Does Plant Protein Build Muscle?

Looking to build some muscle and wondering if plant proteins are up to the task? The short answer is – absolutely yes!

Plant proteins, when consumed in adequate amounts and from various sources, can be just as effective as animal proteins for muscle building.

But the devil's in the details, right? Dive in with us as we delve into the science behind it, compare plant and animal proteins, and show you how to incorporate plant protein effectively into your diet for muscle growth.

Understanding Proteins and Muscle Building

Muscle building. It's not just about lifting weights, it's a science.

A vital part of this science is understanding proteins.

They're your body's building blocks, aiding in growth, recovery, and strength.

But not all proteins are created equal.

So let's dig in, take a closer look at proteins and their role in muscle building, and explore the differences between plant and animal proteins.

Role of Proteins in Muscle Building

In your body, proteins are kind of like the construction crew at a building site.

They repair old cells, create new ones, and contribute to growth and maintenance.

Now, when it comes to muscle building specifically, proteins play a starring role.

You see, when you work out, you're actually causing microscopic damage to your muscle fibers.

These tiny tears might sound scary, but they're actually a good thing.

Why? Because when your body repairs these tears, it does so by piecing together amino acids – the building blocks of proteins – creating muscle tissue that's even stronger than before.

This process is called protein synthesis.

The catch? Your body needs a steady supply of these amino acids to repair and build muscle effectively.

And that's where dietary protein comes into play.

The Concept of ‘Complete' and ‘Incomplete' Proteins

Now let's chat about ‘complete' and ‘incomplete' proteins. It's all about the amino acids.

Out of 20 amino acids, your body can only produce 11.

These are known as non-essential amino acids.

The other 9, called essential amino acids, need to come from your diet.

A ‘complete' protein source contains all of these 9 essential amino acids in sufficient quantities.

Animal proteins like meat, eggs, and dairy are complete.

On the other hand, an ‘incomplete' protein source lacks one or more essential amino acids.

Most plant proteins fall into this category.

But hey, don't let the term ‘incomplete' put you off.

By combining different plant proteins in your meals, you can get all the essential amino acids your muscles crave.

The Difference Between Plant and Animal Proteins

When it comes to muscle building, both plant and animal proteins can do the job, but they do have their differences.

Animal proteins are complete and are generally absorbed more quickly and efficiently by the body.

They are often higher in certain nutrients like vitamin B12 and omega-3 fats, which aren't commonly found in plants.

Plant proteins, while usually ‘incomplete', can still provide all essential amino acids when consumed from a variety of sources.

They are often packed with additional health benefits, being high in fiber and lower in saturated fat.

Plus, they come along with a host of vitamins and minerals that are great for overall health.

Demystifying Plant Proteins

Plant proteins. You've probably heard they're ‘incomplete,' but what does that really mean? How can you get the most out of them?

Let's unravel the mystery behind plant proteins, delve into their ‘incomplete' nature, spotlight some star plant protein sources, and learn how to get around this so-called ‘incompleteness.'

The ‘Incomplete' Nature of Plant Proteins: The Missing Amino Acids

As we've already touched on, most plant proteins are considered ‘incomplete' because they lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids that our body can't produce on its own.

However, different plant proteins lack different amino acids. For instance, grains are generally low in lysine, while most legumes are low in methionine.

But here's the kicker – just because a protein source is ‘incomplete' doesn't mean it's inferior or unusable.

It just means you need to be a bit more strategic with your food choices.

Examples of High-Quality Plant-Based Protein Sources: Quinoa, Buckwheat, Hempseed, Chia, Soy, and Rice

While there are plenty of plant-based protein sources, some pack a bigger punch than others. Let's spotlight a few:

  • Quinoa: This pseudo-grain is a unique plant protein because it's complete! That's right, it contains all nine essential amino acids your muscles crave, plus it's a great source of fiber and iron.
  • Buckwheat: Another complete protein, buckwheat is also rich in heart-healthy magnesium and dietary fiber.
  • Hempseed: Besides being a complete protein, hemp seeds are a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are beneficial for your brain and heart.
  • Chia: These tiny seeds are packed with protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and several important minerals.
  • Soy: It's not just a complete protein; it's also high in both fiber and healthy fats, making it an excellent plant-based protein choice.
  • Rice: While it's not complete on its own, brown rice protein is easy to digest and pair with other proteins. Plus, it's hypoallergenic, making it a good choice for those with food sensitivities.

The Way Around ‘Incompleteness': Combining Plant Protein Sources

So how do you maneuver around this ‘incompleteness' issue? By playing food matchmaker.

Pairing different plant proteins in your meals can provide you with all the essential amino acids you need.

Remember when we mentioned that grains are generally low in lysine, while most legumes are low in methionine?

That's your first match right there: grains and legumes.

