Hitting your daily protein goal is enough of a struggle when you don’t have any dietary restrictions, but it becomes more challenging when you cut out certain food groups. That said, there is no reason you can’t hit your protein goals every day while following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Many vegan-friendly staples are high in protein. Tofu, tempeh, seitan and chickpeas are all loaded with protein. You can also fill your plate with protein-rich veggies like edamame and broccoli to feel fuller for longer. And when it comes to easy comfort food, stews, curries and soups loaded with lentils, beans and chickpeas will quickly become your best friend.
There’s no reason to believe that following a vegan diet will impact your ability to build muscle. There are plenty of vegan foods that are just as protein-rich as animal-derived products, and many of them are also lower in fat, which is ideal if you’re also trying to lose weight.
What is protein?
Protein is one of the three main macronutrients we need to survive. The other two are carbohydrates and fats. Alongside macronutrients, there are also micronutrients, which are also essential for growth and development.
Proteins are present in all living things and the human body typically contains around 15% protein. The body doesn’t keep any protein reserves, so you need to get it from your diet every day in order to carry out essential functions.
A gram of protein provides 4 Kcal of energy and the current recommended daily intake of protein for exercising adults is between 1.6g and 2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight.
Why is protein so important?
Protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of life. These help to repair muscle fibres damaged during exercise, which results in muscle growth. Since the body does not keep reserves of protein, you need to eat enough every day in order to function and build muscle.
Protein is also great for an active and healthy lifestyle as it helps you to feel full for longer. By increasing the amount of protein in every meal, you might find it easier to lose weight.
Can you build muscle on a vegan diet?
Absolutely, and there are plenty of documented cases of individuals performing at elite levels on a vegan diet. There are some key advantages to building muscle on a vegan diet. Since vegan foods tend to have a lower calorie content by volume, you can eat more, feel fuller, and not pack on the extra pounds.
You will also enjoy a diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals, which are also essential for building muscle. Many animal-derived protein sources do not pack the same vitamin punch.
And finally, following a vegan diet forces you to be more creative with your meal choice. This means you won’t be stuck eating boring chicken, rice and broccoli every mealtime.
It’s important to note that not all vegan protein sources are considered “complete”. This means that they don’t contain all of the amino acids needed to thrive. If you’re eating a rich and varied diet, this is not likely to be a problem, but it is something you should be mindful of, particularly if you like to meal prep the same meals out of simplicity.
There are simple ways to combine protein sources in a meal to ensure you get a complete protein source. For example, black beans and rice combine to make a complete protein source. And wholewheat pasta and peas can also be combined to make a complete protein.
Soy is considered to be a complete protein, so adding plenty of tofu to your diet could help you to hit your protein goals with ease.
Vegan recipes with high protein
Forget what you think you know about a vegan diet, these recipes are packed with flavour and will leave you feeling full and satisfied.
Crunchy Veg and Smoked Tofu Salad – Olive Magazine
This salad contains less than 500 Kcal per serving and an impressive 28.4g of protein. It’s the perfect lunch meal prep to keep you going through a busy workday. If you’re bulking, try adding some wholegrain rice to increase the calorie count.
Smoked tofu is a great choice for those who think tofu is bland and boring. Think of tofu as a sponge that is ready to soak up whatever flavours you pair it with. In this case, it takes on the nutty flavours of the sesame oil and then gets doused in delicious sesame dressing.
Seitan and Black Bean Stir Fry – BBC Good Food
This recipe delivers just 326 Kcal per serving with an incredible 22g of protein thanks to the seitan and black beans. We’d be inclined to eat a double portion to increase the calories and fuel a heavy workout.
Seiten is basically wheat gluten which offers a delicious meaty texture. If you can’t find seitan in your local supermarket, you could try this recipe with any vegan meat substitute. This sticky and sweet recipe will keep well, making it an ideal choice for meal-preppers.
Vegan Fiesta Taco Bowl – PureWow
It’s really simple to create vegan versions of your favourite meals. In this case, swap out chicken or beef for smokey seitan (or substitute with Quorn mince) for a delicious midweek dinner. With 744 Kcal and 28g of protein in each taco bowl, you’ll be ready for the most gruelling workout.
Taco bowls are an excellent choice for vegans as you can throw in whatever food you happen to have to hand. This could include beans or chickpeas, veggies, salad leaves and even crunchy tortilla chips. Remember to layer on some salsa and guacamole.
Teryaki Tofu Stir Fry Over Quinoa – Vegetarian Gastronomy
One-pot stir fry meals will quickly become your best friend when you start to explore vegan cooking. You don’t always have to follow a recipe. Simple throw together veggies, a vegan protein source, noodles or rice, and a delicious sauce for a healthy and fast meal.
This recipe offers 411 Kcal per serving and 19g of protein. Be aware that any recipe with teriyaki is going to be high in sodium, so you might want to switch to a low-sodium soy sauce to avoid feeling thirsty after your meal.