We often think the words vegan and bodybuilding diet do not go together, but they actually work quite well.
With more and more people switching to plant-based diets, many are finding fitness results with a vegan bodybuilding diet. But you may wonder how this is possible without meat and animal products. For strength trainers and bodybuilders, nutrition makes up a large majority of the success. If you are to adopt a vegan lifestyle but are still into bodybuilding, what do you need to know to get results?
This article will be a guide to a vegan bodybuilding diet and everything you need to know.
Why Switch to a Vegan Bodybuilding Diet?
If you ask the average person what foods should make up a bodybuilding diet, you will get the typical answers: beef, chicken, fish, etc. These animal-based proteins have always been at the cornerstone of bodybuilding diets for decades, and people have found tremendous success using them.
The problem today is the lack of quality that exists in animal products. Unless you are getting your proteins from a local farm, you can’t be sure of the quality in what you’re consuming.
One reason to switch to a vegan diet is health-related. The rise of factory farming has created animals that could be considered Frankenstein creations. These animals do not get to live a natural lifestyle and are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics.
These hormones are used to fatten them up to get them to a more profitable selling weight. They are also fed unnatural diets that cause massive inflammation in the animal. When you combine all this with their complete lack of activity, you get a very sick animal.
And when you consume a sick animal, you can’t expect to be as healthy as possible. Switching to a vegan diet can help combat:
- Certain cancers
- Type 2 diabetes
Climate Change Issues
Then there is the damage created for the environment. Today, many people are adopting a vegan lifestyle because of climate change damage coming from factory farming. Beef is the big culprit here, as production requires a huge amount of resources that play a role in greenhouse gas emissions.
The massive amount of land, food, energy, and water required to raise beef cattle are detrimental to the environment. There is also their excrement. According to the EPA, factory farms produce 500 million tons of manure each year.
There are no animal sewage systems, and this runoff can end up in rivers and lakes. The methane gas released from beef cattle also has disastrous effects on increased greenhouse gas emissions.
So if you’re a strength trainer, looking to put on serious muscle, or wanting to get fit and healthy, following a vegan bodybuilding diet may seem desirable. Let’s look at how to put this all together.
How Do You Get Enough Protein on a Vegan Bodybuilding Diet?
For anyone who follows a bodybuilding diet and is vegan, this is often the number one question that comes up. Since you’re not eating protein-dense beef and chicken, how do you get sufficient protein to build muscle? When you train with weights, you are creating microscopic tears in the muscle tissue.
When these tears heal, they get a bit bigger each time. Consistently doing this is how you gain larger muscle. We repair these microscopic tears through a combination of nutrition, protein, water, and rest. So it requires protein intake to build muscle, but you may not need as much as you think – or from animal protein at all.
Recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine state that 10-35% of your caloric intake comes from protein. So if you eat 2000 calories a day, you want 200-700 calories’ worth of protein. With one gram of protein containing 4 calories, this equals out to 50 to 175 grams of protein per day.
This is a wide range and how much you consume depends on your activity levels. If you work a physically demanding job and strength train 4 to 5 times a week, you want to be at the upper level. If you work a sedentary job, you can be on the lower end.
To get more specific with protein requirements, the ACSM recommends active people consume 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kg of body weight or 0.5 to 0.8 per pound of bodyweight. A bodybuilder who weighs 175 pounds should look to consume 87.5 to 140 grams of protein each day to build muscle.
What Are the Best Vegan Protein Sources?
Animal protein is a very dense source of protein, and eating a vegan diet may require more food. However, it is still possible to find quality protein sources. The first foods you want to include are the ones that have complete protein to them. This means they have all 21 amino acids that make up protein. Some top choices are:
- Buckwheat (not actually wheat but related to the rhubarb family)
- Soy (tempeh, tofu, natto, edamame)
- Ezekial bread
- Chia and hemp seeds
You can see there are many great choices and these items also come with the bonus of a wide range of vitamins and minerals. These are also good fiber choices and often will have fewer calories than animal proteins.
