Is a vegan diet detrimental to gaining muscle mass? The big sports nutrition debate!

Myth or fact? Do vegans gain less muscle than omnivores?


Picture this scenario: You head to the gym several times a week, you’ve fine-tuned your workout routine to create maximum muscle gains, yet you feel something is lacking? Perhaps your diet? Or more specifically your protein intake is what’s lacking.

There have been many hotly debated topics in the sports nutrition world in recent years. The battle between if and when you should have a pre or post workout meal, which protein is best and nutrient timing have all been hot contenders and widely debated.

Additionally, in recent years, vegan or plant-based diets have surged in popularity. This is due to their positive impacts on your health such as boosting heart health by lowering bad cholesterol levels, as well as reducing the amount of saturated fat in our daily diets. As such, these types of diets are becoming more and more prevalent in our society with more restaurants then ever offering plant-based options. Unsurprisingly, this diet has entered the athletic space. A common dilemma facing many vegan athletes, is will a vegan diet decrease my muscle mass and prevent me from gaining muscle?

We already know the importance of protein throughout the body as an essential macro-nutrient as well as it’s shining role in enhancing our exercise performance. If you want to find out more about how protein works in the body click here.


Surprisingly it is actually a pretty simple process building strength and muscle – striking the perfect balance between exercise and eating food – something that everyone vegan or not does. Throwing the scales out by eating too little or workout too hard can be detrimental to building and maintaining muscle mass.

We know that muscle mass is determined by the ever so delicate balance between muscle protein synthesis (MPS) as well as muscle protein breakdown (MPB).

Following this process, the next logical step is making sure that you are getting enough protein. After all proteins are the building blocks of muscle and so many other essential bodily processes and functions. Protein has been shown to positively impact MPS, however the extent to which it does depends largely on the amino acid content and composition.


This is when diet comes into play.


For non-vegan’s high protein and amino acid foods include: meat such as chicken, beef, pork, turkey as well as dairy products and eggs.

Additionally, there are various protein powders such as whey-based protein or WPI as well as casein, collagen and egg just to name a few.

When it comes down to thinking what actually makes up the basis of a plant-based diet, many of us fall into the trap of thinking it is just salads and other leafy greens which lack protein and amino acids.  Fortunately, the plant-based diet is filled with many plant-based protein alternatives that are beyond what might come first to one’s mind such as leafy greens.


High amino acid plant protein sources include: quinoa, edamame, tempeh and tofu, buckwheat and amaranth, hemp seeds, spirulina, brown rice, quinoa, nutritional yeast. You can also pair foods to create a complete protein such as: a peanut butter sandwich, rice and beans, pita bread with hummus, roasted nuts and seeds as well as pasta and peas.


Clearly, it is still possible to get a full range of essential amino acids into your diet despite following a non-traditional plant-based lifestyle. It all comes down to striking a balance. Plant based diets have many benefits for our overall health including: reducing our intake of saturated fats, reducing inflammation throughout the body, keeps your heart healthy, a diet that is naturally high in fibre and other essential nutrients, helps to prevent diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Our verdict: Neither diet has ‘more’ or ‘special’ benefits when it comes to gaining muscle, it all comes down to making sure you have the perfect balance of essential nutrients to match MPS and MPB. We at Athletic Sport know that outside the gym, you have a life too, so we love the idea of a flexitarian diet approach which essentially takes the best of both diets and packs it into one!


What’s your thoughts? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below