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Want a Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan?

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  • Introduction
  • Calorie Intake
    • How to Calculate Your Calorie Requirements
      • Men
      • Women
      • Examples
  • Macros
    • Protein
    • Fat
    • Carbs
    • Example
    • Carb Cycling
    • With Vegan.io
  • Micros
  • What to eat?
    • Protein Sources
    • Carb Sources
    • Fat Sources
  • Amino Acids
  • Supplements
    • Protein Powder
    • BCAAs
    • Creatine
    • NAC
    • Ashwagandha
    • Caffeine
  • Meal Frequency
  • Vegan Bodybuilding Bulking Diet Plan and Grocery List
  • Vegan Bodybuilding Cutting Diet Plan and Grocery List
  • How to Create Your Own Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan
  • Tracking
    • Nutrition
      • MyFitnessPal
      • Fitbit
    • Weight
    • Blood Markers
  • Conclusion
  • Sources


Many people seem to think that it’s not possible to build muscle on a vegan diet. They’re wrong, but you don’t need to take our word for it! Just ask any of the many vegan bodybuilders

Unfortunately there are a few misconceptions about nutrition within the vegan community that lead to total failure at the gym.

Today I’m going to explain the ins and outs of a vegan bodybuilding diet in detail, give you a downloadable example vegan bodybuilding meal plan for bulking and one for cutting and provide you with the tools that you need to make your own meal plans.

So let’s get started!

The basic steps to following a vegan bodybuilding diet are the following:

  1. Calculate calories
  2. Calculate macros
  3. Create a meal plan
  4. Track your progress
  5. Repeat from step 1 as you progress.

Calorie Intake

Here’s the deal:

  • If you want to gain weight you then you need to eat more than your body burns.
  • If you want to cut fat then you need to eat than your body burns.

This is proven by science.

It’s known as “calories in calories out” (CICO).

So the first step to your weight goal is to calculate your calorie requirements.

How to Calculate Your Calorie Requirements

We need to start by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the your rate of energy expenditure at rest. The amount of calories you burn when doing absolutely nothing.

The formula for this (by Harris-Benedict) differs between the sexes. We need to plug in some variables. Your age, height and weight.

Then we need to factor in your activity level using a multiplier:

  • x1.0: Sedentary
  • x1.2: Very light activity
  • x1.4: Light activity
  • x1.6: Moderate activity
  • x1.8: High activity
  • x2.0: Extreme activity

Sedentary means doing nothing all day. Sitting around watching TV, or working a desk job with no physical activity.

Light activity means a non-physical job and some light activity like walking.

Moderate activity means a non-physical job, with some physical activity during the day, and also a workout session.

High activity means a non-physical job with 2x daily workout sessions, or a physical job and 1 workout session per day.

Finally we need to adjust the figure to match your weight goals. Your adjustments depend on your body type.

If you are an ectomorph (naturally thin) then to lose weight reduce calories by 10% and to gain muscle increase by 20%.

If you are an endomorph (have a hard time losing weight) then to to lose weight reduce calories by 20% and to gain muscle increase by just 10%.


(66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age)) * activity level


(655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.7 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age)) * activity level


Male, 36, 80kg, 185cm, moderately active, ectomorph, gain muscle:

((66 + (13.7 x 80) + (5 x 185) – (6.8 x 36)) * 1.6) * 1.2 = 3537

Female, 30, 60kg, 170cm, lightly active, endomorph, lose weight:

((655 + (9.6 x 60) + (1.7 * 170) – (4.7 * 30) * 1.4) * 0.8 = 1544


There are a few rules that MUST BE FOLLOWED if you want to build muscle:

  • Eat enough calories
  • Lift weights
  • Don’t overtrain
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat the right macros

The macros bit is where a lot of vegans trip up.

Many vegans will tell you that you only need 10% of your calories from protein. If you are trying to add muscle then this is total horseshit.

Vegans that eat this way contribute to why omnivores think you can’t add muscle on a plant based diet.

Here’s the deal:

In 2017 there was a huge meta-analysis on the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults.

The conclusion was this:

With protein supplementation, protein intakes at amounts greater than ~1.6 g/kg/day do not further contribute RET-induced gains in FFM.

However, some individuals seem to do better with higher levels of protein. This was mentioned by the authors of the study:

…it may be prudent to recommend ~2.2 g protein/kg/d for those seeking to maximise resistance training-induced gains in FFM.

So… it looks like in order to maximise performance on a plant-based diet the optimal amount of protein to consume is between 1.6 – 2.2 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight.

Imagine if you were following the 10% advice. On a 3000 calorie diet that would be just 75g of protein! Goodbye muscle mass.


Fat gets a bad rap but it’s essential to your body to function. Healthy unsaturated fat can be found in many plant based sources, including nuts, seeds, avocados and oils. These fats help you absorb some vitamins and minerals, combat inflammation, build cell membranes, and more.

Omega-3 DHA and EHA are also examples of unsaturated fats. They are also not easily available in a vegan diet. Vegans have plenty of sources of ALA, a different form of omega-3 and your body can convert this to DHA/EHA. The problem is that it’s not very efficient at this.

For that reason we recommend that you order a supplement. Here’s one that we like:

Trans-fats should be avoided at all costs. Trans fats cause inflammation, strokes, heart disease and can even contribute to diabetes. Every 2% of calories consumed from trans-fats daily increases your risk of heart disease by 23%!

Saturated fats should be limited. Coconut is one vegan source of saturated fat, in case you were wondering.

We will follow the guidelines of the World Health Organization and keep fat intake at a maximum of 30% of calories.


Carbohydrates are your primary energy source. They are the first place that your muscles look when they need fuel. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates should make up between 45% to 60% of your total calories.

When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose and then stores them in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen.

When you workout your glycogen stores are the first place that your body looks for fuel.

It’s also been shown in studies that a low carb diet has a detrimental effect on performance.


Going back to our male example from earlier, we had a target of 3537 calories per day. We need to aim for 1.6 – 2.2g protein per kg of bodyweight. There are 4 calories in every 1g of protein:

80kg x 2.2 = 176g protein

176g x 4 calories per gram = 704 calories from protein per day

3537 – 704 = 2833 calories remaining

Up to 1/3 of total calories should come from fat. There are 9 calories per 1 gram of fat. so:

3537 / 3 = 1179 calories from fat per day.

1179 calories / 9 = 131g fat per day

The remaining calories will come from carbohydrates. There are 4 calories in every 1g of carbohydrates:

3537 – 704 – 1179 = 1654 calories from carbs per day

1654 / 4 = 413g carbs

Now we finally end up with our base macros!

  • 176g protein
  • 131g fat
  • 413g carbs

Carb Cycling

So now you have your macros… all done right? Well not quite!

Your body is an adaptive machine. If you feed it exactly the same thing every day it adjusts.

Eating processed carbs raises insulin. This is necessary to signal to your muscle cells that they need to pull in nutrients.

However, eating lots of carbs all the time can lead to chronically high insulin levels. Your body can then become less responsive to insulin.

This can cause you to gain fat and have a hard time losing it.

You’re not going to have this insulin problem if you stick to a healthy whole food vegan diet outlined in this article, but your body is still going to get used to your macros and stop responding so well.

In order to prevent this, we want to keep it guessing a little.

Step in carb cycling

  • On your priority workout days we boost carbs by a further 25%.
  • On your other workout days we will leave your carbs macro untouched.
  • On your rest days we will reduce carbs by 25%.

This keeps your carbs and total calories fluctuating and helps to prevent you gaining fat while you are bulking up.

With Vegan.io

When you signup for Vegan.io we ask you all these questions and calculate your calorie requirements for you. Then we break down your macros and use them along with lots of other variables to generate your perfect meal plan.

If you tell us your workout days we’ll also carb cycle for you.


A word of warning about micros. I’m talking about vitamins and minerals. You need to be getting enough of those. Not all calories are equal.

Calories In Calories Out is fine for weight gain/loss but you need to be eating nutrient dense foods too. Let’s say for example there are 5 nutrients in every gram of french fries, and 50 in every gram of a banana, then it’s pretty obvious which one you should be eating more of.

In order to be successful with your vegan bodybuilding diet you must:

  1. Hit your calorie goals.
  2. Stick to your macros.
  3. Get the majority of your calories from whole plant based sources. No processed/junk food.

So, that being said, let’s take a look at some of the best ingredients for you to add to your plant based grocery list.

What To Eat?

Protein Sources

  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Seitan
  • Edamame
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Quinoa
  • Hempseed
  • Peas
  • Amaranth
  • Teff
  • Oats

Carb Sources

Carbs are everywhere in the vegan diet. The healthiest ones are complex carbs though.

These are unprocessed, take longer to digest and don’t spike your blood sugar so much.

Here are some great complex carb sources

  • Black/brown rice
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Lentils
  • Oats

Processed carbs are ok in moderation. Things like pasta, bread, etc.

Fat Sources

Nature is full of great fat sources.

  • Avocado
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Almonds
  • Almond Butter
  • Brazil nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Cashew Nuts
  • Coconut

However, don’t forget to take a DHA/EHA supplement

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Without enough of them, you will not be able to gain muscle.

There are 21 amino acids in total. 12 of them can be synthasized by your own body. The other 9 are only available from food sources. These are known as “essential amino acids”.

One of the essential amino acids is Leucine. Studies have shown that the leucine content of a meal directly affects protein synthasis.

Here’s another vegan myth:

Plant protein is just as good as animal protein for building muscle.

Actually there are 2 problems with many plant based protein sources:

  1. They are less bioavailable
  2. Many are low in certain essential aminos.

Let’s take broccoli for example. You might hear someone tell you that broccoli has more protein than steak. Actually according to the USDA data this is not true, it has less, but that’s beside the point.

Lower bioavailability means that you need to eat more to get the same amount of protein out.

This lower general bioavailability of protein in plant based foods can make it trickier to hit your macros.

The other problem is this:

It has way less amino acids. In fact it would take around 18 cups of broccoli to get your daily amino acid requirements, compared to a 4oz steak.

However, it’s not really a problem at all.

All this means is that you need to eat a varied and balanced diet to get enough aminos from plant sources. NOTE: This is not the same as “protein combining” a myth where people thought that you have to combine certain foods so that you get all essential aminos in one meal.

If you are working out a lot, then adding a BCAAs supplement can’t hurt


Protein Powder

Although it is totally possible to get enough protein from whole food plant based sources in your diet, adding in a clean protein powder supplement makes it much easier to hit your macros.

We usually use Sunwarrior Warrior Blend in our recipes

Other good brands are:

  • Vega
  • Garden of Life
  • Plantfusion


BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) are the the essential amino acids, the ones that your body can’t make on it’s own. Although you can get them from a balanced diet it’s still not a bad idea to supplement when you are training hard.

They enhance post workout recovery and help preserve your glycagen stores. Look for supplements with a higher ratio of leucine to isoleucine and valine.

Consume them before and after workouts.


Creatine has been shown by studies to increase muscle mass and strength.

Creatine is only found in animal food sources. It’s not essential, as it can be produced by the liver.

However, vegans have lower levels of creatine in their muscles.

In vegans and vegetarians creatine not only boosts physical performance, it also improves brain function!

There are lots of brands out there. We use Optimum Nutrition.


N-acetylcysteine is the amino acid cysteine with an acetyl group attached to it.

Ok, what on earth does that mean?

Well it means the compound is more stable and can be absorbed better by the body.

It’s the precursor to what some refer to as the master antioxident: glutathione.

NAC has been shown to increase exercise performance and reduce oxidative stress, but only in individuals with low levels of glutathione.

So should you take it? Well that depends on how stressed you are. Chronic stress reduces glutathione levels. If this sounds like you, then add some NAC to your diet.


Ashwagandha is a herb, used in traditional medicine. Also known as Indian Ginseng.

It’s actually one of my favourite supplements. I put it in a smoothie every day.

Ashwagandha has been shown to boost testosterone in men by up to 15%. It causes significant increases in muscle mass and strength!

It’s available in pill and powder form. Personally I like throw the powder into my post workout smoothie.

And it gets better:

Ashwagandha also reduces anxiety, c-reactive protein and cortisol! Perfect for this stressful world that we live in!

Check out Terrasoul Superfoods Organic Ashwagandha Root Powder


Finally we have to mention good old caffeine. Study after study after study has shown caffeine to boost performance, strength and even fat loss.

In fact the boost is so strong that the NCAA has even started to ban it from competition in high doses!

For optimal effects, drink a black coffee 1 hour before your workout.

Meal Frequency

Vegans aren’t the only ones that believe nutritional myths. One particularly pervasive one amongst all gym goes is “eat little and often”.

Common advice is that eating 5-6 times a day will speed up your metabolism.

Here’s the kicker:

It doesn’t, and here is a study to back that up.

Actually, there’s a lot of evidence that eating less often is better for building muscle, cutting fat and even extending life.

Vegan Bodybuilding Bulking Diet Plan and Grocery List

Here’s a meal plan and grocery list generated by Vegan.io for our bulk up example earlier:

Male, 36, 80kg, 185cm, moderately active, ectomorph, gain muscle:

Download Meal Plan PDF

Download Grocery List PDF

Vegan Bodybuilding Cutting Diet Plan and Grocery List

Here’s a meal plan and grocery list generated by Vegan.io for our cutting example earlier:

Female, 30, 60kg, 170cm, lightly active, endomorph, lose weight:

Download Meal Plan PDF

Download Grocery List PDF

How to Create Your Own Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan

The easiest way is to signup for our vegan meal plan service, but if you really want to do all the planning your self, we provide some resources.

Hopefully all the information in this post has given you the knowledge you need to create your own plans.

First pick out your weekly meals from our High protein vegan recipes page.

We recommend that you eat leftovers from dinner every day for lunch, to save cooking time.

Choose a snack for each day. We think the easiest option is to choose something that you can make up front on the weekend and freeze.

Make sure that you’re getting a good mix of greens, legumes, starches and fats every day.

Supplement with our recommended supplements.


To really tie everything together it’s great to track your progress. There are some really great tools out there for this.

Using these apps/tools you can sync your nutrition and weight into iOS HealthKit or Google Fit and from there to any other number of health apps! We’ve broken it down into nutrition and weight tracking:


There are several great ways to track your nutrition.


All of the Vegan.io recipes are available on MyFitnessPal.

Each day/week you can sync up what you ate and see precise stats on all of your nutrients.

If you’re not using Vegan.io then you can still use MyFitnessPal. You’ll just need to manually enter all the recipes that you’re eating.

It’s a time consuming process, but totally worth it we think.


If you are using Vegan.io and have a Fitbit, then you’re in luck! You can sync your meals to your Fitbit account with just one click!

First go to your integrations page in settings, and link your Fitbit account.

