Are you wondering how to bulk up and how to gain weight as a vegan? A common misconception is that it’s more challenging to gain weight and build muscle as a vegan. However, you can absolutely follow a vegan diet while bulking up. Read on to find out how to navigate the vegan diet while striving to gain lean muscle.
How Muscles Are Built
Before we get into how to build muscle as a vegan, let’s first talk about what the body requires to build muscle tissue. First, to build muscle tissue, the muscles need to be challenged. A strength training workout that incorporates resistance exercises will help challenge your muscles. During these workouts, muscle fibers are damaged and torn. In the aftermath of a challenging workout, the body must then repair the torn tissue, subsequently creating stronger muscles.
Muscle tissue is composed of proteins that the body synthesizes. The body repairs muscle tissue by using the resources that the body gets from the food we eat. Efficient muscle building requires an abundance of amino acids, antioxidants, and other elements of proper nutrition.
It’s completely doable to get all of the nutrition you need for muscle gains from a plant-based diet.
How to Build Muscle as a Vegan
Here we give you a comprehensive guide to building muscle as a vegan.
1. Eating Plenty of Protein
Whether you are vegan or not, getting lots of protein is crucial for putting on muscle weight. On a vegan diet, getting a sufficient number of grams of protein is not a concern. Instead, it’s essential to ensure that your body is getting the amino acids that it needs. Dietary protein contains build blocks called amino acids, which are critical for human health and functioning. In particular, the body requires essential amino acids daily to efficiently synthesize muscle tissue, neurotransmitters, hormones, enzymes, and other protein-based compounds.
Animal protein sources like cheese and meat offer optimal ratios of essential amino acids, while vegetable proteins do not. Vegetable sources of protein do not offer optimal ratios of essential amino acids. Instead, many veggie proteins are missing an essential amino acid, known as a limiting amino acid. If you are missing one amino acid in your diet, the body cannot synthesize muscle as efficiently.
Though it is entirely doable to get enough amino acids as a vegan, it just takes a little bit more planning. To ensure that you get all of the essential amino acids that you need, aim to eat a variety of plant-based proteins on a daily basis. Plant-based proteins include foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Soybeans and soy products like tofu and tempeh are also excellent plant-based protein options.
2. Eat Plenty of Calories
One of the challenges with eating vegan is ensuring that you’re eating plenty of calories. Many foods on the vegan diet, like fruits and vegetables, are large and mass but not dense in calories.
When following a vegan diet and aiming to gain weight, it’s important to make smart choices about calorie-dense foods. Without adequate energy, it’s hard for the body to build muscle efficiently. Choosing high-calorie vegan foods is an important part of building muscle as a vegan.
What are calorie-dense foods that you can eat on a vegan diet? Here are a few ideas of calorie-dense foods for vegan gains.
- Nut butters: Nut butters are an excellent way to add extra calories to your diet. Peanut butter, almond butter, and sun butter all contain about 200 calories per two tablespoons.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are calorie-dense foods because they are rich in healthy fats. If you are not a fan of nut butters, eating nuts by the handful, in trail mix, or sprinkled on top of your oatmeal are great options for incorporating more calories into your diet. To boost your calorie intake, reach for foods like walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
- Weight gainer shakes: Adding a calorie-dense protein shake to your daily routine is an excellent way to pack your diet with more calories.
- Plant oils: Oil is very dense in calories because it is made of fat. For example, coconut oil can be added to sweet dishes like oatmeal, pancakes, and waffles for extra calories. Coconut oil contains over 100 calories per tablespoon.
- Flaxseed: Adding a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your food is a simple way to add extra calories as well as antioxidants, protein, fiber, and minerals.
- Avocados: Avocados are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. As a result, they are packed with calories. Plus, avocados offer a variety of health-promoting nutrients such as potassium, vitamin E, and antioxidants.
- Granola: Granola is an excellent option for bulking up the calorie content of your diet. Try topping your yogurt and oatmeal with granola, or adding granola to trail mix. Just be sure to choose granola that is low in added sugars, uses whole grains, and incorporates nuts and seeds.
- Carbs: Carbohydrate-rich foods also offer an abundance of calories. Chow down on foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, and whole-grain pasta.
- Dried fruit: Dried fruit is produced by dehydrating fresh fruit. Because the moisture content has been removed, the fruit’s calorie-containing components like the flesh and sugar are more concentrated.
3. Eat Plenty of Complex Carbs
Carbohydrates are indispensable when you are aiming to build muscle. Certain types of white bread, crackers, and chips may be vegan, but this doesn’t mean that they should be your primary form of carbohydrates.
Aim to eat an abundance of complex carbohydrates and whole grains like quinoa, millet, oats, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and whole-grain bread are carbs that won’t spike your blood sugar and ultimately cause an energy crash. Instead, complex carbohydrates provide a steady release of energy to allow you to sustain a hard workout.
In addition to whole grains, fruit is also a rich source of complex carbohydrates. Eating fruits like bananas, apples, grapes, and berries can help provide fuel for a workout.
4. Protein Shakes
Protein shakes are an integral part of the plant-based diet when you are striving to make vegan gains. Here are a few ideas for tasty, vegan protein shakes to add to your daily routine.
- Chocolate peanut butter shake: This shake is packed with calories, protein, and other nutrients for a well-rounded shake that contributes to your weight-gaining goals. To prepare this shake, start by adding two frozen bananas to a blender. Then, add a half cup of oats, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed, and vegan cocoa powder. Before blending, add 2 cups of soymilk or your favorite plant-based milk. Add your favorite vegan protein powder or essential amino acid supplement that offers optimal ratios of essential amino acids. Blend until smooth, and enjoy.
