5 Best Vegetarian Bodybuilding Foods for Muscle Growth

by Somya Agrawal

Protein is the core of muscle building. Lean beef, pork, turkey, and fish are some of the best non-vegetarian protein sources. Considering this, people usually assume that a vegetarian diet and muscle-building can not go hand in hand. Does that mean there is no chance for vegans and vegetarians to gain muscle mass? The response is “Yes, they do”.

Through this article, we will explore the best 5 vegetarian sources of protein that can help vegetarians build muscles.

Best veg foods to build muscles

Building muscles requires a balanced diet that provides an adequate amount of protein, along with other essential nutrients. While meat is a common source of protein for muscle building, there are plenty of vegetarian options available as well. Here are some of the best vegetarian foods to include in your diet for building muscles:

1. Quinoa:

Lose Quinoa spread in background

Quinoa is highly valued for its nutritional content and versatility in cooking. Some key characteristics of quinoa include:

Complete Protein: One of the very few plant-based foods that provides complete protein is quinoa. It has all nine essential amino acids that the body is unable to create on its own. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is crucial for muscle repair, growth, and maintenance.

High Protein Content: Quinoa is relatively high in protein compared to other grains. A one-cup serving of cooked quinoa contains around 8 grams of protein, making it an excellent source of plant-based protein for vegetarians and vegans.

Rich in Essential Nutrients: Quinoa is not only a good source of protein but also packed with essential nutrients such as magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. These minerals are important for muscle function, energy production, and overall health.

Complex Carbohydrates: Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate, which means it provides a sustained release of energy over time. This is beneficial for fueling workouts and replenishing glycogen stores in muscles post-exercise.

Fiber Content: Quinoa is also high in dietary fiber, which aids in digestion and promotes overall gut health. A healthy digestive system is important for nutrient absorption and utilization, including the absorption of protein for muscle building.

Low Glycemic Index: Quinoa has a relatively low glycemic index compared to other grains, which means it has a smaller impact on blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels are important for maintaining energy levels and preventing energy crashes that can hinder muscle-building efforts.

In summary, quinoa can help build muscles by providing a complete source of protein, essential nutrients, and complex carbohydrates for energy and recovery. Incorporating quinoa into a balanced diet along with other protein-rich foods and regular strength training can support muscle growth and overall health.

2. Tofu:

Tofu with soyabean background

Tofu, a popular soy-based food, can be beneficial for building muscles due to several key reasons:

High-Quality Protein: Tofu is a rich source of protein, containing all nine essential amino acids needed for muscle building and repair. These amino acids are crucial for synthesizing muscle tissue and promoting muscle growth. A 100-gram serving of tofu typically contains around 8-10 grams of protein, making it a significant protein source for vegetarians and vegans.

Versatility: Tofu is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into a wide variety of dishes, such as stir-fries, soups, salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. Its neutral taste allows it to absorb the flavors of other ingredients, making it a flexible protein option in many recipes.

Low in Saturated Fat & Cholesterol: Unlike some animal-based protein sources, tofu is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. This makes it a heart-healthy alternative while still providing the necessary protein for muscle growth and maintenance.

Contains Isoflavones: Tofu is abundantly rich in a plant compound isoflavones, that provides exceptional health benefits. Some research suggests that isoflavones may have anti-inflammatory properties and could aid in muscle recovery post-exercise.

Calcium Content: Tofu is often made using calcium sulfate as a coagulant, resulting in a tofu product that is rich in calcium. Calcium is important for muscle contraction, nerve function, and bone health, all of which contribute to overall muscle performance and strength.

Low-Calorie Density: Tofu is relatively low in calories compared to its protein content, making it a suitable option for those looking to manage their calorie intake while still meeting their protein needs for muscle building.

Incorporating tofu into a balanced diet alongside other protein-rich foods, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can contribute to muscle growth and overall health. Combining tofu with a variety of nutrient-dense foods and engaging in regular strength training exercises can help maximize its benefits for muscle building and maintenance.

3. Whole Grains:

Different types of Whole Grains spread on a table.

Whole grains can aid in muscle building and overall fitness in several ways:

Complex Carbohydrates: Whole grains are a rich source of complex carbohydrates, which provide a steady and sustained release of energy. The body uses carbohydrates as its main energy source, especially when exercising. Consuming whole grains before workouts can help fuel your muscles and optimize performance.

Energy for Workouts: Adequate carbohydrate intake is essential for fueling high-intensity workouts and endurance exercises. Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, and whole wheat pasta provide a good source of carbohydrates to support muscle function during physical activity.

