The Ultimate Vegan Diet Plan for Bodybuilding and Athletic Performance
Vegan bodybuilding and plant-based fitness are becoming more popular every day.
Contrary to the outdated paradigm of traditional bodybuilding, going meat-free doesn’t mean you can’t build muscle or achieve your fitness goals. Instead, science is showing that eating a plant-based diet might be one of the best ways to reach them faster.
Although the mainstream fitness community seems to believe that bodybuilders must consume copious amounts of “superior” animal protein to bulk up, countless vegan bodybuilders have developed strong, sexy physiques while eating only plant-based foods.
If you’re a looking to build more lean muscle by way of a vegan bodybuilding diet, this article is the resource you need to get started.
Why Simply Cutting Out Meat Isn’t Enough
For the vegan novice, it’s easy to think that all it takes to gain the abs of your dreams is to cut out eggs and cheese in favor of cherished snack foods instead. However, this style of diet is more like to add on flab than fabulous muscle tone. To bulk up with veganism, you’ll need to follow a healthy, whole foods diet that gives your body exactly what it needs to thrive.
Crafting a vegan bodybuilding diet that works for you isn’t rocket science, but it does take some basic knowledge, motivation, and attention to detail. In this article, I will demystify the vegan bodybuilding diet and bikini competition diet and break it down into its most essential elements. Beyond the myths and the hype, here’s what bodybuilders should know about building muscle the vegan way.
Guidelines for Vegan Bodybuilding Nutrition
Starting a vegan bodybuilding routine isn’t as tricky as you might expect. The good news is that the core bodybuilding diet guidelines are the same for vegan and omnivores alike. In fact, the only difference is that all of the protein sources in a vegan diet are non-meat, non-dairy, and are free from animal byproducts.
Below are ten tips for following a healthy, highly effective vegan bodybuilding diet.
1. Get Sufficient Calories
When using a vegan bodybuilding diet, getting enough calories is critical.
An average plant-based vegan diet has a much lower calorie content than a conventional diet, meaning vegans should closely monitor their levels. If you don’t consume enough calories, your body can shift into a catabolic state, meaning it devours itself for energy. The larger the calorie deficit, the more your body will fuel itself on existing muscle tissue instead. In other words, without consuming enough calories your hard-earned muscle mass will slowly waste away.
For peak form, bodybuilders should strive for 15 to 20 calories per pound of bodyweight, and then adjust that number based on noticeable gains or losses at the gym.
2. Keep Your Protein Levels High
Of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) the one that seems to matter most to bodybuilders is protein. This sometimes leads to stress for vegan athletes. Will your diet provide enough protein to keep you bulking up? The answer is yes, so long as you track your levels.
Any fitness dietary plan needs to contain a full menu of proteins from a variety of sources. For instance, experienced vegan bodybuilders can combine multiple protein powders derived from hemp, brown rice, and peas to form complete proteins.
There are plenty of ways to get the protein you need on a vegan diet. Dozens of delicious options for vegan protein sources abound, many of which are complete proteins. Examples include peanut butter sandwiches on Ezekiel bread, quinoa, hummus, and chia.
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.
Need Meals on the Go? Turn Towards Vegan Protein Powders!
Let’s be real. Eating a vegan diet is not always convenient, especially when traveling or dining out. And even when you have the good fortune of finding a vegan meal, it’s usually not as high as necessary in vegetarian proteins.
Even so, there’s no real reason to stress about finding convenient protein. With the explosion of vegan protein powder options today, it’s easier than ever to have access to on-the-go protein!
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.
Best of all, protein powders are cost effective. Look for powders that are sourced with multiple proteins to better ensure the spectrum of amino acids needed for muscle growth.
3. Keep Omega 3 Levels High with 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.
For this reason, ground flax is the perfect omega 3 source for your diet. It has a fantastic fiber profile and can be easier on the digestive system than flax seed oil. To experience the best results, you can take ground when you wake up, after training, and before bed.
4. Take Vegan BCAA
Vegan BCAA can help protect your muscles from the catabolic effects of 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.
For the bodybuilding benefits, 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.
5. Stay Away from Spirulina for B12
One of the biggest misconceptions in vegan bodybuilding circles is that spirulina contains significant B12. While this is true in a way, it’s not useful to us.
It turns out that spirulina and tempeh contain mostly analogs of B12. Herbert  reports that tests on tempeh, a fermented soy product, and spirulina revealed that they contained almost no true B12.
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.
The presence of analogs, rather than true B12, makes them unreliable sources for B12.
6. Consume Nuts for Fuel
It’s always a smart idea to add these power-packed snacks to your arsenal. Consuming nuts (and nut butter) provides a long-lasting form of energy. They’re also a much-needed source of healthy fat.
Because of how convenient they are to eat, nuts are also a great way to quickly boost your calorie intake. I carry a bag of lightly salted almonds in my backpack at all times.
7. Swap Rice for Quinoa
Rice is a staple of the vegan bodybuilding diet, so an effective method for boost your protein and nutritional intake is to simply swap 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.
