When building muscle, the general consensus is you need to eat meat to get bigger. But over recent years many professional athletes that only eat plant based foods are able to maintain their muscle mass and continue to perform at the highest level. Let’s look at the how a plant based diet can fuel your body to make those gains.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Understanding how much calories you need to consume on a daily basis is an important factor for muscle growth.  Finding out your BMR will allow you to monitor your calories in vs calories out, if you burn 3,500 calories per day but consume only 2,500, you are unlikely to build muscle and will likely lose weight. Your BMR is dependant on your height, weight, age, gender and activity levels. The average person consumes on average between 2500 and 3500 calories per day.

Fuelling the body

Whole plant foods will naturally have less calories than processed foods so you will have to eat more volume to hit your calorie count for the day. Eating fruit and veg as “snacks” in between meals will help you hit your calorie count.

 “Good” Calories vs “Bad” Calories

Let’s use John and Peter as an example; both consume 2500 calories each a day but have different results on their health and fitness.

  • John consumes 2,500 calories of whole plant foods with 70 percent of calories coming from carbohydrates and 15 percent each from proteins and fats, which is close to an ideal ratio for energy production, muscle growth, and overall health.
  • Peter consumes 2,500 calories from numerous sources, including refined carbohydrates and heavily processed proteins and fats, and has a ratio of 40 percent of calories from carbohydrates, and 30 percent each from proteins and fats.

Even though they consume the same number of calories each day, John is poised for health and fitness success, while Peter is likely to experience low energy, as well as inferior muscle-building results and health outcomes. His insufficient carbohydrate consumption, combined with his excessive intake of protein and fat (both of which require more energy to process and digest), could negatively impact his exercise program and whether or not he has the energy to train. Further, at 30 percent of calories, Peter’s protein consumption is three to six times what science suggests we need, and much of that protein will just be excreted and unused.

How muscle is built

When you understand how muscle is built, you will realise that you don’t need to eat animal products. It might seem obvious but to build muscle you will need to do 2 things:

  • Stimulate the muscle fibres consistently by doing resistance exercises to create micro team in the fibers.
  • Eat enough high quality calories to support muscle repair and growth and consume foods containing amino acids.

The foods we choose are so important when it comes to building muscle. It’s not just about calories. When you eat whole plant foods, you consume not only fuel (carbohydrates), but also amino acids (protein), fatty acids (fat), fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and other components in the right proportions for promoting good health.

When you consume processed and refined foods, you sacrifice a huge proportion of these nutrients, and you acquire the toxic baggage that comes with these foods, including excess fat and cholesterol, refined sugars, refined flours, artificial colours, additives, preservatives, and more. The amino acids in fruits and vegetables are sufficient to build muscle, and their vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants also keep us healthy, so we can exercise regularly and turn consistency into results. It is easy to see how a whole-food, plant-based diet will result in optimal health and athletic performance, including building muscle.

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