Now you’ll see an integrations plug icon next to all of your meals. Simply click on “Log to Fitbit” and your exact nutrition stats are synced directly to your account!


First off, please keep in mind that muscle is much denser than fat and so the same volume of muscle weighs 15-20% more than that of fat. Sometimes this can make it a little hard to see your progress.

Don’t get discouraged!

Pick up a decent body fat percentage tracking scale and weight yourself every morning, after you used the bathroom and before you ate anything.

We use the Nokia Body+

By the way, it’s possible to link your Nokia Body+ app to Fitbit. If you are using Vegan.io, and you enabled our Fitbit integration, then we’ll stay up to date with your weight, to keep your meal plans on point!

Blood markers

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your blood. If something is wrong with your health you could catch it before you start to feel bad.

HealthLabs.com offers some blood tests specifically for vegans.

If you mention that you heard about them through Vegan.io they will give you 25% off!


Congratulations! You made it to the bottom. You must be serious about following a plant based bodybuilding meal plan!

I really hope that this post was useful and informative for you, and maybe I’ll get to see you inside the Vegan.io app soon…

In case you’d like to signup and get a meal plan from us, just use the button below:

Vegan bodybuilding meal plan & diet

The Ultimate Vegan Diet Plan for Bodybuilding and Athletic Performance

Vegan bodybuilding and plant-based fitness are becoming more popular every day.

Contrary to the outdated paradigm of traditional bodybuilding, going meat-free doesn’t mean you can’t build muscle or achieve your fitness goals. Instead, science is showing that eating a plant-based diet might be one of the best ways to reach them faster.

Although the mainstream fitness community seems to believe that bodybuilders must consume copious amounts of “superior” animal protein to bulk up, countless vegan bodybuilders have developed strong, sexy physiques while eating only plant-based foods.

If you’re a looking to build more lean muscle by way of a vegan bodybuilding diet, this article is the resource you need to get started.

Why Simply Cutting Out Meat Isn’t Enough

For the vegan novice, it’s easy to think that all it takes to gain the abs of your dreams is to cut out eggs and cheese in favor of cherished snack foods instead. However, this style of diet is more like to add on flab than fabulous muscle tone. To bulk up with veganism, you’ll need to follow a healthy, whole foods diet that gives your body exactly what it needs to thrive.

Crafting a vegan bodybuilding diet that works for you isn’t rocket science, but it does take some basic knowledge, motivation, and attention to detail. In this article, I will demystify the vegan bodybuilding meal plan and bikini competition diet and break it down into its most essential elements. Beyond the myths and the hype, here’s what bodybuilders should know about building muscle the vegan way.

Guidelines for Vegan Bodybuilding Nutrition

Starting a vegan bodybuilding routine isn’t as tricky as you might expect. The good news is that the core bodybuilding diet guidelines are the same for vegan and omnivores alike. In fact, the only difference is that all of the protein sources in a vegan diet are non-meat, non-dairy, and are free from animal byproducts.

Below are ten tips for following a healthy, highly effective vegan bodybuilding diet.

1. Get Sufficient Calories

When using a vegan bodybuilding diet, getting enough calories is critical.

An average plant-based vegan diet has a much lower calorie content than a conventional diet, meaning vegans should closely monitor their levels. If you don’t consume enough calories, your body can shift into a catabolic state, meaning it devours itself for energy. The larger the calorie deficit, the more your body will fuel itself on existing muscle tissue instead. In other words, without consuming enough calories your hard-earned muscle mass will slowly waste away.

For peak form, bodybuilders should strive for 15 to 20 calories per pound of bodyweight, and then adjust that number based on noticeable gains or losses at the gym.

2. Keep Your Protein Levels High

Of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) the one that seems to matter most to bodybuilders is protein. This sometimes leads to stress for vegan athletes. Will your diet provide enough protein to keep you bulking up? The answer is yes, so long as you track your levels.

Any fitness dietary plan needs to contain a full menu of proteins from a variety of sources. For instance, experienced vegan bodybuilders can combine multiple protein powders derived from hemp, brown rice, and peas to form complete proteins.

There are plenty of ways to get the protein you need on a vegan diet. Dozens of delicious options for vegan protein sources abound, many of which are complete proteins. Examples include peanut butter sandwiches on Ezekiel bread, quinoa, hummus, and chia.

Tempeh is one of the most overlooked sources of vegan protein, but once you try it a few times, you may prefer it over tofu. Chickpeas and other legumes can provide a filling, low-fat source of protein and carbohydrates.

Need Meals on the Go? Turn Towards Vegan Protein Powders!

Let’s be real. Eating a vegan diet is not always convenient, especially when traveling or dining out. And even when you have the good fortune of finding a vegan meal, it’s usually not as high as necessary in vegetarian proteins.

Even so, there’s no real reason to stress about finding convenient protein. With the explosion of vegan protein powder options today, it’s easier than ever to have access to on-the-go protein!

Consuming two to three protein shakes a day will dramatically boost your protein intake, without excessive carbs. This is what helped me dial in my macros and turned my muscle building game around.

Best of all, protein powders are cost effective. Look for powders that are sourced with multiple proteins to better ensure the spectrum of amino acids needed for muscle growth.

3. Keep Omega 3 Levels High with Flax Seed Powder

Bodybuilders and athletes know that getting enough omega-3s is critical.

Consuming a lot of plants can get us close to the amount of omega-3s a vegan athlete needs, but supplementing for good measure is a good idea.

For this reason, ground flax is the perfect omega 3 source for your diet. It has a fantastic fiber profile and can be easier on the digestive system than flax seed oil. To experience the best results, you can take ground when you wake up, after training, and before bed.

4. Take Vegan BCAA

Vegan BCAA can help protect your muscles from the catabolic effects of a low-calorie diet and can help you gain mass. According to a 2010 study published in Med Science Sports Exercise, BCAA reduces muscle soreness after intense training.

For the bodybuilding benefits, try taking five to 10 grams of BCAA with breakfast, five to 10 grams immediately before and after training and five to 10 grams before bed.

5. Stay Away from Spirulina for B12

One of the biggest misconceptions in vegan bodybuilding circles is that spirulina contains significant B12. While this is true in a way, it’s not useful to us.

It turns out that spirulina and tempeh contain mostly analogs of B12. Herbert reports that tests on tempeh, a fermented soy product, and spirulina revealed that they contained almost no true B12.

The problem here that this claim has been supported by lab tests for B12 based on the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) assay methods. Unfortunately, as explained in Herbert et al. and Herbert , the USP assay method for B12 is unreliable.

The presence of analogs, rather than true B12, makes them unreliable sources for B12.

6. Consume Nuts for Fuel

It’s always a smart idea to add these power-packed snacks to your arsenal. Consuming nuts (and nut butter) provides a long-lasting form of energy. They’re also a much-needed source of healthy fat.

Because of how convenient they are to eat, nuts are also a great way to quickly boost your calorie intake. I carry a bag of lightly salted almonds in my backpack at all times.

7. Swap Rice for Quinoa

Rice is a staple of the vegan bodybuilding diet, so an effective method for boost your protein and nutritional intake is to simply swap rice for quinoa.

Quinoa has higher quality protein and is a complete source of protein, whereas brown rice is not. Quinoa is gluten-free and contains calcium, B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin E, and fiber.

Even better, quinoa tastes (and feels) similar to brown rice and should leave your taste buds just as satisfied.

8. Choose Healthy Drinks

There’s no reason to fill your body with unnecessary calories from sugary drinks. I keep things simple with coffee, tea, water, and protein shakes and drink roughly 2.0 to 2.5 liters of fluids each day. One way I gauge if I’m drinking enough fluid is that I make sure that my urine is pale yellow to clear.

If you are getting ready for a bodybuilding, bikini competition or photo shoot, your fluid needs should go up quite a bit and based on what your trainer suggests.

9. Utilize Vegan Bodybuilding Supplements

No conversation about a bodybuilding diet would be complete without talking about supplements. Nutritional supplements have become practically a requirement for competitive bodybuilders these days, and the industry has shown few signs of trending away from them.

Rice protein and hemp protein are excellent sources of vegan protein that can easily replace whey and other animal-sourced products in shakes. But ultimately, the best vegan protein powder is made with multiple proteins to ensure the spectrum of amino acids needed to build muscle.

Garden of Life, Vega, and PlantFusion (get them here) produce some excellent protein blends that skip the meat and go straight for the muscle.

10. Address Deficiencies Before They Become Damaging

When using a vegan bodybuilding diet, getting sufficient nutrients is critical.

It’s a good idea to vary the foods in your diet, as this will help prevent nutrient deficiencies. This goes without saying for any bodybuilder. Also, keeping lots of variety in your diet makes eating more enjoyable.

Pay special attention to these common vegan deficiencies:

  • Protein
  • Calories
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Zinc

If you’re feeling that your body is low on one or more of these nutrients, make sure to start taking a nutritional supplement that will get you back on track.

Vegan Diet Plan Tips

Beyond the kinds of food you eat, the amount, timing, and way you eat it will make a difference in how fast you hit your bodybuilding goals. Below are some tips for getting the most out of your food so that you can put it to work for you.

1. Eat Directly Before and After Workouts

Many vegan bodybuilders focus on main meals and don’t pay much attention to the snacks in between them. This is a mistake. Snacks are immediate sources of energy for your workouts and your recovery, and the snacks you choose at specific times make a huge difference in your performance and how you feel later on.

The best pre- and post-workout snacks are a healthy mix of protein and carbs. Light carbs like bananas, dates, and apples are great before your workout. When you’re done at the gym, enjoy a pick me up of carrots with hummus or protein shakes with vegan protein powder.

2. Monitor Your Body Weight and Body Fat

Since most vegans are concerned with lean muscle mass and not losing it, be sure take effective measurements.

This means you should be regularly measuring your body fat levels and comparing it to overall body weight in order to achieve a more accurate assessment of your progress in the gym than stepping on the scale alone.

3. Keep a Food Journal

The key to your success in adopting a vegan bodybuilding diet is not necessarily food intake – it’s about having an accurate awareness of what you eat. Human memory alone is not a reliable source for this kind of awareness. Instead, you need to take meticulous notes in a food journal.

To keep a proper food journal, you need to write down every sip of water and every crumb of food you consume throughout the day. Anything less is wasting your time. While it may seem like a pain at first, the process becomes effortless after a few days.

As a beginning vegan bodybuilder, you’re flying blind in a storm without this information. It’s simply too easy otherwise to have a misleading impression of what you’re actually eating and what’s actually working.

Sample Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan

Ideally, a vegan bodybuilding diet plan consists of 5-6 smaller meals. This gives your body a timely and consistent supply of nutrients for muscle repair and growth. It also keeps blood sugar levels more balanced.

Here are two days of sample meal plans to get you started for the week. Each one is packed with power and 100% vegan.

Meal Plan Day 1

  • Breakfast
    • Vegan protein shake, banana, 2 tablespoons of natural almond butter
  • Mid-morning
    • Bowl of lentil soup, cucumber salad with cherry tomatoes and avocado, 1 baked sweet potato
  • Lunch
    • Veggie burger, kale salad with handful of pumpkin seeds, apple
  • Post-Workout
    • Edamame & quinoa wrap with sweet ginger dressing, banana, vegan protein shake
  • Dinner
    • Veggie chili
  • Before bed
    • Vegan protein shake, 1 tablespoon of natural almond butter

Meal Plan Day 2

  • Breakfast
    • Bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, vegan protein shake
  • Mid-morning
    • Apple, handful of grapes, handful of strawberries, 1 cucumber
  • Lunch
    • Large salad with mixed greens
    • Mixed beans with artichokes and sprouts
    • Vegan protein shake
  • Post-Workout
    • Celery sticks with natural almond butter
  • Dinner
    • Veggie burrito with quinoa, beans, and avocado
    • Small side salad with mixed greens
  • Before bed
    • Vegan protein shake, mixed nuts

Tying It All Together

No matter which foods you settle on for your daily meals, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting plenty of variety to supply your body with a full array of muscle-building nutrients and protein sources.

With these meal plan recommendations and diet plan tips in mind, you should be more than equipped to start planning your healthy vegan meals. The overwhelming health and fitness benefits of a plant-based diet are undeniable, so now is the time to give vegan bodybuilding everything you’ve got!

Other Vegan Diet Plans for Bodybuilding:

  • Bodybuilding the Vegan Way
  • Sample Muscle Building for Vegans

About the author Chris Willitts has 20 years experience of Bodybuilding and eating a vegan diet. He is also a writer for Fitness Magazine and Vegan Health. He has been studying at the University of Michigan.

Vegan bodybuilding meal plan & diet was last modified: February 4th, 2019 by Chris Willitts

If you’ve been thinking about going vegan, you may worry that it will hamper your gym game. But the animal-free way of eating—meaning no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy—doesn’t have to get in the way of your fitness goals if it’s the diet you prefer to stick with.

Want proof? Look no further than Jon Venus, a bodybuilder, trainer, and Youtuber who went vegan a few years into his career after learning about the environmental impacts of the animal farming industry.

People are increasingly adopting vegan diets for ethical and health reasons, too. Plant-based products are in higher demand than ever and will grow as a food trend in 2018, according to predictions from Whole Foods Market. In fact, when we polled Men’s Health readers about going vegan on Twitter, nearly 20 percent of them said they’d at least give the diet a shot.

But for Venus, going vegan isn’t a short-lived experiment. “When I changed to a 100 percent plant-based diet, I noticed countless improvements to my performance in the gym—much to my surprise,” Venus says. It started with his energy levels. “I was feeling sore less often and always had the energy to give 100 percent effort in my workout sessions,” he says of the first three months of eating vegan meals

His speaks-for-itself physique proves that finding a diet that works for you—and that you can stick to—is key. “It is important to know that you have to eat according to your goals,” he says. “Just like a meat-eater, you have to choose the foods that will help you achieve a certain goal.”

For Venus, that means eating nutrient-dense plant-based foods that check the right macro boxes. “My only rule is that I try basing 95 percent of my diet around whole plant foods—anything that is in its natural form is great to eat,” he says.

To help his clients build muscle and lose fat, regardless of whether or not they’re vegan, he recommends a macro ratio that’s around 60 percent of your total calories coming from carbs, 20 percent from protein, and 20 percent from fats. (We typically recommend 50 percent from carbs, 30 percent from protein, and 20 percent from fat for the average guy, but that ratio will ultimately be individualized to your goals, whether it be losing weight, maintaining weight loss, or gaining muscle.)

To see exactly how Venus powers through his workouts—and gets anywhere from 80 to 180 grams of protein a day—we asked him to break down exactly what he typically eats for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner.


Venus saves breakfast until after his morning workout, replenishing his energy with a plant-based protein smoothie or smoothie bowl.

