Building Muscle On A Vegan Diet; The Grand Mystery.
Is it hard to build muscle on a vegan diet? Somehow we’ve turned this into an impractical feat, but those who have done it themselves know otherwise! There are countless individuals who’ve gone vegan with the goal of getting lean and building muscle, who know first hand how attainable it really is. Like anything else, building muscle on a vegan diet will take time and consistency.
Let’s get right to it. First and most importantly, in order to see the muscle development take place is you must know that you are just as capable of building muscle as anyone else. You are actually have an added an advantage by eating plants. With that idea in mind, let’s continue in the progress towards building the muscle you want and deserve!
What To Eat To Build Muscle
Now the question is, what do you eat to build muscle on a vegan diet? I find many vegans, after giving up meat, will start a habit of eating everything under the sun, especially sweets, bread, sandwiches, protein bars or energy bars full of sugar, and highly processed packaged foods. Remember that eating whole and organic foods should still be your priority to stay in optimal health, even though you’ve removed the meat from your intake.
The majority of your intake will be predominantly carbohydrates, which includes veggies, legumes, potatoes, and fruits, and close to that order. To stay in optimal health, save packaged goodies for special occasions, or at least weekends to give your body a needed metabolism boost. As a vegan, you’ll run into a bazillion exciting packaged foods that almost seem to take the thought out your food prep, but realize that indulging carelessly can contribute to increased body fat. So for the sake of your goals, load up on the carbs I mentioned earlier, and do it in the right amounts for your body.
Your protein intake is also important in building the muscle you wish to see. The best protein sources for you will come from beans and rice, quinoa, tempeh and tofu, nuts and seeds, occasional protein bars, plant based protein powders, and vegetables. Supplementing with plant based and good quality protein powders and BCAA’s will also help you keep a constant stream of amino acids to your muscles. However, it’s always best to eat whole plant foods as much as possible.
The consensus is that in order to build muscle mass, the average person needs about 1-1.5 grams of protein per lb of body weight. I’ve seen individuals who weight lift and build a substantial amount of muscle mass without even calculating protein intake -let alone adding lean protein to their meals. There are definitely many theories on this subject, however my advice is to simply add a food with high amounts of protein to each meal, or most of your meals. This easy to do, considering protein is found in nuts, seeds, dense green vegetables, grains, tempeh, soy products, hemp, protein powder, hummus, beans, etc. Incorporating these into each meal can make a major difference in your muscle gains if done consistently. It will also help you stay fuller and keep body fat low. Once you stay consistent on the same eating routine for a couple weeks while lifting heavy and want to see more gains, you can adjust your protein and/or carb intake slightly accordingly for a couple more weeks.
How Much To Eat And When
There is more to it than just protein, carbs, and fats. How your body is feeling, what it’s doing, and how it’s shaping up are all controlled by your hormones. Without becoming and endocrinologist, you can capitalize on your hormones at a few times of the day to maximize muscle growth on a vegan diet. There are specific times in your day that, when utilized, can have the biggest impact on muscle gains.
More importantly, you’ll need to eat ENOUGH. As a vegan, it can be easy to eat high volume meals and feel full, but still be in a calorie deficit. Of course this can work to your advantage at keeping you lean and helping you lose weight or burn fat. But when your goal is to build muscle on a vegan diet, you’ll need to eat enough calories to fuel that energy demand.
First, you need to figure out how many calories you burn at rest (BMR). As a quick estimate, you can determine your BMR by multiplying 10-11 calories per pound of your current body weight. Typically, this number can be too low for a person with much more muscle or for someone who is very active. You can also use another method to get your BMR by multiplying 13.8 calories by pounds of lean body mass. (These equations are simply approximates and disregard your personal body composition). We can help you get more accurate readings of your body composition, with the right amount of calories you need.
Secondly, you need to determine how many calories are required to fuel your activities and add them to your BMR. Do you need 400 more? 1,000 more? Program your activities into your profile to get more accurate estimates for your body.
Lastly, in order to build muscle on a vegan diet, you generally need to increase your calories anywhere from 200 – 500 a day. The reason I say generally is because you can definitely build muscle with correct training consistency and technique, even if you eat just enough calories to fuel your activity level. There are individuals who eat their daily energy intake and still develop muscle on a vegan diet. But adding in a few hundred extra calories can definitely help to maximize your muscle growth, supply new developing muscles, as well as add a little weight to your fram.
