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Tips for Building and Maintaining Muscle on a Plant Based Diet

1) Make whole foods the foundation of your nutrition program. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, and seeds should be the foods you eat most often. They are the healthiest, provide the most nutrition and are the most environmentally friendly foods available.

2) Plan ahead. Prepare food ahead of time. Keep food in your car, at work, on your bike, or however you commute to and from work. Keep whole food based energy and protein bars filled with nuts, grains and seeds in your gym bag, office desk, coat pockets, etc.
Since you want to consume calories regularly, you’ll want to keep non-perishable foods with you wherever you go. Plan larger meals ahead of time too. Use re-sealable containers to transport food with you that will need refrigeration. Make food the day before, or make large quantities of a particular food such as beans, rice, or potatoes, which may last for a few days. Bottom line, always be prepared by planning ahead.

3) Take your nutrition and training programs seriously. Are you serious about your health? If so, act like it. Fitness and wellness don’t just happen by themselves. They rely on your hard work and dedication. Be consistent in your efforts in motivation, nutrition and training.Then you’ll achieve what you set out to do. You’ll be rewarded with better health, greater fulfillment, and new opportunities in other areas of your life.


Robert’s Favorite Muscle Building and Muscle Maintaining Foods:

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters (almond butter, etc.)
  • Lentils
  • Avocado
  • Beans
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Yams
  • Potatoes
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Chili
  • Sushi (avocado, cucumber, carrot –veggie rolls)
  • Sandwiches
  • Burritos
  • Protein bars
  • Protein drinks
  • Heavy foods by weight such as root vegetables and dense fruits
  • Ethnic food platters such as Middle Eastern, Thai, Indian and Ethiopian foods

The more diversity in your diet, the better. And the more whole foods you consume, the better for your overall health, athletic performance, recovery from exercise and general wellness. Regardless of your sports interest, those general rules apply for pre and post-exercise nutrition.


As a bodybuilder I incorporate supplements into my nutrition program regularly but they certainly aren’t necessary. I find them to play the role their name suggests, and I use them to “supplement” my whole food based nutrition programs. You can achieve high levels of health and athletic success without supplements. I simply find supplements to be somewhat of a nutritional shortcut to athletic achievement which helps me focus more on achievement in other areas of life.

Even in the physically demanding sport of bodybuilding, I have achieved great strength and muscle mass during periods of time without the use of any supplements, relying solely on foods for nutrition. If supplements are something you take or are interested in, I would suggest the following as the most important in assisting athletic performance and success:

  • Whole Food based Meal Replacement Powders – Supply daily nutrition requirements.
  • Multi-vitamin – If meal replacement powder isn’t used, a multi-vitamin is recommended.
  • Protein Powders – Supply extra protein to build and repair muscle tissue.
  • Creatine – Helps promote strength and weight gain through the retention of water in muscles.
  • Essential Fatty Acids – Helps the body speed up metabolism and burn fat as well as strengthen nails, hair and improve the health of skin and brain function.
  • L-glutamine – The most important amino acid in recovery after exercise, also helps immune system.
  • Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – A combination of essential amino acids that promote muscle growth.
  • Vitamin B-12 – Supports the brain and nervous system, recommended for everyone.

General tips for Building Muscle on a Vegan Diet and Staying Active Healthy and Fit at Any Age

Consistency and Accountability

Make exercise and a sound nutrition program priorities and stick to them with consistency and accountability. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if it isn’t applied it doesn’t get you anywhere. You have to find meaning in what you’re doing to get the best results from it.

Why do you want to be healthy in the first place?

To live longer, to feel better, to live without or with fewer aches and pains, to be a role model for others, to be an elite athlete, or for some other reason? Establish what health, wellness and fitness mean to YOU and create a program that fits your interests, desires and goals and see it through to achievement.

Eat for nourishment not stimulation

Make the foundation of your nutrition program whole foods designed to nourish your body and help fuel your active lifestyle, reduce inflammation as a result of it, and recover well to do it all over again the next day. Relying on processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars won’t supply enough tangible nutrition. But fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes and seeds will.

Stay Hydrated

Stay hydrated by consuming large quantities of water throughout the day. This is of increased importance for someone who is active, say building muscle or playing sports. We lose not only nutrients through sweat but obviously water too.

Since the body is comprised mostly of water, it behooves us to consume it regularly, up to a gallon a day or even more based on our sports interests and level of activity. To help reduce cramping, stay hydrated and consume sodium and potassium as well, either naturally from foods, or in supplement form to replace nutrients lost through exercise. To reduce lactic acid build-up as a result of exercise stress, stay hydrated, replenish lost nutrients, proactively consume essential fats that reduce inflammation, rest, stretch and consume adequate nutrition to properly recover.

To help with rest at the end of day, be well hydrated by bedtime so you don’t get muscle cramps during your sleep and take Zinc and Magnesium to help you fall asleep naturally.


Now that you know how to build muscle on a vegan diet, how to stay fit and active, what foods to eat and when, I figured I’d leave you with one more helpful resource and that is a list of nutrients found in common foods.

I wish you all the best in your journey to a happy and healthy compassionate fitness lifestyle.

You are equipped with the tools, the only thing left to do is put them into action.

List of nutrients from the Vegan Bodybuilding website:

High-Protein Foods

  • Soybeans
  • Chick peas
  • Kidney beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Other beans
  • Tofu
  • Lentils
  • AlmondsOther nuts and seeds
  • Kamut and spelt
  • Other whole grains

High-Calcium Foods

  • Black beans
  • Chick peas
  • Soybeans
  • Pinto beans
  • Tofu
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Molasses
  • Dark leafy green vegetables
  • Brazil nuts
  • Hazelnuts (filberts)
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Globe artichokes

High-Magnesium Foods

  • Pumpkin and squash seeds
  • Bran
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Other nuts and seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Millet
  • Whole grains
  • Dried figs
  • Molasses
  • Black-eyed peas

High-Iron Foods

  • Dried fruit
  • Molasses
  • Chick peas
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Pinto beans
  • Whole grains
  • Sesame seeds
  • Other seeds
  • Prune juice
  • Dark leafy green vegetables
  • Jerusalem artichokes

High-Zinc Foods

  • Brazil nuts
  • Bran
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Lentils
  • Lima beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Other dried peas
  • Chick peas
  • Cashews
  • Pecans
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Corn and cornmeal
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus

High-Iodine Foods

  • Seaweeds
  • Sea Kelp
  • Iodized sea salt
  • Dark leafy green vegetables

High-Mineral and Enzyme Foods

  • Miso
  • Vegetable juices
  • Barley green
  • Wheat grass
  • Papayas
  • Seaweeds
  • Citrus fruit
  • Tomato juice

High B-12 Foods

  • Wheat grass
  • Barley green
  • Spirulina
  • Cholorella
  • Blue-green algae
  • B-12 fortified foods like texturized vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Vitamin supplements

Vitamin D

  • Alfalfa
  • Chlorella
  • Blue-green algae
  • Fenugreek
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Coconut
  • Papaya
  • Rosehips

Essential Oils

  • Flax seed/flax seed oil
  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Other natural oils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Vegetables
  • Avocados
  • Whole grains


  • Parsley
  • Herb seasonings
  • Herb teas
  • Garlic
  • Onions

This article originally appeared on the Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness website.


Robert Cheeke is a best-selling Author of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness - The Complete Guide To Building Your Body on a Plant-Based Diet and a champion Vegan Bodybuilder who runs the company and website Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness. Robert is a motivational speaker who tours around North America with his speaking tour and he is also the Director of the award-winning documentary Vegan Fitness Built Naturally.

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