The Best Vegan Sources Of Protein To Help You Pack On Muscle!
“Where do you get your protein from?”
-The most common asked question I get every time I tell someone that I’m vegan.
Every time I hear this question I just laugh it off and explain to the individual(s) all the different sources of plant based protein that I eat as a vegan.
I do not mean to sound overconfident or compare myself to others, but most of the people who ask me this question are not in as good shape as I am.
I guarantee I get more protein than them on a daily basis, but that’s not something I tell them.
Instead, I actually take the question in a positive way and look at it as a potential to educate someone on veganism.
YES, VEGANS CAN get more than enough protein, with proper training and nutrition… and
YES, VEGANS DO build muscle on a plant based diet, as well as reap all of the wonderfully healthy and worldly benefits at the same time.
Like anything else, building muscle or getting in shape requires proper nutrition. If you’re a vegan and have a bad diet that’s low in calories, carbs, and protein, you can forget getting the body you want.
The same goes for all other diets, meat-eaters, the paleo diet, keto diet, vegetarians, etc. If you don’t have a proper diet with the correct amount of macronutrients, you won’t build muscle either.
This article may be for current vegans looking to get some more protein in their diet to pack on some solid muscle, or for meat eaters/vegetarian looking to convert to veganism.
This article does not contain any vegetarian sources of protein such as dairy.
I see a lot of “vegetarian/vegan protein” articles that have greek yogurt, milk, eggs, and more. These products are not vegan.
The list below is 100% plant based protein, free from animal flesh or animal byproduct.
So without further a due, here is the ultimate list to end all those silly questions about vegans and their protein.
Here are your top vegan sources of protein.
Couscous – 8 grams per cup (cooked)
A classic Mediterranean dish that packs a ton of flavor.
I like to eat couscous with a vegetable broth and some falafel.
Add some harissa and it takes the spiciness up a notch. Not only does 1 cup of couscous offer 8 grams of protein, but it also has a ton of essential vitamins and minerals.
“Specifically, couscous provides thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, B6, folate, and pantothenic acid. These nutrients help metabolize energy, maintain healthy red blood cells, prevent certain birth defects and keep your skin, blood, brain, nervous system, heart, and immune system functioning well.”
Oatmeal – 10 grams per ½ cup uncooked (steel cut oats)
A great breakfast form of protein.
I love to make a protein oatmeal bowl in the morning which I top with fruits, hemp seeds, almond milk yogurt and more. The oatmeal provides a perfect base.
Avoid the prepackaged packets of oatmeal you get from Stop ‘n Shop and ShopRite.
I use quick cook steel cut oats from Trader Joe’s which offers 10 grams of protein for just ½ cup. Extremely healthy and gives you loads of energy to start your day.
Just simply fill a bowl with your oats and vegan milk or water, microwave for 60-90 seconds and boom you’re ready to eat. I
also like to add maple syrup or agave to add some sugar and really bring out the flavor of the oats.
Oatmeal is also fast digesting and has a good amount of carbs that make it perfect to eat before a workout. Also makes a great snack if you’re in a rush.
Pasta – *Up to 25 grams per 2 oz*
Although not well known for its protein, pasta is a grain that packs quite a bit. There are a million different styles of pasta as well as types.
De Cecco Penne is currently my favorite but if you’re looking solely for protein packed pasta, take a look at the brands below. All the brands should be available at most major supermarkets, and can always be found at Whole Foods.
- Pow Pasta – 14 grams per 2 oz
- Banza – 14 grams per 2 oz
- Explore Asian (Black Bean) – 25 grams per 2 oz!!!
Yes, you read that right, Explore Asian Black Bean pasta has 25 grams of protein for only 2 ounces of pasta. That means one container has 100 grams of protein! And with only 180 calories per serving, this pasta is perfect for cutting.
Hulled Barley – 20 grams per cup
Not a big fan of barley but I had to add it to the list.