Again, the amount of calories that will work for you, is unique and dependent on many factors. Use the above information as a starting point, and develop more insight from your own experiences!
Before And After Training
Putting major emphasis on growth and recovery are integral! Eating fruit, maple syrup, and other fast digesting carbohydrates and amino acids, will not only create a pump in your muscles, but will keep them full of glycogen (sugar stored in your muscles to use for energy during training, and repair after training). The best time to have your fruits and protein or aminos are about 20-30 minutes before training and immediately after. It’s important to make sure your muscles are fully prepped before training and taken care of post training. These times are the best opportunities to take full advantage of muscle growth when you’re awake, so make them a priority!
Throughout The Day
Your entire day and the decisions you make therein (including how active you are) will together maximize your growth and make the ultimate difference in what you see. Someone who’s been a vegan for only a short period of time has surely noticed how high in fiber plant based meals can be, as well as how long after eating you stay full. All this fiber will lend itself to your body and muscles in many ways:
- Your digestive tract will start to improve, allowing nutrients to the cells optimally, allowing easier absorption of carbs and proteins into the blood
- Your cravings and hunger levels will decrease, keeping blood sugar stable and thus increasing muscle growth
With that being said, it’s very important to pay attention to how you’re feeling and get yourself on a regular eating schedule, where you have a meal 2-4 hours apart. The time difference will vary on the amount of calories your body needs per meal, the size of the meal, and your unique goals. To determine those things, check out our nutrition plans. It’s very common to eat a meal full of fiber and be full for hours on end. But remember that you need a constant influx of fuel to build muscle on a vegan diet fastest.
Eating a healthy supply of fuel, protein, carbs, and fats will make a dramatic difference in your metabolism, specifically how efficiently your body burns fat and builds muscle. Load up on carbs, in the right amount for your body, throughout your day. Eat a high carb breakfast, add carbs into your lunch, eat carbs for dinner, and have a snack or two with carbs. As I said before, it’s pretty easy to get full off a meal that’s high in fiber. But just remember to get yourself acclimated to eating every few hours, otherwise, your metabolism will put the breaks on, and burning fat and building muscle will become more difficult. If you’d like to know how many and what types of carbs our nutritionists recommend for your body, refer to our nutrition planning section.
At the start of this article, I said that vegans are just as capable of building muscle mass as anyone else. This means you have to be as equally consistent with your weight and cardio training and maintain and hard work ethic. This is where a training split, which includes both weight training and cardio.
Cardio and weight training can be done anywhere from 4 to 6 times a week depending on your goal. Cardio and weights can be done the same day, but can also be split into two separate times if you feel that you’d have more energy to devote to each.
The key to seeing a substantial increase in muscle, is to lift heavy or do workouts that keep you in an anabolic state (i.e. HIIT) enough to increase your growth hormone. For beginners in the gym, start by lifting around 10 reps per exercise, where the latter number is your max rep. More experienced lifters can benefit by lifting 6-8 reps. It’s easy to go through the motions of your daily training split, but after you’ve gotten the consistency down, you’ll need to really focus on the intensity of each lift. Your last rep should literally make you give everything you have left in that muscle in order to lift. You can start by devoting your session to training one or two muscle groups.
This advice pertains to both men AND women. Women are said to have roughly 15 times less testosterone than men, so in order to maximize muscle gain, lift heavy and be smart about your cardio type and duration for your body. You may only need 10 minutes of walking per day. Know what’s best for your body.
Leg days are extremely beneficial in growing muscle throughout the body as it promotes the highest increase of growth hormone. The legs and glutes make up more than half of your body and contain the largest muscles. When you train your legs, you are working more muscle fibers, promoting more energy expenditure and creating more growth hormone surge through your body when you sleep.
Weight training ultimately burns more calories than cardio does, by increasing the metabolism and thus the amount of calories you burn at rest. With that being said, as days of your new training regimen go by and your body’s need for energy increases, you’ll get hungry. After a few weeks of consistent weight and cardio training, your hunger levels may increase dramatically, telling you that you need to eat more calories. Many of these calories should come from complex carbs like beans, rice, sprouted wheat, and oats as well as fast digesting carbs. They also should consist of proteins and naturally occurring fats.