When people decide to adopt a vegan lifestyle, they’re met with a myriad of obstacles. Aside from relearning how to eat and prepare meals, vegans also have to constantly field questions and criticism about their choices. This can be especially difficult for bodybuilders, powerlifters, or anyone else looking to build muscle.
“What are you going to do for protein? You’re going to lose all your muscle mass. You’re not going to be as strong as a vegan.”
These are just a few comments you can expect to hear. However, vegan muscle building, in all honesty, isn’t that different from building muscle on an omnivore diet. In most instances, it’s actually better.
If you’re new to weight lifting, veganism, or both, we’re here to help. Keep reading for our guide on how to build muscle as a vegan.
Consume a Surplus of Calories
If you want to add mass to your body, you need to make sure you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning each day. Your muscles need extra fuel to grow.
Every time you work out, you’re causing micro-tears in your muscle fibers. During rest, your body repairs those muscle fibers while simultaneously building them bigger and stronger to adapt to the stress you’ve placed on them. This requires energy in the form of consumed calories.
Don’t Fall Back on Junk Food
Despite what most people think, a vegan muscle building diet doesn’t just consist of lettuce and other vegetables. If you really wanted to, you could bulk eating vegan-friendly junk food, like Oreos, french fries, etc.
However, you need to make sure you’re fueling with high-quality foods. Cheat days are okay, but you need to make whole foods the staple of your diet. And don’t worry, you won’t fall short on calories.
Here are some suggestions:
- Whole grains (bread, pasta, oats, rice, quinoa)
- Veggies high in carbohydrates (potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash)
- Other veggies (for vitamins and minerals)
- Seeds and nuts
- Tofu/ vegan meat replacement products
There’s no shortage of top-quality, high-calorie vegan foods to fuel your muscle growth.
Get Familiar With Vegan Protein Sources
While weight lifters don’t need as much protein as the meat and dairy industry would have you believe, it’s still an important component to building lean muscle mass. This is where the common question “Can you be vegan and build muscle?” comes from.
Fortunately, even as a vegan, you have plenty of protein options. For example:
- Quinoa (also contains all branch chain amino acids)
- Soy milk
- Peanut butter/almond butter
- Vegan protein powder
As you can see, you can have a diverse vegan diet full of protein without going out of your way or working any harder than if you were eating meat. You can also invest in other muscle building supplements like BCAAs, creatine, and more.
Educate Yourself on How to Lift Properly
Next, regardless of your diet, if you don’t know what you’re doing in the gym, you’re not going to make much progress. Even worse, you may end up hurting yourself.
Before diving in with a new program, we highly recommend investing in a personal trainer or lifting coach, at least for the first month or two. Learn how to perform the major movements maintaining a neutral spine to avoid neck and back injuries. You should also make sure you know which exercises target each muscle group and how to perform them with proper technique.
Lift Heavy Weights Using Compound Movements
A vegan muscle building diet paired with compound exercises and heavy weights is ideal for maximum growth in both size and strength. We’ve already talked about your diet, but let’s break down these other two components.
Heavy weights are essential for challenging your body and forcing muscle growth, but what constitutes “heavy?” Ultimately, it depends on your program.
For example, if your program dictates three sets of 10 bench press and you can do all 10 reps easily, it’s probably too light. The last couple of reps should be a struggle. And if on the last set, you fail to get all 10 reps, that’s a good thing.
Okay, so what about compound exercises? Compound exercises are any movements that work multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously. These include:
- Barbell squats
- Barbell deadlifts
- Bench Press
- Shoulder Press
- Bent over barbell rows
- And more
These movements call upon the most muscle fibers and demand the most strength, stability, and control. Therefore, they are the most efficient at building strength and lean muscle mass.
Implement Progressive Overload Theory
Next, using a vegan diet to build lean muscle also requires quality, time-tested programming. Without solid programming, no diet would help you get results.
The most practical and efficient programming uses progressive overload theory. Progressive overload theory is the art of increasing the workload slowly over time for big results.
An example of this is the story of a young man who had to carry a newborn calf up the hill to get food and water. In the beginning, the man and the calf were small.
However, as the calf grew and the man continued to carry him up and down the hill, he also grew. As the calf got heavier, the man’s body adapted to the workload and he grew bigger and stronger.
Weight lifting works the same way. For example, if you start out squatting 150lbs for three sets of 10, the next week should be three sets of 12. Alternatively, you could add weight or do more sets.
The goal of progressive overload is to constantly improve your performance, whether it’s in volume, weights, etc.
Finally, vegan muscle building requires consistency. You have to commit yourself to the process and do the work.
You can’t expect to get rich if you only go to work three days a week. Similarly, you can’t expect extraordinary results unless you put in extraordinary effort. Create a program, designate a time to work out each day, and stick to your goals.
Looking for More on Vegan Muscle Building and Other Health Advice?
As you can see, vegan muscle building isn’t altogether different than building muscle on a regular diet. Sure, there will be some obstacles and a slight learning curve, but there’s no reason you can’t reach your fitness goals.
If you’re looking for more advice on health (mind or body), be sure to check out some of our other articles before you go. Our blog is full of valuable content for people looking to improve their lives.