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Men's Health

Building Muscle With Vegan Protein: How To Do It & Why?

With ‘Veganism’ being the latest buzzword in wellness and lifestyle, it’s fair to say most of us have considered going vegan at some point, if we haven’t switched already! With benefits such as a lower BMI, weight loss, steady blood sugar levels, and a reduced risk of heart disease, it’s here to stay! But can you build muscle with plant-based protein? – The answer is YES, and we’re here to tell you how…

When it comes to protein powder, traditionally whey is considered the gold standard for building muscle fast. It’s a complete protein, meaning it packs all the amino acids you need for muscle growth and repair. Whey is also high in leucine, the most crucial amino acid in the muscle-building process. Thing is, whey doesn’t suit everyone – yes it’s a thing. Some athletes simply can’t stomach whey, others are lactose intolerant and a few abhor the powdery-gritty taste! You don't have to be a vegan to try vegan protein powders. Whatever your reason - The good news is that there are more vegan protein powder options out there now than ever before.  

With that said, there are certain things you should look out for when buying a vegan protein powder to ensure you’re getting enough protein to keep those muscles pumped!  

What Is Protein & Why Is It Important?

Before we discuss the pro’s and con’s of vegan protein and work out how much you need, let's first break down exactly what it is. Put simply, protein is a macronutrient that is made up of amino acids, which are stitched together into long chains - think of these as the fuel you need for muscular growth and strength. Some of these chains your body can make naturally, known as ‘non-essential’ – and some of which it can’t, these are called ‘essential’ amino acids, which need to be sourced from food. Your body breaks down proteins into their constituent amino acids. “Protein is the building block of every single cell in the body - think hair, skin, nails, as well as immunity, muscle, and cardiovascular health, it’s important stuff!” says Jules Miller, founder of The Nue Co. Essentially to build muscle, your body needs to synthesize more muscle protein than it breaks down, meaning anyone looking to build muscle needs to make sure they're getting enough protein, as well as lifting those weights!  

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Nutrition plays a key role in the process of muscular growth. The recommended dietary allowance suggests that you should eat a modest 0.8g of protein daily per kg of body weight. So, if you weigh 75kg (165 pounds), you should probably be getting about 60 grams of protein per day to build muscle. If you're not already aware, let us be the first to tell you that's not nearly enough to really pack on muscle! 

It’s generally accepted that for optimal muscle growth to occur, protein intake should be around two thirds, if not close to your body weight in grams per day. According to Dr. Karen Reid, a sports science nutritionist who's worked with the Wales Rugby Team, and the founder of Performance Food, “Elite athletes eat around 2g per kg every day.” Reid recommends getting as close to that level for the first 12 weeks when starting a new workout programme. “That’s when you’re sore, when you’re breaking down muscle fibers and creating new structures”- And we know damage plus fuel equals growth! After 12 weeks, she advises scaling back to between 1.2g and 1.6g per kilo. It’s fairly similar for both men and women - The key factor is your activity level. If you’re moving more and working out more frequently, you’re going to want to aim for the higher end of that spectrum. 

What’s The Difference Between Whey & Vegan Protein?

Unlike whey and casein protein which are made from cow’s milk, Vegan Protein includes blends of plant-based sources of protein such as soy, pea, hemp, rice, and seeds. The great thing about vegan protein powders is that they are cholesterol-free, often much lower in fat, and possibly even lower in calories than their whey counterparts. However, they might contain a less concentrated source of protein than the same size scoop of whey, so it’s important to buy the right kind. 

You should opt for a plant-based protein powder that combines different types of plant proteins. This ensures you’re getting all the essential amino acids and a wider range of nutrients you need. With all protein sources, vegan protein powders are made up of different combinations of amino acids. Whey protein is considered a “complete” protein because it contains all of the nine essential amino acids that our body can’t make on its own. When you eat animal-based products, it’s a bit easier to obtain a greater variety of amino acids, but the key for plant-based eating is variety - look for one that is supplemented with all the essential amino acids, or alternate between two different bases like soy and pea protein. Seeds in particular are some of the best sources for this. They tend to be nutrient-dense, more so than nuts in many cases. Seeds such as chia, flax, and hemp also have healthy omegas as part of their profile, great for your cardiovascular health. 

What Are The Benefits?

Not only does vegan protein taste great, but it’s also packed full of nutrients, including vitamins (Folate, B12, D), minerals (Iron, Zinc, Calcium), fiber, and healthy fats which encourage bowel regularity, boost your metabolism, and reduce cravings. The best part - it’s suited to most body types! Unlikely traditional dairy-based proteins, like whey and casein it won’t leave you feeling gassy, bloated, or stuffed-up. You can still be sensitive to lactose without being completely intolerant and because many active athletes take anywhere between one to four shakes a day, digestive stress can be a common symptom.  

Plant-based protein is a whole lot easier to break down, process, and absorbed by the body when compared to whey protein powders. This is especially true for sprouted plant proteins. They have a unique gut profile, helping to keep inflammation at bay while creating a healthy gut microbiome – and a happy gut means a happy you! Plus they’re alkaline-forming, meaning your body’s natural pH levels can be kept in check without becoming too acidic which is great for people who have a problem with acid reflux.