Serious about building your best body on a plant-based diet?
Then you absolutely need a solid vegan bodybuilding meal plan to support your efforts in the gym.
So to help you out, in today's post I'll break down everything you need to know:
We'll go through exactly how to create your own customized diet plan based on the optimal macronutritional targets for your goals, with tasty plant foods you actually enjoy eating, which will allow you to either gain pounds of lean vegan muscle or shred fat.
Let's do it.
The 3 Basic Principles of Designing a Vegan Diet Plan
Before we get into the whole eating part of the equation, there are a few fundamentals we need to figure out beforehand so that the meal plan will serve you in the best possible way.
It's not terribly difficult.
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.
These are the three principles you need to abide by to set up your diet for success, grow your biceps and become awesome.
At a first glance it might look rather simple, I mean it shouldn't be too hard if there's only three steps involved..
Well, yes and no.
Over and over again I see people getting these basics completely wrong, which sabotages both muscle and strength gains and potentially even undermining your health.
It ranges from either underestimating calorie needs, eating way too little fat (to where it's detrimental to health), not enough protein to optimize muscle growth and repair, not nourishing their body with all the vital micronutrients, and so on and so forth.
Especially number three on the list seem to trip people up, especially beginners to a vegan diet.
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.
So without further ado, onwards to step 1!
1. Figure Out Your Calories
Weight gain and weight loss is not dictated by wizardy, even though it might seems like that's the case at times.
Nor does it depend on if you eat slimming so-called 'healthy' foods, or fattening 'unhealthy' foods.
Your body simply doesn't care what labels mainstream media or 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:
Not only do we know this to be true from countless case studies of people employing CICO to get in shape...
...the laws of thermodynamics and scientific consensus also agrees that the only way to reliably lose weight is to consume less energy (calories) than you burn.
Naturally, that'll be the first thing to figure out for your meal plan.
Here's the formula you can use to easily determine what your energy intake should be:
Head over to a total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) calculator such as this one and plug in your stats.
This should give you a ballpark of your maintenance calories - which essentially is the calorie intake where you don't gain nor lose weight.
Got that done?
Alright great, keep that number in your head and let's move on.
Take a look at the picture above and then look at your own belly.
You should be able to roughly estimate your own body fat percentage.
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 bodyfat of around ~15% again.
Start over the process by cutting. Rinse and repeat.
Same rules apply but using different numbers.
From wherever you're starting, cut down (fat loss) until you're at about ~19% body fat.
At this point begin bulking (muscle building) until you hit a bodyfat of approximately 27%. Rinse and repeat.
(For in-depth information on why phases of bulking and cutting are necessary, check out the first section of this article)
Now take your TDEE and increase or reduce this number depending on what your body composition goal is:
Say for instance a 80 kg, or 176 pound, vegan lifter 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.
With that done let's proceed to getting your macros dialed in for optimal gains.
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 build and repairs muscle tissue, and how much muscle you retain during weight loss.
There's an entire science to which set of macros is the best for building muscle and shedding fat, which is somewhat beyond the scope of this article.
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:
3. Figure Out What To Eat
Calorie intake. Check.
At this point we've got a really good foundation for muscles to be built, and for fat to be shredded. This would be the diet equivalent of the 20% that'll give you 80% of the results.
Consistently hit your calorie intake and macros and you are light years ahead of most people at the gym.
Now the next step is about the actual means to hitting these numbers:
Specifically plant foods.
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 plant-based diet.
For instance, one aspect where difficulties may arise is that plant foods typically are lower in protein - which can 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
Manipulating your calories, proteins, fats and carbs is a very powerful tool at your disposal for sculpting your physique in whichever way you desire.
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.
While keeping track of your macros is important - it's equally important to keep an eye on your micros:
Calcium, zinc, iron, iodine, vitamin B12, other vitamins & minerals, omega-3s, fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, phenols, carotenoids, anthocyanins, sulphorophane and the list goes on and on.
Now I can hear what you're thinking:
"That's a shitload of things to keep track of, I don't even know what half of those are"
Luckily there's a very simple way of making sure you're feeding the body with all of these vital nutrients...
... without even having to think about it.
Eat Mostly (80%) Nutrient-Dense, Whole Plant Foods
Nutrient density of a food is the ratio of nutrients per calorie.
Using completely arbitrary numbers, lets say food X has 100 nutrients per calorie.
