run the risk of also losing muscle mass. If EI>EE, the athlete will tend to gain weight, which can be through increased muscle mass, but a loss of fat mass is unlikely. The scientific literature suggests that to lose fat and gain muscle, the athlete should undertake a program of progressive resistance training where EI is designed to match EE.  

Two guys are working out at a Crossfit gym. The girl is lifting weights, while the man is resting.


Muscular repair and recovery after training is dependent on adequate intake of protein through the diet and is key to building muscle. There are two issues relating to the adequacy of protein intake when consuming a plant-based diet and these relate to protein quality and quantity. 

Protein Quality

There are twenty amino acids which are constituents of proteins, nine are considered as “essential” and must come from the diet. Plant-based proteins have an incomplete composition of EAA. However, a plant-based diet can supply all EAA if sufficient total energy and a variety of protein-containing foods are consumed throughout the day.

The table below highlights the major categories of plant-based dietary protein sources. Combining foods from any two of these categories and/or the use of protein supplements can ensure an adequate intake of all EAAs.

Protein sources

Food Category

Example Foods


Wholegrain bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, wholegrain couscous, oats, and cereals


Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds cashew nuts, peanuts, almonds


Lentils, beans, peas


Tofu, soya milk, soy cream, soy yogurt, tempeh, TVP (textured vegetable protein)


Protein Quantity

A review of protein intake for athletes suggests that athletes looking to build muscle should consume between 1.6-2.2g/kg/day. Aiming for 25-40g of protein per meal and eating within two hours of training has also been shown to be optimal.

What could be an ideal meal?

To delight you with delicious protein intake, we thought of the following recipe that will help you grow your muscles healthily and deliciously.

Macaroni Bean Salad

Macaroni bean salad on a purple table

High in carbs and protein, this is the perfect salad dish to fuel and refuel your recovery thank to clean energy release.  


  • Wholemeal macaroni (500g)
  • Drained Black Beans (400g)
  • Chickpeas (400g)
  • Chopped and de-seeded cucumber (100g)
  • Chopped onions (5)
  • Sweetcorn (90g)
  • Halved cherry tomatoes (100g)
  • Fresh parsley to garnish
  • Black pepper


  1. Cook the pasta (following the cooking time of the pack) and drain.
  2. Combine the vegetables, beans, and pasta in a bowl and mix.
  3. Serve either warm or cold garnished with fresh parsley and seasoned with black pepper (and Tabasco sauce if you like it).


Total Calories

660 Kcal


100 g


30 g


5,8 g (1 g saturated) 



Developing meal plans which look to achieve these daily energy and protein intakes are important to ensure that building muscle while losing body fat can be achieved on a plant-based diet.  Using fitness apps or using the services of a qualified sports nutritionist can help in achieving the target intakes.


Author: Philip Woodbridge

Philip Woodbridge is a registered Sports Nutritionist with the SENr (Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register) and specialises in plant-based nutrition through his consultancy P4S Nutrition. Philip is author of a nutrition guide and cookbook Plant-Based 4 Running.

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