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Top 10 Vegan Protein Sources – Food for Meat Free Muscle

Out with the old-school chicken breast, broccoli and brown rice. There’s a new breed of bodybuilder taking over, one powered entirely by plants. If you’re looking for the best foods for meat free muscle bro, you’re in the right place. Here are the top 10 vegan protein sources available today.


What Even Is Protein Anyway?

In the fitness world today, nothing is marketed more heavily than protein. Every bro we know glugs one kind of shake or another. Advertisements for the latest muscle builder, mass maker, and ab shredder fill all the magazines and social media channels we see. There’s even protein water now… Weird.

But what is protein? Why is it so god damn important for a bro looking to build a mean physique? Well, let’s break it down.

Our muscles rely on protein for building and repair, even if you’re a pencil-necked newbie. In fact, it’s one of the main components in our body and can be found in every single cell.

Your nails, hair and, of course, muscles all contain the stuff. That’s why protein is included as an essential ‘macronutrient’, because we need a lot of it. Alongside carbohydrates and fats, it’s one of three food groups we must eat to survive.

Vegan bodybuilders Nimai Delgado, Derek Simnett & Jon Venus
Vegan bodybuilders Nimai Delgado, Derek Simnett & Jon Venus


Why Do Dudes Need It?

Every time we hit a monster squat or even pick up a plate we create tiny microtears within our muscles. Don’t panic though dude, because this is how we grow.

Our bodies recognize this tissue damage and break down proteins into amino acids. These aminos are then transported to the trauma site to help rebuild the torn tissue.

However, rather than create new muscle fiber like a lot of people think, they just repair the original, making it thicker and stronger. Nature’s master plan is to improve the affected fiber so it’s ready for next time.

This is pretty much how you become a stacked muthaf*cker. By routinely breaking down the tissue and building it back bigger, our muscles begin to grow. After a while, we start to notice a change in our body composition. We’ll not only look noticeably bigger, but we’ll probably feel stronger too.

Our muscles simply adapt to the stress we’re putting them under by using protein to refortify their structure. There’s other science at play, of course, but protein is essentially the building blocks of muscle. They’re sort of like the bricks that build a base back up after being wiped out by a barbell airstrike.

Vegan bodybuilder Jon Venus about to tuck into tofu

Related Article: Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Prep


Top 10 Vegan Protein Sources

Now you know why protein is a pretty big deal you’re gonna need some, right? After all, there’s no way we can build meat free muscle without it.

Fortunately, the times are changing, and bodybuilders are becoming better educated on plant based proteins. Rather than relying on animal products for their amino needs, many are turning to these alternatives instead.

Just look at the likes of Nemai Delgado and Torre Washington. Many say you can’t create slabs of hard muscle by eating a purely plant based diet, but these dudes destroy the myth.

If you were to say these successful bodybuilders don’t get enough protein you’d be out of your damn mind. They’re just two smart, stacked-to-the-nines fellas who’ve learned a thing or two about sourcing it.

Now it’s time for you to brush up on your non-animal amino knowledge too. Here are the top 10 vegan protein options based on their amounts of protein per 100 g.


#1 – Soy Protein Isolate

bowl of soy protein isolate

Protein per 100 g: 90 g

Amino Acid Profile: Complete

Just like whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate is known for its incredibly high protein content. Overall soy isolate contains a minimum protein of 90% making it incredibly lean and powerful.

Soy protein isolate is created by dehulling and defatting soybean meal. It’s by no means an easy process, but the result is a product with most of the non-protein compounds removed.

This means there’s hardly any carbs or fats left behind. Whilst this does take away most of the flavor, what’s left is a neutral tasting powder that can be added to almost anything. Plus, by leaving behind almost nothing but protein, potential flatulence is reduced (aka no post-shake gas, bro).

Soy protein isolate has been used in foods since 1959. Many manufacturers today use it to improve the texture of meat products, create meat alternatives, or bolster their products protein content. As a bodybuilder, you’ll probably prefer it in vegan protein powders.

[infobox]Eat it with: A plant powered protein post-workout smoothie [/infobox]


#2 – Spirulina

spirulina vegan protein source

Protein per 100 g: 57 g

Amino Acid Profile: Complete

Once eaten by the Aztecs, spirulina saw a resurgence when NASA announced it could be grown in space to feed astronauts. [1] It’s packed with high-quality protein, boasts a complete amino acid profile, and is hands down one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.

