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Updated On: February 02, 2024
It has never been easier for bodybuilders to follow a vegan diet. What was once an outlier regimen with a small percentage of followers has grown into a mainstream option that many people swear by.
Its rise in popularity is understandable, as a plant based diet focused on nutrient-rich, whole foods is a lifestyle choice that can bring a slew of health benefits.
But if you're a bodybuilder, nutritious isn't enough. You need the proper amounts of each macronutrient to optimize your muscle growth. And a major concern for lifters is whether they can get enough protein on a plant based diet that's packed with fruits, veggies, and legumes.
This leads us to the pressing questions on lifters' minds: Is eliminating animal protein detrimental to building muscle? Is it possible to be vegan and simultaneously support muscle growth?
The good news is that you can absolutely be a vegan bodybuilder without hindering your gains. We're about to get into everything bodybuilders need to know about the vegan diet, including how lifters can follow it, its pros and cons, and the best vegan food sources for building muscle.
Table of Contents:
A vegan diet consists strictly of plant foods. Other more flexible plant-based diets may allow things like dairy products or fish, but a true vegan diet contains only plant foods and plant-based ingredients.
A bodybuilding diet is one that is optimized for muscle growth and building muscle, consisting of high carbs, moderate-to-high protein, and moderate fats. The main intent of a bodybuilding diet is to provide the body with the fuel it needs for a workout, as well as the nutrients needed for muscle recovery.
When you combine the two into a vegan bodybuilder diet, it becomes an eating plan that is optimized for muscle growth but only uses plant foods to do so.
You can absolutely build muscle following a vegan bodybuilders diet. In fact, if you have any concerns regarding this, we highly recommend you first check out our article on the Top 10 Vegan Bodybuilders. They are proof that you can eat plant based and still pack on muscle!
Now, following a carnivorous diet certainly makes it easy to hit your protein goals, but it does not mean you can't build muscle on a vegan diet. In fact, the divide between a vegan diet and an omnivore diet, mainly the quality of protein, has largely disappeared with the advancement of supplements.
But even if you take supplements out of the equation, you can still build muscle following a vegan diet.
And while animal products do tend to make things a bit easier, as most meat contains the 9 essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth and higher quantities of protein per serving, you can still get all of the essential amino acids, while hitting your protein goals, following a vegan diet.
The real focus should be on how much muscle mass vegans can truly grow. And the good news is that when you start digging into it, veganism has a lot of good things going for it related to muscle growth.
One positive, for instance, is that carbs are a major factor when building muscle, and there's no shortage of those on a vegan diet. Between that and making an active effort to consume a wide variety of plant proteins, you'll more than likely be very pleased with the amount of muscle you can build on a vegan diet for bodybuilders.
And if you're unsure where to start or what to start preparing following a vegan bodybuilding diet, we suggest you begin by following these high protein vegan breakfast recipes, or our 7-day vegan bodybuilding meal plan. There's an option for both bulking and cutting, and following a plan is a great way to familiarize yourself with vegan foods and meal ideas.
You can also check out these Best Meal Replacement Bars (there are plant-based options!), as supplementing with one each day can be a great way to get more protein.
Thanks to the advancement of supplements, any big differences that existed between a carnivorous and vegan diet have since been evened out. Factors that at one point would have been a vegan bodybuilding diet con, such as incomplete protein sources, are no longer a concern when you start supplementing with hybrid protein powders and multivitamins.
Still, there are pros and cons to everything, so let's get into both. When you really assess a vegan diet for bodybuilding, you can break it down to having one major benefit and one major con.
A major pro of following a vegan bodybuilding diet is that it's full of nutrient-dense foods, ensuring you get the key vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health, many of which are also essential for building muscle mass.
The major con to consider is that following a vegan diet for muscle growth requires you to be more careful and strategic with your food selection. Whenever you follow a diet that completely eliminates a food group, in this case, meat, you instantly reduce your food variety, which can result in fewer nutrients.
While you can easily get plenty of quality protein on a plant based diet, you do need to be more intentional about it.
For example, if you follow a carnivore diet, just about any meal you eat that has meat as an entree will have 25+ grams of protein. But with vegan diets, if you don't specifically eat a mix of high-protein foods or include a scoop of protein powder, you could easily eat less than 10 grams per meal.
There are some unique variables to consider when starting a vegan bodybuilding diet. Here are some guidelines, best vegan foods to include in your diet, and helpful tips to help you successfully start a vegan diet for bodybuilding.
Your first step to starting any diet is to determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE.) This is the total amount of calories you burn daily and represents how much you need to eat. We determine the TDEE through several measurements:
While you can follow calculations to get this number, using a calorie calculator is much easier. Most calculators will have options for losing weight, maintenance, and gaining muscle.
That said, if you want to lose weight, you can put yourself in a calorie deficit by taking 300-500 calories away from your TDEE. Alternatively, to gain muscle mass, you'll increase your calorie intake by 300-500 calories.
