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Are you serious about getting a bodybuilder’s body on a vegan diet? You’re probably already aware that a vegan bodybuilding diet isn’t an easy feat. You can do this slowly as you go through each veganism level.
Luckily for you, we have all the information you need to know about a vegan athlete’s diet.
In this post, we’ll take you through the three steps you need to follow if you want to reach the optimal macro nutritional targets for your goals. We will also provide information learned while preparing meals from one of the chefs from the world famous Sea Shepard.
How to Create One in 3 Simple Steps
A meal plan is essential in building muscle, especially when bulking and cutting as a vegan bodybuilder (see also ‘Nimai Delgado Vegan Bodybuilder‘) (see also ‘The Ultimate Vegan Bodybuilder Diet’). We talk about this more in this Vegan Bodybuilding article.
Here’s what you need to get right in order to design a highly effective bodybuilding meal plan:
- 1Figure out your calories.
- 2Figure out your macros.
- 3Figure out what to eat.
It might initially look rather simple; I mean it shouldn’t be too hard if there are only three steps involved, right? Well, yes and no.
It ranges from either underestimating calorie needs, eating way too little fat (to where it’s detrimental to health), not enough protein sources to optimize muscle growth and repair, not nourishing their body with all the vital micronutrients, and so on. Especially number three on the list seem to trip people up, especially beginners to a vegan diet (see also ‘How to Go Vegan For Beginners‘).
Without the protein from traditional bodybuilding staples such as chicken breast and ground beef, it can be quite challenging figuring out where to get adequate plant protein to balance your macronutrient intake as a vegan.
Step 1. Figure Out Your Calories
Your body simply doesn’t care what labels mainstream media or vegan diet ‘gurus’ have chosen to put on different foods.
Your body only cares about the amount of energy you consume, and the simple science behind weight gain and loss comes down to one thing:
Calories in and calories out.
Here’s how it works:
- Consistently overeat more calories than your body burns per day, and over time you will store this excess energy as body fat
- Consistently undereat fewer calories than your body burns per day,(calories burned doing yoga) and over time you will burn body fat to make up for this energy imbalance
Not only do we know this to be true from countless case studies of people employing CICO to get in shape, but scientific consensus and the laws of thermodynamics also agree that the most effective way to lose those extra pounds is to eat fewer calories than you burn on a regular basis (1).
Naturally, this will be the first thing to figure out for your meal plan. To determine what your energy intake should be, use our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) calculator below and input your own data.
For men – If your body fat is at ~15% or above you should start by cutting down (fat loss), until you’re at ~10%. At this point begin a bulking phase (muscle building) until you hit a body fat of around ~15% again. Start over the process by cutting. Rinse and repeat.
For women – The Same rules apply but using different numbers. From wherever you’re starting, cut down (fat loss) (peptides for fat loss) until you’re at about ~19% body fat. At this point begin bulking (muscle building) until you hit a body fat of approximately 27%. Rinse and repeat.
Now take your TDEE and increase or reduce this number depending on what your body composition goal is:
- For building muscle and gaining strength (bulking) increase your TDEE by 10%.(see best bulking workout)
- For losing fat while keeping your muscle (cutting) reduce your TDEE by 20%.
Say for instance an 80 kg, or 176 pounds, vegan lifter (see also ‘What Are The Best Supplements to Take For Lifters?’) plugs in his or her stats into the TDEE calculator which estimates the maintenance calories to be 2800 calories.
For bulking, the calories would be set at 2800 * 1.10 = 3080 kcal
For cutting, the calories would be set at 2800 * 0.80 = 2240 kcal.
Step 2. Figure Out Your Macros
The three macronutrients proteins, fats and carbohydrate are the big nutrient groups that make up the calories we eat. While the calories we consume have a profound effect on the way your body looks – the macronutrient split is perhaps equally as important in our quest to building a great plant-munching body.
‘A calorie is a calorie’ may be true for mere weight gain and weight loss, but how these calories break down into each of the macronutrients will dictate how well your body builds and repairs muscle tissue, as well as how much muscle you retain during weight loss.
For anyone interested in more in-depth information about optimal vegan macros I urge you to check out this article later.
