Think You Can’t Build Muscle on a Plant-Based Diet? Think Again

Want to eat vegan and build muscle? We've got tips and strategies to bulk up while on the vegan diet. Read on to learn more.

When you think of bodybuilding, the first image that springs to mind might be an athlete who fuels up with generous portions of red meat. While many athletes bulk with animal-based proteins and fats, that isn’t the only way to build strength. Get to know the basics of a plant-based diet and learn how to create the ultimate muscle-building diet plan for vegans.

What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

Also known as a vegan diet, a plant-based diet revolves around eating flora rather than fauna. A plant-based diet doesn’t include meat, fish, seafood, eggs, or dairy products. That doesn’t mean every meal has to consist of carrot sticks or salads, though. Instead, vegan diets include a wide range of produce, grains, fats, and proteins, all derived from plants.

If you’ve always been an omnivore and you love a great steak dinner, you might be wondering whether a plant-based diet is healthy. A diet plan that gets all of its energy and nutrients from plants can certainly keep you healthy while helping you build muscle, as long as you plan your meals with a focus on nutritious options.

Calculate Calories for Building Muscle

Like any good meal plan with a focus on building muscle, a plant-based diet plan should start by calculating the number of calories you need each day. Your daily calorie requirements don’t change based on what type of diet you eat, but they do depend on your energy needs and your normal activity level.

First, determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which measures the energy your body needs to perform basic functions and fuel your workouts. When you select your activity level, be sure to account for the weight-lifting and muscle-building workouts you’ll be tackling.

Next, you’ll need to add a calorie surplus. Your TDEE reflects maintenance calories only, so sticking to that calorie count won’t help you build muscle. Instead, add 250 to 500 calories to your TDEE to arrive at the calorie count you’ll need for muscle building.

Know Your Macronutrients

Eating smart is about more than counting calories alone, especially when you’re adding more energy to your daily average. You’ll also want to pay attention to the balance of macronutrients, or carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, that you consume each day. Naturally, a diet that’s too high in plant-based fat or too low in plant-based protein won’t help you build muscle effectively.

A typical muscle-building macro includes 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. Your ideal macros may vary slightly, but this ratio boasts enough protein to stimulate muscle growth, enough carbs to fuel your body, and enough fat to help your body absorb nutrients before a workout and repair itself after a workout. Try using a macro tracking app to ensure that you’re hitting the right numbers and making healthy choices for every meal.

Focus Your Muscle-Building Diet Around Whole Foods

While tracking macros can lead to a much more adaptable diet plan than the restrictive diets that eliminate certain food groups while overloading on others, don’t take the flexibility mindset too far. Any effective muscle-building diet should revolve around whole foods instead of processed food or junk food.

When you’re on a plant-based diet, aim to eat plenty of leafy greens and brightly colored vegetables, potatoes and other tubers, beans and lentils, fresh and frozen fruit, and whole grains like oats and brown rice. Nuts and seeds are also great choices, as are plant-based oils, avocados, coconut, and soy-based protein like tofu and tempeh.

Avoid sugary sweets, refined starches, and vegan replacement foods that are packed with fillers and empty calories. These foods might increase your calorie count, but they don’t have the nutrients you need for muscle building.

Eat at the Right Times

When you want to build muscle, eating at predetermined times throughout the day can help you take your progress to the next level. Naturally, you need to keep your body fueled throughout the day, especially before, during, and after a weightlifting session.

Be sure to eat well-rounded vegan meals with good macro balances for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Eat a small snack about two hours before you exercise and about 30 minutes after your workout. Go heavy on the carbs and protein and light on the fat. You’ll need carbs for energy and protein for muscle building, but fat can slow you down and compromise your performance at the gym. Remember that the calorie and nutrient counts for your pre- and post-workout snacks should factor into your total numbers for the day.

Plan Plant-Based Meals and Snacks in Advance

Whether you’re transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle from an omnivorous diet or a vegetarian diet, the change can be tough as you get used to a new range of foods. To make the transition easier and lower the risk of reverting back to animal-based fats and proteins, plan out plant-based meals and snacks ahead of time.

Start the day with a protein-packed tofu scramble full of vegetables or a whole-grain protein bowl, and for lunch, try a vegan chili topped with avocado or a green salad packed with fresh produce and legumes. For a snack, go for a homemade trail mix or some plant-based yogurt with fruit, and for dinner, dine on a lentil burger or a hearty vegetable stew. Use a diet plan app to get nutritious recipes that easily fit into your meal plan.

Commit to Your Workouts and Track Your Results

When your plant-based diet fuels your body effectively, the only things left for you to do are designing your ideal workout and tracking your progress. Plan for cardio and muscle-building sessions five or six times per week, and work each muscle group at least once a week. With consistent exercise, you’ll effectively strengthen and grow your muscles.

Use a fitness tracker to monitor your workouts and calories burned along with your meals and calories consumed. When you keep all of your vital statistics in one convenient place, you can easily track how far you’ve progressed on your plant-based diet.

Think you can’t build muscle on a plant-based diet? When you track your progress, find a great workout routine, count your macros, and focus on whole foods, you can build muscle and keep healthy while following a plant-based diet.

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