“It is health that is real wealth, and not pieces of gold and silver” Ghandi
There are many misconceptions about being vegan, not the least of which being that it’s hard to build muscle. This notion probably comes from the fact that there is a learning curve, meaning when you go vegan, you don’t usually know much about what you’re doing. You will know why you made the switch, and maybe have an idea about what to eat, but as far as knowing how to eat to consistently build muscle on a plant based diet, it’s a specialized knowledge that eludes many of us. For me, it has been a process of trial and error figuring out exactly what to eat, and sometimes a pain in the ass. I’m now at a point where I’m cruising. I know how to eat to build muscle, lose fat, or maintain easily. That being said the hardest part of it all is getting past that learning curve. After that, it’s smooth sailing. That’s why I decided to write this article, to give you some tips and tricks that will help you navigate your way to success on the plant based diet alot more quickly and effortlessly than i was able to. If you apply what you will learn in this article, I guarantee that not only will you maintain every ounce of your hard earned muscle, you’ll build more. If you’re tracking macros every day, you know how many calories you need daily, and roughly how to break them evenly into several smaller meals. This leads me to my first point, don’t start eating less calories. Some people think it’s hard to get alot of calories on a plant based diet, but this could not be further from the truth. There are many plant based foods that are high in calories including: avocado, nuts, seeds, high quality oils such as grapeseed oil, dark chocolate, and many plant based junk foods to name a few. Most of these are delicious and nutritious, so getting adequate calories should never be a problem. Keep in mind that junk food is not meant to be staples in your diet, but may be used in moderation to keep things fun and your calories high. Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty. There are three main macronutrients. They are carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Most carb sources are vegan friendly, as well as most fat sources. Where it typically gets tricky is the protein as plant based protein sources typically differ from omnivorous ones. Whereas an omnivorous eater typically gets their protein from meat, eggs, and dairy, as plant based eaters we typically get our protein from, beans, nuts, seeds, plant based protein powders, tempeh, vegan meat substitutes, and more. These are all great options, however my favorite is red lentils. They are high in protein, quick and simple to make, and best of all they’re super versatile. You can make taco meat from them, burgers, soups, you can put them on salads, or eat them with rice , potatoes, and quinoa. You can season them however you want, they never have to taste the exact same way. My second favorite protein source would have to be chickpeas. Of all the legumes, chickpeas are probably the healthiest. They are loaded with a variety of micro-nutrients such as fiber, iron, zinc, phosphorus, B-vitamins and many more. They are also packed with protein which makes them the perfect protein source for plant based eaters. Add all of this to the fact that they’re versatile, and you can see why they are the second most widely consumed bean worldwide after soybeans. Those are my personal favorites, however all legumes are great plant based sources of protein, while simultaneously offering numerous health benefits. Though I don’t recommend it as a staple, many of those following a plant based diet include mock meats as a regular part of their diet. Many plant based meats are high in protein, taste delicious, and are very simple to prepare, which is why they are so popular. I personally don’t eat mock meats, except on rare occasions. This is because they were my main protein source when I first went plant based, and One winter I got four colds. This was a record for me and I was frustrated, so I decided to adopt a healthier diet. My first move was cutting out mock meats. Since doing this, I have not had so much as a cold in nearly two years. That being said, it’s okay to indulge once in a while, but as I said before, don’t make them a dietary staple. Next, let’s move on to soy. Soy is a bit controversial due to the fact that some believe it raises the levels of estrogen in our bodies. Soy does contain a form of estrogen called phytoestrogens. In reasonable amounts, they have not been shown to increase estrogen in humans when ingested. There are various studies out there, and at the end of the day you’ll have to draw your own conclusions. I’ll just say that many men include soy as a regular part of their diets and are very healthy. I personally limit it just as a personal preference. Also, keep in mind that things like tofu and mock meats made from soy are highly processed, and are not the healthiest form. Therefore, I would suggest consuming them in moderation. For those who decide to make soy a regular part of their diets, I recommend a less processed form such as edamame or tempeh. When it comes to carb and fat sources, they don’t usually differ much when switching to a plant based diet. Basic carb sources would still be rice, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Basic fat sources would still be avocado, various nuts, and