I personally think you just need an acquired taste for it. I do enjoy eating it within a soup. That being said if you eat 1 cup of hulled barley, you should get over 20+ grams of protein.
Just make sure that it’s hulled and not pearled. Pearled barley is when the outer husk has been removed, which takes away a lot of nutrients.
Although it isn’t as nutritious it is much more common than hulled barley, so make sure you really know which one your buying when shopping for groceries.
Rice – About 5 grams per cup
White or brown, whichever you like.
I don’t think I need to go to in depth with this one.
Rice can be paired with almost any food you eat and is found in dishes all over the world.
It is a fantastic form of carbohydrates while still offering a decent amount of protein.
About 5 grams of protein in one cup of white rice and around 6-7 grams for a cup of brown rice.
Sprouted Bread – 5 grams per slice
A very healthy form of bread with around 5 grams of protein per slice, depending on what brand you purchase.
Sprouted bread usually are darker in color and have some nuts/seeds ingrained into the bread. I love the multigrain sprouted bread from Trader Joe’s.
Perfect to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and coat it with some vegan butter. Much healthier than eating processed white bread and also offers a ton of benefits for you and your body.
Here are a few types of sprouted bread you should add to your shopping list for next time.
- Ezekiel 4:9 Low Sodium Sprouted Whole Grain Bread.
- Ezekiel 4:9 Sesame Sprouted Whole Grain Bread.
- Arnold Whole Grains 100% Whole Wheat Bread.
- Nature’s Harvest Stone Ground 100% Whole Wheat Bread.
- Nature’s Own Double Fiber Wheat.
- Shiloh Farms Sprouted 7 Grain Bread, Organic.
Seeds and Nuts
A great source of protein and healthy fats, ¼ cup of cashews contains 5 grams of protein.
Also a great snack you can eat on the go like all other nuts.
Cashews are also an excellent source of iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, phosphorus, and manganese.
Studies have shown that cashews are very good for the heart and blood, and even though they are high in calories and fat, can help you lose weight.
But beware of salted cashews, they can become addictive and have too much sodium.
Quinoa – 8 grams per 1 cup
You’re probably wondering why quinoa is not up on the grains list?
Surprisingly, quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain.
I won’t get into the logistics behind it, but you can check out this awesome article by BobsRedMill to find out more about quinoa’s taxonomy.
Moving on, if you were to eat just one thing on this list for the most benefit, you’d be pretty stupid not to pick Quinoa. This is the king of vegan superfoods.
The benefits of quinoa could be written as a novel.
First off, it’s one of the few plant based proteins that contains all 9 essential amino acids. Making it a fantastic muscle building food.
It is super high in vitamins fiber, and antioxidants, making it a natural body repairing food. It also tastes delicious.
Throw it in a salad, smoothie, bowl, and mix and match fruits, veggie, tofu, and so much more. The combinations of quinoa are unlimited. I repeat, do not skip out on quinoa!
Almonds – 5 grams per ¼ cup
Another popular form of nuts, almonds can be used in so many different ways.
Like cashews, they have about 5 grams of protein per ¼ cup.
A healthy source of magnesium and Vitamin E, and loaded with antioxidants to help fight inflammation and aging. Almonds can be added to many dishes.
Grind up your almonds in a blender and the flakes can be thrown on top of your plant based yogurt.
As with other nuts it also helps control your hunger since they are high in protein/fat and low in carbs.
Walnuts – 5 grams per ¼ cup
The perfect addition to any salad or wrap, walnuts are a tasty snack.
Walnuts have plenty of Omega 3’s and are known to help promote a healthy gut.
Even some cases show it lowers blood pressure.
And if you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, try adding a few walnuts into your diet, it may help calm your insides.
Walnuts, similar to the other nuts on this list come in at 5 grams of protein per ¼ cup.