For now the short and sweet version will do. To maximize improvements in body composition here’s the optimal vegan macro split:
- Consume a high-protein vegan diet: 1.6-2.2 g of protein per kg, or 0.73-1 g per lbs.
- Consume a low to moderate-fat diet: 15-30% calories from fat.
- Eat the rest of your calories in the form of carbs (see also ‘ Benefits Of Eating A Diet High In Carbs ‘).
Step 3. Figure Out What To Eat
Managing this part of the equation is possibly what many struggle with the most. And I won’t lie and say this is the easiest thing in the world, especially not if you’re a beginner to the vegan bodybuilding diet.
For instance, one aspect where difficulties may arise is that plant foods typically are lower in protein – which can make it really difficult balancing your macros and reaching adequate amounts of protein in the range of 1.6-2.2 g protein per kg.
Furthermore, It’s absolutely crucial that your plant-based diet also delivers all the essential micronutrients:
Hitting Both Your Macros & Micros
Here is where I see many proclaimed ‘fitness gurus’ make a fatal mistake. Nailing your macros day after day is not the be-all and end-all solution for overall health.
Yes, eating at McDonald’s and maintaining a caloric deficit can induce weight loss and even improve markers of health. But if we look past the caloric deficit, is it a healthy way of eating? The answer is hell no (2).
While keeping track of your macros is important – you should also stay on top of your micros too: Zinc, iron, vitamin B12, omega-3s, iodine, calcium, fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, carotenoids, anthocyaninsphenol, you get the idea.
To help you track your macros without the hassle, I recommend using a macro tracking app (see also ‘Top Tech: Best Running Watches and Apps 2022‘) on your phone. While the food databases on these apps aren’t as complete and accurate to a T, they’re still very helpful especially when you prepare your own food (See best sustainability apps).For more information on tracking your macros, read our 5-step guide here.
Related Post:Best Vegan Iodine Supplements
Eat Mostly (80%) Nutrient-Dense, Whole Plant Foods
The nutrient density of a food refers to the amount of nutrients it contains per calorie of energy.
For instance, if a banana (see also ‘Is The 30 Bananas A Day Diet A Step Too Far?‘) has 50 nutrients per calorie and a french fry has 3 nutrients per calorie, we can obviously say that the banana is more nutrient-dense.
Let’s look at an example of how not to do things: the standard American diet. Highly processed and refined foods such as ice cream, candy, cakes, cookies, pizza, burgers and junk food provide tons of energy throughout the day, yet has a total nutritional density of about zero.
On the opposite side of the spectrum we’re looking at whole and unprocessed plant foods:
Starches, root vegetables, whole grains, legumes i.e beans and lentils, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds – all the plant foods as close to ‘as grown in nature’.
Dr. Greger’s daily dozen is a brilliant way to visualize the food you should be trying to eat as part of a healthy meat-free diet.
My recommendation is to include a minimum of 80% whole plant foods in your vegan diet, allowing the remaining 20% to come in the form of less nutrient-dense and refined/processed foods – they may not be the healthiest foods, but we all need a little treat sometimes.
Of course, if you so desire it’s perfectly fine to stick to 100% unprocessed plant foods. This is what I personally tend to lean towards as I feel fantastic when fueling myself with whole plant foods.
Eat a Variety of Plant Foods
If you eat a diet consisting of nothing but lentils, oatmeal, and peanuts, you may indeed hit all of your macro goals – there’s a good amount of high-quality protein sources from lentils, complex carbs in the oatmeal and fats from the peanuts.
The solution is to eat an assortment of many different whole plant foods – this’ll ensure that your body is getting the entire spectrum of nutrients, aka ‘eating the rainbow.’
We can break down a plant-based diet into 4 major food groups, each contributing in a unique way towards your macro and nutrient goals (with some overlap):
- Legumes for your protein
- Whole grains & tubers for your carbohydrate
- Nuts & seeds for your fats
- Fruits & vegetables for a ton of micronutrients
You should ideally try to consume foods from each and every one of these categories. And why not start with addressing the question that has haunted every vegan since the dawn of mankind:
Where do you get your protein from?
