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July 27, 2022 7 min read

When lifters think of bodybuilding, they may think of lifting weights and eating an endless amount of chicken. They’re not totally wrong, but not all lifters choose to have meat in their diet. 

Veganism has become increasingly popular due to the health benefits associated with a plant-based diet, and the ability to subscribe to an ethical treatment of animals regarding food, clothing, and any other purpose.

Anyone unfamiliar with a vegan diet may be wondering how a bodybuilder could build muscle from a vegan meal plan, but there are plenty of non-animal sourced foods that have enough protein to repair your body after a workout, enough carbohydrates to give you energy, and enough fat to help you absorb all the nutrients you need.

What is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is a diet where any type of animal sourced food, including but not limited to beef, poultry, seafood, eggs, milk, cheese, and honey, is not eaten. 

This differs from vegetarians as they typically only exclude meats and seafood.

Although this diet restricts any kind of animal products, there are plenty of alternatives to foods like meat and milk, such as black bean burgers and soy milk. Adopting a plant-based diet still allows for plenty of nutrients to help fuel your body for exercise and function, and it can promote muscle growth just as much as a non-vegan diet can.

Following a vegan bodybuilding diet can also produce benefits for your overall health. 

It can help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and the risk of heart disease related illnesses. 

Not to mention it can be less expensive than diets that include meat. Another benefit of going meatless is it can aid in digestion since vegans are typically consuming more fiber daily.

A vegan diet can also help weight loss and reduce body fat, which is especially important for bodybuilders who look to cut their body fat percentage down to the single digits for a competition.

Caloric Intake

In order to gain muscle, you need to eat more calories. To determine how many calories you should be eating, you’ll need to take into account your age, gender, weight, and activity level. 

To gain muscle, you’ll want to increase your calorie intake by 10-15% for men and 5-10% for women. You can check out the best way to calculate your calories and macros here.

Since vegan diets are nutrient dense and typically lower in calories, you may find yourself needing to eat more in order to hit your caloric goal.

That doesn’t mean you have to gulp down an enormous meal in one sitting. It can be more beneficial to eat several meals spread out throughout the day.

Eating small meals throughout the day can help keep the flow of nutrients up, which can aid in a faster metabolism and burning body fat, both of which are important for bulking up.

Where Do I Get My Protein?

Since animal meat products are notorious for being high in protein, vegan bodybuilders need to get a sufficient amount of this macronutrient through plants, seeds, and nuts. Many vegan foods lack essential amino acids, so you’ll need to eat more of a variety of foods regularly. 

Taking a vegan supplement like V-BCAA can help you implement more amino acids and help muscle recovery.

The recommended daily protein intake is 1.0 gram of protein per every pound of bodyweight, however for active people, consuming up to 1.5g-2.2g of protein can help gain muscle mass.

Below are some high-protein vegan foods that are essential for a vegan bodybuilding diet:

  • Tempeh - 31g of protein/ one cup
  • Tofu - 10g of protein/ 0.5 cup
  • Quinoa - 8g of protein/ one cup
  • Lentils - 18g of protein/ one cup
  • Seitan - 75g of protein/ 100g
  • Nuts - ~ 27g of protein/ one cup
  • Nut butters like peanut butter and almond butter - 3.5g of protein/ 1 tbsp
  • Chickpeas - 39g of protein/ one cup
  • Brown rice - 5g of protein/ one cup
  • Black beans - 8g of protein/ 0.5 cup
  • Vegan protein powder like VEG-PRO - 20g of protein/ one scoop

What About Carbs?

Compared to a non-vegan diet, the list of carbs won’t look too much different. Eating enough of them is essential for fueling your body with enough energy for your workouts and daily function. Fruits and veggies are notorious for containing a large amount of carbs and are a great choice for anyone when bodybuilding.

The recommended carb intake is between 1.5g per lb of bodyweight for vegan bodybuilders who perform light exercise up to one hour and up to 5.5g per lb of bodyweight for those who perform long, intense bouts of exercise lasting up to five hours.

