Vegan protein can taste good and is usually cheaper.
Despite the rumors, you can certainly build muscle if you learn how to eat a vegan bodybuilding diet.
Misconceptions about vegan food:
- tastes bad
- is expensive
- doesn’t build muscle
- not protein-rich and doesn’t offer complete proteins
The thing is, those who are curious about becoming a vegetarian for health reasons are also concerned about getting complete proteins that are readily available to meat-eaters.
All the dietitians I depend on for quality, unbiased information say that plant-based diets contain such a wide variety of amino acid profiles that vegans can easily get all of their amino acids.
The term “complete protein” refers to amino acids, the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different kinds that can form a protein, and nine that the body can’t produce on its own.
These are called essential amino acids—we need to eat them because we can’t make them ourselves.
In order to be considered “complete,” a protein must contain all nine of these essential amino acids in equal amounts.
You may have heard that vegan bodybuilders need complete proteins in most of their meals. As long as you keep your meals varied with proteins, complete or not, collectively they will fulfill your amino acid needs.
There are plenty of ways to meet your protein needs as a vegan bodybuilder.
Vegan Protein Sources: Foods with Complete Proteins
1. Peanut Butter Sandwich with Ezekiel Bread
Protein: 23 grams per 2-slice sandwich with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
Let’s start this off right, because peanut butter sandwiches simply kick ass. They also happen to be protein-rich with a sizable amount of essential amino acids and plenty of healthy fats.
Why Ezekiel bread?
It has wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, sprouted grains, and spelt. These combined ingredients contain all the essential amino acids, and they are also high in fiber and vitamins.
Protein: 32 grams per 1/2 cup serving
If you’re not gluten intolerant, this protein source rocks the house. Seitan is made by mixing gluten (the protein in wheat) with herbs and spices, hydrating it with water or stock, and simmering it in broth. But this one’s not complete on its own—it needs to be cooked in a soy sauce-rich broth to add gluten’s missing amino acid (lysine).
Protein: 30 grams per 1 cup serving (tempeh) – 30 grams per 1 cup serving (natto) – 20 grams per 1 cup serving (firm tofu)
While beans are normally low in the amino acid methionine, soy is a complete protein and deserves its time in the spotlight. However, beware of the GMO versions of this vegan food. Tempeh and natto are made by fermenting the beans, but tofu is probably the best known soy product.
Protein: 8 grams per 1 cup serving, cooked
Quinoa looks much like couscous, but is more nutritious. Full of fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese, quinoa is a terrific substitute for rice. It’s easy to cook up ahead of time for meal prep, and is a staple in my own vegetarian bodybuilding diet.
5. Spirulina (with grains or nuts)
Protein: 4 grams per 1 tablespoon
Contrary to popular belief, this member of the algae family is not a complete protein, since it’s lacking in methionine and cysteine. All that’s needed to remedy this is to add something with plenty of these amino acids, such as grains, oats, nuts, or seeds.
6. Hummus (and pita)
Protein: 8 grams per 2 tablespoons of hummus and 1 whole-wheat pita
The protein in wheat is pretty similar to that of rice, being only deficient in lysine. But the chickpeas in hummus have plenty, as well as a fairly similar amino acid profile to most legumes.
Protein: 4 grams per 2 tablespoon serving
Chia seeds are the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they contain more fiber than flax seeds or nuts. Chia is also a powerhouse of iron, calcium, zinc, and antioxidants, but the best thing about these little seeds is that they form a goopy gel when combined with milk or water.
Protein: 10 grams per 2 tablespoon serving
This has significant amounts of all nine essential amino acids, as well as plenty of magnesium, zinc, iron, and calcium. They’re also a rare vegan source of omega-3s.
More Vegan Protein Sources: