15 of The Best High Protein Plant Based Foods for Building Muscle

15 of The Best High Protein Plant Based Foods for Building Muscle

By Jamie Matthewman
April 14th, 2015

One of my main intentions this year is to transform my body. I want to get into the best shape of my life – lean, fast, agile and physically stronger – who knows maybe I’ll end up with a physique like wolverine! I am ready to put in the work.


And as you can see…I’ve some work to do!

me wolverine

This transformation is going to require more of a focus on building muscle mass, something which hasn’t been on my agenda over the last few years. My exercise efforts have been mainly focused on running, however in recent months I’ve been incorporating an increasing number of strength and gym sessions.

The last time I wanted to increase muscle I was eating fish and dairy products, so I’d eat a lot of tuna, cheese, eggs and take protein supplements. However now my diet’s predominantly plant based (I occasionally eat cheese) and whilst there’s more to building muscle than increasing protein intake, it’s a key component.

So this has left me wondering how this will work on a plant based diet; because like most people I believed animal products were THE key source of protein. I have since discovered this is a myth, propagated by the meat, fish and dairy industries. Their marketing campaigns are designed to convince you to buy their products, irrespective of whether what they tell you is completely true so they keep making money.

Dr McDougall a prominent nutrition expert has analysed research over many years and show that protein deficiency is impossible when calorie needs are met by eating unprocessed starches and vegetables. Dr McDougall states:

“since nature designed her plant foods complete, with abundant amounts of fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, where you get a specific nutrient is almost never a relevant question, as long as there is enough to eat.”

And the The Vegetarian Resource Group, write “it’s easy for a vegan diet to meet recommendations for protein, as long as calorie intake is adequate” and that “protein supplements are not needed to achieve even the highest level of protein intake.”

It is Easy To Meet Protein RDA but It’s Not The Only Issue

So a plant based diet provides more than enough protein to meet the average male’s recommended 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily – for me that’s about 61 grams (170 pounds x 0.36). However total protein isn’t the real issue, it’s amino acids, often described as the body’s building blocks which are essential for cell growth and repair.

Your body needs 20 essential amino acids for great health, but the human body only makes 9 of these so in other words, you have to get the shortfall of amino acids from your diet. So it’s not only the amount of protein you need to consider, it’s ensuring you get protein from a variety of sources to be sure you get all of the amino acids you need for good health.

From a plant based or vegan perspective these sources include unrefined grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables so that if one food is low in a particular essential amino acid, another food will make up this deficit.

But How Much Protein Do You Need to Build Muscle?

Whilst I have no intention to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I do want to be leaner, stronger and more athletic, which as the picture of me clearly shows, will require muscle gain, but how much protein is needed to build muscle? There have been numerous studies conducted to determine how much protein is needed to build muscle, this article summarises some of research really well in.

In a nutshell, it seems that if you’re looking to build muscle you probably want to be consuming between 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram or 0.63 to 0.81 grams per pound. I weigh 170 pounds so aiming for 0.63 grams per pound per day works out to be:

170 pounds * .63 grams/pound = 107 grams of protein per day

This is a 75% increase from the recommended but personally I’ve never measured my protein intake or intend to. I do well eating a variety of plant based and whole foods without worrying about grams of protein. However what I am prepared to do it adapt my diet to ensure I’m getting more.

This may not work for you. You may have to be more scientific with your approach, so I’ve created a list of the top 15 highest protein vegan plant foods to give you and me an idea of how this might be achieved. However don’t leave out the carbs or the fats because you’ll need the carbohydrate for energy otherwise your body will use protein meaning less muscle growth.

Essential fatty acids are critical to the proper function of your body. Your body is not able to produce these fatty acids on its own, so it is necessary you eat a diet rich in these crucial building blocks to maintain a healthy body – if you ensure you eat a variety of the foods below you’ll cover this, especially soya and nuts.

