Are you ready for the no-nonsense facts about vegan bodybuilding? If you’re looking for a guide to help you pack on slabs of solid muscle and lose fat on a vegan diet, you’ve come to the right place! Many well meaning weight lifters, bodybuilders and gym rats alike believe that it’s impossible to build a lean muscular physique on a vegan diet. I can’t tell you haw many times I’ve heard people tout the false claim that vegans are doomed to be skinny and weak unless they start to eat animal protein.
Keep in mind that it’s much easier to mess up your nutrition on a vegan diet, studies have shown that omnivores are generally more muscular than vegans. However, understand that these studies are very misleading because they don’t take into account the mistakes that vegans make while trying to build muscle. Additionally, there are many popular nutrition myths touted by vegans that make it hard for vegan bodybuilders to become informed about how they need to eat if they want to have a lean hard bodybuilder’s physique. I will address those myths later in this article.
The bottom line about building muscle on a vegan diet is this: If you are ignorant concerning the disadvantages and limitations of a strictly plant based diet in the context of building muscle, then you will not achieve the results that you desire. I know from personal experience that it is possible to build a lean muscular physique from vegan protein sources. No animal products necessary!
Vegan Body Building | Lets Talk About Protein
Protein is a hot topic in the vegan world. We’ve all seen the infographics showing how much protein is in beans, nuts and veggies. We’ve all read and seen doctors saying that a plant based vegan diet will give you all the protein you need. And it is true! A vegan diet will supply the average person with more than enough protein. However, as bodybuilders and weight lifters, we have different protein needs than your average Joe. I know that many will try to argue this point, but science is not on their side on this one. Scientific studies including this one, this one, and this one have conclusively and undoubtedly proven once and for all that a diet that is high in protein is far superior to a lower protein diet. As far as the specific amount that is optimal for a building muscle, the research shows that 0.8g and 1.2g per pound of lean body mass per day is ideal.
Without some serious planning, it is very difficult to hit this amount of protein. Many vegans make the mistake of simply not consuming enough protein per day. Another common diet mistake is trying to get that amount of protein from beans, nuts and legumes. This inevitably results in eating way too much fat or carbs to maintain the lean physique of a bodybuilder.
Common Vegan Bodybuilding Protein Requirement Myths
When faced with the evidence that proves that you need a high protein diet to build, the unfortunate reality is that many vegans propagate nutrition myths instead of owning up to the fact that getting enough protein for muscle building on a vegan diet takes a little extra planing and thought. Here are some of the most common nutrition myths out there:
Vegan Bodybuilding Nutrition Myth #1 | A Low Protein Diet is OK
Many vegans eat a low protein diet, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is not unhealthy to eat a low protein diet, however, we have already shown that a high protein diet is necessary to build lean tissue. You can train all you want on a low protein diet, but you will not make the gains that you are seeking. The popularity of low protein diets among vegans is one of the main reasons why people falsely assume that you need to eat animal products to gain muscle.
Vegan Bodybuilding Nutrition Myth #2 | Protein Deficiency Doesn’t Exist
Again, the science simply is not on their side in this situation. The medical dictionary defines protein deficiency as follows: “Reduced ingestion or inadequate digestion of dietary protein and/or essential amino acids, or excess elimination of protein due to compromised renal function.” Although protein deficiencies are not very common in the west, they are far more common than you would think. This is especially true among weight lifters who have higher daily protein requirements than your average Joe. Please see this paper for more on the importance of getting adequate protein.
Vegan Bodybuilding Nutrition Myth #3 | Veggies are Just As Good As Meat.
We’ve all seen the infographics comparing broccoli to beef. Now, don’t get me wrong here, veggies are great for you! They are loaded with micro nutrients and enzymes that you need to live a long healthy life. They are also great sources of complex carbohydrates that energize your body with quality fuel. However, when it comes to protein content, how do they compare to animal sources?
The truth is…not very well at all! Lets take a look:
- Broccoli contains about 13 grams of protein per pound.
- Brussels sprouts are slightly better, providing about 15 grams of protein per pound.
- A cup of green peas contains just 8 grams of protein.
- And a cup of boiled spinach contains a measly 5 grams.
As you can see, if you want to get the recommended 1g of protein per pound of lean mass per day by eating veggies, it’s going to take a pick up truck full of broccoli every day. There is absolutely no way you would be able to eat that amount of vegetables in one day. You would throw up long before you could eat the enormous amount of fibrous green goodness needed to hit your protein needs for the day.
Now, compare the figures above to chicken breast which contains about 104g of protein per pound. Veggies obviously are not an ideal source of protein if you are looking to eat 1g of protein per pound per day. However, don’t get discouraged! Understanding that a vegan diet has some muscle building limitations puts you in a good place. Now you just need to understand how and where you can get the extra protein that you need to build the muscle you want!