Hemp Seeds – 10 grams per 3 tablespoons
Ah, good old hemp seeds. One of my favorite foods to add to a protein bowl.
Hemp seeds have a pretty impressive protein to volume ratio. 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds yield a whopping 10 grams of protein!
That’s insane! I like to buy my hemp seeds in bulk from Costco. They give you a larger bag that can last you a while so you don’t have to shop for them as often.
And don’t even get me started on all of the health benefits.
Hemp seeds can reduce your risk of heart disease, is a great source of fiber, improves the health of your skin through anti-inflammatory compounds, and aids in protecting your brain through it’s CBD compounds.
Yes, that’s a Cannabinoid, the same stuff that’s found in your weed.
But don’t worry, it won’t get you high. It just has a ton of pain management and healing properties.
Chia Seeds – 5 grams per 3 tablespoons
Chia seeds are a food I wish more people ate of.
Similar to hemp seeds they have incredible nutritious value. Low in calories but high in protein.
These seeds have about 5 grams of protein per 3 tablespoons. Great for healthy bones, rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, and high in fiber.
And it’s also known as a natural testosterone booster for men.
Overall another great vegan source of protein with an amazing nutritional profile.
Don’t be afraid to add them to yogurts and salads.
They can also replace gelatin. When ground up, chia seeds are a form of sticky texture that can aid you in baking certain recipes.
Pumpkin Seeds – 10 grams per ¼ cup
Pumpkin seeds have a ton of protein and plenty of testosterone boosting effects for men.
It also keeps your prostate and bladder healthy and has been known to improve your sex life.
Similar to chia and hemp seeds, it has a great volume to protein ratio, meaning you don’t have to eat much to get a good amount of protein.
Consider this a superfood, because research points to this lowering your risk of cancer. Also has a rich vitamin and mineral profile.
- Vitamin K: 18% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 33% of the RDI
- Manganese: 42% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 37% of the RDI
- Iron: 23% of the RDI
- Zinc: 14% of the RDI
- Copper: 19% of the RDI
Please do not leave pumpkin seeds off your list (especially you men), they make a great snack and have a ton of benefits to keep you healthy and fit, inside the bedroom and out!
Beans (Black, Kidney, White) – Around 8 grams per cup
Beans are a staple food for mixing and matching with your meals. They can be added to rice, burritos, tacos, wraps, salsa, or mashed into a paste and spread over bread.
Beans have been proven to help you live longer and lower your risk of cancer.
A ton of potassium and other vitamins to go along with, beans have amazing benefits.
There are also many different kinds of beans to choose from. Black beans, kidney beans, white beans, pinto beans, and more.
You can buy them canned or uncooked. I generally advise you to buy them dry in bulk and cook them yourself at home.
Canned beans have way more sugar, salt, and unwanted crap. At 8 grams of protein per cup, beans are a delicious form of protein that can be added to a large meal. They are also very filling.
Pro Tip: Be sure to rinse and wash your beans off well, otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of unwanted gas within the hour.
Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
I decided to separate chickpeas from the other beans because they are often used for different purposes.
I love putting chickpeas in my couscous bowl for some added flavor.
There are also a huge variety of chickpeas you can pick from, many of which are cultivated and grown from different cultures. I’ve seen many different statistics on how much protein chickpeas can have. In fact, the “Bengal gram chickpea” has about 39 grams of protein per cup!
But generally, most of the chickpeas you buy in stores will have around 12 grams per cup. Still an excellent amount.
Lentils – 20 grams per cup
Lentils are not only a fantastic source of protein but are rich in iron and folate as well.
You can cook them pretty fast and add them to a lot of dishes just like other beans.
Although I don’t like eating them alone, I like to mix them in with salsa and chipotle hummus on top. I’ve even seen some recipes where people stuff them into red peppers or sweet potatoes.
If you’re like me and don’t like the taste of them too much, try adding them with other flavorful foods and sauces.