15 High Protein Plant Based Foods for Muscle Growth

(1). Nuts and nut butters – a 40g serving of nuts a day will give you approximately 2.5g of protein (pistachios (5.2g per 100g) and almonds (5.4g per 100g) are amongst the highest. Brazil Nuts are “complete proteins”, meaning that they contain all nine essential amino acids for muscle growth and development, as well as repair.

A complete protein profile means that Brazil nuts should kickstart protein synthesis like no other expensive commercial protein powder supplement can do. Bodybuilders, in fact, turn to these nuts for better muscle gains.

A cup of Brazil Nuts contains 19 grams of protein, that’s one-third of the daily recommended protein intake

(2). Soya milk – 1 cup of soy or almond milk can pack about 7-9 grams of protein. Use it to make your porridge and you’ve got 17 grams of protein without having to even think about it!

(3). Chia seeds – at 4.7g per 2 tablespoon serving these can be sprinkled on salads, added to smoothies or soaked in almond milk to create a tasty pudding.

(4). Broccoli – Vegetables don’t have as much protein as legumes and nuts, but some contain significant amounts—along with lots of antioxidants and heart-healthy fiber. Per calorie, broccoli has more protein than beef, one cup of chopped broccoli contains 8.1 grams.

(5). Chick Peas They contain 7.3 grams of protein in just half a cup, and are also high in fiber and low in calories. If you’re feeling adventurous whizz together a hummus and add a pitta you’ve got yourself 7 grams of protein. I also use chickpeas to make salads like this :


(6). Lentils – Lentils are a really versatile ingredient that I’ve used in curries, veggie burgers, casseroles, salads etc. One cup cooked delivers a whopping 18 grams of protein!

(7). Spirulina – Spirulina (an “ancient blue-green algae”), judged to be a superior foodstuff by Nasa no less recommended that it be cultivated on long-term space missions. It is about 60-70% protein, which is greater gram for gram than both red meat and soy. It also contains all of the essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein. It contains vitamins a, b, c, d and a large amount of Vitamin B12, a essential vitamin found in low quantities in plants. Whilst it isn’t cheap, this needs to be on the list!

(8). Peas – Foods in the legume family are good sources of vegetarian protein, and peas are no exception: One cup contains 7.9 grams—about the same as a cup of milk.

(9). Quinoa – Most grains contain a small amount of protein, but quinoa—technically a seed—is unique in that it contains more than 8 grams per cup, including all nine essential amino acids that the body needs for growth and repair, but cannot produce on its own. (Because of that, it’s often referred to as a “perfect protein).

(10). Seitan –First created more than a thousand years ago as a meat substitute for Chinese Buddhist monks, 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. This meat substitute, I’ll admit I’ve never tried it is on the list because it’s loaded with protein — 36 grams per half cup, more than either tofu or tempeh. Apparently it looks like duck meat and tastes like chicken, often used in oriental cooking. If you’ve tried it what’s really like?

(11). Beans – All beans no matter the variety have one thing they all have in common – high amounts of protein. Two cups of kidney beans, for example, contain about 26 grams so if you’re looking to increase your protein levels it’s likely that beans need to become a daily requirement and you know what they say about beans don’t you!?

(12). Oatmeal – 1 cup of oatmeal contains 6 grams of protein, if you like porridge then you can get every morning off to a high protein flying start!

(13). Hemp – Hemp, whilst from the same species of plants as cannabis won’t provide the same effects! It comes in a powdered format, which contains 10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons. You can add it to your cereal, smoothies or just about any other way you can think of.

(14). Tofu – Not one of my favourites, but foods made from soybeans are some of the highest vegetarian sources of protein: Tempeh and tofu, for example, contain about 15 and 20 grams per half cup, respectively. The harder the tofu, the higher the protein content.

(15). Vegan Protein Supplements – I have never tried any of the vegan protein supplements, they’re expensive, but that’s not to say that I won’t. Most people are familiar with the milk-derived whey and casein proteins, but there are lesser-known, plant-based options like soy protein, hemp protein, pea protein, and even rice protein.

What other high protein plant foods are you aware of?

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Jamie Matthewman

About Jamie Matthewman

Jamie is the founder, main contributor and editor of The Inspired Man.

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