Think rice and beans or peanut butter on whole-grain bread.

Or consider pairing nuts and seeds with legumes.

A salad with chickpeas and sunflower seeds, for instance.

By combining different plant proteins in your meals, you can make sure you're getting a ‘complete' set of amino acids.

And no need to stress about combining proteins in every single meal.

Your body can pool together amino acids from foods consumed throughout the day.

So focus on variety and balance in your overall diet, and you'll be fueling those muscles just fine.

Showcasing the Science

Alright, we've talked a lot about proteins and amino acids.

But where's the proof, right? Where's the science backing up all these claims about plant proteins and muscle building?

Let's pull back the curtain and spotlight two groundbreaking studies that have put plant proteins under the microscope.

Summary of the Study from Sports Medicine

This study, published in Sports Medicine, aimed to see how well a plant-based diet supports muscle strength and mass gains in response to resistance training, compared to a diet that includes animal foods.

The participants were divided into two groups: one followed a high-protein, exclusively plant-based diet, and the other followed a high-protein diet that included animal foods.

Both groups underwent resistance training for the duration of the study.

The findings? Both groups experienced similar muscle strength and mass gains.

The researchers concluded that a high-protein, exclusively plant-based diet can support muscle strength and mass gains just as effectively as a diet that includes animal foods.

Summary of the Study from The Journal of Nutrition

The second study we're looking at comes from The Journal of Nutrition.

This research focused on fungi-derived mycoprotein (also known as Quorn), investigating its effectiveness at supporting muscle growth compared to animal protein.

The results showed that mycoprotein was as effective at stimulating post-exercise muscle protein synthesis as milk protein, a common animal protein source.

In other words, this plant-based protein was just as good at supporting muscle growth as the animal protein used in the study.

What These Studies Imply for Plant Protein and Muscle Building

So, what do these studies mean for you and your quest for muscle growth?

Essentially, they suggest that plant proteins can be just as effective as animal proteins for building muscle when consumed in adequate quantities.

The Sports Medicine study shows that a well-planned, plant-based diet can provide the necessary protein to support resistance training-induced muscle strength and mass gains.

The Journal of Nutrition study illustrates that not all plant proteins are created equal – some, like mycoprotein, can be particularly effective at supporting muscle growth.

These studies reinforce that the key to muscle growth on a plant-based diet is ensuring you consume enough protein from a variety of sources, just as you would on a diet that includes animal proteins.

While it may require a bit more planning, building muscle with plant proteins is not only possible, but it's also been scientifically validated.

Incorporating Plant Protein in Your Diet

Alright, you're convinced. You're ready to incorporate more plant proteins into your diet.

But where do you start? How do you ensure your workout and diet are consistent enough for muscle gain?

Let's get into the nitty-gritty of incorporating plant proteins into your diet, and provide some top tips for consistency.

The Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Switching up your diet and introducing more plant proteins can seem daunting at first.

You might face challenges such as finding a variety of plant proteins, ensuring you're getting enough of all the essential amino acids, and maintaining a balanced diet that meets your other nutritional needs.

The key to overcoming these challenges? Planning and variety.

Research different plant proteins and try out new recipes that incorporate them.

Remember, different plant proteins contain different amino acids, so variety is crucial.

Quinoa one day, chickpeas the next, maybe some mycoprotein for dinner – mix it up!

In terms of ensuring you're getting all the essential amino acids, remember our chat about combining different plant proteins in your meals.

Whole grains plus legumes, seeds or nuts with legumes – these are combinations that will help you get all those essential amino acids.

And again, don't stress about combining proteins in every single meal; your body can pool together amino acids from foods consumed throughout the day.

Tips for Consistency with Workouts and Diet for Muscle Gain

Consistency is key when it comes to muscle gain.

You've got to stick with both your workout routine and your dietary changes to see results.

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Set a schedule: Have specific days and times for your workouts and stick to them. This routine will make your workouts a regular part of your week.
  2. Meal prep: Prepare your meals ahead of time. This helps ensure you're getting the right nutrients every day and prevents you from resorting to less healthy options when you're hungry and short on time.
  3. Gradual changes: If the idea of a complete diet overhaul feels overwhelming, start by making small changes. Add one new plant protein to your diet each week.
  4. Stay hydrated: Water plays a vital role in muscle recovery. So, don't forget to drink up.
  5. Rest: Your muscles need time to repair and grow. Make sure you're getting enough sleep and incorporating rest days into your workout schedule.


In a nutshell, yes, plant proteins can indeed help build muscle.

It's not about plant vs. animal protein, but about consuming a variety of proteins and getting all those essential amino acids.

Armed with the right knowledge, some planning, and consistency, you can successfully incorporate plant proteins into your diet and achieve your muscle-building goals.

Keep exploring, keep experimenting, and remember – it's your journey, and every step, no matter how small, counts.