8 Must Have Muscle Building Veggies

8 Must Have Muscle Building Veggies

Keeping active and looking for a little plant-based muscle? Whoever said that you needed meat to gain muscle, didn’t have these eight muscle building veggies in their corner.  Adding these favorites to your diet will help you to fuel your better, maximize energy mid-workout, reduce recovery time post-workout, achieve strength gains and improve body composition.

  1. Peas: Source of BCAAs and Glutamine
    Why: Yellow and split peas offer not only a source of easily digested plant-protein, but also contain specific muscle building amino acids (especially branched chain amino acids and glutamine) that stimulate protein synthesis post-workout.How to Use: Recover post-workout with a plant-based protein powder that uses a multisource blend including pea protein, such as Vega Sport Performance Protein with 5grams BCAAs. Or add split peas to homemade chili, stir-fry, or stew.
  2. Beets and Beet Greens: Source of Dietary Nitrates and Antioxidants
    Why: In conditions of low oxygen availability (such as intense exercise), dietary nitrates in beets are converted to nitric oxide which enhances vascular function1. This helps improve your tolerance to strenuous exercise and can help you train harder for greater strength gains. Beet greens are also rich in vitamin A and C, both powerful antioxidants.How to Use: Use grated beets as a hearty salad garnish, or try adding between 1/4 – 1/2 cup diced raw beets to a smoothie. Beets pair well with chocolate protein powders and frozen berries. Try it (along with the beet greens!) in this Whole Beet Smoothie.


  3. Spinach: Source of Arginine
    Why: While we might not think of our leafy greens as a rich source of protein, spinach is a good source of the amino acid arginine, which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce and secrete human growth hormone, which in turn increases metabolism2.How to Use: Create a meal with 25grams of complete protein by lightly sautéing in coconut oil 1 cup each of: cooked grains (such as quinoa or brown rice), cooked legumes (such as lentils or black beans), and fresh spinach. Toss in your favorite herbs or spices to season. Serve in a bowl with sliced avocado or olives to garnish.
  4. Chlorella: Source of Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF)
    Why: Grown in pristine freshwater ponds on Japanese coral islands, chlorella is a dark green microalgae. Unique to chlorella is a compound called chlorella growth factor (CGF) which contains amino acids, vitamins, and nucleic acids benefitting cellular regeneration. Chlorella also contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.How to Use: Easily disguise it in blended smoothies (add up to 1 teaspoon), or try it in this Matcha Green Tea lemonade for a hydrating and energizing boost, great during patio season.
  5. Spirulina: Source of Amino Acids used in Metabolism
    Why: Spirulina is blue-green algae which contains amino acids (including arginine) and is a source of vitamin B6, required for the metabolism of carbs, proteins and fats3. Additionally B6 is used in converting amino acids into useable forms by the body. A valuable nutrient for any athlete with a higher protein diet.How to Use: Rotate in your diet alongside chlorella, using either sea vegetable interchangeably
  6. Microgreens and Sprouts: Sources of Anti-inflammatory Phytonutrients
    Why: Rich in enzymes which support digestion, sprouts are especially helpful for absorbing amino acids from protein in your diet. Additionally, sprouts contain many phytonutrients benefiting muscle recovery, such as sulforaphane and glucoraphanin, found in broccoli sprouts, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.4 

    How to Use: Add sprouts to wraps, sandwiches and burgers.

  7. Herbs: Parsley, Chives and Leeks: Sources of Lysine
    Why: Herbs such as parsley, chives and leeks not only add flavor in your meals, but also boost the amount of lysine in your diet. Lysine is an amino acid that helps support the growth of connective tissues found in your tendons and cartilage5. This helps your joints recover well from heavy lifting, or high impact workouts.How to Use: Garnish your meals with diced parsley or chives, and add leeks to sautéed vegetable dishes.
  8. Barley and Wheat Grass: Sources of Carotenoids and Minerals
    Why: These edible grasses contain mixed carotenoids (powerful antioxidants) which reduce cellular aging and keep your tissues looking healthy. They also both contain minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium which play a crucial role in muscle function, as well as the ability of your blood to carry oxygen to working muscles. This benefits your stamina mid workout for improved strength gains.How to Use: Try boosting your smoothies with a shot of fresh, frozen, or dried wheat grass or barley grass juice.

Incorporating these foods doesn’t have to be intimidating. Many can be combined in one meal to be efficient, like in a salad, smoothie or wrap. Aim to include each food throughout the week, having at least one food off this list daily.

Looking for a few more tips and tricks on how to keep fit on a plant-based diet? Click here for free Running and Strength Training Plans, Recipes, Playlists and more


  1. Jones AM. Dietary Nitrate Supplementation and Exercise Performance. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2014; 44 (Suppl 1): 35-45. Published May 3, 2014. Accessed online Sept 1st 2014,    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008816/
  2. Haas EM. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. 21st Century Edition. Ten Speed Press.
  3. Kalafati M et al. (2010). Ergogenic and Antioxidant Effects of Spirulina Supplementation in Humans. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 42(1):142-151
  4. Alternative Medicine Review. (2010). Sulforaphone Glucosinolate Monograph. Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutics,. P. 352-357
  5. Haas EM. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. 21st Century Edition. Ten Speed Press.

Emma Andrews

Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified in Plant Based Cooking, and National Educator at Vega
Emma Andrews is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified in Plant Based Cooking, and National Educator at Vega. Based in Vancouver BC Canada, Emma is an avid endurance runner and cross training addict, who works with athletes (from the everyday to the elite) in optimizing their energy, longevity, and sport performance through natural foods and plant based supplements. Learn more about her work at http://myvega.com/team/emma-andrews-rhn/ or connect with her on social @emmamazing_life

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