How to Build Muscle Mass on a Vegetarian Diet

R. Kalpana

August 4, 2023

Among the myths that abound with regard to diet and exercise, one of the most persistent ones relates to the necessity of eating meat and eggs in order to build muscle mass. However, this is far from true since a vegetarian diet is equally effective in helping you pack on muscle. Take wrestler Sushil Kumar, for instance. A vegetarian diet didn’t stop him from winning two Olympic medals.

A suitable diet must be accompanied with proper physical activity dedicated to building muscle mass.

Here’s how you should modify your diet for lean tissue growth, if you’re a vegetarian:

Eat balanced meals and raise protein intake

Whereas balanced, nutritious meals with adequate supply of vitamins and nutrients are absolutely essential, it is equally important to modify your diet according to the physical activity you are undertaking. This apart, it’s also vital to increase your protein intake to encourage lean tissue growth. As a rule, the body needs 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, but if you are physically active and undergo training (as you must in order to get a sculpted body) this amount should be increased to 1.2 to 1.3 grams per kg of body weight.

protein diet

Some examples of protein-rich vegetarian food

There are plenty of protein-rich vegetarian foods which could assist in muscle building without having you to resort to eating meat and eggs. Pulses like dried beans and lentils are high-protein vegetarian options as are soya and dairy products like milk, paneer and cheese (you could opt for their low-fat versions depending on your requirement budget).

Whereas many dieticians recommended six meals, there is now a growing trend of recommending eight small meals a day. Irrespective of the frequency of meals, ensure that your protein intake is divided equally for each meal. Try and consume 2-3 servings of pulses a day, 3-5 servings of milk and 1 serving of a milk-based protein-rich food item. If your protein requirement still falls short you could bridge the gap with protein powders.

Pre- and post-workout meal is absolutely essential

Having the right food before and after workout is extremely important. The hour after a rigorous workout is crucial. It’s known as the ‘golden period’ and one should consume an easily digestible protein-rich meal that can reach the muscles straightaway and start with their repair. Examples of easily digestible protein-rich foods include soya milk, protein curds (also known as ‘hung curds’) and Greek yoghurt. You could also try protein powders—these are made of whey or peas and are non-synthetic and vegetarian.  

Include a combination of proteins for complete nutrition

Vegetarian proteins are generally considered incomplete proteins because they lack certain amino acids that the body needs. However, this problem is easily addressed by combining various protein-rich vegetarian foods resulting in the formation of complete proteins. Pulses and cereals, for example, lead to the creation of complete proteins when taken in combination. Ask your dietitian to work out suitable combinations for you so that your body is able to benefit from complete proteins.

Vegetarians should eat a wide variety of foods to ensure you don’t miss out on all of the essential amino acids. If you have difficulty meeting your protein allowance, use a protein supplement shake mix instead of amino acid supplements. The latter are usually consumed by professional body-builders who are involved in intense physical activity and train for eight hours a day and are meant to be taken under expert supervision. 

rich vegetarian diet

The exact amount of protein and other nutrients you should consume needs to be worked out by a professional dietician keeping in mind factors like physical activity, body condition, medical condition etc. There’s nothing to stop you from gaining a muscular body as a vegetarian, provided you follow a healthy diet and workout regime.

Looking for the best vegetarian diet to build muscle mass? Our experts can customise a diet plan for you

About the Author

“Nutritionists have a role to play that goes beyond mere meal-planning,” says Kalpana, who believes she can motivate others to stay on the path towards a healthier life. A Certified Dietician with a PhD from SPMVV University, she is a Mary C Jacob Award-winner for Merit in Physiology from Madras University and has worked across various hospitals as well as nutrition clinics. She has been published both nationally and internationally in various science and health journals, and has regularly contributed towards health and wellness content for Sify.

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