Plants traditionally viewed as ‘sources of carbohydrate’ actually often have a ton of protein within them just waiting to be gobbled up.
For instance, veggies and whole grains are packed full of protein, with 400g of broccoli having more than 10g of protein and a 100g serving of oatmeal containing over 17g of the stuff – not bad!
Nonetheless, the most protein-packed plant foods by far are legumes: lentils, beans, and peas, as well as more usual suspects like tofu, tempeh, and more.
Here’s a bunch of my personal favorite high-protein legumes which you should eat large amounts of whenever possible:
- Red, green and brown lentils
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Soy milk (testosterone affected by soy)
You might also find this article interesting: How much protein you need to build muscles?
Where do you get your carbohydrates from?
A good base for your carbohydrate intake is complex carbohydrates and starches such as whole grains and tubers e.g. rice, quinoa, potatoes.
These are such a great choice because they are high in starch and both soluble and insoluble fiber, which means they help with satiety and digest slowly without causing any blood sugar spikes.
Here’s a list of healthy complex carbs that are awesome:
- Sweet potatoes and yams
- White potatoes
- Brown rice
- Legumes i.e lentils and beans
- Whole-wheat pasta
Where do you get your Fats from?
Packed full of healthy protein, minerals, fiber, vitamin E and essential fatty acids, nuts and seeds are just absolute champions of the nutrient world.
If you’re unfortunate enough to have a nut allergy, then you’re missing out! Eating a lot of nuts is now correlated with a reduced risk of heart disease, all-cause mortality, and cancer (4).
Now it’s important to be aware that these foods are also quite high in calories, as a gram of fat contains 9 calories compared to a gram of carbohydrate or protein at 4 calories.
That means that nuts and seeds are great for putting on weight.
But on the contrary, they can be a detriment to weight loss too, as even an innocent large handful of nuts can contain hundreds of calories. One food I suggest everyone should include in their vegan diet is the almighty flax seed.
These are so nutrient-dense that it hurts: one tablespoon provides a vegan with 1.6 grams of omega-3, in addition to lignans which are known for their anti-cancer properties. Healthy vegan fats can come from many places, though, including the following (5):
- Flax seeds (eat them)
- Chia seeds
- Cashew nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Tahini (sesame seed paste)
- And all other obscure nuts (see also ‘Which Are the Most Protein-packed Nuts?‘) and seeds that I forgot to mention
Read my full guide on fat sources on the vegan diet and everything you need to know.
Don’t Forget your Fruits and Vegetables
Eating a lot of veggies and fruits supposedly reduces one’s risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality (6).
Basically, getting your greens, reds, and yellows shouldn’t be an afterthought. There are so many life-sustaining nutrients to be found in vegetables and fruits:
There’s a flavonoid (sounds like a word Professor Frink would use) called anthocyanin that can help fight against heart problems such as cardiovascular disease. This flavonoid is only found in veggies like blueberries and red cabbage (7).
Following this is the incredibly strong antioxidant called sulforaphane which is said to fight cancers and inflammation problems (see also our article on handling Plantar Fasciitis).
It is commonly found in many cruciferous vegetables. In general, you can count on vegetables to be low-calorie ways of filling up and providing you with a bunch of nutrients and whatnot (8).
Therefore, if you want to lose weight more easily, fill yourself up with a bunch of friendly low-calorie veggies. We’d be writing a vegan version of War and Peace if tried to write down every vegetable in the world, but here are some of the key ones:
- Bell peppers of all colors
- Red cabbage
- Green peas
- Kale, spinach and dark leafy greens
- All kinds of mushrooms
- Herbs i.e coriander or cilantro (?) parsley, sage, dill
- Durian (if you have a brave soul)
Related Post: Vegan Diet Nutrient Deficiencies
Pro Tip: In a rush and don’t have time to cook? Check out Fresh n’ Lean where they deliver fresh, ready-to-eat organic meals straight to your door.
The Vegan Athlete Plate Model
By model, I’m not talking vegan fitness Instagram models, I’m talking about how to structure your meals.
