Overview of Nutrition for Muscle Building
Nutrition plays a vital role in muscle building. Macronutrient intake involves three main components of our daily diet–carbs, fats, and proteins. Proper macronutrient intake helps to ensure that your muscles get enough energy to grow and become more significant.
Protein is essential to building muscle by providing critical amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle tissue. Protein is in fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, legumes, and nuts, providing 20-30% of an individual’s calorie intake.
Carbohydrates provide energy and fuel for muscle-building. Excellent sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, grains, and some dairy products. They focus on whole foods that provide your body with optimal fuel rather than processed versions. Carbohydrates comprise 40-50% of a daily diet meal plan.
Fat is the final macronutrient that facilitates hormone production and cell growth. Sources of healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon. 20-30% of a person’s daily calorie intake comes from healthy fats.
Eating the proper amounts and types of micronutrients leads to a healthier lifestyle with more lean muscle mass. It’s imperative to receive the correct percentages of each macronutrient to fuel muscles and energy for everyday activities.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that work with macronutrients to increase overall health and well-being. They consist of four groups–water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals, and trace minerals. Micronutrients protect the body from oxidative stress, regulate hormones, and rebuild muscle.
Water-soluble vitamins flush through the body via urine. B vitamins and C are examples of water-soluble vitamins, and they play essential roles in chemical reactions throughout the body.
Fat-soluble vitamins work best when consumed with fat. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins. Once ingested, the liver stores these vitamins for future use. They are essential in vision, immune function, bone development, and more.
Macrominerals include calcium, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus, sodium, and chloride. Their roles range from balancing electrolytes throughout the body to maintaining bone and cell structures.
Trace minerals like iron, manganese, copper, zinc, iodine, fluoride, and selenium assist in restoring thyroid function, providing oxygen to muscles, and protecting connective tissue.
These vitamins and minerals are in various food sources like whole grains, fish, seeds, nuts, leafy greens, fruits, and milk. Eating different types of healthy whole foods ensures the body gets the proper amount of micronutrients necessary for an optimal, healthy lifestyle. Some specific vitamins and minerals to pay extra attention to are vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Timing of Macronutrient Intake
Nutrition and macronutrient timing are essential components of a successful muscle-building program. Consuming protein, fat, and carbohydrates at the correct time is necessary as it impacts the muscle-building process and the body’s overall composition.
Timing of Protein Intake
The timing of protein intake is critical for muscle growth. Consume at least 20 grams of protein with every meal and snack. Consuming adequate protein four times a day is ideal, as it keeps the body in an anabolic state, allowing muscle growth to start and continue. Prioritize consuming quality protein sources from lean meats, fish, yogurt, and eggs during the day.
Timing of Carbohydrates Intake
Simple carbohydrates—such as fruit, sweet potatoes, grains, oats, and most veggies—are vital for muscle building as they give the body quick energy. Include a variety of complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fats at each meal with your protein. Refueling muscles with carbohydrates immediately after workouts is essential, as carbs jumpstart muscle-building by increasing insulin levels and slowing protein breakdown.
Timing of Fats Intake
Fats help maintain muscle mass and provide energy for those hard body-building sessions. Include healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts in every meal. Consider adding a few healthy fats to your pre and post-workout snacks. These fats provide your body with both energy and nutrients and keep you full for extended periods.
Understanding when to consume protein, fats, and carbohydrates ensures your macronutrient intake results in optimal muscle-building. Spread your meals and snacks throughout the day, and focus on quality sources of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Doing this will ensure your body has adequate fuel to build lean muscle. Proper nutrition allows you to feel satiated without reaching for unhealthy choices due to hunger.
Plant-Based Protein Sources
Legumes are an excellent part of any vegan muscle-building meal plan. Not only are they rich in protein, but they are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. While they are technically a plant, they are a source of protein because they contain high amounts of amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
Choose the right ones to get the most out of legumes in a muscle-building plan. Lentils, black beans, pinto beans, and chickpeas are excellent muscle-building choices. Each contains different amounts of protein and carbohydrates. Be sure to cook legumes thoroughly before eating them, as some have antinutrients that reduce the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Using legumes as part of a vegan muscle-building meal plan ensures you consume a high-protein meal. Try boiled or canned chickpeas mixed with cooked quinoa, garlic, and onions for a tasty, protein-packed dish. Make a black bean veggie scramble for breakfast with bell peppers, onions, and other favorite vegetables. Add some cooked lentils to salads or roasted vegetables to increase the protein.
Another way to get the most out of legumes is to prepare them into a patty to serve as plant-based burgers. Mix cooked lentils, chickpeas, and black beans with rolled oats, spices, and your favorite vegetables to make the patties. Then, fry the patties in oil until they are crispy. Pair them with a whole grain bun, vegan mayo or mustard, and your favorite vegan fixings.
Nuts and Seeds
There are plenty of nuts and seeds when following the vegan diet. One of the best is almonds. They contain high protein and vitamin E levels and are low in carbs. Other nuts like pine nuts, cashews, and walnuts are excellent additions to your vegan-friendly meal for added protein.