Below are some high-carb vegan foods that are essential for a vegan bodybuilding diet:

  • Sweet potatoes - 27g of carbs/ one cup
  • Whole grain bread - 12g of carbs/ one slice
  • Whole grain pasta - 37g of carbs/ one cup
  • Barley - 135g of carbs/one cup
  • Fruits (bananas, apples, berries, kiwi, etc.) - ~20g of carbs/ one cup
  • Oats - 51g of carbs/ one cup
  • Brown rice - 45g of carbs/one cup
  • Quinoa - 8g of protein/ one cup
  • Non-starchy vegetables (asparagus, beans, brocoli, peppers, etc.) - ~6g of carbs/ 0.5 cup
  • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas, etc.) - ~20g of carbs/ 0.5 cup

Don’t Forget Fats

Fats are an essential macronutrient for cell function, energy, hormone production, and nutrient absorption. Compared to protein and carbs, fats contain more than double the amount of calories per gram with nine calories per every gram of fat.

This can be great news for vegan bodybuilders when they need more calories, and fat helps keep that plate of food seem not so enormous. 

Fats can also contain Omega-3, which can be beneficial for preventing heart disease and some cancers.

For vegans, high levels of omega-3 can be found be found in many nuts and seeds.

Below are some healthy fat vegan foods that are essential for a vegan bodybuilding diet:

  • Peanuts/peanut butter - 72g of fat/ one cup
  • Chia seeds - 9g of fat/ 1oz
  • Almonds/almond butter - 14g of fat/ 1 oz
  • Cashews - 12g of fat/ 1 oz
  • Flax seeds - 71g of fat/ one cup
  • Walnuts - 52g of fat/ one cup
  • Avocados - 29g of fat/ one avocado
  • Sunflower seeds - 72g of fat/ one cup
  • Olive oil - 14g of fat/ one tbsp

Get Enough Micronutrients

Although a plant-based diet plan can produce health benefits and promote muscle gains, you need to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals you need for muscle growth.

Vitamin B12 is one of the vitamins that may be lacking in a vegan diet, and it also happens to be an important part of gaining muscle. This vitamin is found mainly in chicken, fish, and dairy; all foods that are omitted in a vegan diet.

Vegan sources like nutritional yeast, almond milk, whole grain cereals, and leafy greens like spinach are just a few foods to implement into your diet for added vitamin B12.

Calcium can also be lacking in a vegan diet, and this mineral is essential for building stronger bones and muscle contractions.

Dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach, almonds, soy milk, and legumes all contain sufficient amounts of calcium.

Regardless of dietary choices, iron deficiency is the number one nutrient deficiency across the world. Iron is responsible for bringing oxygen to the muscles and plays an important role in performance.

Iron can be found in animal meat, but foods like nuts, hemp seeds, raisins, and fortified breakfast cereal are all great sources of iron.

Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan

In order to reach your bodybuilding goals, you need to incorporate the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat into your diet.

Below are some vegan recipes and meals to help you build muscle:

  • Oatmeal with chia seeds, soy milk, and a banana - This is a quick and easy option for breakfast and/or for a pre-workout meal. Oats and chia seeds allow you to get a good serving of carbohydrates and fat for fuel, and soy milk is a great source of protein. Make sure to eat one to two hours before exercise.
  • Whole grain toast with avocado and almond butter - Another great option for a quick breakfast or snack during the day. The carbs and fats can help push you through a workout, so eat it before hitting the gym, but remember to eat no less than one hour before your workout to properly digest.
  • Fruit smoothie with peanut butter, strawberries, bananas, and almond milk - Smoothies can be prepped the night, or even a couple days before they’re eaten, making them a convenient option for breakfast or as a snack. This smoothie can be a great pre-workout meal choice since it’s heavier in carbs and fat.
  • Tofu with brown rice, spinach, and broccoli - Tofu and brown rice are versatile and make for a great option for meal prep. With the heavy amount of carbs and protein, this can be a great post-workout meal for lunch or dinner.
  • Stir-fry with veggies and edamame pasta - This meal is a great post-workout option as it can help replenish muscle glycogen lost when lifting, as well as help repair your muscles for muscle growth.
  • Burrito with black beans, brown rice, corn, and avocado - Everyone loves a good burrito especially after a tough workout. You can add different types of beans or veggies to give you some variety while still getting those post-workout carbs and protein.

Build Muscle Without Meat

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned bodybuilder, understanding the proper nutrition is essential for building muscle.

It doesn’t matter what your lifestyle diet consists of, as long as it keeps your body healthy and functioning at its maximum capacity in the gym. Hitting the weights is only part of what bodybuilding is about. It’s mostly about what you’re putting inside your body that matters.

Eat healthy, nutrient-rich foods, take rest days, stay hydrated, and get ready to see those muscle gains.