“Usually I will have a recovery smoothie made with bananas, frozen mixed berries, hemp seeds, kale and/or spinach, pineapple, almond milk and a scoop of Vivo Life Perform Protein Powder.”

Mocha Protein Shake:

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🥙Making sure I get the right fuel all day 💪🏼🌱 A new meal prep video was just uploaded on my Youtube channel. If you need food ideas, make sure to check it out 💻 Have a great weekend 😀

A post shared by Jon Venus (@jonvenus) on Nov 17, 2017 at 2:53pm PST

There’s nothing light about Venus’s go-to midday meal. “For lunch, I typically eat something hearty like a burrito bowl,” he says.

To stave off hunger, he loads it up with a satiating mix of carbs, fat, and plant-based protein. On a bed of brown rice, he’ll load up pinto beans with taco spices, tofu, roasted sweet potatoes, leafy greens, guacamole, and salsa.

Related: 6 Things You Should Know Before Going Vegan


If hunger strikes, Venus keeps his mid-day refuels simple with mango, peaches, watermelon, and berries. “I snack whenever I feel hungry throughout the day, usually on fruits or cut veggies—whatever I have available at that time,” he says.

Related: 8 Carb-Heavy Snacks That Will Help You Lose Weight


For his last major meal, Venus focuses on boosting his vegetable intake without sacrificing filling nutrients, like fiber and protein. “I normally eat a lot of lentils spiced with cumin seeds. I toss them with chopped tomatoes, some quinoa, and veggies such as asparagus, broccoli, and roasted cauliflower. Then I add some smoked tempeh for protein,” he says.

To top it off, he makes a big raw salad with red cabbage, more tomatoes, sliced cucumber, mixed leafy greens, chopped peppers, jalepenos for kick, and a solid dose of a homemade dressing.

Macaela Mackenzie Macaela Mackenzie is a freelance journalist specializing in health, culture, and tech, and she regularly contributes to outlets like Prevention, Women’s Health, Shape, Allure, Men’s Health, the John Hopkins Health Review, and more.

5 High-Protein Vegetarian Foods for Bodybuilding

Healthy living doesn’t just require the right workout, it also requires the right nutritional and protein-rich foods that your body needs. This is something that can cause a problem if you’re a vegetarian, as you may struggle to reach your protein requirements while abstaining from meat sources.

Fortunately, there are a number of completely vegetarian food options that can provide you with all the protein you need. Here are five of the best protein solutions.

Nutritional Yeast

If you haven’t tried nutritional yeast yet, it’s a very popular plant-based source of protein among vegetarians.

This specific yeast is harvested from molasses, and this gives it a texture and thickness not unlike parmesan cheese. With 14 grams of protein for every ounce of yeast, it can be easily used to add protein-heavy toppings and a cheesy flavor to various dishes.

You could mix it into a pasta sauce, or just apply it to popcorn and other snacks. However, there are actually two different types of nutritional yeast, so make sure you pick up the right option for you.

Brewer’s Yeast

As the name implies, this is a by-product of beer breweries and has been so for as long as the process has existed. Made from hops, brewer’s yeast can be readily consumed by humans (as well as pets) and used to boost other food products and meals.

Pure Nutritional Yeast

Pure nutritional yeast, on the other hand, is made from a combination of beet molasses, wood pulp, and sugar cane. This is developed specifically for human use and can be readily applied to a broad range of foods.


When it comes to healthy eating, the diverse range of beans are relished by vegetarians. Despite their low cost, beans offer plenty of protein, as well as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber – a lot of nutritional value.

If that wasn’t enough, research demonstrates that a regular, moderate intake of beans is relative to a lower chance of Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and a number of cancer variants.

As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to beans, and lentils too. This isn’t even mentioning that, depending on the bean, you can consume anywhere between eight and 22 grams of protein per cup. When it comes to preparing the beans, just remember to soak them in water before you start cooking. This releases the beans’ enzyme inhibitors, which could otherwise be harmful to your health.


A popular alternative for rice, buckwheat is derived from fruit seeds. It is commonly used by people with an intolerance to gluten, as well as for its protein benefits.

Research shows that if you consume a daily average of four ounces of buckwheat, it can actively give you a better LDL to HDL ratio, helping to reduce your levels of serum cholesterol.

Plant-Based Protein Powders

Plant-based proteins are one of the biggest developments on the nutritional market. Now, you can find a wide range of protein isolate varieties, including soy, rice, wheat, hemp, and pea derivatives.

Protein supplements, such as whey protein or casein protein, offer all of the amino acids essential to human fitness. These protein isolates can be easily digested by your body, making them ideal for people who otherwise struggle to acquire protein.

However, such isolates are often quite acidic and, over a long stretch of time, can ultimately be damaging to the body – the exact reason why you should learn about them in detail.


Quinoa, itself a strain of goosefoot grain, contains edible seeds and a full profile of important amino acids. It’s also rather rich in protein, offering 24 grams per cup (uncooked), alongside high volumes of magnesium, copper, and manganese.

This grain can be prepared in 15 minutes and offers double the fiber contents compared to most traditional grain sources. It also has a rather nutty texture which many people enjoy.

Perfecting A Nutritional Balance

When it comes to nutrition – as well as achieving your fitness goals – what works for one person might not work for you. Everyone handles things differently, so while protein is essential, you do not require a meat-based diet to achieve the right levels.

With a little research and knowledge of various food sources, you can readily reach your daily requirements and still stick to your specific diet or food choices.

Vegan Bodybuilding Proteins Explained


Are you looking for good sources of plant-based protein to sustain your bodybuilding exercise regimen and build muscle mass on your strict vegan diet? This list of vegan bodybuilding protein sources is thorough and detailed, giving you specific ideas for what kinds of proteins and essential amino acids you can add to your diet, either in meal form or through protein shakes. Next time a meat eater tells you that you can’t be getting enough protein as a vegan, send them this list. Even spinach packs protein at 5.3 grams per cooked cup.


What is a legume? That question is an important one for anyone living a vegan lifestyle to understand, especially a for a vegan bodybuilding diet with high-protein intake needs. The category of legumes is one of the most protein-packed categories of plant-based foods. Beans of all kinds, peas and even peanuts (34.6 grams of protein per cup, whole roasted) fall into this category. Knowing your legumes will make it much easier to navigate whole-food vegan protein intake. This list is by no means exhaustive; it’s simply a sample of some of the most common and nutritious legumes available. We want to show you just how diverse this plant-based protein category is, and it doesn’t end with what’s on this page. Any other beans or peas, like split peas, pinto beans, navy beans, kidney beans, cranberry beans, or fava beans are also good sources of legume protein.


Tiny and easy to cook, lentils (17.9 grams of protein per boiled cup) are a fantastic source of quick-cooking vegan protein. They’re easy to buy in bulk and cook up without soaking and they tend to retain their shape quite well too. Red lentils are the basis for a lot of Indian dishes, like daal, and whole green lentils are often used for European-style recipes.

Shelled Peas

Fresh green peas (8.6 grams of protein per cup) are a great addition to just about anything you eat. You can buy them frozen and keep them on hand to add protein to salads and tofu dishes, but they’re also delicious on their own. Try seasoning your next serving of peas with some mint to give it an interesting twist. You can also eat your peas raw directly from the shell when they’re in season. Look for low-sodium canned beans if you can, though.

Black Beans

Black beans (15.2 grams per cooked cup) are just one of several kinds of beans you’ll find in cans on just about any grocery shelf. While soaking and cooking your own beans is more cost effective and better for the environment, it’s good to know that in a pinch, you can have a ready-to-eat protein source even in the most unenlightened corners of the world. Look for low-sodium canned beans if you can, though, because as with all commercially processed foods, canned beans tend to have a lot of unnecessary added salt that can cause you to retain water and affect your health in a negative way.

Lima Beans

Also known as butter beans, lima beans (14.7 grams of protein per boiled cup) don’t need butter to taste good. Perhaps best known as part of frozen vegetable medleys, lima beans are worth eating on their own. If you don’t like the somewhat tough texture of mature lima beans, stick to baby lima beans, which are tender and a little sweet.

Green Beans

Yes, long, thin green beans (2.4 grams of protein per boiled cup) are legumes. It’s got the word “bean” in its name, doesn’t it? Though the seeds inside these pods aren’t terribly big, they still provide protein, though perhaps not the densest source available to those on plant-based diets. These legumes make great raw snack foods for vegans of all kinds.

Garbanzo Beans

Whether you eat them plain, mash them into a sandwich filling, use them to make high-protein burger patties, or blend them into hummus, garbanzos, also known as chickpeas (14.5 grams of protein per boiled cup), are a hearty, versatile, and satisfying staple for the vegan bodybuilder’s pantry.


Though soy is technically a legume—if you’ve ever eaten edamame (16.9 grams of protein per cooked, shelled cup), you’ve eaten soybeans—it’s an important source of protein for vegans and it deserves its own category for discussion because it is so incredibly versatile.

Tempeh and Tofu

Look at the diets of successful vegan bodybuilders and you’ll see two words repeated over and over again: Tempeh (5.1 grams of protein per ounce) and tofu (40 grams of protein per cup). These solid sources of soy are easy to use in any number of recipes, including those that call for meat. Simply swap in a tofu or tempeh steak and you’ve got yourself a high-protein vegan meal. There’s so much more you can do with both kinds of soy. From cubed tempeh cooked up in a stir fry to silken tofu blended with greens and protein powder for an ultra-energizing smoothie, these two soy sources are diverse and easy to keep interesting. Though multiple studies have debunked the idea that soy is related to estrogen production, many vegan bodybuilders are concerned about this. If you fall into this camp and are unconvinced by the latest evidence, tempeh is a good alternative to tofu. Because it’s fermented, tempeh has a different chemical makeup and is considered safe for regular consumption in high volumes by those who are concerned about the soy-estrogen link.

Fake Meat

Though other vegan protein sources, like fungi, can be used to make fake meats, soy is the most common protein used in these products. Fake meat is usually highly processed, which is a turnoff for most vegans, but many vegan bodybuilders like the flavor and variety this category offers. From sausage patties and soy dogs to “chicken” nuggets and “beef” strips, there are a lot of different types of fake meat available and many of them are frozen and easy to heat and eat in a hurry. This is definitely not the right protein category for whole foods or raw vegans.

Tofu Dairy Substitutes

Soy yogurt, milk, ice cream, and cheese are all great options for vegans who aren’t quite yet ready to give up some of the foods they enjoyed in their past lives as meat-eaters or vegetarians. Some of these foods, particularly on the ice cream side of things, aren’t really part of the average vegan bodybuilder’s everyday diet, but soy yogurt and milk are both excellent ways for vegan bodybuilders to vary their diets and get the protein they need. Either can be eaten on their own or mixed with other high-protein vegan foods, particularly whole grains, in order to deliver delicious and efficient nutrition.

Raw Tofu

A raw vegan diet can still include tofu. Though it’s technically a processed food, if you make it at home according to a raw recipe, you preserve much more of the nutrition that inevitably gets cooked away in commercial tofu preparations. Raw tofu has a different texture and taste than most of the various commercially prepared tofu, whether they’re silken, firm, or extra firm so your homemade raw tofu may behave differently when you use it for a recipe. Still, it’s a great protein source for raw vegans and after you get the hang of making and using it, you’ll be glad you have it as part of your vegan bodybuilding food arsenal.

Whole Grains

All-natural whole grains are a nutritional powerhouse that provide tons of nutritional benefit. Protein is just one of the many reasons that all vegans, particularly vegan bodybuilders, should be seeing whole grains as more than just a source of fiber. Though they get a bad rap from picky eaters, whole grains are delicious and wonderful and they’re also an interesting food category to pull from because they can be so diverse. You can eat these grains on their own as a porridge for breakfast, with a mix of beans and greens for a meal or as part of a shake or smoothie. Though not typically friendly for raw vegans, those focused on all-natural or whole foods should definitely check out all the grains on this list to boost protein intake and add other great nutrients, like fiber and vitamins to their regular food intake.

This ancient grain has been a diet staple in the Andes region of South America for centuries, and the Western world is just now catching on to the magic of quinoa. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid eating it after its major boost in popularity in the past few years, it’s time to get on board. The tiny little grains are fluffy and nutty after being cooked, though they retain a nice texture with a slight crunch that’s fun to eat. You can use quinoa (8 grams of protein per cooked cup) in place of rice if you want to really boost your protein. Quinoa comes in several different colors, but they all have essentially the same nutritional value.


While the highly processed quick-cooking oats you often see in containers or sold as sugary single-serving packets aren’t exactly healthy choices, steel cut or rolled oats and oat groats are a simple and satisfying base for a high-protein vegan meal. Oats (26 grams of protein per cup) can be cooked as classic oatmeal, but the possibilities don’t end there. Most oat ideas focus on sweetened breakfast foods like granola or cereal, but you can use oats to make high-protein patties for a savory dinner. When mixed with savory vegan ingredients like nutritional yeast and tomato sauce, oats are a surprisingly tasty way to get your protein.


Like quinoa, amaranth (9.3 grams of protein per cooked cup) is an ancient grain that has been a major diet staple in South America for centuries. Well, actually for millennia. The use of amaranth as a cultivated grain dates back to the time of the Aztecs and it was actually outlawed by European colonial forces because it was such an important cultural symbol for the Aztec culture. Today, it’s cultivated all over the world for its superior nutritional content. This is one of the few whole grains that you can reasonably cultivate yourself in a standard backyard; each plant produces a lot of grain and you can even eat the greens that come from the plant.


One of the great things about barley is that it comes in a variety of different forms. Take advantage of this to add variety to your diet and keep things interesting. For example, barley flour (15.5 grams of protein per cup) is a fantastic ingredient to use in baking or to thicken stews and sauces. Pearled barley (3.5 grams of protein per cooked cup) is crunchy and delightful in soups.


Vegans who aren’t also gluten-free can enjoy sprouted whole-wheat bread as a simple source of protein, but seitan (75 grams of protein per 100-gram serving) is an even better source of protein. Also known as vital wheat gluten, seitan is truly off limits to anyone with gluten allergies, but for everyone else, it can be a simple way of introducing more protein into your diet. Seitan has a firm texture that can be sliced, cubed, or cut into strips for use in sandwiches, salads, tacos and more.

Protein Powders

There are many different brands and types of vegan protein powders on the market these days, offering a wealth of choice for vegan bodybuilders who like using powder to supplement protein intake throughout the day. You can add protein powder to a protein scramble or bowl of oats to make it more substantial or even stir it into a glass of juice or soy milk for a quick drinkable snack. Vegan protein powders are made from several different plant-based sources, including pea, soy, and oat. Though highly processed and, therefore, usually not on the menu for whole-food vegans, protein powders are shelf stable, which means you can order them online or from a catalog and have them shipped to you if you can’t purchase them locally. This makes vegan protein powder a convenient option for vegan bodybuilders living in remote locations with limited access to vegan groceries.

