Vegan bodybuilding and plant-based fitness are becoming more popular every day.
Contrary to an outdated paradigm in bodybuilding, going meat-free doesn’t mean you can’t build muscle or achieve your fitness goals.
If you’re a looking to build more lean muscle by way of eating more plants or a vegan bodybuilding diet, we have some great tips for you!
1. Address Deficiencies
When using a vegan bodybuilding diet, getting sufficient nutrients is critical.
Pay special attention to these common vegan deficiencies:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
2. Utilize Vegan Protein Powders
When using a vegan bodybuilding diet, getting enough protein is critical.
Vegan protein powders, for many, are a game changer.
Consuming two to three protein shakes a day will dramatically boost your protein intake, without excessive carbs. This is what helped me dial in my macros and turned my muscle building game around.
And it’s super convenient and cost effective. Look for powders that are sourced with multiple proteins to better ensure the spectrum of amino acids needed for muscle growth.
3. Get Sufficient Calories
When using a vegan bodybuilding diet, getting enough calories is critical.
A healthy plant-based vegan diet has much lower calorie content than a typical meat-eating diet. If you don’t consume enough calories, your body can shift into a catabolic state. This means your body is basically wasting away. The larger the calorie deficit, the more your body may feed on your existing muscle tissue for fuel.
4. Supplement Flax Seed Powder
Bodybuilders and athletes know that getting enough omega-3s is critical.
Consuming a lot of plants can get us close to the amount of omega-3s a vegan athlete needs, but supplementing for good measure is a good idea.
Also, ground flax has fantastic fiber profile and can be easier on the digestive system than flax seed oil. You can take this when you wake up, after training, and before bed.
5. Take Vegan BCAA
Vegan BCAA can help protect your muscles from the catabolic effects from a low-calorie diet and can help you gain mass. According to a 2010 study published in Med Science Sports Exercise, BCAA reduces muscle soreness after intense training.
Try taking five to 10 grams of BCAA with breakfast, five to 10 grams immediately before and after training, and five to 10 grams before bed.
6. Consume Nuts for Fuel
You’ll definitely want to add this power-packed snack to your arsenal. Consuming nuts (and nut butters) provides a long-lasting form of energy. They’re a much needed source of healthy fat.
This is also a great way to quickly boost your calorie intake, especially since they’re super-convenient: I carry a bag of lightly salted almonds in my backpack at all times.
7. Make Meals From Tempeh, Chickpeas, and Legumes
Tempeh is one of the most overlooked sources of vegan protein, but once you try it a few times, you may prefer it over tofu. Chickpeas and other legumes can provide a filling, low-fat source of protein and carbohydrates.
These should become staples for making protein-packed meals that are filling and loaded with nutrition.
8. Vary Your Vegan Diet
Vary the foods in your diet, as this will help prevent nutrient deficiencies. This goes without saying for any bodybuilder. Also, variety in one’s diet makes eating more enjoyable.
9. Monitor Body Weight and Body Fat
Since most vegans are concerned with lean muscle mass and not losing it, be sure take effective measurements.
By this, I mean that you should be regularly measuring your body fat levels and comparing it to overall body weight. This will provide a more accurate assessment of your progress in the gym than stepping on the scale alone.
10. Don’t Take Spirulina for B12
One of the biggest misconceptions in vegan bodybuilding circles is that spirulina contain significant B12. In a way this is true, but not in a way that’s useful to us.
The problem here that this claim has been supported by lab tests for B12 based on the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) assay methods. Unfortunately, as explained in Herbert et al.  and Herbert , the USP assay method for B12 is unreliable.
Spirulina and tempeh contain mostly analogues of B12. Herbert  reports that tests on tempeh, a fermented soy product, and spirulina revealed that they contained almost no true B12.
The presence of analogues, rather than true B12, in fermented foods makes them unreliable sources for B12.
11. Swap Rice for Quinoa
Rice is a staple of the vegan bodybuilding diet, so here’s an effective method to boost your protein and nutritional intake. Simply swap your rice for quinoa.
Quinoa has higher quality protein and is a complete source of protein, whereas brown rice is not. Quinoa is gluten-free and contains calcium, B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin E, and fiber.
And the good news is that it tastes (and feels) similar to brown rice and shouldn’t throw your taste buds off.
12. Journal Your Diet
The key to your success adopting a vegan bodybuilding diet is not necessarily food intake – it’s also having an accurate awareness of what you eat. Human memory alone is not a reliable source for the kind of awareness required. For this, we need to take meticulous notes in a food journal.
Write down every sip of water and every crumb of food you consume throughout the day. Otherwise you are wasting your time. It may seem like a pain in the butt at first, but it becomes effortless after a few days.
As a beginner, without this precise information, you’re flying blind in a storm without radar. It’s simply too easy to have a misleading impression of what you’re actually eating and what’s actually working.
Vegan Bodybuilding Tips from the Pros
Torre Washington (four-time vegan bodybuilding champion) suggests:
“People ask me about protein, nutrients, and how many carbohydrates I get everyday because they want specifics. But I never track any of these things. Some days I eat three times a day, and other times I eat five times.
“Overall, I just continue to work out and eat a variety of healthy vegan foods. I believe in keeping it simple and not complicating things. Eat to live, and don’t live to eat. Eat nutrient-dense foods, sleep a lot, and drink water. Don’t eat empty calories.”
Mike Mahler (vegan strength coach) suggests:
“Make sure that you eat a variety of food to get a full array of muscle building amino acids. Some examples of good combinations include: black beans and quinoa, lentils and brown rice, almond butter sandwich, rice protein/soy milk shake, green peas and almonds.”
“Have some veggie burgers and other fake meat products from time to time, but make sure that the majority of your diet comes from fresh organic food.”
Derek Tresize (competitive vegan bodybuilder) suggests:
“To put together a mass-gaining meal plan based on plant foods the objectives are no different than they are on any diet.
“To build muscle you will need a calorie surplus (eating more calories than you burn metabolically and through exercise) from healthy whole food sources like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/nuts, and getting plenty of protein.”
“You will also need to create the demand for more muscle through hard training and adequate recovery. Lastly, you will need to these things consistently, day in and day out, for long enough that a change can take place. Great physiques take time and commitment.”
Take Away Message
A vegan bodybuilding diet doesn’t have to be some mysterious or elusive concept. The two things that made a difference for me was getting enough protein and calories. Vegan protein shakes with healthy oils came in handy for this.
That said, all of these tips are important. Also, you should avoid processed foods as much as possible. “Food” should be ingredients, not chemicals.
A growing number of famous bodybuilders and athletes are having great success adopting a vegan bodybuilding diet. Go slowly and take a few simple steps, and you can get the hang of it as well.