The vegan diet has been increasing in popularity for many reasons, including personal health, animal wellbeing, and environmental impact. Going vegan requires a fair bit of research, and some people are discouraged from eating vegan because they are not sure this eating plan would satisfy their dietary needs. The number one concern is protein intake.
We all know that protein is essential for muscle growth and functioning, and bodybuilders need a lot of protein to maintain muscle mass. So, how do they make sure to eat enough? And what about other essential nutrients?
Our review should give you a good insight into a vegan bodybuilding diet. We even share a few recipes that fuel workouts of famous vegan bodybuilders and athletes, so read on to find out all about it.
Looking to match yourself with Vegan meal delivery services? Then skip forward to our reviews: click here to read our review and buyer's guide for the best vegan meal kits OR if you're looking for the best vegan protein powders, click here.
If you're looking for ready to eat vegan meals, click here.
Bodybuilding Nutrition 101
Bodybuilding meal plans all have things in common, no matter if you are vegan or omnivorous. Your body doesn’t know whether the nutrients are coming from plants or animals, and it doesn’t care as long as you are giving it what it needs.
The three main components of any bodybuilder’s diet are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These are called macronutrients, and they are used for energy, building blocks, and other vital functions in our body.
The percentage of each macronutrient in your meal plan is determined by your weight and performance goals, as well as other factors. The best approach is to consult with a dietitian or a nutritionist and craft a meal plan to suit your needs.
If you don’t feel like that’s necessary, you can always follow some general guidelines. For instance, many fitness buffs suggest following a diet with 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fats for gaining muscle.
If you are surprised to see such high fat amounts in the diet, don’t be. Bodybuilders may have a low body fat percentage, but they understand the importance of healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids.
Fats have been demonized for so long, but they play a vital role in body functioning, brain health, and even cardiovascular health.
In fact, studies show that polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in olive oil, soy, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, are vital for long and healthy life. (1) On the other hand, you should definitely avoid saturated fatty acids like margarine and highly processed foods and oils. (2)
Carb intake has also been debated in the scientific community. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel of our body, and when we eat fruits and veggies, our bodies slowly break down carbs into simple sugars that we use for energy.
However, when we eat refined sugars and highly processed foods, there are fewer vitamins, minerals, and, most importantly, dietary fibers that slow down carb breakdown.
As a result, our sugar and insulin levels can spike, leading to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. (3) So complex carbs in fruits and veggies are vital for a balanced diet, but you should avoid refined sugars at all costs.
The last part of bodybuilding nutrition is the main focus of most athletes. However, eating as much protein as you can isn’t the best solution. Studies show that eating more than 1.6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight does not affect muscle building. So, most people suggest eating 0.7-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day for optimal results. (4)
Proteins are the last energy source, and our bodies only use them when we have no carbs or fat to burn. Although proteins are essential for muscle repair and growth, our bodies cannot store them like sugars and fat. So any excess protein you consume will be excreted.
Bulking and Cutting
Most bodybuilders split their nutrition and training regime into two phases, cutting and bulking. During the cutting phase, a bodybuilder aims to decrease their body fat percentage, usually by eating fewer calories, adjusting macronutrient content, and using a different exercise program.
During the bulking phase, bodybuilders eat calorie-rich foods with plenty of protein combined with an intense exercise regimen. The goal of bulking is to put on a lean muscle mass and hit performance targets.
It is vital to develop a good meal plan during the cutting phase of a vegan bodybuilding diet. It is a little easier for bulking since you are encouraged to eat healthily, but you can eat a lot. When you cut, you need to pack all the essential nutrients and plenty of protein in limited caloric intake. That can be quite a challenge, which is why consulting with a dietitian may be a good idea.
Now that we have a general idea of nutrition practices, let’s see how vegan bodybuilding regimens can hit those high macronutrient targets and maximize performance.
Can Bodybuilders Rely On Plant-Based Foods?
Traditional bodybuilding diets include many animal products. Most athletes can’t imagine their meals without chicken breasts, beef, eggs, dairy, and other animal-based products. The reason is that these foods are a great source of protein, and they are very dense in calories. So eating them is an easy way to get enough calories and protein, which will power your workouts and help you reach those goals.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get enough calories and proteins out of a vegan bodybuilding diet. You just need to shift your focus from animal products to protein-rich plant-based foods such as legumes, whole grains, and other veggies.