Other Vegan Protein Sources

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds (30.5 grams of protein per roasted cup), pumpkin seeds (74.8 grams of protein per roasted cup), cashews (21 grams of protein per roasted cup), sunflower seeds (24.7 grams per hulled cup), and pistachios (26.3 grams of protein per hulled cup) are just a few of the great options for protein in this category. Vegan bodybuilders looking for something to snack on often reach for a small handful of nuts or seeds to hold them over until their next meal. Nuts and seeds are also quite high in fat and, though that fat is generally the “good” kind, this means that many bodybuilders shy away from this kind of protein. Still, nut butters and milks are tasty and packed with protein, making them a good addition to a diverse vegan diet. Plus, peanut, almond, cashew, sesame and other butters are whole foods you can make at home in your own kitchen and you can even use raw nuts.


This plant-based protein source is one of the most easily digestible vegan proteins available. Hemp seeds aren’t typically eaten plain, but when ground into a meal they’re fantastic mixed into oats or even whipped up into a batter for high-protein, low-fat vegan pancakes. Hemp protein powders are also available as an additional alternative to soy protein powders. Though hemp derives from the same plant family as marijuana, it doesn’t have any of the active chemical THC that makes its close relative a psychoactive substance. You won’t have to worry about failing a drug test at work if you consume hemp. It’s too bad that hemp suffers from a social stigma; in addition to providing efficient protein, it’s a highly sustainable source of fiber that makes an earth-friendly source of everything from rope and yarn to paper.


Leafy greens like kale (2.5 grams of protein per chopped raw cup) deliver a surprisingly high volume of protein and while most bodybuilders may not find greens themselves to be sufficient protein sources on their own, they can mix in with other high-protein vegan ingredients to make a complete meal that’s packed with nutrients and energy. Other veggies, especially brassicas like broccoli (2.1 grams of protein per raw cup of florets), cauliflower (2 grams of protein per raw cup), and Brussels sprouts (3 grams of protein per raw cup) can add protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and micronutrients to your diet, helping you round out your food intake, stay healthy, and feel good while powering toward your bodybuilding goals.


Mushrooms are an underrated protein source not only because most people don’t realize how much value they have as a plant protein but also because they’re so fun to use in cooking. The savory flavor they impart to any dish is delectable and adds a lot of depth to vegan cooking. Portobello (5.2 grams of protein per cup, sliced) mushrooms are a particularly popular choice because they’re large and can be grilled and served up like a steak, making them a good basis for a high-protein vegan dinner. Add some seasoned tofu crumbles and a mess of kale and you’ve got a super healthy, high-protein vegan meal.


How to Build Muscle on a Vegetarian Diet

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You don’t need to eat meat to build muscle and get strong. Follow these 9 simple suggestions to create lean muscle and increase strength without eating any meat!

It’s a common misconception that it is difficult to build muscle on a vegetarian diet. After all, a chicken breast or steak provides much more protein per ounce than beans or whole grains. But building muscle as a vegetarian is not as difficult as you may think.

Of course, diet and exercise are key to building muscle, but vegetarians need to pay attention to a few important key aspects of the diet. This article will help any vegetarian create a plan to build muscle and become the strongest version of themselves.

Why is muscle important?

Before we discuss the how, you might be wondering why you should care about building muscle. As a runner, I made the crucial mistake of ignoring strength training and focusing on just logging mileage. While that builds muscle in the legs, it doesn’t create strength throughout the entire body. Increasing your muscle mass is a worthwhile goal for several reasons, such as:

  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so increases in lean body mass can speed up your metabolism.
  • More muscle mass means you will have a lower overall body fat percentage.
  • Strength training helps you build stronger bones AND muscles.
  • More muscles can make it easier to perform daily activities, such as carrying multiple grocery bags or opening a stubborn jar of pickles.

How to build muscle

Obviously, protein is essential for increasing muscle. As a vegetarian, the sources of protein in your diet will differ from the average person consuming meat. Plant-based proteins include beans, lentils, whole grains (like quinoa, brown rice and farro), nuts, seeds, soy products, and dairy. Plant-based protein powders can also be a source of protein for the busy athlete but are certainly not necessary to meet protein needs as a vegetarian.

Tips for building muscle on a vegetarian diet

While protein sources may differ between meat-eaters and vegetarians, most other recommendations for building lean body mass are the same for both groups. These tips will help you increase your muscle in no time.

1. Eat protein throughout the day

For optimal muscle growth, aim to eat 20-30 grams of protein at each main meal. Vegetarian foods that pack a protein punch include:

Beans & Lentils

Versatile and nutritious, beans and lentils provide up to 15 grams of protein per cup when cooked. Use dried beans and your slow cooker to make these Vegan Tacos with Walnuts. Or try lentils in a Moroccan Lentil Soup or Greek Lentil Power Bowl.

Dairy products

A cup of milk provides 8 grams of protein, and the protein in ½ cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese is closer to 12-15 grams. My favorite way to use yogurt is in a smoothie, like this Sunshine Smoothie.

Soy products

Soy milk packs just as much protein as dairy milk, and other soy foods, like tofu and tempeh, have up to 10-12 grams of protein per cup. Check out these 17 Tofu Recipes of 14 Tempeh Recipes!

Whole grains

sushiAlong with many other nutrients, whole grains add a surprising source of protein to the diet. Among grains with the highest protein levels are quinoa and whole wheat pasta (8 grams per cup), old-fashioned or steel cut oats (5 grams per ½ cup), and whole wheat bread (5 grams per slice). Quinoa is a great base for a salad, like this simple one with black beans and a honey-lime vinaigrette. Or make It a vegan sushi night with this quinoa bowl.

Nuts & Seeds

Making a great addition to salads, smoothies, and yogurt, nuts and seeds also contribute a good amount of protein. Examples include hemp seeds (10 grams per 3 Tablespoons), almonds (6 grams per ounce), and peanut butter (4 grams per Tablespoon). Whip up these Cinnamon Roasted Almonds for a yummy mid-day snack.

2. Variety is key

Consuming protein from a variety of sources helps you get a range of nutrients in your diet.

For example, you might eat a bowl of oatmeal with walnuts and a glass of milk at breakfast, a black bean quesadilla for lunch, and a salad with hemp seeds, tofu, and a hard-boiled egg for dinner. These meals alone provide over 60 grams of protein!

If you throw in snacks such as Greek yogurt and a peanut butter sandwich, that number jumps up to nearly 100 grams – an amount of protein that would easily meet the needs of a 150-pound person looking to build lean body mass!

3. Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are essential and provide energy for all sorts of activities. If you limit carbs, you will not be able to perform at your best or build lean body mass efficiently. Aim to make 45-60% of your diet come from carbs.

4. Lift weights

Regardless of how much protein you consume, you will struggle to build muscle without lifting weights or doing some other form of strength training. If you are new to strength training, you can try out a circuit class, find a personal trainer, or watch YouTube videos to get started.

5. Eat complementary proteins

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. The body can make some amino acids, but it relies on the foods you eat to supply other amino acids. The ones it cannot make are called ‘essential amino acids’. Why am I telling you this?

There are two types of protein– ‘complete protein’, which contains the 9 essential (the ones the body cannot make) amino acids and ‘incomplete protein’, which does not have all 9 amino acids. Most plant-based proteins are incomplete, except for quinoa, soy, hemp, and chia. In comparison, ALL animal proteins are complete proteins.

Since most vegetarian proteins, such as beans, lentils, and brown rice are incomplete, it’s important to pair them with other foods to make a complete protein. Pairing two or more vegetarian sources together so that they provide the essential amino acids is referred to as ‘complementary proteins’.

Some pairings that make complementary plant-based proteins are:

  • Beans and rice
  • Nut butter and whole grain bread
  • Lentil and barley
  • Hummus and pita
  • Oats and almonds

6. Don’t skimp on iron

While there are plenty of vegetarian iron sources, plant-based sources of iron are not absorbed as well as animal sources. Iron plays a main role in carrying oxygen throughout the body and making red blood cells. If you don’t eat enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which could potentially lead to iron deficiency anemia. Long story short, stock up on those iron sources such as legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.

7. Figure out your protein needs

Protein is a hot topic right now, but the daily requirement is actually much less than you may think. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound – the best way to calculate the minimum amount of protein your body needs (in grams) is to multiply 0.36 by your body weight. For a 150-pound person, that’s only 54 grams of protein per day!

Athletes need a bit more protein, around 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 1.0 grams per pound. That’s about 75 to 150 grams of protein for a 150-pound person.

8. Determine if you’re getting enough protein

If you’re not sure how much protein you’re getting on a daily basis, try tracking your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal. It’s definitely not something you need to continue long term, but even tracking for 5-7 days can open your eyes to how much or little you’re consuming.

9. Opt for protein rich snacks

Believe it or not, the average American consumes just as many snacks are meals each day. But most snack foods are rich in carbs and low in protein. Make sure you’re getting enough protein at snacktime with these options:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Nut butter with sliced fruit or veggie sticks
  • Chocolate milk
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Hummus and veggies
  • Cottage cheese on a whole wheat English muffin
  • Chia seed pudding
  • Guacamole & veggies
  • Loaded oatmeal

What Vegan Bodybuilding Diets Are Really Like

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Vegan bodybuilding. Nope, not an oxymoron.

On the surface, it may be hard to believe that bodybuilding, a sport marked by extreme muscle definition, can coexist with a plant-based regime. But vegan bodybuilders can build muscle and boost strength as well as—and some argue better than—their meat-munching, egg-snacking, whey-blending omnivorous competitors. (Related: No, Plant-Based and Vegan Aren’t Necessarily the Same Thing)

FYI, there are a few different categories of bodybuilding—bikini, figure, physique, and bodybuilding—which emphasize muscle size to varying degrees. As a whole, bodybuilding requires competitors to simultaneously lose fat and put on muscle. Bodybuilders achieve this through a combo of strength training and diet so that, by competition day, they’re strutting across the stage with very low body fat. (See more: One Bodybuilder Shares What It Takes to Be a Champion).

Is it really possible bulk up and slim down using on a plant-based diet? “Yes. It’s 100 percent possible,” says Anthony Balduzzi M.D., founder of The Fit Mother Project. “But just like smart vegan eating and competitive bodybuilding, it requires some proactive meal planning and nutrition strategies.”

Here, nutrition experts and two professional vegan bodybuilders who are #poweredbyplants share how their top tips for bodybuilding as a vegan. Ready?

1. Bodybuilding Nutrition 101

If vegan bodybuilding sounds like something you might be interested in dabbling in, then you’ll have to understand some food and nutrition bodybuilding “rules” that apply to everyone.

Most bodybuilders—meat-eaters and non-meat eaters, alike—split their season into two phases: a bulking season and a cutting season. During the bulking phase, the athlete’s diet is high in calories and protein-rich, and they strength training intensely order to put on as much muscle mass as possible. Then, during the cutting phase, athletes aim to decrease their overall body fat, usually by gradually cutting calories and fat intake. (BTW: Science says Plant-Based Diets Are Ideal for Weight Loss.)

Both of these phases require the right amount of calories and the proper balance of the three key macronutrients: proteins, carbs, and fats. “Our bodies need the right about of calories and fuel in the form of proteins, carbs, and healthy fats to recover, become stronger, and drop weight,” says Dr. Balduzzi.

The amount of calories and macronutrient breakdown is going to be different for every person. Most athletes work with a nutritionist or coach to help them figure out their calorie and macronutrient needs at each phase of prep, says vegan bodybuilder Natalie Matthews, IFBB Bikini Pro and founder of Fit Vegan Chef. That said, there are a few calorie and macronutrient basics that might be helpful. More on those below.

2. How Many Calories You Need

While counting calories is a contentious subject that some (including nutritionists!) argue it’s better to opt *out* of, counting calories is a major part of bodybuilding nutrition.

“When you’re trying to put on muscle mass, your body needs fuel in order to build and increase the size of our muscle fibers,” explains Dr. Balduzzi. Similarly, when you reduce the number of calories you’re eating, it can result in fat loss, which can actually make you look more muscular and “cut”—even if you’re not necessarily gaining new muscle tissue, he explains. (Related: How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight?)

There are online calculators (like this one) that you can use to figure out how many calories you should be eating at different phases in your season.

“These can be great tools to figure out an estimate of how many calories you should be eating. But I recommend using this as a starting point, and then experimenting because everybody is different,” says Jon Venus, vegan bodybuilder and Youtuber. That’s because things like activity level, metabolism, hydration, stress levels, sleep quality, and time in your menstrual cycle all affect how many calories you need as well as weight and muscle loss, maintenance, and gain.

None of this differs between omnivorous and vegan bodybuilding: “The daily calorie intake is going to be the same for vegan and omnivore eaters,” says Venus. “Some people assume vegans need to consume more calories, but this isn’t true.”

3. Macronutrient Breakdown

“One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting a vegan bodybuilding meal plan is failing to eat enough quality calories, which can really slow down muscle-building results,” says Dr. Balduzzi. So, what determines a meal’s quality? Its macronutrient breakdown. (Related: Your Complete Guide to the Macro Diet).

The macronutrients—aka protein, carbohydrates, and fat—are the major nutrients the body needs to function properly and efficiently. The concept of “counting your macros” is basically making sure you get a specific balance of each per day.

“The macro diet is also known as flexible dieting because you can use whatever foods you want to hit them, as long as at the end of the day you’re hitting your target,” explains Matthews.

Is this breakdown different for vegan and non-vegan athletes? Nope! “The macronutrients are the same,” says Matthews. “My coach gives me and omnivores the same macronutrient breakdown, I just use vegan foods to hit them.”

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for what your macronutrient breakdown should be, and the ratios will likely change depending on how far out you are from competition day. “Generally, with bodybuildling, you want to keep your carbs high, fats low to moderate, and protein high enough to support muscle growth,” says Venus. “Then, usually as you start “cutting” before a competition, you’ll decrease calories and carb intake, and slightly increase fat intake.”

For instance, general guidelines usually call for a 20/60/20 ratio of protein/carb/fat, while Matthews eats a higher protein diet with a 40/40/20 breakdown. Because this breakdown shifts during cutting and bulking season, you probably want to work with an expert for this. “When you’re bodybuilder, it’s incredibly helpful to have a second pair of eyes to make sure you’re eating right,” says Matthews.