Spirulina is a kind of cyanobacteria that grows in fresh and salt water. As a cyanobacteria, it belongs to a group of single-celled microbes known as blue-green algae.

What makes spirulina so special is just how many nutrients are packed into the sucker. Every tiny alga contains vitamin B1, B2, and B3, alongside potent doses of copper and iron. You’ll also find magnesium, manganese, and potassium crammed in there too.

Plus, if all that goodness wasn’t enough, spirulina contains both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Phycocyanin, the active ingredient that gives the stuff its blue-green color, fights free radicals. This helps stop the creation of inflammatory signaling molecules.

[infobox]Eat it with: A plant powered mid-morning smoothie w/ frozen berries, banana, and nut butter [/infobox]


#3 – Hemp Seeds

hemp seeds shown as vegan protein source

Protein per 100 g: 31.56 g

Amino Acid Profile: Complete

Hemp is a seriously versatile plant. It can be used to make paper, clothing, building materials and a bunch of other useful stuff. It’ll also get you jacked, bro. Well, hemp seeds will anyway.

Hemp seeds contain over a protein content of over 25%. Compared to the likes of chia or flax seeds that’s a helluva lotta amino acids.

Although technically a nut, relative to weight, hemp seeds offer almost the same amount of protein as beef. [2] In 30 g of hemp seeds alone you’ll find around 11 g of protein.

Taste-wise they’re earthy and nutty, so go well with most dishes. Plus, they’re easy to digest, meaning you can eat hemp seeds any time of the day.

[infobox]Eat it with: Plant based breakfast bowl w/ oats, nut milk, blueberries, peanut butter, and golden syrup [/infobox]


#4 – Edamame (Soy Beans)

Protein per 100 g: 31.56 g

Amino Acid Profile: Complete

vegan protein edamame in bowl

Unlike the raw soy meal used to make soy isolate and tofu, edamame is soft and tasty. This is because it’s picked early whilst still green – hence the moniker of young soybeans.

For a vegan looking to pack on quality muscle, edamame is essential. They can be steamed whilst still in the pod, taken out and eaten as a snack, or thrown into a stir fry for a serious protein kick.

Storming in at just over 18 grams of protein per cup [3], Edamame should be high on your grocery list. They’re inexpensive, easy to cook, and can be enjoyed both hot and cold.

[infobox]Eat it with: Alongside a hearty salad of greens and avocado with a chili and lime dressing [/infobox]


#5 – Tempeh

grilled tempeh eaten as vegan protein

Protein per 100 g: 18.5 g

Amino Acid Profile: Complete

Although originally from Indonesia, Tempeh is eaten globally by both meat-eaters and herbivores alike. It’s created by naturally curing and fermenting soybeans into a solid cake form.

Tempeh’s texture is firm without being tough and it’s great at soaking up flavor. Plus, as a soy product, it doesn’t shy away on the protein front. Every single amino acid base is covered so you know it’s got your back for gains.

You’ll need to cook the stuff for at least 20 minutes in a skillet so don’t go chewing the block raw. Use it as a main protein source for an evening meal or to bolster a post-workout lunch.

[infobox]Eat it with: Cube, marinade in Asian spices, and throw into stir-fries. Alternatively, try tempeh chili for a Southeast Asian approach to a classic South American staple [/infobox]


#6 – Tofu

Tofu scramble eaten as part of IFBB pro Nimai Delgado's breakfast
Tofu scramble added to IFBB pro Nimai Delgado’s breakfast

Protein per 100 g: 16 g

Amino Acid Profile: Complete

If you haven’t worked out SMB’s vegan team are a bunch of soy boys. One of their main methods for achieving sleeve shredding muscle is by eating a bunch of the stuff. It’s purely down to the numbers, bro.

Rocking in at #5 we’ve got Tempeh’s slightly less dense cousin, tofu. Rather than being made from the whole soybean, tofu is created via the coagulating of soy milk. As you’ve probably guessed it’s a protein powerhouse too.

Plus, each serving dishes out a hearty dose of iron, which is essential for energy. Depending on which coagulant is used you might find magnesium and calcium in high amounts too.

Because of it’s lower calorie content tofu is great for a vegan bodybuilder looking to get cut. Whereas nuts and beans offer plenty of carbs, tofu can help keep your supplies lower for a leaner physique.

