When you work at Muscle & Fitness, two things are certain: You’re going to be immersed in gym culture, and you’re going to be working with guys who eat meat—a lot of it. If it once walked, crawled, flew, swam, or was hit by a Buick, these guys will eat it.

Truth is, the protein found in meat—whatever animal it comes from—reigns supreme when it comes to the diet of your average M&F staffer and reader.

In the race to build bigger muscles, everyone can agree that protein is the driving force that powers your body to the finish line. And most would also argue that meat— along with certain dairy products—is the preferred food for getting your fill. In the quest for protein, however, this is where a few of us jump ship and head for greener pastures.

Specifically, I’m talking about plant proteins. I’m not trying to convert carnivores with this. My only beef with some beef eaters is their quick condemnation of those who look beyond livestock for their protein fix. Believe me, it’s not easy ordering a black bean burger in the company of a bunch of guys who expect to see food with whip marks. From subtle digs to outright mockery, the response to my food selection continues to be a point of contention. I often think I would be judged less harshly if I ordered fried panda with a side of kitten.

broccoli on cutting board
Just know that a well-rounded, plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains can easily provide all the protein your body needs to build muscle. More important, according to numerous studies, including the landmark Adventist Health Study-2, people who eat a plant-based diet live longer, healthier lives. They have fewer cases of cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and are less likely to be overweight. And if your carbon footprint is important to you, you’ll leave a smaller one of those, too.

Research also shows that the risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease is 32% lower for vegetarians. Never mind the fact that you won’t have to worry about the next mad cow disease beef recall.

True, veggies might not be as satisfying to the palette, but they satisfy my nutritional needs, and more significantly, my soul. Plus, I’m in great shape. I’m lifting big weights and have conquered some brutal Spartan races. I’m continuing to add more lean muscle mass to my physique—all while on a plant-based diet.

This route is not for everyone, and that’s to be expected. But the world is changing, and as more men learn about the immense health benefits of plant-based nutrition, the more likely they’ll be able to accept it as a viable alternative to meat on occasion— or maybe even for good.