Lentils have a whopping 20 grams of protein per cup!
Peas – 5 grams per cup
Eat your peas, momma always told you! It’s true, peas are a great way to grow big and strong!
My family often buys green peas frozen, it’s cheaper and you can cook them whenever you’re ready.
Rich in Vitamin A and K, green peas have been known to help control blood sugar and help fight diabetes.
They’re also low in calories and very filling, which is great for controlling your weight. Peas have about 5 grams of protein per cup.
The controversial soybean!
Let’s get this straight, don’t believe all the negative nonsense regarding soy.
Soy is an excellent source of protein and has a ton of benefits. Similar to everything else in life, it should be eaten in moderation and not be the only thing you eat.
That jargon where people claim it lowers testosterone have no idea what they’re talking about.
You would literally need to consume hundreds of cups of soybeans in order to have the tiniest effect on male testosterone levels.
That being said, soybeans or edamame, are an excellent source of protein.
Soy is another one of the few complete proteins offered by plant based foods.
Just like quinoa, it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids. A delicious form of protein that has a wide variety of benefits.
They have been known to reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Edamame pack an awesome 17 grams of complete protein in one cup.
Tofu – 45 to 50 grams per block*
By far my favorite protein on the list. Tofu is the perfect meat substitute for vegans.
Not only is it packed with protein, but it tastes delicious.
You can make tofu in a million different ways and styles. Fried, breaded, marinated, raw, with sauce, scrambled, big blocks, little cubes, etc. There’s no limit to what you can do with tofu.
I personally love to eat scrambled tofu in the morning.
Just simply take your block of tofu, mash it up with a fork, and then throw it in a pan with a little bit of oil. Add turmeric, garlic powder, onion powder, and whatever spices you desire.
Next thing you know it’s going to look exactly like scrambled eggs. Add some sriracha or hot sauce of your choice on top, and you won’t be disappointed.
Tofu, a product of soy, is a complete protein, so it’s perfect for building muscle. It also contains a lot of vitamins and iron.
Tofu may come in different protein amount depending on how “firm” it is. If you get a block of firm tofu from trader joes it’ll have around 40 grams of protein.
But there is a brand from whole foods called ‘super-firm tofu’ which has 70 grams per block! So choose the protein amount you want based on how firm the tofu is.
Tofu is really easy to prepare and a perfect idea for meal preps. Don’t miss out on the tofu!
Soy Milk – 7 grams per cup
While there are many plant based milk alternatives out there on the market, my favorite would have to be soy milk.
Tastes delicious, especially the vanilla and chocolate flavors, and has a good amount of protein.
Here’s a whole list of amazing benefits you can get from drinking soy milk:
- Reduce Cholesterol Level
- Help Lose Weight
- Strengthen Blood Vessel
- Reduce the Risk of Prostate Cancer
- Prevent Osteoporosis
- Protects Against Postmenopausal Syndromes
- Prevent Kidney Disease and Diabetes
- Lowers the Risk of Breast Cancer
Just like any other milk, add it to your cereal, oatmeal, smoothie, shake, etc. for an added boost of protein.
Tempeh – 30+ gram per cup
It’s not often I eat tempeh, except at Japanese restaurants where it’s deep fried and breaded.
It has a very unique texture to it, and I’ve seen it replace “bacon” at vegan restaurants. It’s made through the fermentation process that naturally binds the soy into a cake form. It has a high content of protein, fiber, and vitamins.
It is super high in protein, rocking in at 30 grams of protein per cup!
Vital Wheat Gluten
Seitan – 23 grams per ¼ cup
If you don’t know what seitan is, please do some more research and check it out.
This stuff is LOADED with protein. I’m talking 23 grams per ¼ cup! Seitan is made from flour known as vital wheat gluten.
I put it in a category by itself because it’s a flour and unique compared to the other protein sources on this list.
