Originally Posted On: https://militarymuscle.co/blogs/studies/vegan-muscle-building-101-debunking-the-myths
Centuries ago, humans ate plant-based diets. Yet, they had no problem building the muscle needed to survive and become the world’s apex predator.
So what’s the secret to vegan muscle building? Plant-based proteins combined with resistance workouts and sufficient rest can help you get to the fitness level you’ve always wanted to.
But that’s not all. Building muscle can also benefit your health, from encouraging a thinner waistline to making your brain smarter.
Are you ready to learn how to build muscle as a vegan? Then keep reading because this one’s for you.
Muscle hypertrophy is the scientific name for the process of building muscle. Hypertrophy can occur when you continuously challenging the muscles with greater and greater levels of resistance.
But what is hypertrophy exactly? Muscle hypertrophy is the process of muscle fibers (called myofibrils) tearing after a resistance workout. The body repairs those muscle fibers during recovery, a process that increases the size of those muscles.
Muscles don’t just repair on their own, though. Hormones like testosterone, the human growth (HG) hormone, and insulin growth factor (IGF) each contribute to muscle healing post-workout.
For example, hormones help activate a type of stem cells called satellite cells. Satellite cells play a big role in developing muscle after a workout. Similarly, these hormones encourage the release of anabolic hormones— vital for muscle growth.
Why do humans eat food? It seems like a simple question, but the answer can be quite complex. One answer is this: humans eat food to get some of the nutrients we require to function, but our bodies don’t produce naturally.
Protein is one such nutrient. Our bodies require nine essential amino acids that, unless we consume protein, we can’t make on our own. Once consumed through our diets, these essential amino acids form new proteins our bodies use for work.
Remember when we talked about muscle hypertrophy? Then you may recall that we said we build muscle when the body heals after hypertrophy. What we didn’t mention is that protein is vital for this repair process.
Muscle proteins get recruited to the fibers we damage with exercise. The proteins, along with the hormones we mentioned above, stimulate new muscle fiber growth. Without proper protein intake, this process doesn’t happen and muscle growth doesn’t either.
Resistance training is an important part of any healthy adult’s exercise routine. Building muscle is good for us, and that’s not just because it boosts our confidence and helps us look our best.
Muscle building also:
Strength training is the only way to effectively build muscle. Yet, what you eat every day — and especially before and after your workout — matters for muscle building, too.
Protein, carbs, and fats are all vital for healthy muscles. If you can’t get enough protein or nutrients, supplementation may also be an option to help you stay fit.
Here are the current recommended dietary guidelines for an active adult vegan.
Guidelines recommend that active adult males get 56 grams of protein per day. If you’re hitting the gym hard, consider increasing that amount.
Some studies show that when you get your protein is important, too. Consuming protein during or directly following your workout stimulates protein synthesis and reduces protein breakdown during muscle repair.
Importantly, protein doesn’t have to come from an animal source to be sufficient. That is, as long as you choose a variety of protein sources. Alternatively, choose a complete vegan protein source like Beyond Meat.
Here’s what we mean: many animal proteins are complete sources of protein. That means they contain all the essential amino acids our body needs to synthesize its own proteins.
Vegan protein is different.
There isn’t one single source of vegan protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. That’s why it’s important to include a variety of plant-based protein sources in your diet, including ones that are almost complete proteins like:
Incorporating a variety of these foods into your daily diet will help build muscle faster and more robustly.
Protein may get all the attention for its role in muscle growth, but it’s about time carbs got their time in the light. After all, without carbs, your body could never make it through the grueling resistance workouts you’re about to put it through.
Carbs are important for your body because they convert into glycogen once we ingest them. Glycogen gets stored in your muscles and turn into ATP (a cell’s energy currency) as you exercise.
A study published in 2018 recommends a high carbohydrate diet for those who are engaged in high-intensity levels of exercise. This can include laborers or soldiers who are engaged in continuous and long periods of sustained activity.
Current guidelines recommend that adults who are weight training get about half of their total calories from carbs every day. Focus on complex carbs like whole-grain pasta and bread, low-fat milk and yogurt, and fruits and vegetables.
To avoid digestive issues during a workout, avoid consuming fiber-rich carbs before or during a workout. This rules out some fruits and vegetables, and most beans, which are a great source of both protein and carbs.
Don’t fear fats when you’re trying to build muscle. Healthy sources of fat help fuel you during a workout. Current guidelines recommend that fat should be anywhere from 20% to 35% of your daily calories.
