The Guide to Vegan Muscle Building: My Tried and Tested Method

Are you tired of hearing the same old misconception that vegan muscle building is impossible and vegans generally don’t get enough protein? Do you know that protein deficiency is in fact a very rare occurrence in the Western World? Today I’m here to debunk that myth and share my story of how I’ve built muscle as a 42-year-old female vegan of 15 years. As a long-time yoga enthusiast, I experienced firsthand the struggle of trying to build muscle on a plant-based diet with bodyweight training only.

vegan muscle building

After realizing that only yoga was starting to be detrimental to my aging body, I discovered that with weight lifting and proper vegan nutrition, I still had it in me to build muscle mass and feel amazing, all sans animal products. That said, if you’re a vegan and you’re lifting weights, I know it can be hard to meet your daily protein goals and achieve the physique of your dream with only plant-based proteins! I’ll show you how to pack on the muscle while staying true to your vegan lifestyle and eating only plant-based foods. Get ready to learn the secrets to building a strong and lean physique, the plant-powered way.

Understanding the Vegan Diet and Building Muscle

With the increasing popularity of veganism, it’s no surprise that more and more people are turning to plant-based diets for health and ethical reasons. However, a common concern among those looking to build muscle on a vegan diet is whether they can meet their protein needs without consuming animal products. Luckily, I can assure you that with the right knowledge and approach, it is absolutely possible to build lean muscle and achieve your fitness goals as a vegan.

When comparing vegan and omnivorous diets for muscle building, the primary distinction lies in the protein sources. Animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy are commonly associated with muscle growth due to their high protein content and complete amino acid profiles. However, a well-planned vegan diet can provide all the necessary nutrients for muscle development without the need for animal products.

One notable difference is the fiber content of vegan diets, which tends to be higher due to the abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. While fiber is essential for digestive health and overall well-being, it can also affect the absorption rate of nutrients, including protein. Therefore, vegans may need to pay closer attention to meal timing and composition to optimize muscle protein synthesis.

vegan muscle building

The Importance of Essential Amino Acids in Plant-Based Diets

Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein and play a crucial role in muscle growth and repair. While animal products contain all nine essential amino acids in sufficient quantities, plant-based sources may lack one or more of these amino acids individually. However, by consuming a variety of plant foods throughout the day, you can easily obtain all essential amino acids and meet their protein requirements.

Some plant-based sources of essential amino acids include:

  • Quinoa: This pseudo-grain is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids in adequate proportions.
  • Soy Products: Foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame are rich sources of protein and contain all essential amino acids.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of protein and can be combined with grains to create complete protein meals (rice and beans, yeay!)
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are packed with protein and provide a variety of essential amino acids (but beware, they are also very calorie-dense because of their fat content — to be consumed in moderation)
  • Seitan: One of the highest sources of vegan proteins out there! It’s very close to being a complete protein (lacking lysine, so if you pair it with nuts or lentils, you’re golden)

By incorporating a diverse range of plant-based protein sources into your diet at every meal, you can ensure that you’re getting all the essential amino acids necessary for muscle building and repair.

Busting the Myth of Animal Protein Necessity

Contrary to popular belief, animal protein and dairy products are not a prerequisite for muscle growth. While animal products are often touted for their high protein content and bioavailability, numerous studies have shown that plant-based diets can support muscle development equally well.

Research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that plant-based protein sources are just as effective as animal-derived proteins for stimulating muscle protein synthesis when consumed in adequate amounts. Additionally, plant-based diets offer various health benefits, including lower saturated fat and cholesterol levels per grams of protein than its omnivorous diet counterparts, which may promote cardiovascular health and overall well-being.

I’ll also point out that a study published in Nutrients concluded that plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, further highlighting the advantages of a vegan lifestyle for long-term health and fitness. But I don’t think you need further convincing if you are here reading this 😉

Creating a Well-Balanced Vegan Diet for Muscle Gain

One thing I realized when I started tracking my food to make sure I was consuming enough plant protein is that calories fly quick when you consume a lot of carbs and a lot of fat, which I definitely was. I won’t go to deep into defining your calorie needs for today, but one thing is certain: if you are a thin person like me, you definitely need to make sure you eat enough calories and do intense resistance training if you want to build muscle. And yes, that means tracking what you eat, at least initially.

vegan diet and muscle gain

Tracking Macronutrients: Protein and Calories

When you start your vegan muscle-building journey on a vegan or vegetarian diet, paying close attention to both protein intake and overall calorie consumption is essential. Protein is the building block of muscle tissue, and consuming an adequate amount of it is crucial for muscle growth and repair. As a general guideline for how much protein you should consume in order to build muscle, aim for around 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This ensures that your muscles have an ample supply of amino acids to support growth and recovery. Plus, proteins keep you satiated longer, so win!

But it’s not just about protein; sufficient calorie intake is also paramount for muscle gain. If you’re expending more energy through workouts and daily activities than you’re consuming, it can be challenging to build muscle mass. Therefore, make sure to consume enough calories to support your fitness goals while prioritizing nutrient-dense foods.

