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Building Muscle: Why Plant Protein is Better than Meat

When many people think of protein, they think of meat. But plants make protein, too! It tastes great and makes you feel amazing!

Plant protein doesn’t get any credit. If you or anyone you know avoids animal products, odds are you’re very familiar with the question “Where do you get your protein?” The frequency with which this question gets asked shows just how little most people know about nutrition. Western culture has created the idea that protein is synonymous with meat and vice versa, to such an extent that many people don’t even realize plants have protein! Even more informed groups who acknowledge that plants have protein often perpetuate the belief that plant proteins are incomplete and therefore need to be carefully combined and monitored (they don’t). If it’s so hard to survive when you get protein from plant sources, how do so many herbivores like bulls, elephants, and gorillas grow so big and strong?

It’s no surprise with this widespread misconception about plant-based protein that many feel you must consume animal protein in order to build muscle, or that protein from plants is somehow inferior in this regard. But is this actually the case? A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition sought to answer this question.

In this study, researchers followed the health records and dietary intakes of over 3000 men and women aged 19 to 72. The amount and source of each participant’s protein intake was recorded, along with their bone density, lean body mass, and quadriceps strength to look for relationships between intake patterns and these physical fitness measures. The study revealed that those who ate more protein tended to have more muscle mass, but the type of protein (plant vs. animal) was irrelevant! There have been many studies in the past that have compared protein sources, intake amount, and various health measures and the results are consistent - plants build muscle just fine! After all, remember what the gorilla eats.

As a competitive bodybuilder, these results are no surprise to me. I’ve competed successfully against large classes full of opponents who likely ate meat 3–5 times per day leading up to the contest. I’ve competed on teams with fellow vegan athletes who similarly did well. I’ve also trained hundreds of clients who have gained muscle, lost fat, and dramatically improved their bodies and their health while following a plant-based diet. So the bottom line is: Plants can build muscle!

If you want to add more plant-based protein to your diet as a healthier alternative to animal sources, try increasing your intake of my two favorites, beans & greens! Both are packed with nutrition and fiber, and both get a significant portion of their calories from protein. Whole grains and nuts and seeds are also excellent additions to your diet, and if you’re looking for a protein powder to replace whey, Sunwarrior’s Warrior Blend and Classic Plus are both packed with protein and delicious. So if it’s this easy to get protein from plants, it builds muscle just as well, and plant-based diets are demonstrably healthier, what are you waiting for?

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