A shift is starting in mainstream nutrition. Health-conscious bodybuilders and athletes are moving towards vegan diets for building muscle.
Vegan bodybuilding is all the rage these days.
As concerns over environmental damage, health effects, and animal cruelty associated with factory farming continue to grow, many laypersons, health professionals, and athletes are advocating a shift to plant-based nutrition.
Among their ranks are professional vegan bodybuilders like Torre Washington, vegan bikini competitor Samantha Shorkey and former Ms. Bikini Universe Marzia Prince, vegan strongman competitors like world record holder Patrik Baboumiam, and vegan professional athletes like David Carter (defensive lineman – Oakland Raiders). These athletes and others like them are giving us a glimpse at the future of fitness….and the future looks plant-based.
Clearly, professional vegan athletes are kicking some serious butt on the world’s stage.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, the greatest bodybuilder of all time, recently made a statement about how we should try to go part-time vegetarian.
If you’re ready to take your bodybuilding to the next level, follow the advice of the pros and give a vegan diet a try. You might be amazed at the difference.
The Basics of Vegan Muscle-Building
When you look at the facts, a vegan bodybuilding diet makes lots of sense. In fact, it’s not that different from a meat-based bodybuilding plan.
To build muscle (or to lose fat), the meal plan for a vegan and a meat-eater are essentially the same in terms of nutrient and caloric intake. It all boils down to dialing in your macronutrient intake to the right ratio, based on your fitness goals (and physical/biological status).
Essentially, there are three steps for building muscle mass with vegan foods.
- First, building muscle requires taking in a protein and caloric surplus (eating more calories than you burn metabolically and through exercise) from healthy whole food sources like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/nuts.
- Second, you will also need to create the demand for more muscle through intense weight training.
- Finally, you will need adequate rest to fully heal and recover (rest is when we technically get stronger).
What is a Whole-food, Plant-based Diet?
The key to successful veganism isn’t shoving your face with chips and Oreos instead of steak, instead, it’s all about eating a plant-based, whole-food diet filled with all the nutrients your body craves.
In essence, a whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains—and it excludes (or minimizes) meat, dairy, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.
The key to success with a plant-based diet is knowing your daily macronutrient needs. Planned meals with appropriate macronutrient ratios will build strength and muscle for most bodybuilders and athletes, regardless of their diet. When a variety of whole foods of sufficient quantity is consumed daily, vegetarian bodybuilders easily can meet their macronutrient requirements from plant-based sources.
How Many Calories Do I Need?
Daily calorie requirements for bodybuilders will vary depending on your age, weight, fitness goals and gender.
Here’s an example:
- Age: 35
- Sex: Male
- Height: 6’0”
- Activity: 5+ days per week
- Goal: Gain 2lbs of muscle per week
This person should consume 4,184 calories.
To calculate your daily calories, visit: MyPlate Calculator
How Much Fat Should I Consume?
Fat is essential for many body functions, including hormone production. A good rule is to consume 0.5 grams (or less) of fat per pound of bodyweight. For our 210lb vegetarian bodybuilder, this means 105g or a little lower is ideal (no lower than 75g or 80g).
Again, the goal here is to target whole foods as your source. Fats from nuts, seeds, and especially avocados are ideal.
Protein Needs for Vegan Bodybuilders
A major concern for many bodybuilders contemplating going vegan is protein. Top athletes frequently worry that plant-based foods won’t provide them with enough, but creating a muscle-building vegan meal plan is easier than you think.
People always ask me how I get my protein and then look at me funny when I tell them, “Food.”
A vegan diet of dark green, leafy vegetables, fruits, rice, or pasta provides protein levels more than sufficient to add or maintain muscle, although creatine and iron may need to be supplemented. Plant-based protein powders are also high-quality sources of protein and can help fill in the gaps for vegetarian bodybuilders.
Consumption of plant protein, as opposed to animal protein, has also been shown to have positive benefits like retarding cancer, reducing atherosclerosis, increasing insulin sensitivity (preventing fat gain), and protecting against degenerative diseases.
