9 high-protein vegetarian meals to help you build muscle

It wasn't long ago that people believed that in order to build a lot of muscle you had to follow a meat-heavy diet. We now know that this is not the case, and vegetarian sources of protein can be used in a variety of exciting, healthy, and delicious meals.

Why is protein important?

Whether you're interested in building muscle or not, consuming enough protein is important. Protein is an essential macronutrient - a nutrient that your body needs in large amounts - that your body needs to function.

Made up of amino acids, protein plays a key role in the growth and repair of cells and tissues. This includes muscle mass, in a process known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Thanks to MPS, the tiny muscle tissue tears that exercising your muscles creates are then repaired and maintained by amino acids.

If you regularly strength train, MPS is what creates stronger and larger muscles over time. How much protein you need to support your muscle-building exercise regime will depend on factors such as your age, weight, and height, and how often you work out.

On the flip side, if you're not eating enough protein, the amino acids in your muscles will be 'stolen' and reallocated to maintain cells elsewhere in your body. This can result in muscle loss and weakness.

Among many other important jobs, protein also has an essential role to play in bone health, digestive health, hormone regulation, and the process that carries oxygen around your body.

How to get protein as a vegetarian

Traditionally, a protein-rich diet was once thought to amount to a meat-heavy diet. Now that there is more research into plant-based diets, experts agree that many vegetarian meals can provide all the nutrients a person needs, including enough protein to build muscle.

There are various healthy vegetarian sources of protein:

  • Grains and pulses - eg, lentils, beans, chickpeas.
  • Dairy - eg, milk, cheese, yoghurt.
  • Soya and tofu - eg, soya beans, soy milk, tempeh.
  • Nuts and seeds - eg, almonds, cashews, flaxseeds.
  • Eggs.

In fact, when nutritionally balanced, vegetarian and vegan diets are believed to be "healthful and nutritionally adequate", and are associated with a lower risk of many health conditions, including 'heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), certain types of cancer, and obesity'.

You might also wish to support your high-protein diet with plant-based protein supplements, although it's important to note that these supplements shouldn't be taken as a replacement for food protein.

High-protein vegetarian meals

1. Butternut squash, feta, and tomato open omelette

1. Butternut squash, feta, and tomato open omelette

Omelettes make great high-protein vegetarian meals because eggs are a 'complete' protein source. This means that they contain all the amino acids that your body needs. This recipe makes for a great breakfast or lunch, as butternut squash, spinach, and tomatoes contain fibre which will help to keep you energised for muscle-building exercises.

Get the recipe here

2. Cottage cheese breakfast bowl

2. Cottage cheese breakfast bowl

This healthy vegetarian breakfast contains 29 grams (g) of protein per serving. Cottage cheese is rich in protein as well as in other important nutrients such as calcium and vitamins B12 and B6. Chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, and berries further top up the protein content and contain healthy fats which will boost your energy levels throughout the morning.

Get the recipe here

3. Protein powder pancakes

3. Protein powder pancakes

Another way to pack protein into your breakfast is to add protein powder to your morning pancakes. This recipe provides 31 g of protein and contains natural and healthy food sources of protein from eggs, oats, and bananas. This is an easy vegetarian treat that only takes 15 minutes to make.

Get the recipe here

4. Spring green fried rice eggs

4. Spring green fried rice eggs

This speedy 15-minute recipe includes three protein-rich eggs and healthy spring greens. Spinach is a spring green that provides a good amount of protein. Topping your fried rice with sesame seeds also increases the protein content of this vegetarian lunch meal while adding a nutty flavour and a bit of crunch.

Get the recipe here

5. Lentil kale burger

5. Lentil kale burger

The lentils, walnuts, and linseeds (also called flaxseeds) in this meat-free burger are great sources of protein. Instead of serving this healthy vegetarian dinner with frozen chips, make this comfort food meal even more nutritious with homemade sweet potato fries.

Get the recipe here

6. Seitan and black bean stir-fry

6. Seitan and black bean stir-fry

This low-calorie vegetarian meal is a great weeknight dinner option, especially if your goal is to burn fat in a healthy way while also building muscle. If you haven't come across seitan before, this is a meat substitute made from gluten, the main protein found in wheat. Black beans and peanut butter also have high-protein contents.

Get the recipe here

7. Lentil, chickpea, and spinach curry

7. Lentil, chickpea, and spinach curry

Protein-rich chickpeas and lentils make a great base for high-protein vegetarian meals. They are also high in fibre, which can help you feel fuller for longer. This tasty dinner recipe also makes use of herbs, spices, and curry paste in replacement of ready-made curry sauce - a healthier way to add flavour without having high saturated fat or salt content.

Get the recipe here

8. Baked ratatouille and goat's cheese

8. Baked ratatouille and goat's cheese

Goat's cheese is a good source of protein and is also packed with more vitamins and minerals when compared to cow cheeses. This recipe also contains three of your 5-a-day and is made with passata which is also loaded with nutrients and makes a rich tomato sauce base.

Get the recipe here

9. Bengali red split lentil dal

9. Bengali red split lentil dal

This dal is ready in just 15 minutes and makes a great side dish to many vegetarian dinner recipes, especially curries, rice, and salad bowls. The main ingredient is lentils, which are high in protein and iron, and low in fat. This dal is also spiced with turmeric, which contains iron, magnesium, fibre, potassium, and vitamins C and B6.

Get the recipe here

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