[infobox]Eat it with: Marinade in tangy BBQ sauce before sautéing in coconut oil or under the grill for a low-cal option [/infobox]


#7 – Quinoa

bowl of vegan protein quinoa

Protein per 100 g: 14.1 g

Amino Acid Profile: Complete

Grown in South America for millennia, ‘Keen Wa’ is an awesome alternative to wheat grains. If you’re one of our coeliac bros this gluten free badass is for you.

Knocking the amino ball out of the park with twice the protein per serving of brown rice, Quinoa is king. It’s filling [4], tasty, and absolutely stacked with nutrients.

Eating it regularly helps contribute to healthy levels of vitamin B6, iron, copper, thiamin and fiber. As a bodybuilder these vitamins and minerals are essential for energy and healthy digestion.

How to eat it: Allergic to gluten? Use quinoa as an alternative to brown rice. Bulking bro? Quinoa also makes the best base for a bulking meal due to its high calorie content. Grab those grainz to start seeing some gainz.

[infobox]Eat it with: Cook in water until fluffy and use as the carbohydrate base for your tempeh chili [/infobox]


#8 – Black Beans

Nimai Delgado showing black bean quesadilla
Nimai Delgado’s giant quesadilla filled with black beans, corn, and greens – taken from @veganbodybuildingfood

Protein per 100 g: 9 g

Amino Acid Profile: Incomplete

At 114 kcal per half-cup, black beans are a vegan bodybuilder favorite. Not only are these guys famous for their high protein content but they’re also rich in fiber.

As a member of the legume family, black beans contain naturally occurring starches. These are complex carbohydrates that can be used by the body for a slow release of energy. Whilst maybe not the best protein source for a dude on a cut, they’re essential for bros on a bulk.

The nutrient profile of black beans is their most impressive quality. Besides being tasty, which they are, they provide you them with calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc. If you know a thing or two about your hormones, you’ll recognize zinc as an important mineral that contributes to healthy testosterone production. [5]

[infobox]Eat it with: Fry up with mushroom, pepper, onion and Mexican spices before serving up with fresh avocado in a protein packed wrap [/infobox]


# 9 – Lentils

vegan protein lentil patty

Protein per 100 g: 9 g

Amino Acid Profile: Incomplete

Forget all the stereotypes surrounding about these tiny guys. They’re not just for far out hippy bros, lentils are legit AF.

As human beast-lings we’ve been eating lentils since day one. Originally from Asia and North Africa they were one of mankind’s main food sources for thousands of years.

You probably won’t be shocked to find out lentils are a distant cousin of the common green pea. And just like peas they’re packed with protein and complex carbs. So, whilst lentils will provide you with aminos necessary to build muscle, they’ll also supply sustainable fuel for your workouts.

Alongside containing all three essential macronutrients, lentils are pretty impressive on the micro front too. Grab a handful for a healthy serving of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins.

Lentils are also rich in magnesium, which makes them a must-have for barbell bending bros. Magnesium plays an essential part in energy production, muscle contractions, and speeding up the process of healing wounds. So, if you want to keep your Mg levels on point, lentil up dude.

[infobox]Eat it with: Pack together with soy sauce, oats, breadcrumbs, and spices to make a chunky lentil patty [/infobox]


#10 – Brown Rice

Torre Washington's Teriyaki Brussels and Tempeh with Brown Rice
Torre Washington’s Teriyaki Brussels and Tempeh with Brown Rice

Protein per 100 g: 7.6 g

Complete Amino Acid Profile

Come on. Did you ever think an essential bodybuilder food guide would be complete without brown rice? What sort of pre workout are you drinking, bro? That’d be sacrilege and we’re not trying to anger the muscle gods.

Brown rice is a complex carbohydrate every muscle obsessed bro needs to know. Because it hasn’t been broken down and processed like white rice, the brown stuff released energy a lot slower and supplies a ton of fiber.

Bodybuilders also love brown rice because its carbs aren’t as likely to end up in their fat stores. Therefore, brown rice is pretty safe to eat throughout the day if you’re trying to stay lean and aesthetic.

White rice’s higher glycemic index kickstarts an insulin spike due to the rapid rise in blood sugar, which means the sugars are digested quicker. If not used immediately for energy, these sugars are then stored as fat.

Because brown rice contains a much more complex chain of sugars, this process takes a longer time. So, if you’re after a high in protein grain to give you sustainable energy alongside aminos in every forkful, go for this guy.

[infobox]Eat it with: Boil in water and use as a primary carb source in your main meal. When added to beans you’ll create a dish with a complete essential amino acid profile [/infobox]


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