You can still maintain strong bones as a vegan or vegetarian and gain muscle. What’s key, says Leslie Bonci, R.D., L.D.N., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is packing in calcium-rich dairy subs while following this simple formula for successful muscle protein synthesis: Weight training plus adequate protein—that is, getting enough protein and spreading intake throughout the day.
Then, aim to get .5-.7g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily, suggests Bonci, divided evenly among meals. For a 150-lb man, that’s 75-105g daily. Ideally, slip 25-35g of protein and at least 2g of leucine (an essential amino acid and protein building block largely found in whey-fortified foods—including Better Whey of Life yogurt, Detour bars, and Mix1 shakes—into each meal.
A good time to pump up the protein is before or after lifting sessions. One Romanian Olympic athlete study found those who took 1.5g of Supro soy protein daily for two months experienced greater increases in body mass, strength, serum proteins, and calcium, as well as dips in post-training fatigue, compared to athletes who didn’t take soy protein. Also try soy protein powder with soy milk and frozen fruit, says Bonci, or a Clif Builder’s protein bar to supercharge workouts. (If you're not a vegan, shakes and bars with high-quality, but dairy-deprived, whey protein are also good options.)
To further boost your plant-based diet, take a daily multi-vitamin with health-promoting calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamins D and B-12, and zinc. Enlisting the help of Carolyn Brown, nutrition expert and co-founder of Foodtrainers, we compiled the best vegan and vegetarian muscle-building food sources.