There's a popular perception that you can't kick butt in the weight room if you're a vegetarian. "You'll never build muscle mass," detractors say. "You won't get enough protein!" Well, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. My name is Robert dos Remedios, I'm the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at College of the Canyons in California, and I throw around more weight in a 40-minute workout than most people lift in four days. I've also been vegan for more than 20 years. Here are 21 veggie-friendly muscle-building foods that power my workouts.
This is my tasty grain-replacing sidekick. It's a great source of plant based calcium, protein (24 grams per cup) and fiber. And it's also safe for my gluten-free or Celiac peeps.
2. A High-Quality Pea, Rice and/or Hemp Protein Powder
This is my protein powder blend of choice. It's high in protein and fiber, low in carbs, and tastes great. I start and end my day with a protein shake made with this stuff.
These green guys are chock full of antioxidants and heart healthy fats - including saturated fats that help support the production of testosterone, the hormone you need to produce muscle. Avocados pretty much rule since they taste great on just about anything.
Related: 12 Yummy Avocado Recipes
4. Steel-Cut Oats
My favorite breakfast dish. Steel-cut oats are loaded with minerals, fiber, and protein. Combine them with coconut milk, crushed walnuts, and honey or Stevia (for sweetness), and you'll have a nutritionally potent vegetarian way to start your day.
I never leave the house without a handful of almonds in a baggie. They're great-tasting, and are high in fiber, protein, and minerals, making them the perfect snack for satisfying late-morning hunger.
6. Black Beans
In my opinion, black beans are the tastiest and most nutrient-packed bean around, hands down. They're one my all-time favorites, and I use them in black bean soup, on salads, and in a particularly awesome homemade black bean hummus.
This cruciferous veggie is nearly 40% protein and high in fiber and low in calories making it an awesome way to get a lot of nutrition out of food that's easy on the waistline. I enjoy dipping raw broccoli in hummus as a snack.
8. Coconut Milk
This milk is now readily available in a low-calorie, high nutrient product that tastes great in coffee, on cereal, or by the glass. Coconut milk is higher in calcium and lower in calories than traditional milk and generally fortified with plant-based B-12. I drink a glass of coconut milk everyday with a raw food protein bar as a mid day snack.
9. Sweet Potatoes
Call me boring, but I just love eating basked sweet potatoes plain. Seriously, try it. You could also cut them up and fry them with onions, mushrooms, and garlic for a ridiculously delicious breakfast potato dish. Added bonus: Sweet potatoes are a great source of potassium, vitamins A and C, and fiber.
Seitan is sometimes called "wheat meat" because it's derived from wheat protein and can be made into amazing "mock" meats that are comparable to steak in protein content but far lower in calories – and have virtually none of the fat. I slice it and stir fry it to create a vegan Buddha's feast.
It generally goes without saying but green leafy veggies probably have the most concentrated nutrition of any food you can find. Replace lettuce in your salads and sandwiches with spinach and you'll be adding extra protein, iron and fiber to your diet.
12. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds provide a terrific amount of Omega-3's, which fight inflammation and help speed muscle recovery, and may also help improve muscle protein synthesis (the process by which your body produces muscle). These extremely versatile seeds can be easily added to a shake, and even can be used as an oil substitute when baking.
13. Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)
The black bean's little white counterpart is also packed with nutrients, protein, fiber, and antioxidants. My favorite garbanzo dish? Try them mixed with cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar for an awesome Chickpea salad.
14. Brown Rice
Brown rice has 3 more grams of fiber per serving than white rice, so I stick with the darker option whenever possible. It's especially good if you're rolling some homemade sushi.
15. Natural Peanut Butter
Most processed peanut butter like you'll find at the grocery store are stuffed with added sugars and other junk that take away from this food's natural goodness. Stay away from those, and instead opt for the natural kind, which is high in fiber and protein. Want a great sweet tooth remedy? Try a natty PB and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread.
Related: Which Type of Nut Butter Is Best?
Walnuts are another great source of Omega-3's, and are also packed with Vitamin E - a powerful antioxidant that can help your muscles recovery from tough gym sessions. They make a great addition to oatmeal and shakes, but are also delicious on their lonesome.
17. Collard Greens
Another nutrient-dense stalwart in the green leafy veggie family, collard greens are like eating a potent multivitamin: They're packed with vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, as well as Folate. Try them as wraps for your favorite sandwiches.
Super low in calories, cauliflower is loaded with vitamins and is about 30 percent protein. I always keep cooked-mashed cauliflower in my refrigerator to use as a mashed potato substitute.
These legumes are a protein powerhouses, that we often use around our dinner table on salads or as a grain replacer. Lentils are another great source of fiber.
20. Portobello Mushrooms
These substantial mushrooms make great "meat replacers" in burgers or on sandwiches. Portobello mushrooms taste amazing, and are close to a whopping 50 percent protein while also providing fiber and a host of other nutrients. Try taking a big one marinating it in a little oil and balsamic vinegar, and tossing it on the grill.
I throw peas in my stir-frys, salads, and spaghetti sauces. But I'll even eat them straight when I want to get a protein-packed, high fiber, vitamin- and mineral- filled food in my system.