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Building muscle with one kidney: 5 tips for incorporating plant proteins into your diet

Updated: Apr 24

Learn more about eating more plant-based proteins may be a key to fueling muscle growth while supporting kidney health.

When it comes to building muscle with just one kidney, choosing the right protein sources is crucial. Animal proteins, like those found in meat and dairy, contain high levels of nitrogen, which can put extra stress on the kidneys. For someone with only one kidney, this added strain can be a concern.

Plant-based proteins offer a gentler alternative. Animal proteins can produce higher nitrogen waste in the body, placing added pressure on the kidneys—or, in my case, kidney. On the other hand, plant proteins have lower nitrogen levels and are easier for the kidney to process. They also contain calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C, which help reduce the acidity of meals. This can decrease the risk of kidney damage over time, making them a good choice for supporting kidney health while still meeting muscle-building needs.

Recent research has shown that certain plant-based proteins can be just as effective as animal proteins for promoting muscle growth. For example, soy protein (think tofu and edamame) has been found to have similar muscle-building benefits to whey protein, a popular animal-derived protein supplement. And plant-based proteins offer a range of other health advantages—they are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can promote overall well-being and reduce the risk of other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

5 nutrition strategies for building muscle with one kidney on a plant-based diet

Incorporating plant-based proteins into your diet doesn't have to be tricky. With options like beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds, you've got plenty to choose from. Adding a mix of these foods to your meals and snacks ensures you're getting all the essential amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle tissue. Follow these five strategies, and you'll be well on your way to building muscle with one kidney while sticking to a plant-based diet.

1. Eat protein with every meal. Make sure to include a source of protein in each meal throughout the day. This keeps your muscles fueled and supports muscle repair and growth.

2. Choose complete proteins. Incorporate complete plant-based protein sources into your meals. These include foods like quinoa, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy products. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids your body needs for muscle building.

3. Combine "incomplete" proteins. Despite common myths, research shows that all plant foods are complete proteins. However, unlike animal-based sources, some plant proteins may have limited amounts of certain essential amino acids. These foods include beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Pair them together strategically to ensure you're getting all essential amino acids (think beans with rice or whole grains with legumes).

4. Prioritize protein-rich snacks. Snack on protein-rich foods like nuts, seeds, nut butter on whole grain toast, or hummus with veggies to keep your protein intake consistent throughout the day.

5. Include plenty of plant-based whole foods. Make sure you're getting plenty of other nutrients by including a variety of plant-based whole foods in your diet. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support overall health and muscle function.


Full disclaimer: I am not a vegan or vegetarian. While I do incorporate plant proteins into my diet, I get most of my protein from chicken, egg whites, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese. Still, I'd be remiss if I did not explore how to maximize muscle growth on a plant-based diet for someone with only one kidney.

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