Hello. I was wondering if it’s still possible to build muscle on a plant-based diet? In other words, no animal products. I’ve heard that if you’re a vegan it’s a waste of time to lift weights because you can’t build muscle without eating meat and dairy. I exercise every day, but I’ve been doing mostly cardio. I would like to build more muscle, but I don’t want to waste my time lifting weights if it won’t do anything for me on a vegan diet. Any advice would be helpful. Thanks in advance.
Hi Ron. The short answer to your question is—YES! You can undoubtedly build muscle on a plant-based diet. That is, if you lift weights! Of course, this same rule applies to people who consume animal-based foods as well.
You must first stimulate the muscles with weights that are challenging enough to trigger the body’s adaptive response to build more muscle. Only after that first step has been completed can the body orchestrate a series of chemical reactions and available macro and micronutrients to generate increases in muscle size.
Macro And Micro Nutrients
However, there are some key differences between the macro and micronutrients you get through vegetarian diets, compared to those derived from animals. When it comes to building muscle, it’s easier to obtain specific amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids by adhering to a diet that includes animal-based food products.
In others words, as a vegetarian, you’ll need to be aware of what these nutrients are, then make a conscious effort to obtain them by including the proper combination of plant-based foods in your diet.
We’ll begin with fats. Fats are important for supporting optimal hormone balance and also the immune system. Vegetarian diets generally tend to be low in fat. When fat consumption is too low, levels of important hormones will dwindle. Among those hormones are testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone)— the two most significant hormones in your body, when it comes to muscle building.
Another point I want to is that vegetarians tend to consume mostly polyunsaturated fatty acids. Research has shown diets high in these types of fats are associated with lower testosterone levels.
Furthermore, polyunsaturated fatty acids contain long chains of unstable carbon bonds. These can easily become rancid when they are exposed to heat, light, or oxygen. This process is called lipid peroxidation. The result of this is the manifestation of free radicals that contribute to cellular damage in the body.
The best way to avoid this detriment is to limit the consumption of fats such as canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, and corn oil, which are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are the most abundant fats in processed foods. Instead, try and focus on consuming more stable, saturated and monounsaturated fats in your diet, like extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and palm oil.
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By adhering to a plant-based diet, you generally obtain most of the micronutrients that you need, especially if you’re eating a lot of green leafy vegetables. The downside is that plant-based diets generally don’t provide adequate levels of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, K2, D, and E, which are very important for supporting endocrine, immune function, bone density, and preventing calcification of blood vessel and arterial walls.
This is where supplementation is very important. There are literally thousands of brands out there, so look for a quality brand that has the most impressive customer reviews.
Here is what you should look for: Vitamin K2 (MK-7 form) – 50-100 mcg, Vitamin E in mixed tocopherols -500-1,000 mg, Vitamin A (retinoic form) – 1000-2000 IUs, and Vitamin D3 – 2,000-5,000 IUs.
In addition to these vitamins, there are also some mineral supplements you should consider taking. Without consuming dairy or meats, it’s difficult to obtain adequate levels of calcium and iron, which are significant to proper neurological and muscle function. It also supports bone density and the manufacture of red blood cells.
Calcium and iron dosages will be less for a male, compared to a female, because male bodies are designed to retain more of these minerals. A male vegetarian should take 1,000 mg of calcium citrate and 18 mg of chelated iron per day. Female vegetarians would want to double these dosages.
The last thing I would suggest is supplementing with some key amino acids that you would generally only get by regularly consuming meat, particularly red meat.
The amino acids creatine, carnitine, and taurine are essential components of muscle function and growth. They are also extremely important for energy and heart health.
This is one of the reasons cats and dogs have been known to experience congestive heart failure when they’re placed on vegetarian diets. So, if you have a cat or dog for a pet, DO NOT put them on a vegetarian diet!
The good news is there are a number of supplement manufacturers that produce all of these amino acids. Effective daily dosages of these amino acids would go as follows: carnitine – 2,000 mg, taurine – 3,000 mg, and creatine – 5 grams, if you’re just taking pure creatine monohydrate powder.
I suggest taking Kre-Alkalyn, a much more pure, concentrated form of creatine. It doesn’t require nearly as high of a daily dose. Nor does it cause the type of bloating and cramping many people experience with creatine monohydrate.
If you cover all of these bases, I’m confident you can build a significant amount of muscle in conjunction with regular weightlifting.
I hope this information answers your question. I wish you all the best of success with your health and fitness goals!
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