The idea is to consume more protein-dense whole foods like seeds, nuts, beans, and whole grains. They tend to be the most calorie-dense plant foods, and calories are a precious part of the equation when it comes to vegetarian bodybuilding.
Most vegan foods contain protein, and so long as you eat enough throughout the day, you will get all the amino acids required to build muscle. From there, you can simply supplement your protein (and macronutrient) deficit with protein shakes like many other bodybuilders.
How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle?
To build muscle with a vegan diet, you should start with one gram of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 210lbs and want to weigh 220lb, try to consume 220 grams of protein daily (your kidneys will be fine).
“I know vegan bodybuilders who need more protein, and I know some that need less. It’s about discovering your personal numbers to hit through meticulous journaling.”
Keep in mind that the average person who doesn’t train hard and doesn’t put the same physical demand on the body needs much less protein.
For an extra boost of protein, you’ll love this meatless recipe that I engineered for vegan bodybuilders and athletes: Veggie Chili Recipe That Helps Muscle Soreness.
Should I Use Vegan Protein Powders?
Yes, but do your research and be selective.
If you sift through some labels, you may notice that some protein powders use ingredients (chemicals, preservatives, etc.) that resemble a science fiction cocktail you would feed an alien. In other words, some protein powders are healthier than others, and the best ones are mostly derived from whole foods with few ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
The two vegan protein powders that I use are made by Garden of Life and PlantFusion.
Coping with Common Vegan Nutrient Deficiencies
The biggest risk of veganism is vitamin B-12 deficiency, since B-12 is absorbed solely through diet, and for humans, there are no reliable plant sources. Meat, eggs, and dairy products are all sources of B-12, as well as organically grown plants that have been fertilized and therefore “contaminated” with the vitamin-producing bacteria found in manure.
With poor B-12 metabolism, vegetarians are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. Yet this dietary deficiency can be easily remedied with supplements (available in generic form) and fortified cereals or dairy products.
Besides vitamin B-12, authors from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver) writing in the journal Nutrition found that other nutrients of concern for vegetarians include zinc, vitamin D, and calcium. While predominantly in animal products, they can also be obtained in fortified soy milk and whole grain cereals.
Once these issues are addressed, vegan or vegetarian sources of protein become just as effective for thriving health and building strength and muscle. Diets high in unrefined plant foods have consistently been associated with benefits in lifespan, immunity, cardiovascular health, and improved athletic performance.
Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan
If you’re ready to take your bodybuilding to the next level, this vegan meal plan is designed to get you there.
Please keep in mind that eating at certain times can increase the effectiveness of your nutritional intake (read this article). Here’s an example for a 210lb man who wants to weigh 220lbs:
- 16 oz fresh raw juice (kale, spinach, parsley, cucumber, celery, ginger, green apple, and lemon)
- Protein shake with 2 servings of vegan protein powder, 1 cup almond milk, and 1/2 banana
- 1-2 servings of tofu and spinach scramble (see recipe below)
- 2 cups oatmeal mixed with 2 tbsp pumpkin almond butter
- Muscle-building black bean veggie burger with 1/2 avocado sliced on top
- 1 large kale salad with mixed greens and tomato
- 2 cups oatmeal with cinnamon
- 1 apple with 2 tbsp almond butter
- Protein shake with 2 servings of vegan protein powder, 1 cup almond milk, and 1/2 banana
- 1/2 pack seitan
- 1/2 pound steamed broccoli
- Couscous and lentil salad
- Vegan protein powder with 1 cup almond milk
Approximate totals for the day
- 4,100-4,200 calories
- 220g protein
- 550-600g carbs
- 90g fat
Bonus Recipe: Tofu and Spinach Scramble Recipe
This tasty recipe is an easy way to fill up on powerful protein. Eat up!
*Makes only two servings
Carbs: 27.5 | Fat: 14.5 | Protein: 21 | Calories: 317
- 14-ounce package firm tofu drained and cut into cubes
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 6 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 1 lemon freshly squeezed
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper, optional