Protein is not only essential for a healthy diet and a smooth functioning body, but it’s also a champion at strengthening and building muscle mass.
While many people are aware of animal-based sources of protein, there are actually a host of incredibly diverse, healthy, and powerful natural plant-based sources. Plant-based proteins are not only just as effective as animal sources of protein, they also infuse the body with vitamins, minerals, and other rich nutrients (such as polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavonoids), which many meat-based proteins don’t. Plus, if you’re crunched for time, yet still want to meet your muscle-building goals, there are a host of vegan-friendly and effective plant-based protein powders. Make a five-minute shake in the morning, afternoon, or evening to fuel your workout without causing you to stress over time!
With that said, even if you know where you choose to source your protein, how much is enough? How much is too much? If there a proper ratio to maximize your muscle strengthening endeavors?
The answer is yes to all! To help you find your perfect protein-muscle ratio, read on and get educated!
Why is Protein Essential for Muscle
Protein is one of the three macronutrients — substances that “provide calories for energy” — that are essential for your body: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. When it comes to protein, every gram offers up 4 calories and 15 percent of your weight is made of up of these grams of protein. If you look beneath a microscope at protein, you’ll discover that it is “composed of amino acids, which are organic compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen or sulfur.” If you’re a health nut, you’ve most likely heard of amino acids, which are yet another essential compound for a healthy functioning body.
What is protein best at? Building muscle mass. In fact, proteins are actual “building blocks of muscle mass,” meaning you can’t really build strong muscles without ample sources of healthy protein.
How does it work?
As you exercise, “you create tiny micro tears in your muscle … [and] … when you eat protein, your body breaks it down and uses those amino acids to repair tears.” Yet, it doesn’t simply repair, it also fills in the wound and making it “bigger and stronger,” and therefore building more muscle mass. If your body doesn’t have enough protein to repair the tears, then your body can’t build more muscle mass.
Getting to Know Your Complete Proteins
While any plant-based food that is rich in protein is good for your muscles, there is a group referred to as “complete proteins” or “ideal proteins” that are incredibly adept at building muscle.
The term complete protein refers to a protein that contains all nine essential amino acids — these are amino acids that cannot be produced by the body, but only consumed via the food you eat. The nine essential amino acids include “histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.” Complete or ideal proteins are oftentimes also referred to as high-quality proteins due to the fact that they are … well … very high quality.
Plant-based sources of complete proteins include vegan-friendly staples such as quinoa, chia seeds, soy, and hemp.
For example, hemp protein — that “comes from the hemp plant, which does not have THC (the active ingredient in marijuana)” — is vegan-friendly, readily available at your local grocery store, and is packed full of lean protein. Hemp contains “5.3 grams of protein per tablespoon of hemp seeds, about 5 grams per scoop of hemp powder and 5 grams per cup.” Soy is another complete protein item that can be consumed in a variety of ways including raw soybeans and soybean-made products such as “milk, tofu, various meat substitutes, flour, oil, tempeh, miso nuts, and edamame.” One cup of raw soybeans offers a whopping 67 grams of protein, while a cup of boiled soybeans offers 28 grams of protein.
Best Protein-Rich Plant-Based Foods for Muscle Strengthening
There are many sources of protein, some animal and some plant. For those strictly seeking plant-based protein, there are a plethora of options! Per the USDA, it’s important to follow two guidelines when choosing proteins for a balanced, healthy, muscle building diet: choose leaner and more varied proteins. What should this look like on your vegan-friendly plate? The list of plant-based protein options is long, diverse, and colorful.