Your macros refer to the percentage or amount of macronutrients your diet consists of and include protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
When counting macros, your numbers will vary depending on whether you are gaining or losing weight. The one macro that should remain constant is your fat intake, which we recommend setting at 30% of your calories.
For protein, a bodybuilder trying to gain muscle should eat a minimum of 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, but up to 2.0-2.2 grams is likely ideal. And if you're on a vegan diet for weight loss, you want this number to be a minimum of 2.2 grams and possibly even higher.
You need the extra protein to support your muscles while in a caloric deficit, so you don't lose muscle mass during the weight loss process.
Then, fill in the rest of your calories with carbs.
The good news is there is no shortage of excellent veggie protein sources. Something important to note is that whey protein is not vegan, so you will need to switch to a plant protein powder. If you're interested in learning more about this, we have a great article that discusses the differences between whey and plant proteins.
A good source of protein will likely need to be a vegan protein powder, like these pea protein powder supplements. A high quality rice and pea blend protein powder is another great option to increase your daily protein intake¹.
Together, these proteins can cover the lack of amino acids you may be getting from your food and help "fill in the blanks." This ensures you are getting enough of each essential amino acid without needing to be too diligent about tracking the types of foods you're eating throughout the day.
In addition, vegan protein bars are another great option for helping you more easily hit your daily protein goals. As mentioned, eating the right amount of protein and ensuring you're getting the 9 essential amino acids can be harder on a bodybuilding vegan diet, but utilizing protein bars and powders makes it much easier.
In addition, to get the health benefits that come from a plant based diet, it's important to concentrate on eating high-protein vegan foods.
Some of our favorite sources include:
Getting enough healthy carbs on a vegan bodybuilder diet is fairly easy, as almost every single carb source is plant-based!
Good vegan carb sources include:
If we had to pick one as our favorite, the award would go to oatmeal. Add some vegan protein powder to it, top with a drizzle of nut butter, and you've got yourself a delicious vegan meal!
A vegan bodybuilder diet contains plenty of high-quality food sources with adequate supplies of healthy fats.
Our favorite fat sources include:
Sometimes you just want a snack. The good thing is some of the best snacks, even for omnivore lifters, are vegan. Take a spoonful of peanut butter on a banana, for example. Totally delicious and completely vegan.
Another of our favorite snacks, hummus dip and wheat crackers, is vegan. Or, if you're on a cut, hummus on lettuce leaves with a slice of tomato. Protein shakes and vegan protein bars are also great options.
Creatine is the first supplement a vegan needs to take. And it isn't just vegans who need to take this, by the way. We recommend all lifters take creatine.
But as we get some creatine naturally from various animal products such as red meat and fatty fish, it's even more important for vegans to take a creatine supplement.
There are also several other areas where a nutrient deficiency is seen in vegan bodybuilders, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium, and zinc. Taking a vegan multivitamin will ensure you're getting all of the necessary nutrients.
In addition, adding a protein supplement to complement your vegan bodybuilding meal plan and bodybuilding workout program takes a lot of stress away from trying to hit your protein goals. And, finally, to ensure you're bringing energy and focus to your muscle-building workouts, taking a vegan pre-workout supplement is a good idea.
Meal frequency and food timing should be the same for anyone trying to build muscle, whether you're a carnivore or vegan. Aim to space your meals out across the day, every 3-4 hours, so you eat 5 meals total. Within those meals, divide your protein evenly.
If possible, try to make sure every meal has 30-40 grams as this has been shown to be the ultimate dose for optimal muscle protein synthesis².
And try to give extra attention to the meal after your workout. Aim to eat within 60 minutes and consume a meal that's a mixture of protein and high-glycemic carbs. A few examples of high-glycemic carbs include a bagel, cereal, bananas, or raisins.
Ready to ditch animal proteins for a plant based diet? These six tips will help make your transition easier.
Out of all amino acids, leucine is easily the most important as it activates mTOR, which stimulates muscle protein synthesis. It's like the keys to a car. With the key, you can turn the ignition, causing a spark that starts the car.
Without the key, nothing will happen. Similarly, without high amounts of leucine, your muscle protein synthesis will suffer. Some top high-leucine foods include oatmeal, soy, lentils, and of course, protein powder.
This is even more important, particularly in the beginning, for those following a vegan bodybuilding diet.
Take time to learn about the best protein sources, and purchase some of the key supplements we highlighted above that are needed to optimize muscle growth on a vegan diet.
Just like with any other diet, you don't need to go 100% in right off the bat. Start by cutting out all red meat. From there, eliminate everything except dairy and one white meat.
After you get used to that, cut to only dairy, which includes milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurts. When ready, take those away until you're on a true vegan bodybuilding diet.
Just as you may use chicken and eggs as a central part of many meals following an omnivore bodybuilding diet, find 2-3 main foods that can be the centerpiece of many of your vegan meals. Tofu or edamame are good options as they're high in protein and versatile.
Learn about the different ways to prepare these foods, and then start experimenting with other ingredients and recipes as you go.
