Vegetarian diet muscle gain
Credit: geertcolp

Anybody trying to gain muscle mass without the use of steroids will tell you it’s a difficult endeavour, even more so if you’re trying to gain muscle without fat. Resistance training, i.e. working out with weights is vital to triggering muscle growth however the most important piece of the puzzle in gaining mass is nutrition. Your diet must provide you with enough protein to fuel the growth of your muscle and this is where vegetarian diets make this a challenge.

The Training

Believe it or not that’s the easiest part, and is outside the focus of this article. Train using mainly compound movements, don’t forget your legs. Always warm up, use proper form and lift a weight that is heavy enough for you to lift 8 times max with good form. Check out the programmes on for a more detailed programme.

Vegetarian Nutrition to build muscle mass

Remember to build muscle your nutrition needs to give you 2 things, an adequate supply of protein and a small caloric surplus.

As a vegetarian, where do I get my protein?

In order for your body to grow muscle mass, along with correct training you need to consume a minimum of 1.2 – 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Never less.

The majority of protein rich diets focus around meats however it is possible to achieve the same results on a vegetarian diet. If you can consume milk then you have a definite advantage, Whey protein and Casein are both forms of proteins derived from milk. And they’re both readily available as supplements which you can buy to boost your protein intake. Other vegetarian foods rich in protein include

-          Quinoa  

-          Broccoli

-          Any pulses such as lentils, elephant beans, kidney beans.  

-          Cottage cheese (e.g. paneer)

-          Any nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachio, they’re all good.

-          Portobello mushrooms.

If you are an ovo-lacto-vegetarian, the fact you can consume eggs is also a great advantage as eggs are the most easily absorbed form of protein. If you can have eggs, they should definitely become staples in your diet.

Remember although vegetarian foods have a lower percentage of protein than meats, you can still receive the same amounts of protein using supplements. If supplements aren’t something you can afford then rest assure, it isn’t impossible to go without any supplements at all, but you have to accept that you will probably take more time to achieve the same results.  

At the bottom of this article in my bibliography I’ve linked a website that tells you exactly how much of each macronutrient (protein, carbs and fats) is present in each food.


Once you’ve covered your protein intake, you’ll need to consume enough healthy fats in order to grow. It’s a common misconception to think that all fats are bad for you. The truth is you need some fat in your diet in order for you to remain healthy and grow, it’s all about choosing the right type. You’ll want to go for monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which are very effective at lowering cholesterol. Do your best to avoid saturated fat and trans-saturated fats (or trans fats). By following a vegetarian diet you’re “safe” from a lot of bad fats but where possible try and go for unsaturated fatm a maximum of 1/3 of your fat intake should be saturated fats. No more.

 Along with protein your body also needs slightly more calories than it uses in order to grow. At the bottom of this article I’ve linked a calorie calculator that gives you the exact amount of calories you require. Your aim is to eat 200 – 300 calories more than that a day, and fats help you achieve that. However if you go over that surplus then the rest of these calories are simply stored as fat.

Remember one gram of fat is equal to 9 calories, one gram of protein is equal to 4 calories and one gram of carbohydrate is equal to 4.


You should see carbs as energy. Without enough carbohydrates from your diet you will feel tired and sluggish, and be unable to complete your workouts as effectively as you might otherwise have. You should have servings of carbohydrates with every meal. But make sure you add an extra portion in your pre-workout meal to give you the fuel you need to power through those heavy weights.

Stick to complex carbs, in other words starchy vegetables, brown rice, brown bread, and wholegrain products. Simple carbs like sugars are permissible but only right after a workout.

Lastly Rest

Your training and your nutrition covered, the last part of the puzzle is rest. Your muscles grow when you rest, not when you work out, tirelessly breaking them down everyday means they do not get the opportunity to recover and thus grow. Make sure you don’t over train yourself.

Also make sure you get the amount of sleep you need in order to recover, sleeping enough is vital to your recovery. The recommended amount is 8 hours a day but you know best how much sleep you need. If you feel you need more sleep then by all means you should sleep more.


Gaining muscle can be summarised in one simple phrase. Lift, eat, and rest. As a vegetarian you may have less options where nutrition is concerned but do not let yourself think that can stop you from achieving your goals. If you want it badly enough, you’ll get there.