4. Variety of Vegan Protein Sources

One of the most common misconceptions of a vegan diet is that it’s low in protein; considering that bodybuilders generally consume more protein than the average population, it’s not surprising that there’s a misconception that it’s more difficult for vegan bodybuilders to get enough protein, says Monica Auslander Moreno, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.

“I get 100s of messages asking about how vegan bodybuilders get enough protein every week,” says Matthews.

But experts confirm that it’s 100-percent possible to get enough protein as a vegan bodybuilder. “There are way more vegan protein sources than people realize,” says Matthews. Her favorite vegan protein sources are lupini beans, tofu, textured vegetable protein, bean pasta, tempeh, sieten, fava beans, vital wheat gluten, and hemp seeds.

Venus likes to consume those as well as chickpeas, lentils, garbanzo beans, and vegan protein powder—which, BTW, research has shown is just as effective at building muscle as whey protein. Amaranth, nut butter, nuts, kidney beans, black beans, and oatmeal are also great protein sources, says Dr. Balduzzi. Plus, even things like potatoes, greens, chlorella, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts have protein.

It’s worth mentioning that not all vegan protein sources are created equal. Proteins are made up of amino acids, some of these amino acids are classified as “nonessential” (your body can make them on its own) and “essential” (your body can’t make them and needs to get them from food).

“There are nine essential amino acids and our bodies require all nine of these essential amino acids to do things like build muscle,” explains Dr. Balduzzi. (See More: What Are Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins)

All animal sources—turkey, chicken, pork, dairy, eggs, beef, fish—contain all nine, but most plant-based foods are don’t have all nine essential amino acids.

“There are three exceptions: quinoa, buckwheat, and soy,” says Dr. Balduzzi. FYI: tofu, tempeh, soy-based TVP, and soy protein powders are all soy-based, and therefore contain the nine essential amino acids.

However, if you’re eating a variety of plant foods, your body can store and combine the amino acids together to form complete proteins, says Dr. Balduzzi. For instance, rice and beans individually are incomplete proteins, but when combined together they have all the essential amino acids.

5. Consider Supplements

With poor planning and lack of variety, any diet can be deficient in certain nutrients, and a vegan bodybuilding diet is no exception. Eating a wide variety of foods, and prioritizing produce that’s in-season can help reduce risk of deficiency, says Matthews.

These other nutrients, however, are worth paying attention to:

Vitamin B12: “The only vitamin you can’t find in plant-based foods is vitamin B12, so most doctors recommend vegans supplement with B12,” says Venus. (He and Matthews both take a B12 supplement).

Iron: “While you can get iron from plant sources like spinach, beans, and raisins, this form of iron (called non-heme) tends to be poorly absorbed, so many vegans struggle with deficiency,” says Moreno. To boost absorption of iron, Dr. Balduzzi recommends consuming iron with some Vitamin C, which has been shown to dramatically increase absorption.

Vitamin D:Vitamin D deficiency is also somewhat common, says Moreno, since it’s most common in animal-based foods. Besides, three-quarters of all adults are low in vitamin D. (Here’s How To Pick A Vitamin D Supplement).

Omega-3s: Balduzzi also recommends taking an omega-3 supplement. “Chia seeds and flax seeds contain omega-3’s, but I still take a vegan, algae-based omega 3,” says Matthews. (Related: These Are The Best Omega 3 Supplements For Vegans).

But before you start popping pills, “speak with your healthcare provider to determine if you are at risk of or have a deficiency and work with them to determine what supplements you should try, instead of buying them willy-nilly,” says Moreno. (Not to mention, dietary supplements are largely unregulated, so you want to make sure you’re taking quality ones.)

6. Mix It Up

When you’re counting macros and calories or meal-prepping, you might be tempted to eat the same foods over and over again. But a good vegan bodybuilding meal plan (or any, for that matter) is one that includes variety.

“Variety will help you get the micronutrients your body needs and make sure you’re getting all the essential amino acids you need,” says Dr. Balduzzi. This is especially important during “cutting” when poor meal planning is even more likely to result in nutritional deficiencies, he says.

Don’t worry: “There are so many creative things you can do for vegan meals! Lupini seitan, vegan sausage, tofu scramble, vegan sushi bowls, protein-rich overnight oats…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” says Matthews.

The Bottom Line On Vegan Bodybuilding

It absolutely is possible to gain muscle and lose fat while on a vegan bodybuilding diet—Matthews, Venus, and this powerhouse couple are proof…but you have to know what you’re doing.

And getting inspo for your vegan bodybuilding meal plan from Instagrams, like below, isn’t a substitution for working with a pro: “Vegan bodybuilding can get very tricky and really requires detailed individualized attention. So it’s best to work with a coach or dietitian to help you execute this in as healthy a way as possible,” says Moreno.

  • By Gabrielle Kassel

This Is the Definitive Guide to Vegan Bodybuilding Every Plant Eater Needs

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Key Takeaways

  1. The reason many vegans struggle to build muscle is that they have trouble eating enough high-quality protein. This can be fixed by eating more of the right plant proteins.
  2. Vegans also need to ensure they get enough omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and several other nutrients, which can be obtained from a variety of foods and supplements.
  3. The most effective way to make vegan bodybuilding work is to create a vegan bodybuilding meal plan. Read on to learn how!

Many people think veganism and bodybuilding are mutually exclusive.

Well, they’re wrong. You absolutely can do both.

You have to know what you’re doing, though.

One of the reasons vegan bodybuilding faces a bum rap these days is it’s easier to mess up than the traditional omnivorous approach.

This is why studies have shown omnivores tend to have more muscle than vegetarians and vegans.

There are also several nutrition myths prevalent among vegans that make it particularly hard to build muscle, which we’ll fully debunk in this article.

The bottom line is this:

If you don’t understand and address the downsides and limitations of the vegan diet in the context of bodybuilding, you’ll get disappointing results.

If you do, though, and plan and adjust accordingly, then you’ll have no problem building muscle, losing fat, and getting strong.

And that’s what this article is all about.

In it, you’re going to learn the most common mistakes vegans make when trying to build muscle and how to get the most out of your plant-fueled training.

Let’s start with the first hurdle that trips up so many would-be vegan bodybuilders:

Protein intake.

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The Truth About Protein and Vegan Bodybuilding

When it comes to building muscle, decades of anecdotal and scientific evidence have proven certain elements of your diet and training are more important than others.

For example, if you want to maximize muscle growth . . .

  • You want to ensure you’re not in a calorie deficit.
  • You want to progressively overload your muscles.
  • You want to focus on compound exercises.
  • You want to limit your cardio.
  • You want to eat plenty of carbs.
  • And you want to eat enough protein.

This last point is vitally important.

Dozens of well-designed and peer-reviewed studies have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that a high-protein diet is superior for building muscle and losing fat than a low-protein one.

In terms of an exact amount, research shows the optimal protein intake for bodybuilding is between 0.8 grams and 1.2 grams per pound of body weight per day.

And this is where many would-be vegan bodybuilders die on the vine.

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Where Many Vegans Go Wrong With Protein Intake

Macronutritionally speaking, the main difference between a vegan and omnivorous diet is protein intake.

Most people eating an even halfway “healthy” diet are already getting a large percentage of their carbs and fats from plant foods like grains, fruits, veggies, and nuts and oils.

Going vegan doesn’t change this.

What it does change, though, is protein intake, simply because you replace your favorite high-protein animal foods like meat, eggs, and dairy with lower-protein plant foods like beans, grains, and nuts.

Not only that, but many people replace these protein sources that are particularly suited to muscle building with ones that aren’t.

(More on all this in a minute.)

Instead of acknowledging the fact that getting enough protein on a vegan diet takes a bit more thought and effort than an omnivorous one, though, many vegans choose to dig in their heels and defend their way of eating as infallible.

That is, instead of admitting their diet isn’t perfect and peerless in every way, they whitewash.

And they usually rely on several falsehoods to do it:

1. You don’t need much protein to maximize muscle growth.

This is categorically false.

Low-protein dieting is popular among vegans and is almost single-handedly responsible for the misconception that they can’t build muscle like meat eaters can.

In reality, vegans need just as much if not more protein to effectively build muscle than meat eaters, for reasons you’ll learn in a moment.

2. There’s no such thing as a “protein deficiency.”


Here’s how the dictionary defines protein deficiency:

“Reduced ingestion or inadequate digestion of dietary protein and/or essential amino acids, or excess elimination of protein due to compromised renal function.”

Moreover, many studies conducted by scientists around the world have also documented the devastating effects of protein deficiency.

Protein deficiency is most definitely real, and while most vegans can get enough protein from plants to prevent this, they most likely won’t get enough to optimally support muscle growth.

3. All/most vegetables are a great source of protein.

Veggies are a great source of carbs and micronutrients, but protein?

Not so much.

For example . . .

  • 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 need to eat around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, it’s going to take a couple buckets of these types of vegetables to get you there.

Let’s compare the protein content of these veggies with animal products:

  • Sirloin steak contains about 90 grams of protein per pound.
  • Chicken breast contains about 96 grams of protein per pound.
  • Wild-caught salmon contains about 89 grams of protein per pound.
  • Eggs contain about 57 grams of protein per pound.

Obviously, then, it’s going to be much easier to meet your daily protein needs if you include some animal products in your diet.

4. All plant proteins are equally good for muscle building as animal proteins.

Not all proteins are made equal, and especially not for building muscle.

To understand why, we first need to talk about amino acids.

Amino acids are the “building blocks” of protein and tissues in the body, including muscle tissue.

The body needs 21 amino acids to stay alive, and 9 of them must be obtained from food.

These are known as “essential amino acids,” and one in particular is especially related to muscle building. It’s known as leucine and it directly stimulates protein synthesis via the activation of an enzyme responsible for cell growth known as the mammalian target of rapamycin, or mTOR.

This is why research shows that the leucine content of a meal directly affects the amount of protein synthesis that occurs as a result.

In other words, high-leucine meals have a higher muscle-building potential than low-leucine meals.

Now, when it comes to evaluating a source of protein, we need to consider two things:

  1. How well the protein is absorbed by the body
  2. Its amino acid profile

And while it’s not true that plant proteins are “incomplete” (missing essential amino acids), it is true that some plant proteins aren’t absorbed as efficiently and are lower in certain amino acids than others.

For example, protein from hemp seeds is absorbed rather poorly compared to pea protein and has fewer essential amino acids.

These points of bioavailability and amino acid content are important because they explain why eating 100 grams of hemp protein isn’t the same as eating 100 grams of pea protein. The former has less muscle-building potential than the latter.

To understand the importance of amino acid profile, let’s compare the protein found in broccoli to the protein found in beef.

Here’s what 275 calories of each (4 ounces of steak vs. just over 9 cups of broccoli) will get you in terms of essential amino acids:

As you can see, it’s not even close.

You’d have to eat 18 freaking cups of broccoli to get the essential amino acids found in just 4 ounces of steak.

You run into the same problems with many other plant sources of protein (bioavailability and amino acid profile), which brings us to our first big takeaway on how to make vegan bodybuilding work:

You must ensure you’re getting enough protein that’s both absorbed well and rich in essential amino acids.

In fact, since many plant sources of protein have less bioavailability and sub-par amino acid profiles compared to animal-based products, it’s wise to eat more protein while on a vegan diet to help bridge the gap.

In other words, it’s already tricky to eat a high-protein diet with plant foods alone, and as vegan bodybuilders should probably be eating more protein than their omnivorous counterparts, the challenge is even greater.

This double-whammy is the main reason why vegan bodybuilding is easier to mess up than omnivorous bodybuilding.

The average Western omnivore’s favorite sources of protein (meat, eggs, and dairy) also happen to be very well absorbed by the body and very rich in essential amino acids (and leucine in particular).

This in itself makes their diets very conducive to muscle growth.

And based on my experience speaking with hundreds of people who have had trouble building muscle on a vegan diet, I’ve found that the average vegan eats too little “high-quality” protein to gain muscle efficiently.

This makes it much harder to gain muscle as a vegan than it should be.

Many don’t realize this, though, and think that vegan dieting as a whole is to blame—that you simply can’t get big and strong without animal foods.

Well, they’re wrong.

You just need to know how to make a proper vegan bodybuilding meal plan.

Summary: Many plant sources of protein are poorly absorbed and lower in essential amino acids than animal sources of protein, which is why vegans need to pay special attention to their protein intake to optimize muscle growth.

How to Create a Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan

Meal planning is very simple. There are just four steps:

  1. Work out your calories.
  2. Work out your macros.
  3. Work out your meal timing and sizing.
  4. Work out your foods for each meal.

If you’re not familiar with any of that, check out this article on meal planning before continuing here.

What we’re going to focus on in this article is step number four, because this is what trips many vegans up.

Specifically, they run into two problems:

1. Eating enough protein.

To many, 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day seems impossible.

2. Balancing their macros.

The wrong food choices can make it very hard to not only meet protein needs but carbohydrate and fat needs as well.

For example, many vegans struggle to get anywhere near the standard “bodybuilding calorie split” of 40% of daily calories from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fat.

They often find that meeting one macronutrient target makes another hopelessly high or low.

Fortunately, these issues are fairly easy to overcome.

First, let’s talk protein.

What Are the Best Sources of Vegan Protein?

As you know, the best sources of vegan protein are those that are both well absorbed and rich in essential amino acids, with special attention given to leucine.

There are quite a few protein sources that fit that bill:

  • Grains like rice and oats
  • Vegetables and legumes like peas, beans, and potato
  • Nuts like almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and pistachios
  • Seeds like quinoa and buckwheat (unfortunately most other seeds are poorly digested unless ground into a flour)

It’s as simple as this:

If you get the majority (70%+) of your daily protein from high-quality sources like these, you’re going to do well.

If, however, you get the majority of your protein from lower-quality sources, such as hemp, corn, and wheat, you’re going to struggle.

Beyond what I already mentioned, here are some more specific high-protein, vegan-friendly foods for hitting your protein goals:

  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Seitan
  • Amaranth
  • Kamut
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Spelt
  • Chia seeds
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Farro
  • Flaxseeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Mycoprotein
  • Protein powder (Thrive is a pea/rice blend)

Now, there’s one food conspicuously missing from this list: soy. Read on to learn why.

Summary: The easiest way to make a vegan meal plan that provides plenty of high-quality protein is to focus on nutritious, well absorbed, essential-amino-acid-rich protein sources like beans, peas, nuts, and certain kinds of grains like quinoa and rice.

The Problem with Soy Protein

Soy protein is a mixed bag.

It’s an all-round good source of protein for building muscle, but it’s also a source of ongoing controversy.

According to some research, regular intake of soy foods has feminizing effects in men due to estrogen-like molecules found in soybeans called isoflavones.

For instance, a study conducted by scientists at Harvard University analyzed the semen of 99 men, and compared it against their soy and isoflavone intake during the 3 previous months.

