It is common knowledge that the most potent sources of proteins for muscle building and development come from animal meat such as pork, lean beef, poultry, and fish.

So does this necessarily mean vegetarian bodybuilders and athletes don’t stand a chance at achieving that lean and chiseled physique?

Of course not!

Just take a look at horses, cattle, gorillas, rhinos, and oxen: they are among the strongest and most muscled animals you’ll see, yet they’re herbivores, meaning they get all their energy and sustenance from plants.

For humans, a well-planned, protein-rich diet that’s high in calories can largely help with muscle development. Whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts as well as certain fruits and vegetables are the best nutrient sources for vegans and vegetarians.

What is most important is that there must be a highly nutritious diet that provides a calorie surplus and that you hit the weights hard enough to stimulate the muscle to grow.


The 3 Most Important Nutrients You Need to Build Muscle

To achieve a lean and chiseled physique, you will need the right nutrition, proper training, and a great deal of discipline and commitment.

Building muscle requires a strict and well-planned diet consisting of the three most important muscle-building nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.


If you’re targeting to build muscles in all the right places, your body should receive a constant supply of protein all day long. Proteins are your main source of energy, and the body needs lots of it to perform vital functions.

Proteins are also crucial for building lean muscle mass and replacing aging or damaged cells in the body.

Proteins are created in the body by the condensation of amino acids, which are the main building blocks of tissues and muscles. Without amino acids, it would be impossible to build, maintain, and repair muscle tissues.

There are 20 known amino acids, which are classified as essential and non-essential. Nine of these are essential and must be obtained by eating certain foods because the body cannot create them on its own.

The other 11 are non-essential, meaning they already exist and are synthesized by the body.


Carbohydrates function primarily to provide the body and brain with energy. It is important for the body to receive an adequate amount of carbs to promote fat metabolism and spare the use of protein for energy.

It is worth mentioning, however, that you should choose your carbs wisely. Take more of complex carbohydrates like cereals, whole grain, and legumes — it takes more time for the body to digest them, so they can provide you with continuous energy for extended periods.

As a point of reference, your daily calorie intake should comprise between 50-60 percent complex carbs.


Fats are among the most misunderstood nutrients, possibly because of what the term connotes. Just as there are good and bad carbohydrates, certain fats can be healthy. In fact, fats are among the best sources of energy.

Compared to carbohydrates and protein, fats (also known as lipids) contain twice as many calories in each gram. Because they have high caloric values, fats supply more energy and enhance your satiety better. They also help protect vital organs and balance hormonal functions in the body.

Unsaturated fats are the good fats that come mainly from nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fish. Those coming from plant sources and natural oils are mostly rich in linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat that has been found to lower the risk of heart disease.

If you’re targeting to build muscle, healthy fat should comprise approximately 30 percent of your daily calorie intake.

Building Muscle With Vegetarian Foods

At first glance, it may seem quite difficult to build muscle and gain mass following a strictly vegetarian diet. However, you’ll be amazed to learn that there is a wide selection of plant-based foods that are packed with protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates that can help with muscle building.

1) Quinoa

Talk about hitting more than two birds with one stone, and quinoa is it! Quinoa contains ALL nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce, making it a totally complete protein food for muscle building.

Quinoa is also loaded with complex carbs, making it an ideal energy source for even the most grueling workout routines.

This grain crop is grown primarily for its edible seeds and is cooked just like rice. A cup of cooked quinoa provides eight grams of protein in addition to iron, magnesium, and calcium, which are all vital for the regulation of muscle tone.

Extensive studies have shown that quinoa can enhance production of growth hormone factor-1 (IGF-1), which is essential to long-term muscle growth.

2) Beans and Legumes

Legumes are a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas, and lentils. They are typically rich in protein and fiber and are a significant source of potassium, folate, magnesium, and iron.

Kidney beans, chickpeas, and pinto beans are among the more common options you can include in a protein-rich, muscle-building vegetarian diet. A cup of chickpeas, for instance, supplies 40g of protein, 120g of carbohydrates, and almost 8g of unsaturated fat.

Beans and legumes also help you achieve optimum digestive health by regulating bowel movements. Additionally, they boost insulin response and enhance nutrient absorption, two major bodily functions that are essential for muscle growth.

3) Nuts

Nuts are among the best foods that bring amazing results when it comes to bodybuilding. They’re crunchy, delicious, and rich in protein and healthy calories. Almonds and cashews are your best choices since they’re packed with fats, protein, and fiber.

They provide high levels of energy and leave you with a calorie surplus even after hitting the gym.

An ounce of cashew loads up 150 calories, while a cup of almonds supplies 30 grams of protein and over 70 grams of unsaturated fats. Take a pack of nuts wherever you go. They’re convenient to snack on any time of the day.

4) Seeds

Seeds form part of the ideal vegetarian diet designed for muscle building because they are packed with proteins and fibers. Additionally, they are rich in essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation and enhance the recovery process following your workouts.

Flax seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are among the top choices of fitness buffs. They usually sprinkle flax seeds or chia seeds on nourishing smoothies for a perfect post-workout beverage. Seeds also make great additions to curries and salads.

5) Fruits

While fitness enthusiasts will normally avoid fruits because they are rich in fructose (fruit sugar), certain fruits like apples, bananas, cantaloupes, and strawberries are perfect when you are building muscle.

They are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and complex carbs (the good kind), which are all crucial for increasing lean muscle mass. Fruits are best taken at breakfast and post-workout.

6) Cultured Non-dairy Foods

Cultured fermented products work like magic when you’re building muscle because they have more calories and contain probiotics that enhance the digestive process. In so doing, the body breaks down food quite efficiently, so it is able to absorb maximum levels of calories and nutrients for muscle building.

7) Leafy Green Veggies

Much of our attention is focused on proteins when it comes to muscle building. However, leafy, green vegetables also play a significant part in attaining that chiseled look.

In particular, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce as well as avocado, beets, and squash are packed with vitamins, calcium, and folic acid, which help reduce inflammation, enhance muscle concentration, and offset the harmful consequences of oxidative stress.

Antioxidants found in leafy greens also help accelerate muscle and tissue repair and recovery.

8) Plant-Based Protein Powder

Part of the success of any muscle building program is speeding up results and preserving the gains. Plant-based protein powders are just the thing for a highly nutritious source of protein that’s super convenient!

Protein shakes are perfect pre-workout foods that help boost nutrient absorption and promote optimal muscle growth.

Because they contain both carbs and proteins, bodybuilding shakes provide a steady supply of energy, enhance protein synthesis, and improve blood flow to the muscles.

Additionally, they help prevent muscle weakness and lessen instances of unnecessary muscle breakdown.

On the Fence About Tofu (and Soy)

Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from protein-rich soy milk and is a popular meat alternative for most vegetarians. It is a substantial source of amino acids and isoflavones, which play a significant role in muscle growth.

Another notable attribute of tofu is its ability to speed up muscle and tissue recovery following intense workout regimens. There are many ways to enjoy tofu: baked, fried, sautéed, or as a breakfast scramble, among others.

We have promoted eating tofu in the past; however, there is new information that may mean this isn’t as good of an option as we once thought. If you choose to eat any soy product, please consult your doctor first.


That ripped look you’ve been dreaming of can become a reality once you incorporate these top vegetarian muscle building foods into your bodybuilding regimen. Combine that with the right mix of strength and resistance training to achieve the best results.