Even better, quinoa tastes (and feels) similar to brown rice and should leave your taste buds just as satisfied.
8. Choose Healthy Drinks
There’s no reason to fill your body with unnecessary calories from sugary drinks. I keep things simple with coffee, tea, water, and protein shakes and drink roughly 2.0 to 2.5 liters of fluids each day. One way I gauge if I’m drinking enough fluid is that I make sure that my urine is pale yellow to clear.
If you are getting ready for a bodybuilding, bikini competition or photo shoot, your fluid needs should go up quite a bit and based on what your trainer suggests.
9. Utilize Vegan Bodybuilding Supplements
No conversation about a bodybuilding diet would be complete without talking about supplements. Nutritional supplements have become practically a requirement for competitive bodybuilders these days, and the industry has shown few signs of trending away from them.
Rice protein and hemp protein are excellent sources of vegan protein that can easily replace whey and other animal-sourced products in shakes. But ultimately, the best vegan protein powder is made with multiple proteins to ensure the spectrum of amino acids needed to build muscle.
Garden of Life, Vega, and PlantFusion (get them here) produce some excellent protein blends that skip the meat and go straight for the muscle.
10. Address Deficiencies Before They Become Damaging
When using a vegan bodybuilding diet, getting sufficient nutrients is critical.
It’s a good idea to vary the foods in your diet, as this will help prevent nutrient deficiencies. This goes without saying for any bodybuilder. Also, keeping lots of variety in your diet makes eating more enjoyable.
Pay special attention to these common vegan deficiencies:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
If you’re feeling that your body is low on one or more of these nutrients, make sure to start taking a nutritional supplement that will get you back on track.
Vegan Diet Plan Tips
Beyond the kinds of food you eat, the amount, timing, and way you eat it will make a difference in how fast you hit your bodybuilding goals. Below are some tips for getting the most out of your food so that you can put it to work for you.
1. Eat Directly Before and After Workouts
Many vegan bodybuilders focus on main meals and don’t pay much attention to the snacks in between them. This is a mistake. Snacks are immediate sources of energy for your workouts and your recovery, and the snacks you choose at specific times make a huge difference in your performance and how you feel later on.
The best pre- and post-workout snacks are a healthy mix of protein and carbs. Light carbs like bananas, dates, and apples are great before your workout. When you’re done at the gym, enjoy a pick me up of carrots with hummus or protein shakes with vegan protein powder.
2. Monitor Your Body Weight and Body Fat
Since most vegans are concerned with lean muscle mass and not losing it, be sure take effective measurements.
This means you should be regularly measuring your body fat levels and comparing it to overall body weight in order to achieve a more accurate assessment of your progress in the gym than stepping on the scale alone.
3. Keep a Food Journal
The key to your success in adopting a vegan bodybuilding diet is not necessarily food intake – it’s about having an accurate awareness of what you eat. Human memory alone is not a reliable source for this kind of awareness. Instead, you need to take meticulous notes in a food journal.
To keep a proper food journal, you need to write down every sip of water and every crumb of food you consume throughout the day. Anything less is wasting your time. While it may seem like a pain at first, the process becomes effortless after a few days.
As a beginning vegan bodybuilder, you’re flying blind in a storm without this information. It’s simply too easy otherwise to have a misleading impression of what you’re actually eating and what’s actually working.
Sample Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plans
Ideally, a vegan bodybuilding diet consists of 5-6 smaller meals. This gives your body a timely and consistent supply of nutrients for muscle repair and growth. It also keeps blood sugar levels more balanced.
Here are two days of sample meal plans to get you started for the week. Each one is packed with power and 100% vegan.
Meal Plan Day 1
- Vegan protein shake, banana, 2 tablespoons of natural almond butter
- Bowl of lentil soup, cucumber salad with cherry tomatoes and avocado, 1 baked sweet potato
- Veggie burger, kale salad with handful of pumpkin seeds, apple
- Edamame & quinoa wrap with sweet ginger dressing, banana, vegan protein shake
- Before bed
- Vegan protein shake, 1 tablespoon of natural almond butter
Meal Plan Day 2
- Bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, vegan protein shake
- Apple, handful of grapes, handful of strawberries, 1 cucumber
- Large salad with mixed greens
- Mixed beans with artichokes and sprouts
- Vegan protein shake
- Celery sticks with natural almond butter
- Veggie burrito with quinoa, beans, and avocado
- Small side salad with mixed greens
- Before bed
- Vegan protein shake, mixed nuts
Tying It All Together
No matter which foods you settle on for your daily meals, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting plenty of variety to supply your body with a full array of muscle-building nutrients and protein sources.
With these meal plan recommendations and diet plan tips in mind, you should be more than equipped to start planning your healthy vegan meals. The overwhelming health and fitness benefits of a plant-based diet are undeniable, so now is the time to give vegan bodybuilding everything you’ve got!
Other Vegan Diet Plans for Bodybuilding:
About the author Chris Willitts has 20 years experience of Bodybuilding and eating a vegan diet. He is also a writer for Fitness Magazine and Vegan Health. He has been studying at the University of Michigan.