Here are some of the top protein-rich sources:
- Navy Beans (20 grams per cup)
- Chickpeas (7.25 grams per 1/2 cup)
- Lentils (13 grams per cup)
- Peanut Butter (8 grams per tablespoon)
- Almonds (16.5 grams per 1/2 cup)
- Quinoa (8 grams per 1-cup serving)
- Edamame (8 grams per half-cup serving)
- Soba Noodles (12 grams per 3-ounce serving)
- Spirulina (8 grams per 2 tablespoons)
- Chia Seeds (2 grams per tablespoon)
- Hemp Seeds (5 grams per tablespoon)
- Potatoes (8 grams per serving)
- Tofu (10 grams per 1/2 cup for firm tofu)
- Tempeh (15 grams per 1/2 cup)
- Seitan (21 grams per 1/3 cup)
You may notice there aren’t that many vegetables on the list. While some veggies do contain small amounts of protein — such as kale, mushrooms, and broccoli — they don’t provide enough protein to fuel a muscle building diet alone. With that said, pair your favorite vegetable with one of the above protein-rich options and you’re not only giving your body ample protein but other essential nutrients and minerals.
Understanding the Protein to Muscle Ratio
When it comes to protein consumption versus muscle strengthening or building muscle mass, you’ll hear some conflicting information. This is due to the fact that there are many factors that play into how quickly or slowly each individual body will accrue muscle. Age, gender, physical activity level, type of physical activity, variety of physical activity, sources of protein, amount of protein, and when you are consuming protein are only a few of these factors.
So, without hiring a spendy personal trainer or nutritionist, how do you find the right balance of protein to physical activity to personal individual factors?
Finding Your Perfect Protein Ratio
While consulting a professional is a great idea, some of us simply don’t have that option for various reasons. Therefore, all you need to know are a few simple guidelines that you can apply to your personal situation, in short, the protein to bodyweight ratio!
You’re looking to increase muscle mass — whether you’re looking to bulk or simply strengthen — and so you dramatically increase your protein intake because … well … more protein means more muscle, right?
This is not the case.
In fact, eating over the recommended amount of protein may be harmful. What is the recommended amount? For those building muscle mass via exercise, “protein should make up 10 to 35 percent of total calories for adults.” Another little factoid that many don’t know is that retaining that hard-earned muscle mass is actually a lot easier than building it in the first place! For the average adult, daily protein consumption is around “0.37 grams per pound of body weight, and that equals about 56 grams of total protein for a 150-pound adult.”
Once you’ve reached your goal using the 10 to 35 percent benchmark, you can then consume protein in a normal and moderate way using the 0.37 grams per pound of bodyweight benchmark.
Carbs and Fat for Muscle Strengthening
A quick note on carbohydrates and fats for muscle strengthening …
It’s important to not focus solely on protein — even though it’s crucial for muscle building — and also keep an eye on your carb and fat intake. All three macronutrients are essential for healthy muscle strengthening and muscle building.
Carbohydrates “are partially converted to glycogen, which is stored in muscle to power your workouts,” and therefore it’s recommended for both sexes “who are strength training at least twice a week … [to get] … at least half of their calories from carbohydrates per day.”
While protein and carbs are well-known exercise enhancers, the third macronutrient is just coming back into the spotlight as essential. Fat is an incredibly important part of muscle-building, as “your body relies on fat to supply energy to muscles during activity.” Fat intake varies depending on the person and their current diet, but “as a general guideline, fat should make up 20 to 35 percent of your total calories.”
As is the same with protein, make sure to choose wisely for your carbs and fats! Diversify your plate with lots of colorful fruits, vegetables, and whole grains when it comes to carbohydrates. Healthy plant-based fats can be found in nuts, seeds, avocado, and most oils, especially coconut and olive oil.
Vegan Protein Powders
If you’ve got the time to prepare raw and fresh protein-filled foods every day, then stick with the natural sources. Yet, most of us simply don’t have the time. Between work, family, and social obligations — along with sticking to workout schedules in between all of the rest — finding time to prepare a protein-rich meal may fall at the bottom of the list. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on your goal of strengthening those muscles! Simply incorporate a healthy vegan-friendly protein-powder alternative. Powders are highly effective and are super easy to add to a quick protein-rich smoothie. Here are a few vegan-friendly options to get you started!