Glycogen Replenishment: After exercise, the body’s glycogen stores in muscles become depleted. Consuming whole grains post-workout helps replenish these glycogen stores, aiding in muscle recovery and repair. This is crucial for optimizing muscle growth and performance over time.

Nutrient Density: Whole grains are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and selenium. These nutrients play important roles in muscle function, energy metabolism, and overall health. Consuming a variety of whole grains ensures that you’re getting a wide range of nutrients to support muscle growth and recovery.

Total Protein Content: Though not as high in protein as sources such as meat, poultry, or lentils, whole grains do contain protein. Amino acid is essential for muscle repair and growth, so including whole grains as part of a balanced diet alongside other protein-rich foods can help meet your daily protein needs.

Digestive Health: Whole grains are high in dietary fiber, which promotes digestive health and regularity. A healthy digestive system ensures that nutrients are properly absorbed and utilized by the body, including those necessary for muscle building and repair.

Incorporating a variety of whole grains into your diet, along with lean protein sources, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables, can provide the essential nutrients needed to support muscle building, recovery, and overall fitness.

4. Seitan:

sices of vegan seitan

Gluten, the protein present in wheat, is used to make seitan, a popular meat alternative. It is also referred to as wheat gluten or wheat meat. It can contribute to muscle building in several ways:

High Protein Content: Seitan is exceptionally high in protein, making it an excellent plant-based source of this essential macronutrient. A 100-gram serving of seitan typically contains around 20-25 grams of protein, depending on the specific preparation.

Complete Protein Profile: Seitan contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. The body is unable to synthesize essential amino acids, thus it must be supplied through food. Having a complete protein profile ensures that your body has the necessary building blocks for muscle tissue repair and growth.

Versatility: Seitan can be used in many different recipes, such as salads, sandwiches, stews, and stir-fries. Its meat-like texture and ability to absorb flavors make it a popular choice for vegetarians and vegans looking to add protein to their meals.

Low in Fat & Carbohydrates: Seitan is naturally low in fat and carbohydrates, which means you can consume a significant amount of protein without consuming excess calories from other macronutrients. This can be beneficial for individuals looking to build lean muscle mass while managing their overall calorie intake.

Iron & Other Minerals: Iron, a mineral essential to energy metabolism and oxygen transport—two processes critical to muscle growth and function—is present in good amounts in seitan. Additionally, seitan contains other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, which support overall health and muscle function.

Easily Digestible: While gluten may not be suitable for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, for others, seitan is generally easy to digest. This means that the protein and nutrients in seitan are readily absorbed by the body, allowing for efficient muscle recovery and growth.

Incorporating seitan into a balanced diet alongside other protein-rich foods, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can contribute to muscle building and overall health. Combined with regular exercise, seitan can be a valuable addition to a vegetarian or vegan muscle-building diet plan.

5. Nuts & Seeds:

variety of Nuts and Seeds spread in background

Nuts and seeds can contribute to muscle building in several ways:

Protein Content: Nuts and seeds are generous sources of plant-based protein. Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth after exercise. Including nuts and seeds in your diet can help provide the necessary amino acids for muscle protein synthesis.

Healthy Fats: Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are important for overall health and can support muscle growth. These fats help in hormone regulation, including testosterone production, which is crucial for muscle building.

Micronutrients: Nuts and seeds are rich in various vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E, which play important roles in muscle function and recovery. For example, magnesium is involved in muscle contractions and energy metabolism, while zinc is necessary for protein synthesis and immune function.

Energy Source: Nuts and seeds are calorie-dense foods, providing a good source of energy for workouts and recovery. They can help replenish glycogen stores in muscles after exercise, providing sustained energy for muscle repair and growth.

Antioxidants: Many nuts and seeds contain antioxidants, such as vitamin E and selenium, which can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation associated with intense exercise. This can promote faster recovery and reduce muscle damage.

Convenience: Nuts and seeds are convenient and portable snacks, making them an easy way to ensure you’re getting adequate nutrition to support your muscle-building goals, especially for those with busy lifestyles.

However, it’s important to note that while nuts and seeds can be beneficial for muscle building, they should be consumed as part of a balanced diet as nuts and seeds are calorie-dense, and consuming them in excess could lead to weight gain if not accounted for within your overall caloric intake.


Muscle building, also known as muscle hypertrophy, refers to the process of increasing the size and strength of skeletal muscles. Fortunately! It is possible to build muscle through a vegetarian diet as plant-based sources provide plenty of protein, which is essential for muscle growth and repair.

However, muscle building is not just about nutrition, it is a dynamic process that involves a combination of resistance training, proper nutrition, rest, and consistency to promote muscle growth and strength gains.