Are you serious about getting a bodybuilder’s body on a vegan diet? You're probably already aware that this isn't an easy feat.
You need a well-made vegan bodybuilding meal plan which can build upon the effort you put in at the gym.
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.
And we're going to be doing it with tasty plant foods you actually enjoy eating, allowing you to either gain pounds of lean vegan muscle or shred fat.
Let's do it.
How to Create One in 3 Simple Steps
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.
A meal plan is essential in building muscle, especially when bulking and cutting. 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.
That's it. These are the three principles you need to abide by to set up your diet for success, grow your biceps and become awesome.
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.
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!
Step 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, 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. 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 like this one here and input your own data.
This should provide you with a ballpark of your maintenance calories - this 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. 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.
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 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:
Step 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.
Now, 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.
Now I know what you’re gonna be thinking right now: "I don’t know what half of that shit is, let alone how to keep track of it all". 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
The nutrient density of a food refers to the amount of nutrients it contains per calorie of energy.
For instance, if a banana 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. Those numbers are made up by the way, although I’m willing to bet that bananas are more nutrient-dense out of the two! By eating more bananas than french fries, in this case, your diet will become denser in nutrients and thus healthier.
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 eat a lot of these foods in your diet, you will generally increase the total nutritional density of your diet, guarding you against any potential nutrient deficiency.
My recommendation is to include a minimum of 80% whole plant foods in your 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.
It’s great to eat a super-healthy vegan whole foods diet, as well as 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
Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and it’s always a good idea to eat a variety of different plant-based foods in your diet. Not only is it healthier, but it’s less boring too. 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 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 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):
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.
This food is absolutely bursting with vegan protein - lentils contain ~25% protein! And furthermore, they’re full of precious BCAA which is all-important important for muscle growth (3).
As such, they make for a natural staple in the diet of any vegan bodybuilder. Here’s a bunch of my personal favorite high-protein legumes which you should eat large amounts of whenever possible:
If you're struggling to meet your protein requirements, you can supplement with vegan protein powder. They're a very convenient alternative and a good source of high-quality protein.
Where do you get your carbohydrates from?
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 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.
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, and sugary foods can also be included in a healthy diet in small amounts, although ideally only as treats for fun occasions.
Here's a list of healthy complex carbs that are awesome:
Where do you get your Fats from?
The best sources of healthy fat on a vegan diet are nuts and seeds. 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 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):
Read my full guide on fat sources on the vegan diet and everything you need to know.
Don't Forget your Fruits and Vegetables
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 now, I cringe at how ignorant I was.
It's a massive mistake to neglect the intake of fruits and vegetables. Why?
Well, for one thing, total 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. 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:
The Vegan Athlete Plate Model
Do you need some inspiration on how to structure your meals? Well here's a good starting point:
This is a crude plate model, which I definitely didn't design in MS paint, and bear in mind that it is just a guideline on how you might set things up. 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 mass. They calculate that the correct vegan macros for them would be:
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 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-moter, they’re also doing pretty well with their vitamins and minerals too:
Pro Tip: Struggling to get enough calories into your 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 diet plan. They calculate their macros for this cutting phase, which are as follows:
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.
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:
That should give you some ideas on 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 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.
How Many Times to Eat Per Day?
If you want to supposedly 'stoke the metabolic fire' and get rid of more fat, then you should eat multiple smaller meals throughout the day. Additionally, the constant influx of protein would keep muscle growth at full capacity at all times.
Now, I don’t want to burst any bubbles, but this is a bit of an unreliable way of thinking about this. 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 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 fitness cuisine isn't something that happens overnight. No, 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 piece of 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 a starchy carb and a vegetable combination. Just take any favorites 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.
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 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:
That should be enough for you to start planning out your vegan bodybuilding diet plan. I hope you found this article useful, if so please share it with others!
Learn about the essential vegan bodybuilding supplements that will support your health, muscle mass gains and performance in the gym.
1) Buchholz, A. C., & Schoeller, D. A. (2004, May). Is a calorie a calorie? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15113737
2) TodayShow. (2014, March 07). Man loses 56 pounds after eating only McDonald's for six months. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/health/man-loses-56-pounds-after-eating-only-mcdonalds-six-months-2D79329158
3) Blomstrand, E., Eliasson, J., Karlsson, H. K., & Köhnke, R. (2006, January). Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16365096
4) Aune, D., Keum, N., Giovannucci, E., Fadnes, L. T., Boffetta, P., Greenwood, D. C., . . . Norat, T. (2016, December 05). Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27916000
5) Webb, A. L., & McCullough, M. L. (2005). Dietary lignans: Potential role in cancer prevention. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15860433
6) Aune, Dagfinn, Giovannucci, Edward, Paolo, T, L., . . . Serena. (2017, February 22). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality-a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/46/3/1029/3039477
7) Lila, M. A. (2004, December 01). Anthocyanins and Human Health: An In Vitro Investigative Approach. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1082894/
8) Examine.com. (2018, June 14). Sulforaphane: Proven Health Benefits, Dosage, and more. Retrieved from https://examine.com/supplements/sulforaphane/
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