- More protein than beef and steak on a per calorie basis
- Less fat than grilled chicken breast
- Zero heterocyclic amines, which are carcinogens in meat
- Cholesterol-free since it’s 100% plant-based
- Fulfills daily value of riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3)
- A High amount of vitamin B6
- Moderate amounts of iron and zinc
- Very low in carbs
- Filling food for weight loss
Not to mention it has a better amino acid profile than meat. Although it lacks the RDI on Lysine.
I highly recommend looking into making your own seitan. Highly nutritious and can be made in so many different ways.
All it takes to make seitan is a few cups of vital wheat gluten. I prefer to use Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten due to it being cheap and readily available. You can buy it here on Amazon in a 4 pack or at your local Whole Foods.
If you want an excellent Seitan Steak please check out this recipe below:
Spirulina – 2 grams per teaspoon
You might be wondering, what is Spirulina?
“Spirulina is one of the oldest life forms on Earth. In fact, this blue-green microalgae is partly responsible for producing the oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere that billions of years ago allowed the planet’s originating life forms to develop.”
And it might have the craziest protein to volume ratio. For every teaspoon of Spirulina, you have 2 grams of protein. That comes to 96 grams of protein per cup!
Now before you jump out of your seat and go to the store and purchase your Spirulina, you have to realize there are a few conditions.
It only comes in the form of a supplemental powder. Meaning you can only get tiny bottles of it with a few servings.
Spirulina is not a food where you can eat a cup a day. And I doubt you would want to anyways.
Spirulina doesn’t taste the best, and those who have consumed large amounts of it have shown symptoms of an upset stomach.
That being said, taking one or two teaspoons of Spirulina a day has a wide range of benefits:
- Spirulina Is Extremely High in Many Nutrients
- Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
- Can Lower “Bad” LDL and Triglyceride Levels
- Protects “Bad” LDL Cholesterol From Oxidation
- May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
- May Reduce Blood Pressure
- Improves Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis
- May Be Effective Against Anemia
Spinach – 5 grams per 1 cup (cooked)
If it can work for Popeye, it will most certainly work for you.
Everybody knows about this superfood, but not enough people are consuming it.
Spinach is a delicious leafy green that contains a ton of iron and a decent amount of protein.
Possibly the most nutrient rich vegetable, spinach is a food I recommend you eat regularly.
Avocado – 4 grams per Avocado
Although I placed the avocado in the vegetable category, you might be surprised to know that it’s actually a fruit.
A great source for protein but also healthy fats, avocados are delicious.
You can make avocado toast, throw it into a grain bowl, or eat it straight out of the shell itself.
I personally love cutting the avocado in half, taking out the pit, and adding some vinaigrette and balsamic vinegar inside and just eating it straight with a spoon.
Although avocado does have protein, it only has 4 gram per medium sized avocado.
They are very filling foods so if your goal is to build muscle, I recommend using avocados for the calories and healthy fats rather than its protein.
Kale – 3 grams per 1 cup (chopped)
The final superfood on our list.
Kale is a delicious treat that I love adding to protein shakes.
Light and easy blend, just throw a few leaves of kale into your shake and you’ll see and feel all the benefits!
- Great for digestion
- High in iron and calcium
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Loaded with vitamins
- Powerful antioxidants
- Cardiovascular support
- Great for detox
Make no mistake, there are vegan sources of protein everywhere.
If you’re ever having trouble adding some more protein to your diet, look no further than this article.
Plant based proteins are clean, loaded with iron and vitamins, and have the largest range of health benefits that meat will never have.
I highly encourage you to add all or most of these foods on this list. These superfoods will give you the muscle and health without the cruelty from the meat and dairy industry.
In a world of ever growing change, it’s important to look not only how our diets impact our health, but how they impact the world.
Going vegan solves both of these problems and a whole lot more.
With that said, I hope you found this article helpful and you continue to strive and fight for your fitness, health, and diet goals!
Let’s do this!