The greatest performances in Olympic legend and gold medalist Carl Lewis’s career came in 1991. He set a world record time in the 100 meter World Championship final that year, at the age of 30—one year after he adopted a completely plant-based diet (1).
Many people think animal proteins are what athletes and fitness enthusiasts need to build strength or maintain muscle. But it’s simply not true. Look at tennis star Venus Williams, basketball player Kyrie Irving, boxer David Haye, and weightlifter Kendrick Yahcob Farris. They’re some of the many athletes who rely on clean, plant-based nutrition to give them all the protein and energy they need to compete at the highest level (2).
What Does It Take to Build Muscle?
There are really only two things you need to build muscle, and neither of them involves consuming animal products:
- Strength-building exercises, such as weightlifting or resistance band training. The intense exertion creates tiny tears in your muscles that allow for growth as they heal.
- Plenty of calories, amino acids, and proteins to strengthen your muscles as the tissue repairs itself. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which are the primary molecules used in muscle-building.
So there you have it. Hit the gym or exercise on your own, just like you would with any other diet. Add protein-rich nutrients to the mix—from healthy, whole foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds—and you’ll be on the right track for plant-based muscle building. Plant-based protein powders are also great supplements for a strength-building diet.
How Can Plant-Based Nutrition Help?
Any intense workout schedule needs support from a ton of healthy calories. Building muscle takes even more. But they’ve also got to be the right kinds of calories for boosting energy and adding muscle. Otherwise, you’ll just get back the calories you burned off.
A well-balanced plant-based diet for athletes—or anyone else interested in getting stronger—takes a lot more than salad greens. You’ll need:
- Plant-Based Proteins: All whole plant foods have some protein, so you’ll usually get enough in your diet just by eating a balanced plant-based diet. If you want to build muscle, though, you need more. Food like soy, quinoa, brown rice, nuts, beans, and seeds are packed with muscle-pumping proteins and essential amino acids.
- Healthy Fats: Plant-based unsaturated (healthy) fats are a critical source of long-term energy for your body. They break down more slowly than other nutrients and give you a steady stream of constant power. Avocados, seeds, and nuts all give you the healthy fats you need without any bad cholesterol from animal fats. Try sprouted nuts for an extra boost of vital nutrients.
- Lots of Carbs: Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for your body. They give your muscles the energy you need to work out and feel great. But not all carbs are good for strength training! Stick to low-glycemic carbs that are loaded with healthy fibers. Oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, beans, brown rice, and other whole fruits, veggies, and grains are perfect picks for plant-based muscle building.
Plant-based nutrition can be a perfect source of clean energy for a physically fit body. Dodging animal products and processed meats can be great for your heart (and your arteries), but not all vegetable-based foods are automatically healthy. Steer clear of refined sugars and be careful not to overload on fats—peanut butter may taste great on everything, but it’s a moderation food! It’s best to stick to natural, organic, whole, and raw foods even when snacking. We love antioxidant-rich fruit and nut crunches!
A plant-based diet with roughly 70% carbohydrates and 15% proteins and healthy fats is ideal for balancing muscle growth, all-day energy, and total body wellness.
Sources:1) The Telegraph - Green machines: the superstar athletes you never knew were vegan
2) Business Insider - These 19 elite athletes are vegan — here's what made them switch their diet