Building Muscle On A Vegan Diet

Vegan tortilla wrap, roll with grilled vegetabes and lentil and boiled corn cob on a wooden background

Is it really possible to build mass, increase strength, and optimize your athletic performance without eating any animal products? Vegan strength athletes think so! Here’s how to do it the right way.

Bodybuilding and strength sports have traditionally been built on a hearty diet of animal protein. Even the general public automatically associate gym-goers with eggs, chicken breast, steak, and whey protein shakes.

So if the Western world thinks protein=animal products, can a healthy, muscular and strong body really be fueled by a diet which contains no animal protein at all?

Yes. Vegan athletes can be found at elite level in bodybuilding, strongman, powerlifting and CrossFit. And veganism in strength sports is getting more popular, as greater numbers of people discover the benefits of a vegan diet.

What Do Our Diets Actually Need?

To understand how a vegan diet could work for you, put tradition aside and think about what a diet needs to contain:

– sufficient protein, including a range of amino acids

– carbohydrate

– healthy and essential fats

– fiber

All of those things can be found in a vegan diet.

Vegan Things You’re Already Eating

Most of us eat plenty of foods that are vegan. Oatmeal, sweet potatoes, rice cakes, nut butters, fruit and berries, avocado, vegetables, rice, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds are all strength-sport favorites that tick the vegan box.

How To Design A Vegan Diet

Like any change to your diet, the decision to become vegan will need a bit of thought and planning. This is particularly true if you’re travelling for work, or for competing. But we’re strength athletes. We’re already used to planning our meals, prepping our foods, reading food labels, and thinking about macros. In that sense, we’re one step ahead of the rest of the population.

Use a wide range of grains, legumes, pulses, plenty of vegetables and root vegetables, a variety of fruits and berries. You could add in a vegan protein powder (hemp, brown rice, pea protein – or a blend). Vegan protein bars are widely available. And vegan favorites like tofu and seitan steak (which has a fantastic leucine profile – second only to whey) are a useful addition.

A vegan diet does not need to be boring! How about a vegan curry made with lentils or chickpeas and cauliflower, served with your favorite type of rice? Or oatmeal plus hemp seeds, non-dairy milk, berries, and a scoop of nutty-tasting vegan protein powder?

Vegan meals lend themselves really well to batch cooking in a crock pot or slow cooker, and can be served up with rice, potato, or in a wrap for round #2!

You’ll probably already have a good idea of your macros. As a guide, make sure you are getting 0.7g-1.0g protein per pound of lean mass. 20-30% of your calories from healthy fats. Vegan diets tend to naturally from saturated fats. We do need some saturated fat in our diet, so get yours from coconut products including coconut oil, coconut milk, or coconut meat. Good vegan fat sources include flaxseed, coconut oil, olive oil, almonds and other nuts, nut and seed butters, avocados.

The Surprising Benefits of A Vegan Diet

Vegan athletes report staying leaner in their off-seasons than before they turned vegan, partly because their choice of junk food is limited, and partly because their vegan diet contains more volume of whole foods. Many vegans say that they have fewer digestive issues from vegan protein powders, avoiding the bloating some experience from whey.

These days, there is a vegan substitute for almost every food you could think of. Veganism isn’t boring, repetitive, or restrictive. Your only limit is your imagination!