Vegan bodybuilders were unicorns just a couple of decades ago, but the bodybuilding world has opened up after seeing the results of a plant-based diet.
Torre Washington has been a competitive bodybuilder and fitness model for over a decade. He’s also been a vegan since 1998. It was a little more challenging in the beginning since he didn’t have a lot of quality vegan meal options. His decision to enter the bodybuilding world was also greeted with skepticism, but soon after he entered, the world realized vegan athletes are there to stay. In his interview for the Insider, he explained that while his beginning was a little harder, today, it’s a lot easier to become a vegan bodybuilder with all the information out there.
“It’s much easier for people to transition to veganism now because food is really similar to what they’re already eating,” he said in his Insider interview.
How to Create a Bodybuilding Plant-Based Eating Plan
Now, let’s see how a proper vegan bodybuilding diet can cover all needs of a thriving athlete. It requires a little bit of research, but your body must get all the right nutrients.
It’s important to remember that you want to lose fat during the cutting phase, not muscle. Also, with bulking, you need to gain lean muscle mass and minimize fat storage. Proper nutrition plays a vital role in that.
Figure Out Your Calories
Many people who are trying to lose or gain weight come to a simple conclusion – it’s all about calories. When you are trying to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat, which happens in the cutting phase. During bulking, you need to eat more calories to gain all that muscle mass you are trying to build. That, of course, comes with a rigorous exercise regime.
There is more to nutrition than simple calories, but you do need to be mindful of calorie intake and where they come from.
It’s not the same eating junk food with tons of calories but very few nutrients and eating whole foods that are very nutrient-dense. In fact, 80% of your calories should come from whole foods. It may seem like too much, but it’s what your body deserves. You can leave the remaining 20% for cheat meals and processed foods, as we all need a break sometimes. But if you can go all out and eat a 100% whole food diet, we say go for it!
Calculating your caloric needs is relatively easy. Simply find an online calculator where you can put in your weight, height, age, sex, activity level, and weight goals, and it will calculate exactly how many calories you need to eat per day to gain muscle.
These calculators do a pretty good job as well. They estimate your total daily energy expenditure, which is the amount of energy your body needs to burn just to maintain itself. Then, based on other parameters, these online tools calculate precisely how many calories you need to support your goals.
Jon Venus, a vegan bodybuilder, agrees that online caloric intake calculators can be useful: “These can be great tools to figure out an estimate of how many calories you should be eating. But I recommend using this as a starting point, and then experimenting because everybody is different.”
Once you know your desired calorie intake per day, it is time to start thinking about your macros in your vegan bodybuilding meal plan. It’s important to remember how each macronutrient contributes to the energy balance:
Bodybuilders who decided to ditch animal products and commit to a vegan bodybuilding diet first face the question of protein intake. One of the most common vegan mistakes includes not varying plant-based protein sources.
As we said, proteins are crucial for muscle growth and repair, as well as many other vital processes in our body. However, when we consume proteins, our bodies cannot use them right away. We first need to digest them into small building blocks called amino acids.
There are a bunch of amino acids we need that our bodies cannot synthesize. They are called essential amino acids. And this is where a vegan diet becomes a little tricky.
Unlike most animal products that contain all essential amino acids, most plant-based proteins don’t. (5) Does that mean that you can’t get all essential amino acids from a vegan diet? Absolutely not. You just need to vary your protein sources, such as mixing grains and legumes.
So, what are the best vegan protein sources? Here is a quick list:
As you can see, there are plenty of plant-based protein options, and they are very versatile. You can find millions of recipes online suitable for a vegan diet that are easy to make and will also help your muscles grow.
However, keep in mind that plant-based proteins have a lower digestibility according to studies and that you’ll need to vary your sources. (6) The best approach is to try different things and track your performance. That way, you can figure out what works best for you and optimize your vegan diet to hit your goals.
Many people following a vegan bodybuilding diet use protein powders to make sure they eat enough protein throughout the day. The most common way is to prepare a vegan protein shake and eat it as a post-workout meal. Others also include a scoop of protein powder in the evening to supplement their plant-based diet and make sure they build muscle throughout the night.
The reason why they choose the evening for this is because sleep is essential for our body. It is when our bodies take time to repair and grow, so they want to ensure there is enough protein for muscle building.
However, as we mentioned earlier, you won’t be able to store any excess protein you consume on your vegan diet throughout the day. So calculate how much protein you are getting from plant foods per day, as there is probably no need to go over 200 grams.
