How to Gain Vegan Muscle (Without Getting Fat)
So you've decided that it's time to bulk up and put on some quality vegan muscle on your frame.
Now if you think this means letting go of all inhibitions, and unleashing your appetite on mountains of food, you might need to rethink the concept of bulking.
While this traditional style of "dirty-bulking" definitely will pack on pounds...
... it might not necessarily be the kind of pounds we're looking after.
You see, there's two ways of executing a mass-gaining phase:
A. Eat everything that's not nailed down and gain a ton weight (as well as body fat)
B. Adopt a smarter approach to bulking and gain slabs of lean muscle with almost no body fat.
This smarter approach means you'll follow the laws of effective bulking so you gain muscle whilst maintaining a lean body - ultimately achieving your physique goals at a much faster rate.
How a calorie surplus helps builds muscle
Bulking, or a mass-gaining phase, is where you eat above your caloric needs to promote optimal muscle mass gains.
Now, you might wonder:
Do we really need to bulk to gain muscle?
Couldn't we just eat at or below maintanence, gain muscle and not have to deal with any fat gain?
It's a fair question. There's plenty of bodybuilding dogma such as eating unnecessarily large amounts of protein at 2-3 g protein per lbs.
So perhaps bulking in order to gain muscle is just another false and outdated concept that's been perpetuated as truth.
As explained here losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously, also known as body recomposition, only happens under certain circumstances.
'Recomping' can actually work for beginners, detrained athletes, obese individuals, and for those who take steroids.
So for instance, an overweight beginner can in fact put on muscle while at the same time dropping fat.
However if you belong to neither of these four groups, then your best bet for gaining muscle mass is to stay in a slight caloric surplus.
This is because your body's capacity to build muscle depends on the amount of calories, or energy, you take in.
Regardless how much protein you're ingesting, energy restriction is going to negatively impact synthesis of new muscle tissue:
To mitigate these negative effects, and maximize the rate of muscle gains, you have to make absolutely sure that you're not in a caloric deficit...
... which is best done by overshooting your calories and eating slightly above your caloric needs.
The problems with traditional "dirty-bulking"
Bulking means it's time to hit up all-you-can-eat vegan buffets and stock up on nut butters, ice cream, chips, and other calorie-dense food.
Cause' bulking is done by shoveling large volumes of food into your mouth and embracing the gluttonous side of your personality... right?
Ehm, perhaps not.
I speak from personal experience here when saying that the term 'bulk up' can be taken too literal.
When I was a wee young lad I found some information online that said you have to do Starting Strength and a gallon of milk a day (GOMAD).
While this has become more or less a meme at this point, I did what I thought had to be done and drank tons of milk and trained with very low reps.
So what happened with my body?
Well... I got fat.
No doubt some of the weight gained was muscle but unfortunately most of it was just excess fat gain.
The bottomline here is that bulking is not an excuse to eat way above your caloric needs.
Besides the obvious health concerns associated with putting on unnecessary fat, it also presents other negatives for building a great body:
So a dirty-bulk will hinder muscle growth, accelerate fat storage, and to top it off makes it even harder to drop the fat.
Basically you want to stay far away from dirty-bulking.
Lean bulking: gain muscle and minimize fat gain
While we do need to stay above caloric needs, dirty bulking is not the best way of doing things.
The fact of the matter is that you're not going to build any more muscle mass eating a massive caloric surplus compared to a more moderate caloric surplus.
One study evaluated the effects of two different weight-gain protocols in elite athletes performing resistance training: eating either at a slight caloric surplus, 3000 kcal, versus a large caloric surplus, 3600 kcal.
And the results?
Lean body mass gain was not significantly different, but fat mass had increased drastically more in the 3600 kcal group.
(As shown in the figure below, white pillars ate 3600 kcal, black ate 3000 kcal.)
There's only a finite amount of new muscle tissue that can be synthesized per day - no amount of calories will change this physiological fact.
A beginner can expect to gain about 2 pounds of muscle per month, an intermediate 1 pounds and advanced lifters even less.
Overeating and gaining 10 pounds per month versus eating in a slight caloric surplus is going to yield the same amount of muscle gain (but vastly different fat gains).
Practical recommendations for bulking
So the intelligent way of bulking up is to eat at a slight surplus which will maximize muscle gain whilst minimizing fat gain - usually referred to as a lean bulking or a clean bulk.
Lean bulking is best done at about 10% above your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Men should aim for a weight gain of about 1-2 kg, or 2-4 pounds, per month.
Beginners with lots of potential for muscle growth can shoot for the higher end of the range, while intermediate and advanced lifters should strive for the more moderate 1 kg or 2 pounds.
Women aim for half of those figures.
To supercharge muscle growth during a lean bulk it's also crucial that you:
Implement a properly structured training routine where you focus on progressively overloading your muscles.
Eating above your caloric needs is not enough, you also need to adequately stimulate and tear down your muscles to trigger a growth response.
Getting your macros right. Eating the right amount of protein, fats and carbohydrate plays a huge role in optimizing muscle gains.
We're going to get the macros right! Learn how to calculate optimal vegan macros so you can put on the most amount of muscle at the fastest rate possible.