Another food Y has 4 nutrients per calorie.
By eating more calories from food X relative to Y, your diet will automatically become a lot 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 provides tons of energy, 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'.
What these foods have in common is that they are very high in all kinds of life-sustaining nutrients, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals etc.
If you base your diet pre-dominantly around these kind of foods the total nutritional density of your diet will be exceptionally high which will guard you against any potential nutrient deficiency.
My recommendation is to make sure that your diet consists of at least 80% whole plant foods, with the remaining 20% allowed to come from less nutrient-dense and refined/processed food sources.
This way you'll both reap the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet and being able to treat yourself from time to time with some vegan ice cream, pizza, cookies or whatever your guilty pleasure is.
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.
The reason for giving some leeway to the diet is so you can enjoy going out to restaurants and treat yourself to some decadent vegan food once in a while without feeling guilty.
Or add in some cake if there's room for it within your macros.
If you make sure to stay within your caloric needs, eating junk food once in a while will not make you fat or ruin any progress, and it'll keep your sanity intact.
Eat a Variety of Plant Foods
Another key principle of a healthy plant-based diet is variety.
Eating a diet consisting of nothing but oatmeal, lentils and peanuts might actually work to hit your macro targets - there's a good amount of high-quality protein in the lentils, complex carbs in the oatmeal and fats from the peanuts.
But boy are you missing out on many of the vital nutrients your body needs in order to thrive.
The solution is to eat an assortment of many different whole plant foods - this'll ensure 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):
Make sure to include foods from each and everyone 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?"
You'd be surprised by just how much protein is found in plants traditionally viewed as 'sources of carbohydrate'.
Whole grains and vegetables can rack up quite a few protonz at the end of the day.
For example 400 grams of broccoli is more than 10 grams of protein, and 100 g of oatmeal provides 17 grams of protein!
However the most protein-dense plant foods by far are legumes: lentils, beans and peas, tofu and tempeh and so on.
These are absolutely packed with protein - by dry weight lentils contain ~25% protein!
And furthermore they also contain plenty of BCAA which is all-important important for muscle growth.
As such they make for a natural staple in the diet of any vegan bodybuilder.
Below is a list of some of my favorite high-protein legumes, feel free to eat all of these in copious quantities:
I assume no one has ever complained about a vegan diet not providing enough carbohydrate - carbs are pretty much ubiquitous in plant foods.
Now a good base for your carbohydrate intake are 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.
Refined carbs that have undergone some processing such as pasta, bread and flour-based foods are also fine in moderate amounts.
Even really processed carbs such as cakes, cookies, sugary foods can also be included in a healthy diet in small amounts, and ideally only as treats for festive occasions.
Here's a list of healthy complex carbs that are awesome:
Nuts & Seeds
The best sources of healthy fat on a vegan diet are nuts and seeds.
In addition to injecting the essential fatty acids into your diet, they also contain a plethora of other nutrients including protein, fiber, mineral, vitamin E, phytosterols and phenols.
If it's not evident that I'm crazy about nuts by now (not those ones), nut consumption has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality.
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 nuts and seeds are great for putting on weight.
But on the contrary, they can be a detriment to weight loss as even an innocent large handful of nuts can contain hundreds of calories.
One food I suggest everyone to include in their diet is the almighty flax seed.
These are insanely nutrient-dense with one tablespoon providing 1.6 grams of omega-3 as well a compounds called lignans which has been proposed to have anti-cancer properties.
Here are some alternatives when it comes to healthy vegan fat sources:
Fruits & Vegetables
Before I went vegan I viewed vegetables and fruits as being pretty much useless.
It was just some fiber, water and sugar and as they didn't give me any protein, why would I even bother with them?
Looking back I cringe at how ignorant I was.
It's a massive mistake neglecting intake of fruits and vegetables.
Well for one thing, total intake of fruit and vegetable is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality.
Basically, getting your greens and reds and yellows shouldn't be an afterthought.
There are so many life-sustaining nutrients to be found in vegetables and fruits:
There's the flavonoid anthocyanin that can help protect againt cardiovascular disease - found only in certain vegetables such as red cabbage and blueberries.
Then we have the incredibly powerful antioxidant sulforaphane which is suggested to have anti-cancer, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
As a rule of thumb vegetables are very low in calories and are perfect for adding lots of food volume with low calories.