Also, there will be plenty of vegan substitutes for things, such as soy milk or almond milk in place of cow's milk. Pick the option with the highest protein count whenever possible. In this example, it would be soy milk over almond milk.
Simulate your favorite meals using vegan substitutes. For example, instead of hamburger, swap the beef patty with a portabello mushroom. Or, make a vegan Philly cheese steak by swapping out the beef with fried tofu.
Many great meal replacement shakes are a fantastic choice for vegan bodybuilders as they provide high-quality plant-based protein and carbohydrates. One such meal replacement shake would be Instant Knockout Complete.
Instant Knockout Complete gives you 35g Protein, 35g Low GI Carbs, and 13g total fat. The protein is from various high-quality sources, a blend designed to have a complete amino acid profile. The carbohydrates are mainly from oats, although there are other sources in there, such as chia seeds, providing a sustained energy release throughout the day. These chia seeds are also the source of fat within Instant Knockout Complete, as they’re a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids while still being vegan-friendly.
Check out Instant Knockout's website to see if it will help you reach your bodybuilding goals as a vegan.
Ready to hit the store and stock up on some vegan must-haves? From staples such as tofu to high protein nuts and seeds, here are our favorite items we think every vegan bodybuilder should have stocked in their kitchen.
It's important to note that this is not an all-encompassing list. As you dive deeper into veganism, you will discover your favorite items. In the meantime, this will help get you started.
Take a screenshot of this list for easy reference in the store, or to be ultra-organized, you can save it to your computer, print it out, and check each item off while you're grocery shopping.
Here's what a vegan bodybuilding meal plan might look like. Each row in the meal columns represents a part of one meal. So, for example, for breakfast, you could have oatmeal mixed with protein powder, and topped with berries, nuts, and flax seeds. The snack column offers 4 different snack options, not to eat all at once.
Please note that we didn't include macro countdowns as this will be hugely individualized for every lifter. Use our meal suggestions as inspiration, and adjust the serving sizes for each meal to hit your macro goals.
Oatmeal with Protein Powder
Chopped Up Tofu
Frozen Mixed Berries
Onions, Peppers, Mushrooms
Hummus Spread on Wheat Crackers
Whole Wheat Roll
Chopped Onions, Peppers
Sweet Potato w/ Brown Sugar
Salad w/ Chia or Hemp Seeds
Protein Smoothie w/ Leafy Greens
Dessert Oats & Protein Powder
Lingering questions regarding a vegan diet for bodybuilders? Let's answer them here!
Following a nutritious vegan diet ensures you get many essential vitamins and minerals and makes weight maintenance more easy. But keep in mind to build muscle, there are extra precautions you need to take. This includes intentionally selecting a wide range of veggie protein sources and utilizing vegan supplements to help you get enough protein and the necessary essential amino acids.
For many, being vegan is a lifelong switch. As long as you're taking the necessary supplements, you can stay on a vegan diet for as long as you'd like.
A poll taken between 2014-2016 found that 84% of people who tried veganism eventually quit. Thirty-four percent quit after just 3 months, while 53% didn't make it past the 1-year mark3. While it's important to take these numbers with a grain of salt, as it's likely many factors were not accounted for, due to the diet's strictness a fair amount of people do stop following a vegan diet at some point.
Carbs are your main macro when following a bulking workout plan, and since the vast majority of your carbs are vegan, no, it's not hard. Just make sure to also regularly take a vegan protein powder.
It depends on the types of vegan foods you eat. Foods like beer, pizza crust, and even sugar are vegan and won't help you lose weight. Being vegan doesn't necessarily mean it's ideal for a cutting workout and diet plan. Whether you are a vegan or carnivore, eating healthy, whole foods and controlling your calorie intake will dictate weight loss.
Protein powder is always going to be the best source of protein in terms of quality and cost. This is especially true for vegans, as a cheap, quality source of protein, like chicken or eggs, doesn't exist in the same manner as it does for carnivores.
While this depends on a lot of factors, if you consider how much protein you were eating following an omnivore diet, and replicate that following a vegan diet, there is no reason you should lose muscle mass. It is important to note that it may be hard to support a vegan diet if the bodybuilder is highly advanced with a superfluous amount of muscle.
If 10 years ago you had asked if vegan bodybuilding diets were effective, we would have told you that unless you're doing it for ethical reasons, not to do it.
But, today, being a successful vegan bodybuilder is easier than ever. It may be a bit difficult to start a vegan bodybuilding diet, but after you learn all the hacks, identify your favorite vegan foods, and what you need to do to maintain your health and hit your macros goals, the only issue you may have is occasionally craving steak.
You'll need to have a bit more intent in your food selection, but if you feel called to go vegan, there's no reason you can't be a successful vegan bodybuilder.
If you're ready to make the switch to a plant-based diet but are nervous about selecting the right foods to hit your protein goals, take the guesswork out of it by letting someone else do the work for you. Thanks to these Best Vegan Food Delivery Services, being a vegan bodybuilder has never been easier (or tastier)!
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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