Of course, make sure to choose good fat sources AKA unsaturated fats. Olive oil, canola oil, and some nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios) are great sources of unsaturated fats.
Sometimes, workouts are too exhausting to whip up a full meal post-exercise. When those days hit, make sure you have supplements around to keep you fueled.
A plant-based protein shake is always a good idea to have around. Keep them in your fridge or store vegan protein powders for a quick post-workout boost.
To really see results, experts also recommend ensuring you’re getting all the vital vitamins and nutrients. A supplement is an excellent source of vitamins and nutrients.
Not sure if you’re deficient in any of these nutrients? We recommend seeing a dietitian to make sure you’re optimizing your diet for muscle growth.
Alternatively, ask your doctor about blood testing, which can show any vitamin or nutrient deficiencies you may be dealing with.
The best workouts for building muscle are those that are challenging to the body. However, a challenge isn’t enough on its own. You also need to stay consistent with your challenging workouts over the long-term to see significant results.
Here’s another hint to build muscle effectively: make sure to take proper rest after your workouts. Combining rest days with resistance training and a little cardio is a sure-fire way how to build muscle as a vegan.
Resistance training is also known as weight training. This muscle-strengthing activity is the only exercise guaranteed to give you the fit figure you want.
The recommendation for strength training is one session of weight training twice per week. A session of strength training might include lifting weights or using a weight machine, resistance band workouts, or even bodyweight exercises.
Workout plans should include exercises that work out large muscle groups in addition to smaller muscles.
The large muscle groups include legs, hips, back, chest, abs, shoulders, and arms. Workout each of these muscle groups at least twice per week.
Each strength training session should incorporate multiple periods of rest. You should also add in at least one rest day a week (see below for more on rest).
You may not think cardio is important for building muscle. Think again, though, because cardio not only supports muscle growth, it also helps with fat loss. The less fat you have on your body, the more apparent your muscle gains will be.
Guidelines for active adults recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week. Alternatively, you could do 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio per week. One study recommends doing cardio for 30 to 45 minutes four to five days a week to see the best muscle-building results.
Keep in mind that cardio doesn’t have to mean running or cycling. High-intensity interval training workouts and plyometrics are also excellent ways to get your heart rate up.
Off-days are just as important for building muscle as on-days. Without allowing your muscles to rest, they can’t fully heal after hypertrophy. Plus, studies show that not getting enough rest raises the risk of getting injured during a workout.
Most guidelines recommend you avoid weight training the same muscle group for more than two days in a row. If you do plan to train the same muscle group for two consecutive days, take a day off in between days two and three for some much-needed stretching.
So, let’s imagine you’re a beginner starting a new workout plan for the first time. You decide to do five days on and two days off, meaning five days of resistance and cardio training with two days of rest.
Here’s what your diet and exercise plan for the week might look like:
Pre-workout snack: carb-rich multigrain toast with peanut butter and banana slices
Post-workout meal: a vegan protein shake and a bowl of granola with hemp milk
Pre-workout snack: a glass of orange juice with yogurt and hemp seeds
Post-workout meal: black bean tacos with guacamole, salsa, and corn or whole wheat tortillas
Take the day to recover. Make sure you take at least 15 minutes to stretch, focusing on the muscle groups you worked out on Days one and two. Get plenty of sleep and make sure to eat plenty of food.
Pre-workout meal: vegan banana-chocolate smoothie bowl with chia seeds and a scoop of almond butter
Post-workout meal: broccoli, sesame seed, and tofu stir fry with brown rice
Pre-workout meal: apple slices with peanut butter
Post-workout meal: whole-grain pasta and ground tempeh tomato sauce with cashew cheese
Pre-workout meal: a glass of milk with a handful of nuts and seeds
Post-workout meal: quinoa and Mediterranean-style sauteed chickpeas with spinach, cucumbers, and tomatoes
Make sure to rest, stretch, and fuel up. Avoid “cheat day” mentalities and stick with your usual diet plan. Add-in some extra protein to boost muscle recovery and growth up a notch.
Remember, if you buy 4 or more bottles of Military Muscle, we provide a free comprehensive vegan nutrition plan and workout guide!
Vegan muscle building is easy when you choose the right resistance workouts. But it’s even easier when you get the vegan protein, carb, fat, and nutrient sources to keep your body functioning optimally.
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