Vegan Bodybuilding | Good Protein Sources For Building Muscle
One of the main problems with trying to build muscle on a vegan diet is macro nutrient balance. Here is the standard arrangement of macros for building muscle:
- About 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day
- About 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day
- Fill in the rest of your calories with carbohydrates
The problem with vegan diets is that it is very difficult to get 1g of protein per pound a day without going way over on your fats or carbs. For example, an omnivore can get 25g of protein by eating 4oz of chicken breast. The chicken breast has 120 calories, most of which are protein calories. 4oz of almonds has the same amount of protein as the chicken, however, it contains 654 calories and nearly 60 grams of fat. That’s a little less than all the fat an average bodybuilder needs in a day. 10oz of boiled beans contains 25 grams of protein, but it contains nearly 70 carbs. A 200 pound male bodybuilder would have to eat 80oz of beans to get hit their daily protein requirements. They would have to take in 560g of carbs along with that protein. Because there are very few vegan food sources that contain protein without containing large amounts of fats and carbs, it is very easy to overshoot your fats and your carb needs on a vegan diet. The trick is to find protein sources that contain very few carbs and fats. This is where vegan protein powder comes to the rescue!
Vegan Bodybuilding | Vegan Protein Powder
Vegan protein powder makes it possible for you to hit the right ratio of macros without going over your fats or carbs. Not only is vegan protein a great source of quality protein, but it has many benefits even for omnivorous bodybuilders!
Vegan protein is actually better than dairy and animal product alternatives for many reasons. A plant based vegan diet supports healthy immune function and is alkaline in your system. And an alkaline digestive environment helps your body properly detoxify and process. Plant based protein powder can give you this advantage even if you are not living a 100% vegan lifestyle!
You could consider plant based protein powder to be hypo-allergenic, as very few people have adverse reactions to vegan products, unlike those of dairy or meat. Vegan proteins also contain fewer additives and on the whole are more raw and natural than other sources of protein. In addition, there is no difference in cost when comparing vegan protein powder to other types.
Best Vegan Protein For Vegan Bodybuilding
Out of the many (and increasing) vegan protein powders on the market, Sunwarrior stands apart from the rest in every way. First, the product has clean ingredients. It tastes great. And is very affordable. I personally recommend Sunwarrior protein powder. For an in-depth explanation as to why I recommended this protein, read our Sunwarrior protein article. Unlike most other vegan protein powders, Sunwarrior has a complete amino acid profile is 100% organic.
This variety of protein blend is composed of all organic proteins from yellow peas, raw and sprouted brown rice, quinoa, chia seeds, and amaranth. The cleanest variety is always going to be the natural flavor and in this case those are the only ingredients. This blend delivers 20 grams of protein in just 100 calories and a full 18 amino acids. It includes a great deal of Vitamin C (70% of your recommended daily intake) and 30% of your recommended daily intake of iron. Only 2 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of fats per serving, so you don’t have to worry about either of those getting in the way of your diet plan!
Of course, there are other alternatives to Sunwarrior protein powder, but I have not found anything that can compare to the amino acid profile or taste. Additionally, if you eat organic, Sunwarrior is definitely the way to go!
Sample Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan
Now that you understand how your nutrition needs to look, lets take a look at how a typical day of eating should look for a vegan bodybuilder. This is just a hypothetical day of eating that a 180 pound vegan male would use while building muscle. Please keep in mind that your personal calorie and protein needs may vary! To figure out your own macronutrient needs, I recommend that you check out this great macro calculator.
Meal 1 (pre-workout) – 450 Calories, 57 carbs, 4 fats, 46 proteins
- 2 scoops of Sunwarrior protein powder
- 1/2 cup of oatmeal
- 1 banana
Meal 2 (post workout) – 785 Calories, 102 carbs, 21 fats, 53 proteins
- 2 scoops of Sunwarrior protein powder
- 2 apples
- 1 cup of blueberries
- 2tbsp almond butter
- 1/2 cup of oatmeal
Meal 3 – 750 Calories, 91 carbs, 22 fats, 60 proteins
- 4 oz whole wheat pasta
- 1/2 cup of pasta sauce
- 1tbsp olive oil
- mixed greens salad
- 2 scoops of Sunwarrior protein powder
Meal 4 – 410 Calories, 54 carbs, 17 fats, 15 proteins
- 2 slices of ezekiel bread
- 2tbsp peanut butter
- 2tsp jelly or jam
Meal 5 – 410 Calories, 61 carbs, 5 fats, 31 proteins
- 220 grams lite firm tofu
- 300 grams steamed veggies
- 1/3 cup basmati rice
Totals for the day:
2,805 Calories – 366 Carbs – 69 Fats – 206 Proteins
Like I said before, this is just a sample day and you can adjust accordingly based on your caloric needs and tastes. To figure out your exact daily needs, use this nifty macro calculator!
Vegan Bodybuilding | Conclusion
All in all, it is completely possible to build solid lean muscle on a strictly plant based diet. However, you must know what you are doing and be very meticulous when tracking calories and macros. If you’re they type of person who isn’t willing to track everything and eat a very limited diet, you are definitely going to make much slower muscle building progress. Again, the biggest issue with bodybuilding on a vegan diet is making sure you get enough quality protein and eating foods to get a full amino acid profile. If you are willing to put in the hard work in the kitchen (and in the gym) then you should have no problem building muscle and getting shredded on a plant based diet.
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