How to Create a Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan
Not quite sure how to design a vegan bodybuilding meal plan that will help you build muscle and lose fat?
I know I was clueless when I made the switch from a diet of chicken and rice to eating exclusively plants.
I couldn't seem to figure out how balance my macros:
Either too many carbs, too little protein, no clue about where my fats should be, overshooting calories and a lot of headache.
Well, it doesn't have to be this way.
Imagine if you could:
If that sounds interesting then you want to continue reading:
We're going to learn how to design a nutrient-dense vegan diet that fits your macros, aimed at either losing fat or gaining muscle, and becoming healthier and enhancing performance.
Getting adequate nutrition
Calculating your macros is essential in order to get the body you want.
By learning how to manipulate your calories, proteins, fats and carbs, both bulking and cutting becomes a breeze.
Now here is where I see many 'fitness gurus' make a fatal mistake.
Whilst counting macros is an incredibly useful tool for sculpting your physique, it's 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.
Introducing the concept of nutrient density
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 etc.
On the opposite side of the spectrum we're looking at whole and unprocessed plant foods.
Think starches, root vegetables, whole grains, legumes i.e beans and lentils, fruits & vegetables, nuts & seeds.
If you base your diet pre-dominantly around these kind of foods the total nutritional density will be exceptionally high.
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 foods 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.
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 and creating negative thought loops that might lead to bingeing.
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.
Well what do I eat then?
Hopefully I managed to convey concept of nutrient density so it made sense.
You should have already got your macros figured out (if you don't go ahead and do so)
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?"
Vegan sources of 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.
As an 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 group is legumes, that is lentils, peas and beans, tofu and tempeh and so on and so forth.
These are absolutely packed with protein and furthermore they also contain plenty of BCAA which is all-important important for muscle growth.
Below is a list of some of my favorite high-protein plant foods (Do feel free to eat all of these in copious quanitites.)
Vegan sources of fat
The best source of healthy fats 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.
(Struggling with putting on weight? Check out 11 Tips for Bulking Up As a Vegan)
While I suggest you to eat whatever foods you want within your macros, there's one recommendation I'd suggest everyone take to heart:
That is to include one tablespoon of ground flax seeds per day, which is also the opinion of Dr Greger.
These are just to good to pass up on. They are insanely nutrient-dense with one tablespoon providing 1.6 grams of omega-3 as well as something called lignan which has been proposed to have anti-cancer properties.
Here are some alternatives when it comes to healthy vegan fat sources:
Vegan sources of carbohydrate
You would have to try pretty damn hard to avoid ingesting carbohydrates on a vegan diet.
Carbs are more or less ubiquitous in the plant-based diet (even nuts and seeds contain small amounts of carbs).
A good place to start though is complex carbohydrates or starchy foods.
Complex carbs are a good choice because they are high in fiber and other nutrients which means they digest slowly, without causing any blood sugar spikes.
The fiber content also makes them more satiating which helps with weight control.
More refined carbs such as pasta, bread and flour-based foods are also fine in moderate amounts.
Even 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.
Here's a couple of options for good vegan carb sources:
Fruits and vegetables
While fruits and vegetables don't belong to any particular macronutrient, it's a huge mistake neglecting these foods.
Well for one thing, total intake of fruit and vegetable is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality.
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 bodybuilding plate model
If you think this picture is made in Paint you're absolute wrong.
With the food recommendations above and your vegan macros, you should be able to piece together a pretty solid whole food plant-based diet.
What this usually looks like is something along the lines of :
1/3 each of starchy carbs, 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 as a mere guideline.
You can hit your macros whatever way you see fit (but do make sure to load up on veggies).
So piecing the plant muscle puzzle (?) together, let's have a look at two vegan meal plans with two distinctly separate goals.
Sample vegan bodybuilding bulking diet plan
Breakfast - protein oatmeal with banana and mixed berries
Oatmeal - 120 g
Banana - 118 g
Frozen mixed berries - 100 g
Milled flax seeds - 2 tablespoons
Pea protein powder - 30 g
809 kcal: 44.4 g protein, 15.9 g fat, 126.6 g carbs
Lunch - baked tofu with sweet potato, broccoli and tahini sauce
Tofu - 250 g
Sweet potato - 400 g
Broccoli - 300 g
Tahini - 2 tablespoons (30 g)
Calorie-free spices, herbs and condiments
879 kcal: 48.8 g protein, 29.7 g fat, 119.4 g carbs
Dinner - red lentil curry with veggies and cashew nuts
Red lentils - 200 g (dry uncooked weight)
Brown rice - 100 g (dry uncooked weight)
Mixed frozen veggies - 300 g
Cashew nuts - 30 g
1323 kcal: 67.4 g protein, 21.3 g fat, 226.1 g carbs.
Late night snack - ice cream (because why not)
Alpro Hazelnut Chocolate Vegan Ice Cream - 100 g
175 kcal: 0.8 g protein, 9.4 g fat, 25.8 g carbs
Grand total of:
3187 kcal with 161.4 g protein, 76.4 g fat, 497.8 g carbs.
Or 17 % protein, 12% fat and 62 % carbs.
Sample vegan bodybuilding cutting diet plan
Breakfast - tofu scramble with sourdough toast
Tofu - 300 g
Spinach - 100 g
Slice of sourdough bread - 64 g
508 kcal: 45.8 g protein, 18.6 g fat, 48.2 g carbs
Lunch - red lentil curry with vegetables
Red lentils - 200 g (dry uncooked weight)
Mixed frozen veggies - 400 g
900 kcal: 59.2 g protein, 12.4 g fat, 149.5 g carbs
Dinner - protein oatmeal with mixed berries and apple
Pea protein powder - 40 g
Oatmeal - 60 g
Flax seeds - 1 tablespoon (7 g)
Mixed frozen berries - 100 g
1 medium apple - 182 g
570.2 kcal: 42.4 g protein, 9.3 g fat, 83.2 g carbs.
Grand total of:
1979 kcal with 147.5 g protein, 40.3 g fat, 280.9 g carbs.
Or 26 % protein, 17% fat and 57 % carbs.
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.
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.
This allows for hitting both protein macros and at the same time allowing some tasty carbs, perhaps a slice of bread and some fruits and berries.
If you manage things very intelligently you might even fit in some vegan ice cream into a fat loss plan. Remember calories and macros is what determines fat loss, not if a food is 'good' or 'bad'
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.
Help me, I don't know how to cook!
Becoming the Gordon Rmsay 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.
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.
Another method is to come up with any iteration of the legume/starchy carb/vegetable combo.
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.
I think you get the deal.
Personally when I'm lacking inspiration, Google or Youtube usually succeeds in conjuring up some tasty plant-based recipes.
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!