Powering Your Workouts With Carbohydrates
Although carbs are a widely debated topic in the health world, you simply cannot build muscle without consuming plenty of carbs per day. Around 50-60% of all calories should come from carbs but forget about refined sugars. Think whole foods, as they are full of fiber and other micronutrients essential for a good vegan bodybuilding diet.
Make sure to include these in your daily meals:
It’s easy to notice that many foods from this list are also good protein sources. That’s why a vegan bodybuilding diet gives you many opportunities to get all the nutrients you need. Variety is the key.
Fats Are Important
Not consuming enough food items with good kinds of fat is one of the common mistakes for newbie vegan bodybuilders. You see them with their perfect physiques and muscles showing all around, and you think that bodybuilders probably don’t eat any fats. But they do.
Fat is essential for normal hormonal status, the structure of cell membranes, healthy brain, nutrient absorption, and so on. Fats can also be used as a fuel source when carbs are scarce, and as you saw, they contain twice as much energy as sugars or proteins.
You should avoid all trans-fats as they are bad for your health and limit the intake of saturated ones. Here are some food items with healthy fats you can include in your diet:
As you see, nuts and seeds are your go-to foods when it comes to healthy fat. You can always toss a handful of nuts or seeds on a meal for better taste and nutrition. They also make a great snack.
Don’t Forget About Micronutrients
Plant foods are filled with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, so you won’t have to worry about most things. However, there is one thing that every vegan diet lacks, and that’s vitamin B12. You must take vitamin B12 supplements as it’s the only way for a vegan to meet his daily recommendations. And if you are on a vegan bodybuilding diet, it is essential to check all the boxes.
Although vegan foods are rich in minerals and vitamins, and a good vegan diet covers most essential macronutrients, some people could benefit from taking certain supplements such as iron, vitamin D, and omega-3.
A Few Meals You Can Eat On a Vegan Bodybuilding Diet
If you are not much of a cook, don’t worry. We have easy vegan recipes you can make to power your days without being a culinary master. It’s important to get fresh ingredients, follow what each recipe says, and you’ll have delicious healthy food in no time.
Here are a few meals for your vegan bodybuilding diet:
Stable foods of a vegan bodybuilding diet include whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy protein, bananas, broccoli, and other delicious vegan foods.
Absolutely. Just look at two times natural bodybuilding champion Rober Cheeke. He started a vegan diet at 15 with only 120 pounds, and today he is one of the most famous vegan athletes, with an impressive 215 pounds of pure muscles. He is an absolute beast.
Vegans bulk up the same way meat-eaters do – by consuming a lot of calories, minding macronutrient intake, and working out like crazy. Your body doesn’t care if you consume animal products or plant foods as long as you give it what it needs. And don’t forget that proper hydration and sleep are just as important.
Jon Venus starts his day with a smoothie bowl made with wild blueberries, banana, chia seeds, flax seeds, almond milk, a scoop of vegan protein powder, and topped with mixed berries, granola, and pumpkin seeds.
A burrito bowl is his go-to lunch with rice, pinto beans with taco spices, roasted sweet potatoes, tofu, leafy greens, salsa, and guacamole. For dinner, he goes all out with a lot of lentils, quinoa, chopped tomatoes, cumin seeds, and veggies like broccoli, asparagus, or cauliflower, topped with a salad. As far as snacks go, fruits and veggies are his number one choice.
Is Vegan Diet the Right Choice for Bodybuilding?
Plant-based diets have many advantages, such as lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart disease. (7) Some studies have also shown that a vegan diet may protect against certain cancers, thanks to antioxidants and other bioactive compounds found in fruits and veggies. (8)
But more importantly, for bodybuilders, a vegan diet can cover all of your macronutrient needs and allow you to get ripped. You will have to take vitamin B12 supplements and possibly a few others, such as omega-3, iron, and zinc.
You should soak up all the information you can find and consult with a professional to craft a vegan bodybuilding meal plan. That way, you’ll know exactly how many meals you should eat per day and how many grams of protein, fat, and carbs you should consume each time.
If you are not a big fan of food-prepping, you can also check our list of best bodybuilding meal delivery services as they are some excellent options for a plant-based diet.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned 99% vegan, except for eggs. He explained:
“I stay away more from the meats and more from animal products, and animal proteins, because there was this misconception that that’s the only way you get big and strong, so now I back off that, and I feel much better.”
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
If Arnold can do it, so can you.