Muscle-Building Plant Foods for the Vegan Athlete

One of the most common (and frankly, annoying) questions vegans are asked is where they get their protein from. The current obsession with dietary protein is particularly rife amongst the health and fitness industries. With their protein-fortified fitness shakes and powders and “Olympic” diets packed with eggs and lean meat, athletes and gym-bunnies alike are convinced that their requirement for protein increases with the amount of exercise that they do. Brands are making a killing by selling snacks, bars and drinks that promise better performance and physique based solely on their added proteins.  However, did you know that the average American (non-athletic) male currently consumes twice the daily recommended protein intake established by the Food and Nutrition Board? This is a problem because the major source of protein in the Standard American Diet is animal protein from meat and dairy, which is also high in saturated animal fats.

While protein is of course an essential nutrient and does contribute to lean muscle mass, we require far less of it in our diets than many health articles and fitness companies would have us believe. Have you ever heard of a person who is suffering from protein deficiency? There is no medical term for protein deficiency. It does not exist because sufficient protein is present in all foods that we eat, including vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds. Consider the lean, powerful and muscular physiques of animals living in the wild, such as gorillas, elephants and rhinoceros. Where do you think they get their protein from? They have amassed and maintained their far superior physiques and muscular strength by eating a plant-based, herbivorous diet consisting of grass, plants, bananas and leaves. In fact, our obsession with acquiring protein from animal sources is rendered quite ridiculous when you consider the protein in the pigs, sheep, cows and chickens we consume has been assimilated by them into their bodies from the protein in their plant-based diets!

To prove this point, there are many successful, high-performance vegan athletes and bodybuilders out there who have proven that broccoli is mightier than the egg when it comes to good sources of protein. ‘Germany’s Strongest Man’, Patrik Baboumian, proudly wore his ‘I’m a Vegan Badass’ t-shirt to the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival, where he carried an incredible 550 kilos for over 10 meters, setting a new unofficial world record. 78 year old vegan bodybuilder Jim Morris is the face behind PETA’s ‘Think before You Eat’ campaign and has said “since becoming vegan, all my health problems have completely disappeared. My yearly checkups are perfect.” So where do vegan athletes and bodybuilders, such as Patrik and Jim, get their protein from in their plant-based diets? See below for a list of muscle-building plant foods for the vegan athlete:

Oats: As well as being a good source of complex carbohydrates; oats are also protein rich with 7 grams of protein per ½ cup.

Green Beans: With 4 grams of protein per 1/2 cup, green beans digest easily, will leave you full and will naturally improve muscle mass.

Nuts: One cup of whole almonds will provide 30 grams of protein as well as healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and many other nutrients. 

Tempeh & Tofu: Both great muscle-building foods and amazing substitutes for meat in dishes.

Quinoah: This is a superfood and a compete protein and contains all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies cannot always produce on its own.

Beans & Legumes: One thing all beans have in common is their high amounts of protein: kidney beans have typically 26 grams per two cups.

Leafy Greens: Although they typically contain less than vegetables, some leafy greens have significant amount of protein. For example, Two cups of raw spinach contain 2.1 grams of protein while one cup of chopped broccoli contains 8.1 grams. 

Soy Milk: Just one cup packs in 8 grams of protein while offering 4 grams of heart healthy fats.

Artichokes: Containing 8 grams of protein per cup, including artichoke hearts in your diet is a great way to boost fiber and protein.

Chia Seeds: Chia Seeds have 5 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons and they are also a complete protein source. 


Many people believe that “Protein is King”. They buy into the collective fear that by not eating animals, we are somehow not getting enough protein in our diet when in truth, by simply eating a diet full of living, whole, REAL foods we can be as strong as an athlete…or a gorilla!