Ever since we were kids, we were taught that the best sources of protein are foods like steak, eggs, and fish. Just the mere thought of getting your protein from plants is laughable for many people. All it takes is a little research, though, to see that there are many, many sources of protein out there that come straight from the earth naturally, and I'm living proof that you can build muscle, shed fat, and get strong AF without ever touching animal products.
I live the vegan life for a lot of reasons, including ethical and environmental. Plus, I've experienced countless positive changes in my life since I went vegan, from less bloating to glowing skin to significantly reduced PMS symptoms.
However, I was curious to see how my vegan lifestyle would align with the recent changes in my fitness routine. I started doing strength training more often, focusing mostly on booty gains. I was committed to gaining muscle definition and feeling as strong as possible. This kind of shift in my program meant I needed to increase the amount of protein and carbs in my diet. Protein is a building block for stronger muscles and it helps build and repair tissues, and carbs are necessary to help your muscles recover and your body to gain more energy for the next workout.
A plant-based diet naturally includes a healthy amount of complex carbs, like sweet potato, brown rice, and beans. It wasn't a problem for me to eat more of these foods to aid in muscle recovery. The only thing now was to get enough protein.
According to Dee (Diksha) Gautham, NASM-certified personal trainer and NPC bikini competitor, when you're trying to gain muscle, you should aim for 0.8 to 1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. I multiplied my weight — 130 pounds [59 kg] — by 0.8, which meant my daily goal was 104 grams of protein.
Surprisingly enough, this was much easier to accomplish than I expected. Here's an example of what my three meals of the day looked like:
- Breakfast: High-protein smoothie with Vega Sport Protein, Bolthouse Plant Protein Milk, and roasted sweet potato
- Lunch: Salad with roasted red curry tofu, carrots, sundried tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, green onions and tahini dressing
- Snack: Protein bar (like Picky Bar, Vega Protein Bar, or GoMacro)
- Dinner: Smoky maple tempeh reuben sandwich with sauerkraut on sprouted bread
Every single day I ate over 100 grams of protein — without any trouble. I record everything I eat, not because I'm counting calories, but because I want to keep an eye on my protein. I don't even count how many grams of carbs I eat. I just eat intuitively; if I feel like I need more energy, or if I had a particularly big weight lifting session, I just add one more serving of carbs to my plate.
I've been eating like this for the past couple months, and in that time I've tacked on seven pounds of muscle — yet I haven't gained a single pound overall. That's because I'm also shedding fat at the same time and truly toning up all over my body. I feel stronger than ever before (I can hip thrust 185 pounds for four sets of eight reps!), especially because I'm making tangible progress at the gym.
During this time, my belly fat shrunk, my booty grew, and I'm finally getting muscle definition in my upper body, which I never thought I would get. As someone who used to be wildly insecure about her body and hated her figure, I'm amazed every day by what my body is capable of — and I've never loved my physique more!
Just as importantly, though, eating a plant-based diet, which is naturally anti-inflammatory, has allowed me to recover faster between workouts. That means I can train often without getting burnt out or fatigued. I have an endless amount of energy, even on weekday mornings when I get up at 5 a.m.
By no means am I saying that you have to eat a vegan diet to gain muscle, but I think it's time that we put the myth to rest that you can't get enough protein on a vegan diet. There's no way my butt would be this big if that were the case.