What they found is that both isoflavone and soy intake were associated with a reduction in sperm count. Men in the highest intake category of soy foods had, on average, 41 million sperm/ml less than men who did not eat soy foods.

On the other hand, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Guelph had 32 men eat low or high levels of isoflavones from soy protein for 57 days, and found that it didn’t affect semen quality.

Furthermore, several reviews suggest that neither soy foods nor isoflavones alter male hormone levels.

There’s even evidence that isoflavones can help normalize estrogen levels by either suppressing or increasing production as needed.

What gives, then?

Well, there isn’t a simple answer just yet.

What we do know, though, is the effects can vary depending on the presence or absence of certain intestinal bacteria. These bacteria, which are present in 30 to 50% of people, metabolize an isoflavone in soy called daidzein into an estrogen-like hormone called equol.

This can be seen in a study conducted by scientists at Peking University, which found that when equol-producing men ate high amounts of soy food for 3 days, their testosterone levels dropped and estrogen levels rose. These effects were not seen in women, regardless of equol production or lack thereof.

Now, that’s an overview of soy and men. What about women?

Well, research suggests it’s less likely to negatively affect hormones, regardless of equol production, so there’s no reason for concern here.

So, all things considered, I’d say completely avoiding soy protein is probably unnecessary.

That said, why not opt for something else when there are so many other sources of plant-based protein available?

If I were vegan, I’d limit my intake to no more than 30 to 40 grams of soy protein per day (and, if I’m going to be completely honest, I’d probably just choose rice or pea protein powder instead).

If you want to include soy in your meal plan, however, consider these foods:

  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Soy protein concentrate (which may actually lack isoflavones depending on processing methods)

Summary: Men can include some soy in their diet without likely downsides, but with so many other good sources of protein available without potential negative side effects, I recommend they get the majority of their protein from sources other than soy.

Balancing Your Macros for Vegan Bodybuilding

The dictionary defines “macronutrient” in the following way:

Any of the nutritional components of the diet that are required in relatively large amounts: protein, carbohydrate, fat, and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorous.

(Most people think of “macros” as just protein, carbohydrate, and fat, but technically it includes the macrominerals and water as well.)

When it comes to diet and meal planning, the macronutrients you want to pay the most attention to are protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

When it comes to building muscle, getting your “macros” right is extremely important.

This is true regardless of whether you’re vegan or omnivorous.

Now, the standard baseline diet I recommend for lean bulking bodybuilding looks like this:

  • ~1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day

(This should be slightly higher when cutting.)

  • ~0.35 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day

(This can be slightly lower when cutting.)

  • ~2.2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per day

(Again, this will be lower if you’re cutting.)

If you want to learn more about these recommendations and how to adjust them based on your needs, check out this article on figuring out your macros:

This Is the Best Macronutrient Calculator on the Net

Now, hitting macro guidelines like those above is fairly easy as an omnivore, mainly because of the amount of low-carb and low-fat sources of protein available to us.

As a vegan, however, you might find you need to raise your fats and lower your carbs to hit both your protein and calorie targets (and especially when you’re cutting).

(This is primarily because most forms of “good” vegan protein also come with carbs and/or fats.)

And that’s fine because, as you know, eating enough calories and enough protein are of paramount importance when you want to build muscle.

A high-carb diet is more conducive to muscle growth than a low-carb one, but this is secondary in importance to the above.

So if you have to “sacrifice” some of your carbs to make sure you get enough protein without eating too many calories, you should do it.

I wouldn’t recommend you reduce your carbohydrate intake more than necessary, though. If you’re not sedentary and very overweight, you have no reason to follow a low-carb diet.

Otherwise, balancing your macros is just a matter of familiarizing yourself with the calories and macros of the foods you like to eat and then using that knowledge to create a proper meal plan.

Again, you can read more about the whole meal planning process here, but all it takes is a bit of trial and error and you’ll get the hang of it.

I should also mention here that a good vegan protein powder can help with this tremendously because it allows you to add large amounts of protein to your diet without adding much in the way of carbs and fats.

As I mentioned earlier, my go-to would be a pea protein or, ideally, a rice and pea protein blend (their amino acid profiles are complementary and, when combined, look a lot like whey protein).

If you’re looking for a tasty, high-quality, high-protein rice and pea protein powder blend that’s also low in carbs and fats, check out Legion Thrive.

The Vegan Menu for Bodybuilders

Here are some of my favorite vegan sources of fat (many of them also include some protein):

  • Avocado
  • Nut butters like peanut and almond
  • Nuts like cashews, macadamias, and Brazil nuts
  • Tahini
  • Olive, avocado, and macadamia nut oils

For carbs, these are my go-tos:

  • Potatoes (sweet and white)
  • Oats
  • Rice (brown, white, wild)
  • Bulgur
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-wheat pasta and bread
  • Vegetables like broccoli, carrots, kale, mushrooms, and cauliflower
  • Fruit like bananas, apples, berries, pineapple, and oranges

Summary: Aim for 1 gram of protein, 0.35 grams of fat, and 2.2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day when bulking, although it’s fine to eat slightly more fat and less carbs if you have trouble eating this much food.

What About Micronutrient Deficiencies?

You’ve probably heard that excluding animal products from your diet increases the risk of various nutritional deficiencies.

This is true.

For example, studies show that many vegans have low levels of . . .

  • Vitamins D and B12
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Iodine

(Many omnivores have various micronutrient deficiencies as well, so eating indiscriminately doesn’t necessarily make for a healthier diet.)

You’ve probably also heard that these common deficiencies among vegans can be avoided by simply adding certain foods to your diet.

This is true to a point, but it’s also easier said than done.

For example, the calcium in some vegetables isn’t as bioavailable as the calcium in dairy products (and in any case, multiple servings of veggies are needed to equal a single serving of dairy).

Many plant sources of iron and zinc are also inferior to animal sources and require rather large amounts to be eaten.

The omega-3 fatty acid problem boils down to the fact that a vegan’s primary source of this vital fat is alpha-linolenic acid, which is poorly absorbed by the body.

All this means that you have two options if you want to optimize your health and performance on a vegan diet:

  1. Micromanage your diet to include generous amounts of foods high in the nutrients listed above.
  2. Supplement.

And in some cases like vitamin D and EPA and DHA, supplementation is the only viable choice.

Personally I would choose door number two because it’s easy and fairly inexpensive, but if you’re a staunch anti-supplement guy or gal, you’ll need to put extra time into your meal planning to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of the many vital nutrients your body needs.

Here are some of my recommended sources for hard-to-get nutrients on a vegan diet:

  • Vitamin D: supplement.
  • Vitamin B12: supplement, fortified cereals.
  • Iron: beans, prunes, fortified cereals.
  • Calcium: edamame, tofu, sesame seeds, almonds, spinach, and bok choy.
  • Zinc: soy products, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and lentils.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: ground flaxseeds and walnuts, but I’d recommend an algae oil instead (though this can be expensive).
  • Riboflavin: almonds, mushrooms, fortified cereals.
  • Iodine: seaweed (especially Kombu kelp), iodized salt.

Summary: Vegans are more at risk for certain micronutrient deficiencies, but these can be avoided by consuming a diet of the right foods and supplements.

Examples of Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plans

At this point you’d probably like to see some well-made vegan bodybuilding meal plans, so here are a few that we’ve made for our custom meal plan clients.

As you can see, with a little work and creativity, you can do just fine.

The Bottom Line on Vegan Bodybuilding

There’s no reason you can’t build muscle as a vegan, but you need to acknowledge it will be more difficult than if you were following an omnivorous diet.

The biggest challenge of building muscle on a vegan diet is getting enough high-quality, easily-absorbed protein.

You can work around this issue, though, by carefully choosing certain plant foods that are rich in high-quality protein. Even then, however, you’ll likely have to eat quite a lot of these foods to hit your daily protein target of around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

If you’re willing to go the extra mile and carefully plan you meals so you can hit this protein target consistently, while getting most of your protein from high-quality sources like peas, beans, quinoa, rice, nuts, and so forth, you can build muscle effectively.

Soy is also a good source of high-quality protein, but some research shows it may cause negative health effects in men when eaten in large amounts. As a result, I recommend you get most of your protein from other sources.

When it comes to macros for building muscle on a vegan diet, my recommendations are the same as for meat eaters:

  • Get around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
  • Get around 0.35 grams of fat per pound of body weight.
  • Get around 2.2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight.

As a vegan, you may find it easier to hit your protein and calorie targets by slightly reducing your carb intake and increasing your fat intake, although this may not be necessary.

Certain micronutrient deficiencies are more common among vegans than omnivores. However, you can avoid this problem by consuming a variety of different micronutrient-dense foods and supplementing strategically.

So, here’s what all this comes down do:

If you’re not willing to plan and/or track your calories and macros and eat a handful of staple foods regularly, and possibly take some supplements, you’re going to struggle to build muscle as a vegan.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to carefully manage your diet so you’re getting enough high-quality protein and calories, as well as plenty of nutrient-dense foods to avoid micronutrient deficiencies, you can build muscle just fine as a vegan.

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Macros: Adjust your regular ratio for more protein

The cliche bodybuilding images of steak for breakfast and huge tubs of whey protein are not encouraging to a vegan with big body goals. And neither is constantly being told your vegan diet won’t give you enough protein to build muscle.

Don’t let the cliches and falsehoods put you off.

It is definitely possible to bulk up and add muscle mass on a vegan diet. With some small changes and big effort, your regular vegan diet can become your bodybuilding vegan diet.

Here’s how to stay a vegan and become a bodybuilder at the same time:

Remember: The principles of healthy eating stay the same.

Any healthy diet is about balance – whether you’re meaty, veggie, or vegan. It’s not enough to eat the right foods and the right amount of calories, the ratio in which you consume them is equally vital.

Adapting your vegan diet for a bodybuilding regime doesn’t change this.

What does change is that you focus on the foods that are great for building muscle, and you eat a lot more than you would on your regular vegan diet.

Let’s look at what a vegan bodybuilder should eat and why.

Carbs, proteins, and fats: these are the three macronutrients, or macros for short. The quantity of each that you consume, and the percentage of your overall diet that each one accounts for, is what determines whether your diet is optimal for your goals or not.

On a general vegan diet, as a rule of thumb, the advice is to keep your daily protein intake to around 0.8g per kg body weight for a sedentary adult. and around 1.1-1.6 for those exercising.

But on a vegan bodybuilding diet, you need to get more muscle-building protein into your system. So when you’re training, it’s good to aim for more grams of protein per kg body weight, or more simply put, more calories from protein.

See table below for more information into what you should be aiming for:

Protein Requirements VS. Amount Consumed

Estimated upper requirement for adults 0.9 2.0
Average protein intake for male endurance athletes 0.5 – 0.9 1.1 – 2.0
Average protein intake for female endurance athletes 0.5 – 0.8 1.1 – 1.8
ACSM 2016; Helms, E. 2014; and Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board, 2002

Best Protein Sources for a Vegan Bodybuilding Diet

Protein is an important part of everybody’s diet. It plays a crucial role in many fundamental processes, including keeping your red blood cells healthy. It’s even more vital to a vegan bodybuilder’s diet. That’s because protein is key to building and maintaining muscle mass.

Fortunately, there are lots of vegan dietary elements rich in protein:

  • Nuts and nut butters – including peanut, almond, and hazelnut
  • Seeds – such as sesame, sunflower, chia, and flax
  • Grains – like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and bulgur wheat
  • Beans – dried or otherwise, such as kidney, black, and soya
  • Other pulses – such as chickpeas, green peas, and lentils
  • Tofu or soya bean curd – condensed and solidified soya milk
  • Tempeh – made from fermented soya beans and shaped into a block
  • Seitan – a wheat derivative made of gluten

Best Carbohydrate Sources for a Vegan Bodybuilding Diet

Carbohydrates can be a controversial topic in the nutrition world. But if you’re working out and bodybuilding, you simply must have a good balance of carbohydrates in your diet.

Carbohydrates get broken down by your body into glucose. That glucose provides the fuel and energy your body needs. You’ll need plenty of that energy to complete the training needed to really bulk up.

Guidelines for Daily Carbohydrate Intake:

ACSM, AND, and DC Joint Position Statement: Nutrition and Athletic Performance, 2016.

The following are great sources of carbohydrates to incorporate into your diet:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Barley
  • Lentils
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Chickpeas
  • Black beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Sweet potatoes and yams
  • White potatoes
  • Brown rice

Best Fat Souces for a Vegan Bodybuilding Diet

Fat is a more concentrated source of energy than either protein or carbohydrate. It packs in far more calories per gram. That makes it a godsend for any bodybuilder. When you’re looking to bulk up, you need a surplus of calories to add muscle mass. Fat delivers that surplus without the need to eat a far greater volume of food.

Vitamins A, D, E and K are vital in small amounts for a healthy lifestyle. That quartet are known as fat-soluble vitamins. They do not dissolve in water. They provide the most benefit when consumed via and with higher-fat foods, as it’s then that they’re better absorbed. That’s another reason why fat is an important part of a vegan bodybuilding diet.

What’s great news for any vegan bodybuilder is that lots of nuts and seeds are rich in healthy Omega-5 fats.

The following are some of your best options:

  • Macadamia nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Cashew nuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Tahini
  • Almonds
  • Flax seeds
  • Avocado
  • Walnuts
  • Peanuts

Nuts and seeds like those listed above are also a good source of Omega-3 fats. Those fats are proven to have a whole host of health benefits. They aid a healthy heart, improve circulation, and lower blood pressure.

Certain Omega-3 fats also help reduce inflammation, which can cause swelling and pain in the joints. That makes them vital for bodybuilders looking to return to training after an injury layoff. A vegan bodybuilding diet can be rich in Omega-3 if balanced correctly. You can also supplement your intake of healthy fats with plant-based supplements.

Micros: Prioritise the Nutrients that Build Muscle

More commonly-known as vitamins and minerals, micronutrients are vital for good health. We don’t need huge amounts of these in our diet but when we don’t get enough, we’re more likely to become ill or suffer from diseases such as rickets and osteoporosis.

If your regular vegan diet is full of fresh fruit and vegetables, it should contain plenty of the essential micronutrients you need for all-round good health.

When you switch to a vegan bodybuilding diet, certain micros become even more important because they aid the muscle-building process. Here are the micros you’ll want to pay close attention to when you’re bulking up.

Iron plays a crucial role in getting oxygen from your lungs to your muscles, which makes it an important nutrient when you’re trying to bulk up.