Here’s a good starting point:
- 1/3 of the plate should be some type of complex carbohydrate
- 1/3 of the plate should be some type of high-protein legume
- 1/3 of the plate should be some type of vegetable
- 1 serving of nuts/seeds or nut butter
- 1 serving of fruits/berries
There’s an infinite number of ways of eating a plant-based diet that’s high in protein, high in carbohydrate, low-moderate in fats and very nutrient-dense.
This can be done in whichever way you feel works best for you (but eating your vegetables is still mandatory). So piecing the plant muscle puzzle together, let’s check out two vegan meal plans aimed at both mass-gaining and fat loss.
Vegan Bodybuilding Bulking Diet Plan
A vegan fitness enthusiast weighing 80 kg is embarking on a fitness journey to increase their overall muscle growth and mass (best non-steroid for muscle growth). They calculate that the correct vegan macros for them would be:
- TDEE of 2800 kcal = for bulking 2800 * 1.1 = 3080 kcal
- Protein somewhere in the 128-176 gram range
- Fat somewhere in the 51-103 gram range
- Rest of the calories from carbohydrates.
Breakfast – Tofu Scramble with Sourdough Bread
- Tofu – 200 g
- Sourdough Bread – large slice (96 g)
- Red pepper – 164 g
- Kale – 100 g
=547.4 kcal: 37.9 g protein, 14.3 g fat, 72.9 g carbs
Lunch – Beans, Sweet Potato, Broccoli and Avocado
- Black beans – 170 g
- Sweet potato – 400 g
- Broccoli – 300 g
- Avocado – 100 g
- Calorie-free spices, herbs and condiments
=856.8 kcal: 29.5 g protein, 17.9 g fat, 155.5 g carbs
Pre/Post Workout Snack – Protein Smoothie
- Bananas – 2 medium sized (236 g)
- Frozen berries – 200 g
- Ground flax seeds – 2 tbsp (14 g)
- Soy milk – 300 ml
- Pea protein powder – 28 g
=663.2 kcal: 43.4 g protein, 16.8 g fat, 92.4 g carbs.
Dinner – Butternut Lentil Curry with Quinoa
- Red lentils – 100 g (dry uncooked weight)
- Quinoa – 100 g (dry uncooked weight)
- Butternut squash – 300 g
- Cashew nuts – 30 g
1011.9 kcal: 46.2 g protein, 21.7 g fat, 167.8 g carbs.
Grand total of:
3079 kcal with 157.0 g protein, 70.7 g fat, 488.5 g carbs.
Or 18 % protein, 20% fat and 62 % carbs.
As percentages, this would be 18 % protein, 20% fat and 62 % carbohydrates. According to the data, our hero is reaching their targets for both macros and calories, which is not bad at all. According to the cron-o-meter, they’re also doing pretty well with their vitamins and minerals too:
Pro Tip: Struggling to get enough calories into your vegan diet? You can supplement with vegan mass gainers.
Vegan Bodybuilding Cutting Diet Plan
Another plant-eating fitness fan weighing 80 kg has decided to shred some weight on a cutting phase of a vegan diet plan. They calculate their macros for this cutting phase, which are as follows:
- TDEE of 2800 kcal = for cutting 2800 * 0.8 = 2240 kcal
- Protein somewhere in the 128-176 gram range (higher rather than lower to retain as much muscle mass as possible)
- Fat somewhere in the 37-75 gram range (lower rather than higher to pack in as many carbs as possible to maintain high training intensity)
- Rest of the calories from carbohydrates.
Breakfast – Protein Oatmeal
- Oatmeal – 80 g
- Apple – 150 g
- Frozen mixed berries – 100 g
- Pea protein powder – 30 g
- Ground flax seeds – 2 tbsp (14 g)
=629.7 kcal: 39.7 g protein, 13.2 g fat, 93.3 g carbs
Lunch – Roasted Chickpea & Butternut Squash Salad
- Chickpeas – 200 g
- Butternut Squash – 300 g
- Broccoli – 200 g
- Carrot – 60 g
- Red cabbage – 100 g
- Onion – 70 g
- Tahini – 1 tbsp (15 g)
=637.1 kcal: 27.0 g protein, 14.2 g fat, 114.5 g carbs
Pre/Post Workout Snack – Protein Smoothie
- Banana – 118 g
- Frozen blueberries – 100 g
- Soy milk – 250 g
- Pea protein powder – 30 g
=403.9 kcal: 37.7 g protein, 9.8 g fat, 45.5 g carbs
Dinner – Lentil Veggie Stew
- Red lentils – 100 g (uncooked weight)
- Green peas – 200 g
- Mushrooms – 100 g
- Spinach – 200 g
- Calorie-free spices, herbs and condiments
=582.0 kcal: 43.0 g protein, 3.8 g fat, 102.1 g carbs
Grand total of:
2253 kcal with 147.4 g protein, 41.1 g fat, 355.5 g carbs.
