Best Sources Of Healthy Plant-Based Protein To Build & Maintain Muscle Strength

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One of the greatest myths around diet and health is that humans need protein from animals to maintain and build muscle.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you're thinking of moving towards a plant-based dietary lifestyle, you can get all the protein you need just by tweaking your diet to include more of certain plant foods.

It's simple when you know how and once you have some basic fundamental understandings. 

First, let's debunk the 'protein myth' once and for all.

Then we'll get into which foods from nature's table will provide you with all of the muscle and strength building protein you'll ever need.

The ‘Incomplete’ Plant-Based Protein Myth 

Contrary to popular myth, plants actually provide the true 'building blocks' of protein via their rich amino acid profiles - more so than dead animals.

Meat is 'second source' protein, meaning the animal has typically built its muscle (the pure protein that you're now eating) from eating plants not animals.   

To build their muscle and strength, cows, horses, giraffes, buffalo etc have all eaten plants (usually grass) which is 'first source' protein. 

And if you doubt that humans are different, consider that a Gorilla is an animal that most closely resembles humans anatomically.  Pound for pound they're one of the strongest animals on earth and yet all they eat is fruit, seeds and leaves. 

It can't get any simpler than this, despite generations of campaigns - backed by the meat and dairy industry - that have instilled the belief that humans need to eat meat and animal products for protein.

It's time to rethink this belief.

Learn more: The Truth About Protein & Muscular System Foods

Before we get into the best sources of plant-based protein, a little more wisdom to consider...

Your body has a protein reservoir.

Among your body's amazing abilities is its ability to store protein.

In fact, these reserves can be reassembled to fill in for deficiencies in your diet.

Your body, in short, is smarter than you think.

As long as you eat a variety of whole, plant-based foods, you can get all the protein you need in the right quantities to build and maintain muscle mass - and today, wave after wave of strength and endurance athletes have adopted a plant-based lifestyle to prove it. 

9 Sources of Healthy Plant-Based Protein to Build & Maintain Muscle Mass

1. Quinoa

8 grams of protein per serving.

Of course, quinoa is on our list of the best plant-based proteins. In addition to having 8 grams of protein per serving, quinoa also boasts 5 grams of fibre, which will help keep you fuller, longer, thus supporting fat loss.

Quinoa also has all nine amino acids in good balance, so there are no holes for your body to fill.

How to enjoy quinoa:

  • Add it to salads (Cook and cool it first)
  • Use it in soup
  • Make a quinoa breakfast porridge
  • Use it instead of pasta

    2. Lentils

    9 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving

    Lentils are a cornerstone of plant-based eating, offering not only a solid source of protein, but also, providing a texture that can stand-in in many recipes for ground meat.

    Lentils are also packed with fibre, so they stave off hunger, and they're an exceptional source of antioxidants and magnesium.

    How to enjoy lentils:

    • Use in soups
    • Use in vegan chili
    • Use in pasta sauce
    • Use in stuffed peppers or mushroom caps
    • Use in vegan burger patties
    • Use on top of salads

    Learn more about the benefits of lentils: Foods That Support Healthy Digestive Function.

    3. Almonds

    6g of protein per 1/4 cup serving

    All nuts are among the best sources of plant-based protein, but almonds pack the most protein per serving. Almonds are also a good source of bone-strengthening calcium and heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

    How to enjoy almonds:

    • On soy yoghurt
    • On salads
    • In smoothies
    • As almond butter on toast
    • As almond butter with fresh fruit
    • In cereal
    • In stir fry
    • In baking

    4. Nutritional Yeast

    8g of protein per 1/4 cup serving

    Nutty and cheesy, nutritional yeast is the golden child of the plant-based diet. It's more than a great source of plant-based protein; nutritional yeast also has tons of B vitamins, which are often in short supply in vegan diets and play a crucial role in muscle recovery.

    How to enjoy nutritional yeast:

    • Sprinkle on popcorn
    • Add it to soup
    • Add it to sauces
    • Use it in stirfries
    • Add it to chilli
    • Use it to make vegan cheese

    5. Black Beans

    5g of protein per 1/2 cup serving

    Black beans are a beautiful thing when you want to fuel your plant-based fitness. They provide a notable amount of protein, as well as fibre and essential nutrients, including zinc, which is pivotal in muscle repair.

    How to enjoy black beans:

    • Add to soup
    • Add to chilli
    • Sprinkle on salad
    • Add to pasta bakes
    • Add to stirfries
    • Roast in oven with coconut oil, sea salt & nutritional yeast

    6. Tofu

    8g of protein per 3 oz serving

    Made from soy, tofu is one of the most recognizable forms of plant-based protein. Soy is also an excellent source of iron, which like zinc, is pivotal to rebuilding muscle post-workout.

    How to enjoy tofu:

    • In sushi
    • In pasta
    • With veggies, BBQ’d on skewer
    • In stir fries
    • On salad

    Learn more: 5 Easy Plant-Based Meals You Can Prepare in Less than 10 Minutes

    7. Chia Seeds

    5.6 g of protein in 1 oz.

    Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, iron, calcium, fibre and protein--chia seeds have it all, making them a powerhouse when it comes to plant-based nutrition. Bonus: when mixed with a tbsp of water, a serving of chia seeds can replace an egg in vegan baking.

    Bring home The Naked Vegan for absolutely mouthwatering plant-based baking recipes.

    How to enjoy chia seeds:

    • In smoothies
    • On top of soy yoghurt
    • On oatmeal
    • In baking
    • In soup
    • In stirfries

    Learn more: 5 Amazing Benefits Of Chia Seeds

    8. Tempeh

    13g of protein per serving

    Tempeh is one of the most economical sources of plant-based protein. Tempeh is a soy product that is packed in a cake-like form. Very often, you will see grains like quinoa or rice added to your tempeh. This is done to enhance texture, taste and to give it an added health boost.

    How to enjoy tempeh:

    • Use it in stir fry
    • Add it to soup
    • Put it in a sandwich
    • Put it on a veggie kebab & barbeque

    9. Hemp Seeds

    10g of protein per 3 tbsp serving

    Like quinoa, hemp seeds contain all nine amino acids. Enjoy hemp as seeds, or hearts, which are shelled hemp seeds. In addition to being an excellent source of plant-based protein, hemp seeds are also rich in fibre, fatty acids, and a good source of calcium, iron and zinc--three minerals that may be lacking in vegan diets.

    How to enjoy hemp seeds:

    • In smoothies
    • On cereal
    • In oatmeal
    • On top of soup
    • On nut buttered toast
    • On top of soy yoghurt

    The Bottomline on Plant-Based Protein & Muscle Building

    When it comes to getting enough plant-based protein to support your everyday health or fitness goals, whole foods are always your best bet.

    They're easier to digest and assimilate and will minimise your risk of a host of cancers. 

    Even when life gets busy, just a few seconds of forethought can ensure you have a healthy, protein-packed meal or snack for before or after your workout.  If you're looking for super convenience, think raw nuts, dried fruit, bananas and avocados or Pulse Sacred Meal.

    Keep in mind, while getting enough protein is crucial to building and maintaining muscle mass, you also need to be getting enough of the other macronutrients and micronutrients you need - which of course you'll get from eating an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds.

    Head to your local farmer's market this weekend and notice the array of colour and variety of plant foods from nature's table.  Each and every one of these foods are protein-packed and nutrient rich to help you be strong and thrive. 

    Learn more: Top 10 Plant-Based Foods for Peak Performance and High Energy

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