Vegan Sources Of Iron:

  • Lentils – a rich source of both protein and iron
  • Spinach – there’s a very good reason for Popeye’s spinach obsession
  • Kale – cooked kale in particular is a good iron source
  • Dried apricots – a great source of iron, just watch out for the sugar content
  • Seeds – such as pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • Nuts – such as cashews and almonds

Vitamin C

The amount of iron you absorb from your food can be influenced by your levels of vitamin C. And with iron being important for building muscle, you’ll want to keep your vitamin C levels up when you switch to a vegan bodybuilding diet.

Vegan Sources Of Vitamin C:

  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Red and green peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Blackcurrants
  • Strawberries
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Potatoes


A lack of calcium in your diet can have negative effects on your metabolism and muscle contraction, and it can trigger the hormone that makes you store fat. Calcium-rich foods are an important part of any bodybuilder’s diet.

Calcium-rich Foods for a Vegan Bodybuilding Diet:

  • Almonds
  • Tahini
  • Pak choi
  • Okra
  • Sesame seeds

So, those are the nutrients and specific foods to focus on if you want to adapt a vegan bodybuilding diet in order to gain muscle and burn fat.

Now let’s look at how much you need to eat and when.

What to Eat When You’re Training – And When to Eat It

On average, men should consume around 2,500 calories a day and women, 2,000 calories a day. But in order to gain muscle mass, it is recommended that you eat between 250 and 1,000 calories more on training days.

The exact amount you need to consume will vary depending on your bodyweight and how intensively you train. A good rule of thumb is to take in between 15 and 20 calories per pound of bodyweight. If you’re really hitting the weights, aim for the top end of the calorie intake scale. If you’re not pumping iron as much as you’d like, aim for the lower end.

With vegan diets being naturally lower in calories, you’ll need to eat significantly more food than you’re used to if you want to add muscle. But that doesn’t mean you should eat huge, heavy meals. In fact, we’ve got some delicious vegan bodybuilding recipe ideas here.

The best way to take in enough food as fuel is to eat lots of small, frequent meals throughout the day.

Eating little but often through the day ensures a more regular flow of nutrients into your body. You’re basically keeping your body continually topped up with the vital protein, fats, carbs and other dietary elements we discussed earlier.

Small but frequent meals also deliver a range of knock-on benefits. A constant influx of nutrients helps maintain a positive nitrogen balance. That helps speed up your metabolism and increase your body’s fat-burning capabilities. Both of those things are critical to building muscle mass and bulking up.

Rather than having a main breakfast, lunch and dinner, switch to eating six meals per day. Depending on your daily routine, spread the meals as evenly as you can. For most people, that will mean eating every two to three hours from early morning until around nine or ten o’clock at night.

Eat the Right Nutrients at the Right Time of Day

It’s a good idea to alter the exact nutrients you take in according to the time of day. You need to consume protein throughout to ensure you keep adding muscle mass. In the daytime, however, you should concentrate more on carbohydrates to accompany the protein. Later in the day, you should then focus on consuming more healthy fats.

Low-glycemic carbs during the day give you the energy needed to workout at the peak of your ability. Healthy fats later in the day help to slow digestion. That extends the drip-feed of protein to your body overnight. It also has the added benefit of ensuring you stay feeling full, and aren’t tempted to snack later into the night.

Limit Your Snacks Between Meals

Speaking of snacking, eating outside of your six main meal times isn’t ideal. Given how closely spaced those meal times are, it’s not likely you’ll be too tempted to add extra snacks. If you do feel a craving for something, though, don’t be too hard on yourself.

You can enjoy a sneaky snack from time to time, but the key is moderation. You should try to avoid eating outside of your main meal plan as much as you can. When you do add an extra snack, keep it as healthy as possible and don’t go over the top with the volume. Eat a small amount.

Stay Hydrated: Make Sure You’re Watered as Well as Fed

Hydration is also of paramount importance. Aside from protein shakes, which are key to any vegan bodybuilder’s diet, you’re best beverage options are water or green tea. Both provide the hydration you need and the latter has the added benefit of giving a natural energy boost.

It’s recommended that you drink at least 2 litres of fluid per day. You don’t need to measure out your drinks throughout the day, just keep yourself hydrated. Be sensible: drink when you’re thirsty, avoid unhealthy beverages, and you’ll be fine.

What to Eat When You’re NOT Training

Much as you may like to, you shouldn’t train all the time. You’ll need to include some rest days in your workout program to allow your muscles to recover. Even if you’re on a vegan diet, which has the benefit of shortening recovery times, these rest days are still vital.

Cutting seasons are as much a part of bodybuilding as the bulking up. During a cutting season, you’re looking to lose fat while maintaining all the muscle you’ve worked hard to build up. It makes sense, then, that your eating plan on rest days or during cutting seasons should change a little.

Lose a Meal to reduce Your Calorie Intake

The types of meals you should eat at these times doesn’t really change. It’s still important to take in a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. If you’re really hitting cutting season hard, you could slightly reduce the proportion of fat. But the main thing you want to do is tweak your meal cycle.

On a rest day or during cutting season, reduce your meal plan down to five per day. Have your two morning meals at the same times, but then space three – not four – meals out through the afternoon and evening. That way, you’re taking out the calories you no longer need because you’re not training.

Gains: When to Expect Results if You’re Bodybuilding on a Vegan Diet

It’s a common misconception that you can’t bodybuild with a vegan diet. It’s perfectly possible to train and bulk up as effectively on a plant-based diet as when you eat meat. The principles of consuming the right nutrients are exactly the same. All that’s different is where you get those nutrients – especially protein – from.

As such, bodybuilding results for a vegan bodybuilder will arrive in the same way as for anyone else. Muscle growth takes perseverance, dedication, and time. Results will come slowly, as a result of a well-regimented plan of diet and training. Eat right, train hard, and repeat is the formula to keep in mind.

Adopting the right kind of plant-based diet while bodybuilding can deliver benefits along the way. Get the balance of your vegan bodybuilding diet correct and you’ll feel generally healthier. That will allow you to train harder. On a vegan diet, too, recovery time is anecdotally reported to be significantly shorter. That means you can make your training as intensive and efficient as possible.

3 Top Tips for Switching from a Regular Diet to a Bodybuilding Vegan Diet

The transition to a bodybuilding diet and regime is a tricky one, whether your diet is vegan or otherwise. If you’re finding the transition tough, it’s entirely understandable.

Keeping these three simple tips in mind can make things much easier.

1. Plan Your Meal Times to Jump From Three to Six

The whole three square meals a day idea is one that’s drummed into most people from an early age. Changing that up completely to a five or six meal regimen will take a bit of getting used to.

Planning the switch in advance makes the whole process simpler. Think about the shape of your day. When do you get up? When are you going to work out? What time do you normally go to bed? From there, you can plan your meal times to fit best with your natural routine.

2. Change Your Meal Cycles on Your Days Off

When you’re not training, your nutritional requirements are different. You don’t need as many calories to fuel your workouts. The best way to reduce your calorie intake is to change your meal cycle. It makes more sense than having your small meals even smaller.

On rest days or during cutting season, alter your meal cycle to include only five meals. It’s best to take away one of your afternoon meals and space the others out more widely. That way, you remove those unnecessary calories but you won’t feel hungry due to one excessive gap between meals.

3. Vary Your Diet to Make it More Interesting

With a vegan bodybuilding diet, you are viewing food as fuel. But that doesn’t mean what you eat needs to be boring. A well-balanced and optimised diet for bodybuilding can still contain interesting and delicious meals.

The snacks that are included in your meal plan also give you scope for creativity. Make yourself some tempting vegan treats and it can help make that hard work feel even more worthwhile.

Eat Right, Eat Often, Train Hard, And You’ll Make Gains

Bodybuilding is absolutely possible when you’re a vegan. A vegan bodybuilder’s diet is not that different in content from the diet of any other vegan. Most of your current, favourite vegan foods can still feature. The key is achieving balance in the different nutrients you need for building muscle and bulking up.

What you want is a diet that provides everything you need to get buff, and no more. Ideally, you’re looking for a 40/40/20 protein/carbohydrate/fat ratio. That provides the fuel needed for the intensive training that all bodybuilders must complete. You can add to this with vegan bodybuilding supplements. The best way to ensure that constant flow of nutrients is by adopting a five or six meal daily cycle.

Transitioning to a vegan bodybuilding diet does take some effort. Planning, shopping for, and cooking meals is key when you’re eating five or six times a day. The extra effort is well worth it, however. Once you get into the new routine, you can start building that body you’ve always dreamt of. All without abandoning your plant-based principles.

Don’t let the cliches stop you from achieving your goals. Take it slow because the gains will come.

Good luck!

How Much Protein Do We Need and Where Can We Find It on a Vegan Diet?


“Where do you get your protein from on a vegan diet and how much do you have per day?”

Hands down the most common question any vegan gets is “Where do you get your protein from and how much do you have per day?”. From a young age we are led to believe we need more protein than we can actually utilise in a healthy manner.

The more I have studied nutrition and read about metabolism and chronic disease, the more I have realised that protein is far from the be all and end all. In fact, to put it plainly, protein is an over emphasised and over consumed nutrient as a result of the marketing of meat and protein powders. The momentum of this marketing (billions of dollars) has then been further propelled by Nutritionists, Doctors and Personal Trainers who get caught up in the hype and do not fully understand metabolism and the risks with excess protein intake (it takes a lot of time to properly go through the research). Just because something is on tv, in a magazine or in a nutrition course does not mean its ‘gospel’ – unfortunately, protein has had far too much air time at the detriment of long term health. To get some background on protein consumption and disease, have a read of Animal Protein & Disease which runs through the science around high protein consumption and it’s association with chronic illness.

Don’t get me wrong, we need amino acids (protein), and in particular we need to get the essential amino acids from our diet, however this is easily achieved and there are certainly more important nutrients that the general population should be considering. What’s really important to understand is that all of these essential amino acids that are required for protein synthesis originate in plants. That’s right, they are produced by plants, not mammals. So as humans we can either consume them by going direct to the plants or by eating an animal (an animal that eats plants directly or eats other animals who eat plants). Often people will say that plant proteins are incomplete, but that’s clearly not true now that you know all essential amino acids originate from plants. What’s true is that the amino acids in plants are in different ratios to those found in animal products, but more and more research is actually telling us that this is incredibly healthful. So long as you eat a well diversified plant-based diet, and eat enough calories (not starving yourself) you will get all of these essential amino acids that your body requires.

Now that we have cleared that up lets take a look at how much total protein we actually need and where you can find it on a plant based diet.

What is the Recommended Dietary Intake of Protein per day?

The RDI of protein for inactive persons aged between 19-70 is 0.84 grams per KG (0.38g/lb) of body mass for men and 0.75 grams per KG (0.34g/lb) of body mass for women (1). As we get older than 70 years of age, our protein requirement does go up.

Based on this and looking at science on protein and disease, I have put together a few macronutrient tables, which I find works for most people, and will give you a guide on the amount of protein you should aim for based on your activity level, physical goals and calorie target.

So what is the upper limit of protein per day (safe level) to minimise these ageing and cancer causing growth hormones?

The Nutrient Reference Values set by the Australian Government advise the below with regards to the upper limit of protein intake per day:

No upper limit was set as there are insufficient data. However, an upper limit of 25% protein as energy is recommended which is why I recommend this for those who are VERY active. Otherwise you simply do not have the need for such levels of protein and as a nutrient it will be inefficiently utilised compared with eating more clean carbohydrates.

If anyone is telling you to jump on a diet that is well over 25% of calories from Protein then they are not considering your long term health and the consequences of excess amino acid concentration in your body and the associated chronic illnesses that will be significantly increased. Although animal protein is considerably worse in excess than plant protein (due to it’s amino acid make up) there’s no reason to consume any protein in excess. You may be thinking “What about the Keto diet”? There is no population that has been studied over time to conclude that a high protein, low carbohydrate diet is healthy in the long term and from what we know about proteins, they are strongly linked to causing cancer and ageing at high levels. In contrast, we have the ‘blue zone‘ populations to look at as populations that have displayed longevity, and at the core of their diets they stick to a largely plant-based, whole food diet without excessive protein. A great resource to listen to which goes deeper into the danger of high protein consumption, and keto in particular, is a recent interview of Joel Khan, MD and Rich Roll.

So what plant foods contain protein?

In short, pretty much every single whole plant food contains protein but here is a list of some of the major ones!

  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas) including Tofu and Tempeh. Want to know more about Soy? – check this
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Nuts
  • Spirulina
  • Brown Rice
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Oats & Amaranth

I understand the science and it makes sense but practically, how will I get the protein intake I need on a plant based or vegan diet?

So let’s look at a scenario for an 85Kg male like me that is doing regular, moderate exercise per week including some running and strength training. My calorie aim is around 2,500 – to calculate your total calorie requirements checkout my macronutrient/calorie blog. For me, based on my activity level I need roughly 125g of protein per day. This can easily be achieved with 20% of calories coming from protein which falls below the max 25% of calories from protein that is recommended as safe. So I am comfortable that I am able to build muscle and not over consume protein at a toxic level. Meal wise this could look something like the below to achieve this protein level. Note I have just grabbed a regular day of eating for me and shown you how the 125g of protein is easily found.

  1. Tofu (200g) (30 grams protein) with vegetables including generous serve of dark leafy greens, Sauerkraut/Kimchi and 1/2 can black beans (5 grams protein)
  2. 50g almonds (11 grams protein) with 2tbsp hemp seeds (10.6 grams protein) and 1/2 cup blueberries (1 gram protein) OR 30g hemp & pea protein shake (wholefood option preferable however if time restricts the extra ‘meal’ then a plant-based shake that 100% natural is a good option).
  3. 150g of Tempeh (25 grams protein), 1/2 avocado (1 gram protein), Sauerkraut/Kimchi, 1 cup broccoli (2.6 grams protein), 1 cup cooked brown rice (8 grams protein), 1 cup raw spinach and Chilli sauce
  4. Plant Protein Shake (20 grams) or for some extra calories homemade Chia Pudding (3 tbsp) with 20g hemp protein added (20 grams protein)
  5. 200g Chickpea (12grams protein) salad with loads of dark leafy green veggies (5g protein) and 2 tbsp hemp seeds (10.6 grams protein).

TOTAL Protein: Approx 125-140g of protein (note there will actually be slightly more protein than this as all your veggies you add to these meals also contain protein. I.e 3 grams of protein per 1 cup of Kale).

This is just one quick example of how easy it is to get the protein required for an 85Kg male that’s doing regular moderate exercise including strength training. To see the common foods I buy each week, including plant-based sources of protein, read this Vegan tips for maximising lean muscle gain and also my grocery tips and supplement blog. If you truly want to thrive and build lean muscle it’s best to use protein shakes as ‘supplements’ and aim to get AS MUCH of your daily protein from whole foods. This will benefit not only your gains but also your long term health and avoidance of chronic disease.