Quinoa, brown rice, barley, oatmeal, and farro are excellent sources of carbohydrates for vegans. All of these grains provide real food options for vegans. Add them to various meals with vegetables full of micronutrients to ensure you meet your daily diet requirements for muscle-building.
Sample Muscle Building Vegan Meal Plan 1
Our first muscle-building vegan meal plan includes the following:
– Protein smoothie for breakfast
– Quinoa Salad with hummus for lunch
– Vegetable soup + quinoa bake for dinner
Breakfast- Vegan Oatmeal Smoothie
Instead of starting your day with bacon, eggs, and cheese, swap these ingredients out for plant-based options. You could kickstart your day with a breakfast smoothie packed with protein and fiber.
To make a vegan-friendly smoothie, simply blend.
- Two frozen bananas
- Two tablespoons of ground flax or chia seeds
- ¼ cup of quick oats
- ½ cup of nut milk
- Two tablespoons of your favorite nut butter.
Lunch– Vegan Quinoa Salad
Begin your plant-based muscle-building journey by creating a hearty vegan quinoa salad.
Start by combining one cup of uncooked quinoa with two cups of vegetable broth in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, put a lid on the pot, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the quinoa is cooked—fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
While the quinoa is cooking, continue prepping your salad. Combine a can of black beans, a diced red pepper, a chopped tomato, a handful of chopped cilantro, and a half cup of corn in a large bowl. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of cumin, and a teaspoon of chili powder.
Once your quinoa is finished cooking, add it to the salad mixture and mix everything. Refrigerate for about an hour until chilled before serving.
Top your salad off with a generous scoop of hummus for added protein. Serve with whole-grain crackers or pita wedges to boost your carb intake. Enjoy your vegan-friendly, plant-based muscle-building lunch!
If you want to switch things up, you can make this salad in a wrap, burrito bowl-style, or top it with avocado or other loaded toppings.
There are endless possibilities to make this versatile meal exciting every time. Feel free to mix and match ingredients to suit your taste!
Dinner– Vegetable Soup and Quinoa Bake
Begin with a protein-filled vegetable soup for a light starter. This soup is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins, and fiber. The vegetable base should have hearty greens such as kale, spinach, and bok choy. Also, add cooked lentils, mushrooms, onions, and garlic to boost protein and fiber. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the top for healthy fats.
For the main course, opt for a quinoa bake. Quinoa is rich in protein and is an excellent alternative to white rice and other grain-based products. Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 degrees Celcius). Cook quinoa according to instructions and spread it onto an oven-safe baking pan. Cover the quinoa with thinly sliced bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions. Pour a can of diced tomatoes over the quinoa mixture and top with nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor. Cover with foil and cook for about 25 minutes.
Serve with a plate of roasted asparagus and a few slices of avocado for healthy fats. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 Celcius) and lightly drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil to coat the asparagus. You may also season with salt, pepper, or other spices of your choice. Roast the asparagus in the oven for about 15 minutes. Top the asparagus with a few slices of avocado as the final touch.
Sample Muscle Building Vegan Meal Plan 2
Breakfast– Vegan Breakfast Wrap
We all love a savory breakfast wrap. Saute some tofu and spinach in a skillet with garlic, turmeric, and other spices you choose. Place the cooked ingredients onto a whole-grain wrap with hummus, avocado, and tomato. The mix of protein, carbs, and fats provides the fuel and energy you need to conquer your day.
Grab some overnight oats or an oatmeal cup if you are short on time. These single-serve pre-packaged foods are typically made with oats, chia seeds, and nuts.
Start your lunch with a generous and nutritious salad. This salad mixes:
- Nuts for added flavor and crunch
- Cooked quinoa for a healthy protein
- Diced carrot
- Bell pepper for some added color and crunch.
- Lentils or chickpeas for additional protein
- A savory tahini dressing for a final delicious addition.
Mix all these whole foods for a delicious, vegan-friendly meal rich in all the macronutrients.
Dinner– Lentil Curry
For those seeking a vegan muscle-building meal, consider making a vegan lentil coconut curry. This meal is high in protein and provides a great source of iron.
It’s also easy to make. All you need is the following:
- Olive oil
- Tomato paste
- Coconut milk
- Garam masala
To prepare this meal, simply sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil and add lentils and the rest of the spices. Let it simmer for 25 minutes. Add coconut milk and continue to simmer for 15 minutes more before serving!
Vegan Supplements for Muscle-Building
One of the best ways to use protein powder in your meal plan is to make a protein shake or smoothie. Use it as a protein hit post-workout or a delicious daily snack. Try combining unsweetened almond milk with some frozen fruit, a scoop of protein powder, and some spinach or kale for added iron and other essential vitamins.
Enjoy protein powder in savory dishes such as soups and sauces. Simply stir a scoop of powder into hot water or vegetable broth to form a thickening paste. Then add the paste to your soup or sauce to boost protein content and flavor.
