Want to build more muscle on your vegan diet?
If you have been a vegan for a while and have spoken to anyone about your diet, chances are that they may be quite curious as to what you eat on a daily basis.
This is true especially if you’re an athlete or weight lifter. You may constantly be asked questions along the line of “where do you get your protein from? ” or “is it hard to follow a diet consisting of no meat?“
If the person asking the questions is receptive to your responses, you may explain some of the plant based protein sources you eat. And the open minded individuals may even ask you more details on your reasons for switching to a plant based diet and the benefits you saw upon doing so.
During these interactions, there seems to be a certain trend in topics that are commonly discussed regarding the vegan diet. Such as getting sufficient protein intake and adherence to the vegan diet itself, the omission of meat, diary etc.
These are concerns for those who are fitness enthusiasts, endurance athletes and weight lifters.
Vegan diet adherence aside, Why is protein intake so important?
Is it the superior macro nutrient?
Not necessarily. But it is important.
Sufficient protein intake is required for your body to be able to repair, rebuild tissue. Serves as an important factor for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.
With the absence of them, you are not likely to be able to repair, build or even maintain your muscle mass.
The good news is getting enough protein on your vegan diet isn’t a problem. It is even easier if you’re vegetarian. There are plenty of sources available.
You also don’t need as much protein intake as you might think. Weight lifters should aim for about 0.82/per lb of body weight and endurance athletes about 0.54- 0.62/per lb of body weight. If you’re an overweight individual, aim for 0.82/0.62 per lb of goal body weight. (1)
Say you’re a vegan, or vegetarian, what are some ways you can optimize your diet and training, or “hack” it so that you’re building muscle more effectively?
Muscle growth comes down to the fundamental principle of progressive tension overload with the weights you use in the gym. Your level of muscular development is very closely correlated to your level of strength.
Which means continuous improvements in the number of repetitions and weight on a given exercise (compound exercises) will yield muscle growth.
Your workouts in the gym should evolve from simply “exercising” to a dialed in “training program“, focusing primarily on strength and compound exercises with strategic accessory work included. With you progressing on those compound lifts in weight or number of repetitions performed, and adequate training volume is up to par, you’re setting the stage for muscle growth. (1)
This is what the principle of progressive overload describes in regards to your training. To put it simply, its Introducing a stimulus your body was not previously used to and in order for you to build muscle as a response to the new stimulus.
After you have introduced progressive overload through your training in the gym, your nutrition on your vegan/vegetarian diet comes into play.
- Manipulating Protein Intake
Studies are clear that weight training individuals only need about 0.82 per lb of body weight of protein per day. (1)
(0.82 x bw = Your daily protein needs)
Although I do recommend going slightly above this number if possible. A common issue with individuals who have recently gone plant – based is not knowing where to get their protein from.
Some great sources include, legumes such as green & red lentils, garbanzo, and kidney beans. If you find that you’re still struggling I recommend a high quality plant based protein powder to meet your daily protein needs. If you would like a quick list of plant – based protein sources for your next grocery run, get my free vegan protein cheat sheet.
Consuming most of your daily protein needs from whole some plant – based food and filling the remaining amount with a high quality protein powder is a great strategy for those who wish to have everything in place to support muscle growth.
After the sufficient protein intake is met, fill the remaining of your diet with great sources of plant based carbs such as russet potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.
Nut sources such as walnuts, almonds, cashews are great for your dietary fat needs. Avocados are great as well.
Keep in mind that although sufficient protein intake is important to support muscle growth, so are the other macro nutrients.
Carbs helps with training intensity of your workouts, which indirectly relates to the stimulus of overload you introduce to support muscle growth. (1)
Dietary fats are essential for overall health and hormonal health as well.
- Caloric Surplus
On plant-based diet, due to the high food volume, it is very possible that you’re eating a lot less than you may think.
In order for muscle growth to take place, you must be eating slightly above than what your body burns per day. (Not too much above, or will result in fat again)
The amount of calories you burn per day to maintain your current body weight (Total daily expenditure) is your maintenance calories. Typically if you’re active for at least 45-60 minutes a day chances are you burn approximately your body weight x 15 in calories per day. This would be your maintenance level in calories, to maintain your current weight. (For example the maintenance calories of a 170 lb individuals is about 2550 calories per day. 170 x 15)
You must be eating a surplus of about 200-300 calories above your maintenance calories per day, to see noticeable muscle growth, with minimal fat gain over time.
(So the example of the 170 lb individual would be eating about 2700-2800 calories per day.)
If you’re new to the concept of calorie counting, there are various sources to help you with this such as my fitness pal, net diary etc.
The slight surplus in calories is necessary to support muscle growth, so be sure to be in a surplus if building muscle is your goal.
Are you tracking your workouts, ensuring your improving on the compound exercises you’re performing in the gym? If not, check this out, to avoid common training mistakes.
Similarly to tracking your nutrition, Tracking your lifts is also crucial. In order to efficiently introduce progressive tension overload, we talked about increasing the number of reps or weight on compound exercises overtime. How will you know if you have improved in performance, if you haven’t tracked your performance on them?
It will be very difficult to introduce progressive overload in your future training sessions if you don’t know how you performed in the previous sessions.
This is why I recommend tracking your progress on your exercises (weight & reps) performed.
So you come to every training session with a purpose and intent of breaking your personal best and properly introduce overload, and build muscle.
There are great apps out there for this or alternatively use a notebook or the note section in your smart phone.
If you have successfully implemented the tips above, you will sky rocket your ability to build lean muscle mass you desire!
If you would like a full blown training program to help take you through every step of the way and clear any doubts you may have regarding training & nutrition, you may want to follow my Vegan Spartan Program. Whether you’re vegan or vegetarian, this program will take you through every step of way in regards to your training and nutrition.
Although I have to mention that this program is not for everyone. Only for those who are truly dedicated to taking the first step in their fitness & health and would like a program that they can adhere to long term to build an excellent amount of muscle mass, density and strength on their vegan diet.