I’ve mentioned the most obvious protein sources above, but what about breakfast? And what about protein powders and other processed protein sources, like beyond burgers, vegan sausages, vegan protein puddings, etc? In all honesty, I feel like people love to demonize processed protein. But realistically, I love to add them to my diet (in moderation!) to make sure I meet my protein goals.

For example, I like to use a big scoop of vegan protein powder (my favorite is Vivo Life) in my morning oats, and I generally drink a protein shake after my workouts. I also like to sprinkle my lunches with seitan sausages for added protein. For the rest, I like to eat clean, unprocessed food — a lot of vegetables (they contain protein too!)

In addition to protein, don’t forget about essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which play a crucial role in overall health and muscle function. Incorporating foods rich in these fatty acids, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and avocados, can help support muscle growth and recovery. Don’t forget your vitamin B 12.

The Importance of Variety

While it’s essential to focus on protein and calorie intake, don’t overlook the importance of variety in your diet — vegan or not. Consuming a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes ensures that you’re getting all the essential nutrients your body needs for optimal health and performance. Each food group provides unique vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, so diversifying your meals can help prevent nutrient deficiencies and support overall well-being.

Experiment with different recipes and ingredients to keep your meals exciting and nutritious. Incorporate a rainbow of colors on your plate to ensure you’re getting a spectrum of antioxidants and micronutrients. By prioritizing variety and balance in your vegan diet, you can support your muscle-building goals while enjoying a delicious and nourishing way of eating.

Incorporating Strength Training into your Vegan Routine

Strength training is the cornerstone of any muscle-building regimen, vegan or otherwise. It involves resistance exercises that target specific muscle groups, stimulating growth and adaptation over time. Whether you’re a seasoned lifter or new to the gym, incorporating strength training into your vegan routine can accelerate muscle growth and enhance overall strength and fitness. I’ll cover my workout in a separate article.

Research has consistently shown that strength training is highly effective for building lean muscle mass and increasing strength, regardless of dietary preferences. By progressively overloading your muscles through exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows, you create micro-tears in the muscle fibers, which then repair and grow stronger during rest and recovery periods. This process, known as hypertrophy, is key to achieving a sculpted and toned physique. And for that to happen you need to lift HEAVY.

Real-Life Examples: Successful Vegan Athletes and Vegan Bodybuilders

One of the most compelling arguments for the viability of vegan muscle-building comes from real-life success stories of vegan athletes who have achieved remarkable feats of strength and endurance while adhering to a plant-based diet. These athletes have shattered the myth that animal products are necessary for optimal performance and muscle gain, proving that plant-powered bodies are more than capable of excelling in various sports and fitness endeavors.

Patrik Baboumian – Strongman

Patrik Baboumian - Strongman

Patrik Baboumian, a former bodybuilder turned strongman, is perhaps one of the most prominent examples of vegan strength and muscle mass. Baboumian holds multiple world records in strongman competitions, including the log lift, yoke walk, and keg toss. Despite initially facing skepticism from fellow competitors and trainers, he adopted a vegan diet in 2011 and has since become an outspoken advocate for plant-based living.

In interviews and documentaries, Baboumian credits his vegan diet for improving his recovery, endurance, and overall health. He emphasizes the importance of consuming a diverse range of plant foods to meet his nutritional needs, including plenty of whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Baboumian’s success on the strongman stage serves as a testament to the potential of veganism to build strength and muscle mass.

Nimai Delgado – Bodybuilder

nimai delgado

Nimai Delgado is a professional bodybuilder and fitness coach known for his sculpted physique and vegan lifestyle. Delgado grew up vegetarian and transitioned to a fully vegan diet in his early twenties, inspired by ethical and environmental concerns. Despite initial doubts from peers and industry professionals, he has achieved success on the bodybuilding stage, winning multiple competitions and gracing the covers of fitness magazines.

Delgado follows a whole-food, plant-based diet, emphasizing the importance of nutrient timing and meal preparation for optimizing muscle growth and recovery. He consumes a variety of plant-based protein sources, including tofu, tempeh, lentils, and beans, to meet his protein needs while minimizing reliance on supplements. Delgado’s journey showcases the potential of veganism to build a muscular physique.

My Own Vegan Muscle Building Journey

While I’m far from the two athletes mentioned above, I often get asked on social media how I managed to pack some muscle weight, especially as a lean vegan woman in my 40s. The answer is this whole article, plus a whole lot of dedication, patience, and discipline. Whole foods were already my jam, but I made a few simple adjustments to complement my muscle strength journey. I lift weights at the gym 4 days a week, run around 20 to 30 km a week, and do yoga 1 to 2 times a week. I know it may sound like a lot to some, but for me, it is a lifestyle and what keeps me mentally sane.

If your goal is weight loss and muscle gain on vegan foods, good news! You do actually need some calorie surplus to build muscle and this will definitely play in your favor in the beginning of your journey.

As for me, my weight has stayed relatively stable (I’m up around 3-4 kilos give or take), but my physique has changed and I feel amazing.

I would love to hear about your own vegan weight training journey, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact me.