Illustration showing a plant-based bodybuilder building muscle on a vegan diet.

Can You Build Muscle on a Vegan Diet?

A new study by Pinckaers and colleagues found that plant-based protein wasn’t as good as animal protein for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. This is just one of several studies, so it probably shouldn’t have, but it sparked some controversy online.

Muscle protein synthesis is when your body adds protein to your muscles, so studies like this can make it seem like vegan diets aren’t good for building muscle. But higher rates of muscle protein synthesis don’t always cause higher rates of muscle growth.

To see how much muscle you can build on a vegan diet, it’s much better to look at studies that measure actual muscle growth. Fortunately, there have been quite a few of those.

Before and after illustration of a skinny guy becoming muscular.

Vegan Diets Are Good for Building Muscle

A few studies have compared vegan diets against omnivorous diets for building muscle (study, study, study). The results are fairly consistent. Most studies show no difference, and when they do, the difference is tiny, and it could go either way. For example, here are the results from the Hevia-Larrain study:

Study graph showing that vegan diets are just as good for building muscle as omnivorous diets.

We’ve been helping skinny people bulk up for over a decade now. Some are omnivores, others vegetarians, and some full vegans. We’ve never noticed a difference in their results. It doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is the quality of your workout routine, bulking diet, and lifestyle overall.

You do need to get enough protein in your diet, though. Most people struggle to eat enough protein when cutting or recomping, but it’s actually pretty easy while bulking.

There Are Plenty of Great Vegan Bulking Meals

You don’t need that much protein to build muscle, especially when you’re eating an abundance of food overall. 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day is plenty. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 105 grams of protein. That might be more than you currently eat, but it isn’t more than plant-based foods can provide.

Whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes all contain at least some protein, and when you combine them, it adds up quickly. For example, peanut butter on whole-grain bread gives you more than enough protein per calorie to maximize your rate of muscle growth.

I wrote an article with a few of my favourite high-calorie, high-protein vegan bulking meals. You don’t need to follow those exact recipes, but the spirit of the meals might help. You’ll see what a plant-based bulking diet looks like.

Vegan Protein Powder is Pretty Good

If you’re struggling to get enough protein from whole foods, plant-based protein powder has come a long way in the past few years. For example, in a study by Babault and colleagues (study), pea protein performed as well as whey protein, with no statistically significant differences in muscle growth between groups:

Study graph showing that plant-based pea protein powder stimulates the same amount of muscle growth as whey protein.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that people supplementing with pea protein gained more muscle than those supplementing with whey. The differences weren’t statistically significant, though, and you can just as easily find studies leaning in the other direction. Looking at all the research, it seems to me there really isn’t much of a difference.

As for which brand to get, Now Pea Protein (Amazon affiliate link) aces all the random third-party tests it’s put through. ConsumerLab rated it as the best plant-based protein powder. Cassandra and I use Birdman, but it hasn’t been tested by third parties, so I’m hesitant to recommend it.


Overall, vegan diets seem to be just as good for building muscle as omnivorous ones, provided you do it properly. That means getting your protein from a variety of plant-based sources: nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, whole grains, soy, peas, and protein powder.

For more, we have an older article about how to bulk on a plant-based diet.

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Alright, that’s it for now. If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free muscle-building newsletter. Or, if you want us to walk you through the entire process of bulking up, check out our Bony to Beastly Program. It includes a customizable workout routine, a bulking diet guide, a recipe book, and support from us in our online community.

We’ll help you get started, track your progress, answer all your questions, and give you feedback as you go through the program. Your results are fully guaranteed. We have an unconditional refund policy.

Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's a Certified Conditioning Coach (CCC), has gained seventy pounds, and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in fine arts, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.

Cassandra Duquette is a certified Nutritionist (CNP).
Cassandra Duquette

Cassandra Duquette is a certified nutritionist (CNP) living in Cancun, Mexico. She takes a holistic approach to nutrition, combining a good diet with exercise and a healthy lifestyle. She's gained 23 pounds, bulking up from 97 to 120 pounds.

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