Summary of Protein on a Vegan Diet:

  1. We do not need as much protein as we thought
  2. It’s very easily obtained through a plant-based diet and is way cleaner and higher quality because the protein is not sitting next to cholesterol, saturated animal fats, carnitine, antibiotics and hormones.
  3. Calculate your daily calorie burn using methods in the Macronutrient and Calorie Blog (Basal Metabolic Rate + activity burn = total daily calorie burn)
  4. Based on your weight goal (loss, maintenance or gain) set your calorie target
  5. Then lastly go to the inactive, moderately active or very active table (based on your activity level per week) to see your macronutrient breakdown (grams of carbohydrates, protein and fat you should aim for daily).
  6. As always, try and get as MUCH of your foods from whole foods per day, however I am not opposed to an organic plant protein shake (or add to soaked oats or a smoothie bowl etc) if you find that it required to help you reach your desired macronutrients.

Lastly, for those of you who are not right into your training and just want to live a healthy plant-based diet, don’t stress too much about all these calculations. Just stick to mainly carbohydrates, some good sources of plant protein and the remainder as fats – nail the balance of plant-based whole foods and trust me you do not need to stress about protein! If you feel like you are dropping weight up your meal sizes a little bit and vice versa if you are gaining weight until you work out the sweet spot with regards to how much plant fuel your body needs to stay the same weight.


No-Meat Muscle: 4 Rules For Building Lean Mass On A Vegetarian Diet

If there’s one thing that most vegetarians hate, it’s having someone talk about their dietary system like it’s a problem that needs to be solved. So let’s get this out of the way: Vegetarians can build muscle and strength just like meat-eaters. Got that? Good.

There are hundreds of millions of vegetarians in the world, and people choose to embrace this lifestyle for countless reasons—from religious, to nutritional, to simple personal preference. As anyone who has embraced this lifestyle can attest, it’s not as simple as “don’t eat meat.”

Everyone from your grandmother to your favorite whey manufacturer is a potential threat to sneak animal products into your food, meaning you have to be diligent about doing your research in addition to minding your macros.

Need a roadmap? Here are four simple rules that vegetarian athletes should keep in mind in order to maximize their nutrition. Heed them, and you’ll have the fuel you need to grow like a weed.

Rule 1: Know Your Whey

Meat-eaters may classify the world in terms of carnivores and herbivores, but vegetarians know it’s not so simple. There are several types of vegetarians including:

  • Lacto-vegetarians (dairy is allowed)
  • Pescatarians (fish is allowed)
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians (dairy and eggs are allowed)
  • Vegans (No animal products of any kind are allowed)

Each variation presents its own set of unique challenges, as the people in these respective categories are well aware.

But one thing they all need when they’re training is sufficient protein. Without it, they put themselves at serious risk for subpar results and just generally feeling like a wilted piece of celery.

What about whey and casein powders? Both are milk byproducts, so they’re clearly off-limits to vegans and to strict pescatarians. But they should be A-OK for lacto- and lacto-ovo vegetarians, right? If only it were so simple. To separate milk into its component parts of curds (where casein and cheese come from) and whey, producers add an enzyme called rennet. There are vegetable and microbial sources for rennet, but the most common source is the stomachs of slaughtered veal calves. In other words, not so veggie-friendly.

One easy way to tell if your protein is vegetarian is if it’s kosher, because milk and meat products can’t mix in a kosher diet. Unfortunately, most proteins don’t include this information on their labels or websites. So if you want to know where a certain company stands, the best bet is to do your homework: search around, or call them up and ask.

Rule 2: Explore Plant Protein

If the rennet dance sounds a little complicated, which is understandable, consider exploring other vegetarian protein sources. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from, most of which line up nicely against their animalistic competitors. Some of the most popular sources include:

  • Egg protein, egg white protein, and liquid egg whites. All three offer a protein punch similar to whey protein, but are far simpler and more predictable when it comes to ingredients.
  • Soy protein. Perhaps the most prominent vegetarian alternative to whey, soy proteins are similarly protein-packed but are incredibly low in fat and cholesterol. Soy generally offers more flavor options than other vegetarian proteins, but read your labels carefully, because some soy proteins contain milk and/or fish products.
  • Pea protein. The lowly pea is riding high these days due to the “Dr. Oz Effect,” but the TV doc was only stating what savvy vegetarians already knew. Pea protein is high in protein, easy to digest, cholesterol-free, and has a solid branched-chain amino acid profile.
  • Hemp protein. Hemp seeds are packed with Omega-3s and high in magnesium and iron, to say nothing of their solid protein content. Plus, a serving also contains almost half your daily dose of fiber—remember that stuff?

Some manufacturers like Vega Sport, Garden of Life, and MRM also offer their own designer veggie protein blends that mix various plant and grain proteins. There are plenty to choose from, so a little research can go a long way.

Rule 3: Eat Well

I know it seems obvious, but most of us know at least one vegetarian who seems to magically survive on ramen noodles, fries, and sweets. Men’s Health recently coined a term for these people: obesatarians.

Your vegetarian allies are begging you not to become one of these. Aside from the damage you do to yourself, you give the whole plant kingdom a bad name.

What’s the alternative? Strive for balance! Include a barrage of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. These form the cornerstone of a healthy diet for herbivores and omnivores alike, and they offer incredible health benefits. Don’t always fill up veggies and fruits (which is hard to do, by the way); most of your calories should come from dense foods—especially if you’re trying to build muscle.

Hearty vegetarian protein sources that mix well with veggies:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Soybeans
  • Seitan

If you’re the type of vegetarian who gets full on things like brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, legumes, beans and lentils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and avocados, you’ve given yourself a good chance to build some muscle. On the other hand, if you’re a vegetarian who feasts mostly on salad, stir-fry, fresh fruit, and other vegetable-based dishes, you’re likely falling short on your macro needs. For every vegetable you eat, pair it with a healthy fat and protein-packed side. This provides the balance of nutrition you need!

Rule 4: Watch Out For Deficiencies

If you’ve been a vegetarian for a long time, then someone has doubtlessly already tried to warn you that an iron deficiency is likely to kill you in a matter of minutes. Is this a reason to give up and attack the nearest cow? Definitely not. But don’t underestimate the degree to which micronutrient deficiencies can impact your health and well-being. Here are the four biggest threats to watch out for:

1. Iron

Iron can be subdivided into two types, heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is commonly found in red meat and absorbs easiest into the body, making it the variety most vegetarians fall short in. Non-heme iron is found in many vegetable-based foods including:

  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens
  • Dried peas
  • Beans and lentils
  • Artichokes
  • Dried fruit: raisins, prunes, and black currents

Females are more likely than males to experience iron-deficiency anemia because they lose iron during their menstrual cycle. Alone, non-heme iron alone usually can’t overcome iron-deficiency anemia, so consider supplementation.

2. Calcium

Calcium is vital in maintaining strong bones and plays a crucial role in muscular contractions. Low calcium intake causes cramping during workouts, hindering performance and ability. In the long-term, it can also lead to thinning of the bones and osteoporosis.

Dietary calcium is typically found in dairy-rich foods, so it’s easy to find for lacto-vegetarians. Alternate sources of calcium fit for a vegan diet include:

  • Spinach
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Almonds

Absorption rate varies in each of these, so if you have any doubts, consider supplementing with calcium to meet your nutritional requirements.

3. Zinc

Zinc is an essential trace element that promotes proper growth and development across the body, and yet it’s a mineral that many vegetarians neglect. Deficiencies can impact everything from appetite, to cognitive power and motor skills, to testosterone levels in men. The best zinc sources are generally animal products, so vegetarians need to prioritize this mineral.

To combat zinc depletion, vegetarians should supplement with zinc products or consume natural sources like:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Almonds, walnuts, or macadamia nuts
  • Fortified oatmeal or cereals

4. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiencies can turn serious if not resolved immediately, creating a real area of concern for vegetarians.

The type of B12 found in plant-based foods is not absorbed by the body as efficiently as vitamin B12 found in animal-based foods, so this is an area where even healthy vegetarians often miss the boat.

Your best bet to overcome vitamin B12 deficiencies is to seek out foods fortified with adequate amounts, or supplement with vitamin B12 products.

No matter what some meathead on a message board says, “vegetarian” does not have to equal “weak”—unless you let it! Meet your essential mineral and vitamin needs so you can feel strong and make the most of your healthy lifestyle.

8 Vegan Protein Sources

Vegan protein can taste good and is usually cheaper.

Despite the rumors, you can certainly build muscle if you learn how to eat a vegan bodybuilding diet.

Misconceptions about vegan food:

  • tastes bad
  • is expensive
  • doesn’t build muscle
  • not protein-rich and doesn’t offer complete proteins

The thing is, those who are curious about becoming a vegetarian for health reasons are also concerned about getting complete proteins that are readily available to meat-eaters.

All the dietitians I depend on for quality, unbiased information say that plant-based diets contain such a wide variety of amino acid profiles that vegans can easily get all of their amino acids.

The term “complete protein” refers to amino acids, the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different kinds that can form a protein, and nine that the body can’t produce on its own.

These are called essential amino acids—we need to eat them because we can’t make them ourselves.

In order to be considered “complete,” a protein must contain all nine of these essential amino acids in equal amounts.

You may have heard that vegan bodybuilders need complete proteins in most of their meals. As long as you keep your meals varied with proteins, complete or not, collectively they will fulfill your amino acid needs.

There are plenty of ways to meet your protein needs as a vegan bodybuilder.

Vegan Protein Sources: Foods with Complete Proteins

1. Peanut Butter Sandwich with Ezekiel Bread

​Protein: 23 grams per 2-slice sandwich with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter

Let’s start this off right, because peanut butter sandwiches simply kick ass. They also happen to be protein-rich with a sizable amount of essential amino acids and plenty of healthy fats.

Why Ezekiel bread?

It has wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, sprouted grains, and spelt. These combined ingredients contain all the essential amino acids, and they are also high in fiber and vitamins.

2. Seitan

Protein: 32 grams per 1/2 cup serving

If you’re not gluten intolerant, this protein source rocks the house. Seitan is made by mixing gluten (the protein in wheat) with herbs and spices, hydrating it with water or stock, and simmering it in broth. But this one’s not complete on its own—it needs to be cooked in a soy sauce-rich broth to add gluten’s missing amino acid (lysine).

3. Soy

Protein: 30 grams per 1 cup serving (tempeh) – 30 grams per 1 cup serving (natto) – 20 grams per 1 cup serving (firm tofu)

While beans are normally low in the amino acid methionine, soy is a complete protein and deserves its time in the spotlight. However, beware of the GMO versions of this vegan food. Tempeh and natto are made by fermenting the beans, but tofu is probably the best known soy product.

4. Quinoa

Protein: 8 grams per 1 cup serving, cooked

Quinoa looks much like couscous, but is more nutritious. Full of fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese, quinoa is a terrific substitute for rice. It’s easy to cook up ahead of time for meal prep, and is a staple in my own vegetarian bodybuilding diet.

5. Spirulina (with grains or nuts)

Protein: 4 grams per 1 tablespoon

Contrary to popular belief, this member of the algae family is not a complete protein, since it’s lacking in methionine and cysteine. All that’s needed to remedy this is to add something with plenty of these amino acids, such as grains, oats, nuts, or seeds.

6. Hummus (and pita)

Protein: 8 grams per 2 tablespoons of hummus and 1 whole-wheat pita

The protein in wheat is pretty similar to that of rice, being only deficient in lysine. But the chickpeas in hummus have plenty, as well as a fairly similar amino acid profile to most legumes.

7. Chia

Protein: 4 grams per 2 tablespoon serving

Chia seeds are the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they contain more fiber than flax seeds or nuts. Chia is also a powerhouse of iron, calcium, zinc, and antioxidants, but the best thing about these little seeds is that they form a goopy gel when combined with milk or water.

8. Hempseed

Protein: 10 grams per 2 tablespoon serving

This has significant amounts of all nine essential amino acids, as well as plenty of magnesium, zinc, iron, and calcium. They’re also a rare vegan source of omega-3s.

More Vegan Protein Sources:

  • 5 Best Vegan Protein Powders and Ratings
  • 5 Vegan Snack Foods That Taste Good
  • Vegan Muscle-Building Done Right

8 Vegan Protein Sources was last modified: February 11th, 2016 by Chris Willitts

The top 10 vegan protein sources for building muscle and strength

It’s a myth that you can’t build muscle as a vegan

But you may just have to structure your meals slightly differently. If you’ve abandoned chicken breast, fish and steak then you’ll want to know which vegan protein sources are the best.

Who better to ask, than Paul ‘Hench Herbivore’ Kerton? Vegan bodybuilder Kerton routinely shares his plant-based fitness tips on the Hench Herbivore YouTube channel.

In his most recent upload, Kerton outlines his top 10 vegan protein sources. Here’s the list:

1. Legumes

A group term, examples of legumes are peas, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans. Per 100g, legumes range from 15-25 grams of protein, so you can eat them in bulk or combine into a meal such as a stir fry.

2. Quinoa

This grain is the highest in protein – a complete source of essential amino acids. You can use it as the sole source of protein per meal, or alternatively as a substitute for wheat.

3. Vegan Protein Powder

These were unheard of years ago, but now the market has shifted. You generally need to eat a higher volume of vegan food to obtain the same amount of protein you would from meat. A simple shake packing upwards of 20 grams of protein is therefore vital.

4. Tofu

Per 100 grams, tofu contains 12 grams of protein. Its texture makes it a useful vegan alternative to virtually any meat or poultry source.

5. Tempeh

Essentially a non-processed alternative to tofu, tempeh is created by binding soybeans together with a fermented, gut-friendly bacteria.

6. Nuts

Boasting a good portion of essential fatty acids alongside minerals such as selenium, nuts are an integral part of any diet, plant-based or otherwise. Just keep a lid on your consumption. As a source of fat, nuts are very calorie dense.

7. Oats

Per 100 grams, there is around 13 grams of protein in ground oats. Oats are a very versatile food too, forming the basis of a sweet or savoury meal with ease.

8. Bean and Lentil Pastas

Some of these measure out at 25 grams of protein per 100 grams, bean and lentil pasta will also rank high in fibre. If you’re on a gluten-free diet, a wheat-free carb source rich in protein is a winner.

9. Nutritional Yeast

The dull and bland name of this food belies its efficacy as a vegan protein source. Half the dried weight is protein, which makes it a more than useful addition to salads, stir fries and stews.

10. Spirulina

In 100 grams, there is 57 grams of protein. While it’s unlikely you’d ever eat that much in one meal, spirulina still contains a high level of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.

Read more from my recent gym session with the Hench Herbivore himself.

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Vegan diets for bodybuilders

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