There are also some incomplete protein sources (meaning they don’t have all 21 amino acids) that are plant-based, but this just requires some mixing and matching.
- Rice is an incomplete protein but can mix with beans to be complete
- Quality bread like rye and Ezekial are incomplete but can be combined with natural peanut butter to complete
- Grains, cereals, and oats are incomplete but can combine with dried peas, dried lentils, nuts, etc. to become complete.
- Corn is incomplete but can become complete with peas such as split pea soup with cornbread
- A wholewheat pita is an incomplete protein, but with hummus added on becomes a complete protein.
What about Protein Shakes?
Whey protein shakes are a big part of a bodybuilding diet, but we derive them from dairy. Are there any good alternatives? Fortunately, yes. Years ago, any plant-based protein powder was like drinking wallpaper paste. Today, much higher quality versions exist from brands like:
- Optimum Nutrition
- Tone It Up
- Garden of Life
These plant-based proteins come from soy, hemp, pea, rice, and peanut protein. They mix much easier than their earlier counterparts, and the flavors are vastly improved. You can now find flavors such as coconut, salted caramel, and classic favorites like rich chocolate, and vanilla.
Do you need protein shakes to gain muscle? Not necessarily. Even with a vegan bodybuilding diet, you want to get your protein from whole food sources. Protein shakes exist as quick convenience when getting adequate protein is more difficult.
They are beneficial right after training when your muscles are a sponge. They absorb the protein quicker, and repair can happen faster.
Carbohydrates to Fuel Workouts
No matter what type of bodybuilding diet you follow, carbohydrates will help fuel your workouts. They do this by providing muscle energy in the form of glycogen. They also help provide adequate calories to facilitate strength and muscle gains. If your muscles aren’t fueled, they won’t be able to do the work to stimulate muscle growth.
There are a few ways to calculate the number of carbohydrates you need on your diet as a bodybuilding vegan. One way is taking 40% of your calorie intake for carbohydrate needs. That means on a 2000 calorie a day diet, 800 calories should come from carbs.
With carbs having 4 calories per gram, that’s around 200 grams of carbohydrates a day. You can also aim for.75 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight. This is where experimenting and tracking are important as some people do well on the higher carb, and some struggle.
If you notice your body fat is going up, you may need to dial back the carbs. If you’re finding yourself tired, workouts are suffering, and you’re struggling to gain muscle, you may have to up them. There is no one tried-and-true way and everyone is different. These options give you a good starting point, though.
The main thing is to focus on the cleanest, plant-based, complex carbs you can find. Some good examples to include in your meal plan are:
- Quinoa (and you get that complete protein source with it)
- Steel-cut oats
- Sweet potato
- Brown or wild rice
Pre & Post-Workout Nutrition
What you do before and after your training will help determine most of your success. You want to center a majority of your carbohydrate intake around your training. A good pre-workout meal can be a smoothie bowl:
- Wild blueberries
- Almond milk
- Chia and Flaxseeds
- Blend all together and top with pumpkin seeds, granola, and mixed berries
Twenty to thirty minutes after a workout, you can have a protein shake (if you choose to use them) to jumpstart the recovery process. You could also make your own homemade smoothie that contains a banana, nut butter, coconut yogurt, and some raw cocoa powder. One to two hours later, you can have a whole food meal. A good sample meal could be:
- Wild rice and broccoli salad with edamame
- Black bean and sweet potato chili topped with avocado slices
- Burrito bowl with brown rice, pinto beans, taco spices, tofu, roasted sweet potato, leafy greens, guacamole, and salsa
The carbs you eat after a workout will help to replenish your muscle glycogen. This not only refuels them for the next workout but aids in muscle growth along with the actual size of your muscles.
A vegan bodybuilding diet may seem daunting, but it shouldn’t. All it takes is some awareness, planning, and consistency to succeed with it. Muscle gain and bodybuilding all come down to nutrition. Your discipline with diet is what ultimately will help to drive results.
By choosing a vegan diet, you can not only accomplish your fitness goals but also improve your health and the planet.
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