Or 23 % protein, 16% fat and 61 % carbs.
We go more in-depth on this in our 7-Day Vegan Diet Plan For Weight Loss. And for good measure I’ll also provide the micronutrient content of this day’s eating:
Bulking on a vegan diet is pretty easy. With many calories to play with, getting in the right amount of protein is a breeze, and you don’t have to carefully consider food choices.
Cutting, however, that’s an entirely different dragon to slay (shoutout to Jordan!). During a weight loss phase where calories creep down lower and lower, you need to make sure that these few calories are used efficiently to hit your protein and micronutrient needs.
For this reason, when cutting, you often have to devote most of your calories to high-protein foods such as lentils, tofu, and vegan protein powders.
Also, it’s certainly not a bad idea to throw in some huge salads with dark leafy greens to get your vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium and so on.
Looking for more meal ideas? Check out this video by Brian Turner:
How Many Times to Eat Per Day?
Turns out, it doesn’t matter how frequently you eat, whether it’s 1 meal a day or 7 – the difference is negligible. As a result, you should eat at a frequency that suits you and your habits.
Can’t get enough calories in when you’re bulking up?
Consider starting the day with a large breakfast (see also our favorite healthy vegan breakfast recipes) and then eating 4 or 5 smaller meals throughout the day. Or, incorporate vegan mass gainers into your diet
Can’t keep the calories down when you’re shredding?
Perhaps try out intermittent fasting – this is when you eat solely during a 6-8 hour window, leaving you with about 2 or 3 meals each day if you plan carefully.
I Have No Idea How to Cook Tasty and Nutritious Vegan Food
Becoming the Gordon Ramsay of plant-based foods and fitness cuisine isn’t something that happens overnight.
It takes a bit of time and practice to get the hang of it, but after a while, you should have built up your own repertoire of delicious, high-protein and macro-friendly go-to meals.
One piece of advice for beginners that are getting started is to “veganize” your previous omnivorous meals:
- Swap out the ground beef in spaghetti bolognese with red lentils or texturized soy protein.
- Make your chili con carne a chili sin carne, putting emphasis on the beans instead.
- Lentil meatballs, burgers, falafels, etc.
- Create scrambled eggs using tofu.
If you really want to avoid cooking, check out Fresh n’ Lean where they deliver fresh, ready-to-eat organic meals straight to your door.
Related Post: Is Soy Bad for Men?
Here’s another idea, come up with any iteration of the legume with a starchy carb and a vegetable combination. Just take any favorites from each category and combine them into a meal:
- Tofu with brown rice and veggies.
- Black beans with sweet potato and broccoli.
- Chickpea salad with quinoa and red cabbage.
- Vegan protein powder with oatmeal and berries.
Try this: Go to your fridge and cupboards and take stock of what ingredients are there. Then take those exact ingredients and put them in google or youtube together with ‘vegan recipe.’
The search query might end up looking like ‘Sweet potatoes and chickpea brown rice pepper vegan recipe‘ and then you pick the result that seems the most appetizing.
If you ask me, making a tofu scramble should be public knowledge!
What If I Really Don’t Want to Cook?
If you’re in a rush, then check out Fresh n’ Lean’s meal plans, our #1 recommended plant-based meal delivery service.
Some vegan apps will also help you ensure that you only eat vegan meals even if you’re outside your home or doing your groceries.
If you want to maximize your results, you can start building your workout routine too.
What else can I do to help maximize my gains?
Learn about the essential vegan bodybuilding supplements that will support your health, muscle mass gains and performance in the gym.
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