How to Create an Effective Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan
If you're serious about making gains on a plant-based diet...
... then you need a solid vegan bodybuilding diet plan in place.
Now, designing one can be slightly tricky.
I know I was clueless after having made the switch from a diet consisting of lean chicken breast and rice, exclusively.
Balancing my vegan macros was, well, confusing to say the least:
Either too many carbs, too little protein, no clue about where my fats should be, struggling getting enough calories and no real idea of what to actually eat.
Today's post is something I wish I had access to 2 years ago:
I'll break down everything you need to know in order to create a nutrient-dense vegan diet plan, which will allow you to gain pounds of muscle and shed fat.
This includes eating tasty vegan food and not having to force down tasteless meals, hitting your macro and nutrient goals and effortlessly adjusting your diet for either weight gain or loss.
If that sounds interesting - then read on!
The Basics of Designing a Vegan Diet Plan
As this article is currently well past the 3000 word count - let's not beat around the bush:
Here's the exact blueprint to designing a highly effective bodybuilding meal plan (made out of plants):
- 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 and grow your biceps.
At a first glance it might look pretty simple, I mean shouldn't be too hard if there's only three steps involved... right?
However over and over again I see people get this stuff wrong. By either underestimating calorie needs, eating way too little fat, or protein, not nourishing their body with all micronutrients and so on and so forth.
Especially number three on the list seem to trip people up on a plant-based diet.
Without the protein from traditional bodybuilding staples such as chicken breast and ground beef, it can be quite challenging figuring out how to balance your vegan bodybuilding diet.
So without further ado, onwards to step 1!
1. Figure Out Your Calories
Weight gain and weight loss is not determined by wizardy.
Nor does it depend on if you eat slimming 'healthy' foods or fattening 'unhealthy' foods.
The simple science behind looking great comes down to one thing:
Calories in and calories out.
Burn more calories than you eat, voila weight loss.
Burn less calories than you eat, voila weight gain.
If you're not quite sure what your current body composition goal is (building muscle or losing fat), or how many calories you should consume - 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, until you're at ~10%.
At this point begin a bulking phase 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 until you're at about ~19% body fat.
At this point begin bulking until you hit a bodyfat of approximately 27%. Rinse and repeat.
Now grab your TDEE and increase or reduce this number depending on what you've decided 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 make up the calories you eat.
While the amount of calories you consume have a profound effect on the way your body looks, your macros are perhaps equally as important for achieving a great physique.
There's an entire science to which macronutrient split 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:
3. Figure Out What To Eat
Having both calorie intake and macros sorted out, we've got a really good foundation for muscles to be built and for fat to be shredded.
Now the next step is about the actual means to hitting your macro targets:
Specifically plant foods.
Managing this part of the equation is possibly what many people struggle the most with. 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 - making it difficult balancing your macros and reaching the 1.8 g protein per kg, or 0.82 g per lbs, mark.
Furthermore it is absolutely crucial that your plant-based diet also delivers all the essential micronutrients.
Hitting Both Your Macros & Micros
By learning how to manipulate your calories, proteins, fats and carbs you have a very powerful tool at your disposal for sculpting your physique.
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, beneficial compounds found in plant such as sulphorophane and the list goes on and on.
Now I can hear what you're thinking:
"That's a veritable 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 Nutrient Dense Whole Plant Foods
Simply put nutrient density of a food is the ratio of nutrients per calorie.
For instance, the standard American diet has a total nutritional density of about zero.
Highly processed and refined foods such as ice cream, candy, cakes, cookies, pizza, burgers and junk food provides tons of energy but negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals.
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 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 nutrient deficiencies.
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 or whatever your guilty pleasure is.
So when designing your diet think 80/20 for hitting the sweet spot between macros and nutrient needs.
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.
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 nutrients your body needs in order to thrive and prosper.
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.
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 quite a bit of overlap):
Poor legumes didn't get any friend.
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?"
Legumes - Vegan Protein
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: all varieties of 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.
Naturally they are a fantastic fit for any vegan bodybuilder.
Below is a list of some of my favorite high-protein legumes, and feel free to eat all of these in copious quanitites.