- Berry shake: This shake is similarly packed with healthy ingredients that afford healthy calories and micronutrients. Add strawberries, blueberries, and a frozen banana to a blender along with 2 tablespoons of ground chia seeds and soymilk. For an extra bit of sweetness, add a spoonful of agave nectar.
- Green shake: This shake is packed with high-quality calories as well as antioxidants from green veggies! First, add greens of your choice to the blender. Spinach and kale are good options because they have a relatively mild taste. Just be sure to first remove the fibrous stalk from the kale. Next, add frozen banana, halved avocado, and vegan yogurt. Add your favorite vegan vanilla protein powder and almond milk. Blend and enjoy.
The Advantages of Building Muscle as a Vegan
Though following a vegan muscle-building diet may require a few tweaks to optimize it, a vegan diet actually has a lot of advantages over omnivorous diets.
1. Lower Inflammation
Individuals who eat tons of plant-based foods tend to have lower levels of inflammation. A plant-based diet, when based on whole foods, offers an abundance of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. These micronutrients protect your body from oxidative stress and inflammation.
When you are psychologically and physically experiencing stress, the immune system is often sent into overdrive, which can increase the risk of inflammation and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress describes the accumulation of free radicals in your cells. These free radicals interfere with healthy functioning and cause biological reactions to occur much more slowly.
2. Better Blood Flow
Eating a plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables naturally improves blood flow. Veggies like arugula, spinach, beets, and celery are rich in natural nitrates. Natural nitrates improve the function of the endothelium, which is a thin layer of muscle that lines the blood vessels and modulates dilation and constriction. With better endothelial function, blood is able to circulate more effectively.
Why is better blood flow good for muscle building? Better blood flow allows oxygen and nutrients to be efficiently delivered to all tissues, both during and after exercise. This helps improve athletic performance in both weight lifting and cardio. It also facilitates recovery.
3. Faster Recovery
Plant-based foods are digested more efficiently and provide a great variety of micronutrients. These micronutrients are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and can travel to muscle cells. When in when tissue, these micronutrients can support the body, increase blood flow, and lower inflammation while the body is being repaired.
4. Larger Portions
As a vegan eating primarily whole foods, you can typically eat a much larger quantity of food for the same caloric intake. This means you can eat more food throughout the day, which for many people, is a huge selling point of the vegan diet! Being able to eat lots of food without overeating can help you feel more satisfied and energized.
5. Fights Against Noncommunicable Conditions
Eating a plant-based diet is not only good for your fitness goals but also for your overall health! The health benefits of a plant-based vegan diet are numerous. By eating primarily, plant-based whole foods, you are by default consuming low levels of saturated fat and added sugars, while simultaneously consuming lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Eating a diet low in saturated fat and sugars and high in plant-based foods is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and insulin resistance. In fact, switching to a plant-based diet may even help reverse some of these conditions.
6. Naturally High in Fiber
Because a plant-based diet is so high in fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, it is also naturally high in fiber. Eating a fiber-rich diet promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. When the microbiome is populated by healthy bacteria, these bacteria produce anti-inflammatory compounds that enter the bloodstream and travel to other organ systems. Eating plenty of fiber can therefore help reduce systemic inflammation.
7. Promotes a Healthy Weight
Eating mainly plant-based foods can also help you reach a healthy weight and encourage weight loss if you are overweight. Lower levels of inflammation, better metabolic function, no empty calories, and high-fiber foods can help you process food more effectively.
Examples of Vegan Meals to Build Muscle
Here we go through a few vegan recipe ideas to add to your meal plan that are part of the muscle-building diet.
1. Stuffed Pita Wrap
A Mediterranean-inspired pita wrap can be a delicious, vegan meal that offers a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. First, prepare the filling for your pita. Chop onions and garlic and saute in olive oil until translucent and fragrant. Add brown lentils and vegetable broth, and allow the mixture to cook until the lentils are tender. Season the dish with curry powder, turmeric, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, prepare a vegetable component by combining cooked quinoa, cucumbers, tomatoes, and chopped parsley. As a condiment, prepare a sauce using cashew yogurt, dill, lemon juice, and olive oil. Stuff your fillings into a whole-grain pita and enjoy!
2. Hummus and Veggies
Hummus is a tasty snack option that pairs great with veggies and whole-grain bread. You can go with store-bought brands, but it’s also fairly simple to prepare your own hummus at home. Blend chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Enjoy your homemade hummus with crunchy veggies like celery, carrots, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.
This vegan burrito is packed with healthy ingredients that help you gain lean muscle mass. To prepare a vegan burrito, first prepare the filling. To create a high-protein burrito filling, add kidney beans, black beans, and a block of firm tofu to a pan. Saute with onion, corn, bell peppers, garlic, and jalapenos if you like spiciness. Season the mixture with a blend of chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. Use a spatula to break up the tofu until it resembles a ground meat texture.
Add your filling to a whole-grain burrito. Top with lettuce, fresh tomatoes, chopped cilantro, salsa, guacamole, and a squeeze of lime. If you’re missing a cheesy component to the burrito, top with a sprinkle of vegan cheese.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you’re having trouble creating a meal plan that suits your individual needs, consult a registered dietitian or nutritionist. They will be able to help you tailor a vegan meal plan that helps you meet your muscle-building, weight-gaining goals.
Conclusion: How to Gain Weight as a Vegan
The moral of the story is that you don’t need animal products in your diet to fuel the development of lean muscle mass. In fact, it’s entirely possible to be a vegan mass gainer. Making sure that you eat plenty of calories, healthy fats, essential amino acids, and micronutrients will help you attain the results that you want. Plus, eating a vegan diet based on whole foods is beneficial for your weight and helps prevent conditions like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver disease.