So a tip is that if you want to lose weight, make sure to fill up your plate with veggies.
There's almost an endless list of fruits and veggies but here are a couple to consider:
The Vegan Athlete Plate Model
If you need some inspiration on how to structure your meals, here's a good starting point:
Keep in mind that this crude plate model, which I didn't design in paint, is a mere guideline on how you might set up things.
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 have a look at two vegan meal plans aimed at both mass-gaining and fat loss.
Vegan Bodybuilding Bulking Diet Plan
A 80 kg, or 176 pound, vegan gym-goer has decided to pack on some muscle mass.
He or she calculates the correct vegan macros which in this case would look like:
Breakfast - Tofu Scramble with Sourdough Bread
=547.4 kcal: 37.9 g protein, 14.3 g fat, 72.9 g carbs
Lunch - Beans, Sweet Potato, Broccoli and Avocado
=856.8 kcal: 29.5 g protein, 17.9 g fat, 155.5 g carbs
Pre/Post Workout Snack - Protein Smoothie
=663.2 kcal: 43.4 g protein, 16.8 g fat, 92.4 g carbs.
Dinner - Butternut Lentil Curry with Quinoa
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 you can see we are hitting both total calories as well as the macronutrient targets.
Out of curiosity I also added all the foods to cron-o-meter to see what the full nutritional profile would look like.
And it's not looking bad at all:
Vegan Bodybuilding Cutting Diet Plan
A 80 kg, or 176 pound, vegan gym-goer has decided to shred some fat.
He or she calculates the right vegan macros which in this case looks like:
Breakfast - Protein Oatmeal
=629.7 kcal: 39.7 g protein, 13.2 g fat, 93.3 g carbs
Lunch - Roasted Chickpea & Butternut Squash Salad
=637.1 kcal: 27.0 g protein, 14.2 g fat, 114.5 g carbs
Pre/Post Workout Snack - Protein Smoothie
=403.9 kcal: 37.7 g protein, 9.8 g fat, 45.5 g carbs
Dinner - Lentil Veggie Stew
=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.
And for good measure I'll also provide the micronutrient content of this day's eating:
That should give you some ideas of how to structure things for both muscle gain and weight loss.
Bulking on a vegan diet is pretty easy.
With many calories to play with, getting in adequate 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 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, during cutting you often have to devote most of your calories to high-protein foods such as lentils, tofu and vegan protein powders.
And it's certainly not a bad idea throwing in some huge salads with dark leafy greens to get your vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium and so on.
How Many Times to Eat Per Day?
The old-school approach to meal frequency is to eat multiple small meals throughout the day:
It's thought to 'stoke the metabolic fire' and burn more fat, and additionally the constant influx of protein would keep muscle growth at full capacity at all times.
Now the truth is that this is not a very accurate model of how the body actually works.
Getting your calories from 2 meals versus 6 meals doesn't seem to have any impact on changes in body fat.
Hence, how many meals you choose to eat should be determined by personal preference.
Struggling with getting enough calories in during a bulk?
Perhaps get a nice big breakfast in and space out your food over 6 meals so you don't have to stuff yourself every meal.
Having difficulties maintaining a caloric deficit?
You could try intermittent fasting where you only eat during a 6-8 hour window, which equates to about ~2-3 meals per day.
"Help Me, I Have No Idea How to Cook Tasty and Nutritious Vegan Food!"
Becoming the Gordon Ramsay of plant-based fitness cuisine isn't something that happens overnight.
It happens over time as you discover whole plant foods that you enjoy, palatable combinations of flavors, high-protein meals that act as staples in your diet and so on.
If this whole eating-correctly-and-training thing is completely new to you, it's understandable if you feel a bit lost.
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 advice for beginners that are getting started is to veganize your previous omnivorous meals:
Here's another idea, come up with any iteration of the legume with starchy carb with vegetable combination.
Just take any favourites from each category and combine them into a meal:
Personally when I'm lacking inspiration, Google or Youtube usually succeeds in conjuring up some tasty plant-based recipes.
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 potato chickpea pepper vegan recipe' and then you pick the result that seems the most appetizing.
Here are a few Youtube Channels where you can find awesome recipes:
I've also put together a recipe e-book of mine own which you can download for free below (it includes protein pancakes):
That should be enough for you to start planning out your vegan bodybuilding diet plan. Hope you found this article useful, if so please share it with others!