Another way to use protein powder is as an alternative flour for baking. Combine a cup of protein powder with a quarter cup of coconut flour and baking powder. Use this as a substitute for white flour. Doing so will boost the protein content in your baked goods, and flours like coconut add fiber and healthy fats.
Protein powder is excellent in overnight oats or other hot cereals. Add a scoop of protein powder towards the end of cooking and stir until everything is combined.
Finally, protein powder is excellent for energy bars and balls. Stir a few scoops into a bowl of nut butter, oats, dried berries, and chia seeds. Roll into balls for a quick and tasty snack.
Creatine is a type of organic acid found in the body. It comprises a nitrogen-containing compound called guanidinoacetate and three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine.
Creatine is in eggs, fish, soy, and quinoa. Supplemental creatine is another option for those seeking higher creatine levels.
Creatine helps build muscle, aids in muscle recovery after exercise, increases muscle size, and is known to improve power and strength during muscle building. To get the most out of creatine, you want to ensure that you get enough in your diet. Here are some tips for incorporating creatine into your vegan muscle-building meal plan.
First and foremost, you should always check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
If your doctor has approved the use of creatine, you should strive to take it in its most natural and organic form, as it is sometimes highly processed. A good source of organic creatine is vegan creatine powder or vegan creatine capsules or tablets. Take the recommended dosage with a meal that contains carbohydrates. Taking it with carbs ensures the fastest absorption into your muscle tissues.
You should also monitor your intake of high-fat foods when taking creatine. High-fat meals can slow down creatine absorption and make it less effective.
Finally, focus on regular bouts of intense exercise when taking creatine. Aim for intense weight-lifting workouts that emphasize heavy lifts and multiple moderate repetitions. Exercising like this helps your body to absorb better and utilize creatine.
Caffeine is the most popular ingredient in pre-workouts, which boosts energy to help you power through training sessions. For vegans, other components, including beetroot, maca root, and vitamin B12, help with energy levels. These ingredients allow vegan athletes to maintain adequate dietary levels of specific vitamins and minerals.
In addition to helping you power through your workout, adding pre-workout drinks to your vegan meal plan reduces muscle soreness and enhances recovery. A healthy pre-workout will give your body the nutrients to help you get the most out of every workout.
When selecting a vegan pre-workout drink, look for a low-sugar product that contains natural ingredients. Ideally, you’ll want to consume the pre-workout drink 20-30 minutes before your workout.
For optimal performance, consider mixing your pre-workout drink with a vegan source of carbohydrates like a fruit smoothie. This mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fats will give you a sustained energy boost to get you through your workout.
Calorie intake is individualized, depending on each person’s metabolic rate, height, weight, and workout regime. A good rule of thumb is to aim for one gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. If a person exercises, they may need more calories, but if you’re less active, they may require less.
Carbohydrates are an essential energy source, and including complex carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes and yams, in meals is a great way to meet carb goals. Additionally, avoiding empty calorie sources like alcohol and sugary snacks ensures adequate energy for workouts and muscle building.
Healthy fats are also a vital aspect of vegan muscle building. Incorporating avocados, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds into a meal plan provides energy and packs meals with essential vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.
Before beginning any bodybuilding program, consult a doctor or registered dietitian. They help create an individualized meal plan with good calorie and nutrient intake, maximizing the chances of reaching a person’s desired goals.
Pay attention to hydration while taking part in a vegan bodybuilding meal plan. Protein needs are higher when focusing on muscle-building, increasing water demand. Protein helps to build and repair muscles, but it takes more quantities of fluid to absorb protein. Therefore, those participating in a vegan muscle-building meal must focus on consuming enough water.
Adequate hydration also helps with performance, providing energy and allowing the body to work at its best. When water becomes depleted, it affects performance, stamina, and strength, so ensure the body is well-hydrated throughout the day. Many water-rich foods, such as cucumbers, radishes, celery, melon, strawberries, and broccoli, are in vegan diets. These foods help keep the body hydrated in addition to water intake.
Finally, paying attention to electrolytes while participating in a vegan muscle-building meal plan is imperative. Electrolytes play an essential role in muscle function; adequate levels help prevent muscle cramps, tiredness, and dehydration. Sources of electrolytes, such as potassium-rich foods like spinach, potatoes, avocado, and bananas, as well as calcium-rich foods such as nuts, seeds, and leafy greens, are excellent additions to your meal plan.
Combining macronutrients, micronutrients, creatine supplementation, and proper hydration allows the body to build lean muscle mass and a healthy lifestyle. Vegan-friendly meal plans rich in macronutrients and micronutrients aid in more significant muscle mass. Paying attention to the proper intake percentages of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats ensures your success. Happy meal planning!
Anna is a 33-year-old registered dietitian based in Orlando. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition from the University of Pennsylvania. In her free time, Anna enjoys staying active through Crossfit and indulging her sweet tooth by baking. She is dedicated to helping her clients achieve their health and wellness goals through evidence-based nutrition advice and has spent the past 4 years writing for online publications on nutrition and fitness.