seeds. For meal prep, pair carbs and protein or fat and protein, don’t mix carbs and fat often unless you are in the off-season or being lean just isn’t a priority for you. Fruits and vegetables can be consumed freely, due to the fact that they are low in calories and high in micro-nutrients. Don’t be concerned about the sugar in fruit, it is not the same as table sugar and does not affect your body the same way. The only things you need to be concerned with are getting enough calories as plant based foods tend to be lower in calories than meats and other animal products, and getting a wide variety of whole foods. This will ensure that you get a variety of nutrients so that your body can stay healthy and function at it’s highest capacity. It’s easy to overlook how important it is to get a wide variety of nutrients from whole foods, as many of us are mainly focused on getting gains. Think about it like this though, a healthier diet means a stronger immune system and less inflammation in the body, which not only means rarely getting sick, but also recovering more quickly from training. This means you can train more frequently and have fewer layoffs due to things like colds and the flu. In other words, eating healthier does help you to make more progress over time, more so than just hitting macros every day. My next tip is regarding supplements, and while there are many that may be beneficial, I’ll focus here on the supplements that I feel will assist you in building muscle. Basically every bodybuilder takes some form of protein powder, so let’s start there. I have tried many plant based protein powders and trust me I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Many have given me gas and bloating, which means they aren’t easily digestable. Not to mention the embarrassment of letting a fart rip at the worst possible moment. Also, when something isn’t easily digestable you don’t absorb many of the nutrients in it. This is why the best plant based proteins are fermented in my opinion. I’ve found them to be the most effective, and some even have probiotics in them. This allows you to digest them efficiently and absorb that all important protein. My next tip, and this is my biggest secret when it comes to supplementing, is amino acid tablets. Don’t forget to make sure whichever brand you go with is derived from vegan sources, and is highly digestable. This may require a bit of research, but is well worth it in the end. I take a highly digestable amino acid tablets several times a day, and I credit them with allowing me to build muscle consistently, even when my calories are on the lower end. There are many other supplements that can be beneficial, such as creatine and glutamine. Even things like beet juice for enhancing the pump. The list goes on, but for me personally, I keep it basic. Protein and amino acid tablets are my staples. The logic behind this is that assuming we are creating a stimulus for muscle growth via weight training, if we keep the body anabolic (in a muscle building state) at all times then we will ideally maximize muscle growth throughout the day. This works like magic for me, I consistently build muscle which is what we’re all looking for! My next tip and this applies to everyone regardless of if you’re plant based or not is to always keep your training brief and intense. This means training for no longer than 45-50 minutes of nonstop getting after it with absolute laser focus. Look around your local gym. You will see many people there training for an hour and a half to two hours, or even longer. This would be fine if they looked great, but more often than not, most of these people barely even look like they train. This is because it’s not how long you’re in the gym that gives you results, but how intense your workouts are. Another common mistake I see is people training like power-lifters. Lifting weights that are too heavy to optimally stimulate muscle growth. This leads to rest periods that are too long, sets that don’t last long enough, a lack of intensity, and being in the gym for too damn long! The result is and always will be lackluster results. If you want results than you must forget about socializing until after your workout. Use the restroom before your workout. Make sure that once you start your workout it will be your only focus until you are finished. Keep rest periods brief, in the 30-60 second range unless you want to be a power-lifter. If you were to follow this principle and nothing else, I guarantee you would double your results. Now for my last tip, and this one is often overlooked, which is unfortunate since it plays a huge part in the success or failure of your training program. Visualize, visualize, visualize! Visualize what you would like your body to look like. Do it daily, especially while you train. When you train a body part, imagine it as you would like it to be. This is so beneficial for motivation, and when you visualize yourself with a certain body consistently, for some reason your body seems to develop into that image. I know this ones kind of strange, but if you’re willing to give it an honest try, I think you’ll find it to be tremendously helpful. Well, there you have it, my best tips for building muscle on a plant based diet. Apply them, I know they’ll serve you well. Lastly, remember that you never have to sacrifice health to build muscle or get shredded. Now go make some gains. All the best.