Whole Grains & Tubers - Vegan Carbohydrate
I assume no one has ever complained about a vegan diet not providing enough carbohydrate - carbs are found in more or less every plant food (even nuts and seeds contain small amounts of carbs).
Now a good base for your carbohydrate intake are whole grains and tubers (tubers = roots that grow underground such as the potato)
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 such as pasta, bread and flour-based foods are also fine in moderate amounts.
Even highly processed carbs such as cakes, cookies, sugary foods can also be included in a healthy diet if you don't overdo it and stay within your macros.
But most of your carbohydrate intake should be based around healthy complex carbs such as:
Nuts & Seeds - Vegan Fat
The best sources of healthy fat on a vegan diet are nuts and seeds.
These provide valuable nutrients and the essential fats our bodies require to thrive.
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.
So naturally if you need to put on weight then nuts and seeds are fantastic foods.
However for the purpose of losing weight even an innocent handful of nuts might push your intake out of a calorie deficit. So just try and keep that in mind when balancing your diet.
While I tend to let your macros decide food choices, one food I suggest everyone to include 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.
One or two tablespoons per day and you got all your omega-3s covered.
Here are some alternatives when it comes to healthy vegan fat sources:
Fruits & Vegetables - Nutrient Powerhouses
Before I went vegan I deemed vegetables and fruits pretty much useless. It was just some fiber, water and sugar and as they didn't give me any protein, why would I bother with them?
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 yellow shouldn't be an afterthought.
This food group will inject tastiness, variety as well as a plethora of nutrients into your vegan diet
Besides providing crucial micronutrients, vitamins and minerals etc, fruits and vegetables also contain a variety of antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds.
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.
Hence it's highly advisable to try and eat the rainbow, as it were, to cover as many as possible of these nutrients.
As a rule of thumb vegetables are very low in calories and are perfect for adding lots of food volume with a negligible amount of 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 think this picture is made in Paint you're wrong.
With the food recommendations above and your vegan macros, you should be able to piece together a pretty damn solid whole food plant-based diet.
What this usually looks like is something along the lines of:
1/3 each of starchy complex carbohydrate, high-protein legumes and vegetables with a side of fruit and some nuts and seeds as shown above.
Keep in mind that this plate model, which I didn't make in paint, is a model.
It doesn't take into account individual needs or preferences and should be viewed only as a guideline for structuring your diet.
You can hit your macros whatever way you see fit with one caveat being to eat your vegetables.
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.
Sample 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:
Sample 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.
What you might've noticed scanning through these is that you have to be more strict with your food choices during a cut.
Basically when you have less calories to play with, you need to make sure that those calories are put to good use towards hitting your macros and micros.
For this reason, during cutting you often have to devote most of your calories to high-protein foods such as lentils, tofu and a vegan protein powder. 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.
And again remember calories and macros is what determines fat loss, not if a food is 'good' or 'bad'. If you manage things very intelligently you might even fit in some vegan ice cream into a fat loss plan.
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.
Well the truth is that this is not a very accurate model of how the body 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.
Again, for weight loss or weight gain it all boilds down to a negative or positive energy balance.
But I don't Know How to Cook Plant-Based Food!
Becoming the Gordon Ramsay of plant-based food isn't something that happens overnight.
It happens over time as you discover plants that taste good, palatable combinations of flavors, meals that you customize and so forth and so on.
As with any drastic diet change it takes a bit of time and practive to learn a couple of go-to meals...
...but after a while you should have built up your own repertoire of delicious, high-protein and macro-friendly meals.
One advice for beginners that are getting started is to veganize your previous omnivorous meals.
Another method is to come up with any iteration of the legume/starchy carb/vegetable combo. This is a great method to coming up with nutritious and easy-to-make plant-based meals:
And so on... I think you get the idea.
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 with 'vegan recipe'. Might look something like 'sweet potato chickpea pepper vegan recipe' and then you pick the result that seems the most appetizing.
And one vegan cooking channel I've enjoyed a lot lately is Avant-garde vegan.
If you need more help in this regard check out the article "How to Cook Simple & Nutritious Vegan Meals to Fuel Your Body" or download our free recipe e-book with 8 lentil recipes below.
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!