1. Organic Muscle Organic Vegan Protein Powder
Organic Muscle Organic Vegan Protein Powder/Amazon.com
This Organic Muscle Organic Vegan Protein Powder is a high-quality, USDA organic certified, non-GMO, gluten-free, hormone-free, preservative-free, and 100 percent vegan-friendly source of protein. Organic Muscle has redefined its formula to mix better with your shakes and smoothies and be easier to digest. Where do they get their protein from? This blend includes organic pea, rice, hemp, sacha inchi, and chia seed protein, as well as quinoa sprout, Jerusalem artichoke, amaranth sprout, and flaxseed sprout. This powder promises 24 grams of protein per serving and includes complete protein sources (chia, hemp, and quinoa). Plus, this powder is naturally sweetened with a chocolate flavor! A 20-servings tub costs $44.97.
2. Orgain Organic Plant-Based Peanut Butter Protein Powder
Orgain Organic Plant-Based Peanut Butter Protein Powder/Amazon.com
This Orgain Organic Plant-Based Peanut Butter Protein Powder sources their protein from peas, brown rice, and chia seeds providing 21 grams of organic plant-based protein, 6 grams of organic dietary fiber, and 5 grams of net carbs per serving. Plus, this powder is super low in sugar with only 1 gram of sugar per serving. Orgain Organic promises their product to be USDA certified organic and certified kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, carrageenan-free, with zero GMOs, added sugar, or artificial ingredients. This powder is ideal for building lean muscle mass and can be added to pre or post-workout smoothies for a delicious peanut buttery tasting treat! A 2-pound tub costs $25.07.
3. Vegansmart Plant-Based Vanilla Protein Powder
Vegansmart Plant-Based Vanilla Protein Powder/Amazon.com
This Vegansmart Plant-Based Vanilla Protein Powder not only is rich in protein sourced from nine different fruits and vegetables, but it also contains powerful prebiotics to boost your gut health! This powder offers a plant-based, vegan-friendly source of protein that is also non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, and cholesterol-free. One serving has 20 grams of protein! Vegansmart is also aware that there is more to muscle building than protein, so they infuse this powder with polyphenols, antioxidants, flavonoids, and 22 vitamins and minerals. This vanilla-flavored protein is a great meal replacer! A 22-ounce tub costs $21.09.
4. Garden of Life Organic Vegan Vanilla Raw Plant-Based Protein Powder
Garden of Life Organic Vegan Vanilla Raw Plant-Based Protein Powder/Amazon
Looking for a long-standing trusted brand? This Garden of Life Organic Vegan Vanilla Raw Plant-Based Protein Powder is the perfect item for you! Garden of Life is a great source of plant-based and organic supplements across the board. This powder offers 20 grams of clean, organic plant-based protein, along with “44 superfoods including organic grass juices, fruits and veggies and 6 grams of fiber.” This shake is unique in that it offers a host of protein, vitamins, and minerals, as well as probiotics to boost your gut health and improve digestion. This powder is vegan-friendly, organic, gluten-free, Star K Kosher, soy-free, and non-GMO. A 34-ounce tub costs $38.89.
5. KOS Organic Vegan Raw Plant-Based Protein Powder
KOS Organic Vegan Raw Plant-Based Protein Powder/Amazon
This KOS Organic Vegan Raw Plant-Based Protein Powder promises to offer rich protein in a delicious chocolate package flavored with adaptogenic organic Peruvian cacao, organic Himalayan pink salt, organic coconut milk, and “a dash of organic stevia and organic monk fruit.” KOS sources their protein from complete protein sources including quinoa and chia seed, along with other rich-protein sources such as peas, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds. This powder is 100 percent non-GMO, USDA organic, gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free. Plus, this blend thoughtfully includes healthy fibers and digestive enzymes (what they call digestive mojo) to boost digestive health. A 2.6-ounce tub costs $41.69.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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