“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” – Thomas Jefferson
I remember years ago when I decided to go plant-based, but I didn’t believe it was possible to live a bodybuilding lifestyle on such a diet. So, I set out to prove to myself that it could be done. There wasn’t much info out there specifically addressed to plant-based bodybuilders, so I had to do a lot of experimenting. It took some time, but eventually, I figured out a recipe for success which has worked for myself and several other bodybuilders I know. It was a challenge for sure. You have to remember, bodybuilding as we know is very young, less than a century old. Vegan bodybuilding has been around for even less time, so as you can imagine there isn’t a whole lot of info on the subject. That is why I’ve taken the liberty to put together this article. It contains virtually everything you need to know to get started as a vegan bodybuilder. If you will apply these simple techniques I promise you will avoid many of the pitfalls I have experienced and progress like never before. Without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Nutrition is crucial to the success of any bodybuilding program. Train as hard as you like, but without proper nutrition you’ll plateau very quickly. As a natural vegan bodybuilder our approach is a little different, though not drastically from the typical bodybuilder not only in that we do not consume animal products, but also our primary focus is on maximizing our intake of micro-nutrients. Micro-nutrients are things such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This is because every cell of our body depends upon these micro-nutrients to function optimally. A good rule of thumb is to eat the rainbow daily. Meaning eat fruits and veggies that are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. This is much easier than it sounds and can be done in one salad. It ensures you are getting a wide variety of micronutrients daily and prevents deficiencies. Remember, health is our primary concern because a healthy body recovers quickly and the more quickly we recover, the faster we can put on muscle. Typically when bodybuilders bulk they put on excessive weight because they believe it’s necessary, but this could not be further from the truth. Many bodybuilders have built muscle while in a caloric deficit, and while this is not easy and I don’t recommend it, I only mention it to illustrate that one does not need excessive calories to gain weight. With that being said getting adequate protein is still important, but we don’t need an excessive amount. .7 to 1 gram per lb of body-weight is still about as high as one needs to go, the only exception being if you’re pre-contest and eating a very low amount of calories. In this case you may want to go up to 1.5 grams per lb of body-weight to protect muscle tissue but it is not necessary. Remember that if we take in more protein than we need the liver has to convert it into glucose, whereas if we just upped our carbs a bit, they are more readily converted to glucose. This is easier on the body. This protein should come from a variety of sources such as legumes, lentils, tempeh, edamame, fermented protein powder (easier to digest), and quinoa to name a few. When cooking lentils or legumes, be sure to soak them for at least a few hours. This will keep you from bloating and becoming gassy. This is majorly important. It’s not how much you eat, but how much you can digest, that determines your optimal performance and recovery. When you are bloated and gassy, it will show on your physique, and in your performance. It is a symptom that you are not digesting your food efficiently. Circumvent this by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut (my personal favorite), kimchi, vegan kefirs, etc. Also when you are eating 5 to 6 meals a day, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar right before meals does wonders. Lastly, bitter greens such as arugula and chard aid in digestion. Make these digestive aids staples in your diet, particularly if you are often gassy or bloated. Even if you are not though, everyone can benefit from these natural digestive aids that will build gut flora and keep the stomach acid strong. Carbs when you’re vegan aren’t much different than when you’re omnivorous so I won’t go into specifics there. Keep in mind though that many plant based proteins contain carbs. Fats aren’t either, just stick to basic whole plant based sources here. For meals, Combine a protein with a carb source and maybe add a little fat. Towards the end of the day meals should be lower in calories. This will ensure that we always stay relatively lean. Staying lean is important for bodybuilders because it allows us to see the muscles more clearly. This makes bringing up weak points possible and much easier. Now it’s time to incorporate all of this into your daily life. Multiply your body-weight by 13 to 15 depending on if you’re an inactive or active man and 10 to 12 depending on if you’re an inactive or active woman. that’s roughly how many calories you need daily to maintain your current body weight. To get leaner consume about 500 less calories than what is required for maintenance. To build muscle increase calories by several hundred. Take pictures and keep an eye on the mirror and scale once a week to get an idea of how you’re responding. If you’re making sufficient progress keep it up, if not, make small adjustments. Never do anything drastic because once you do, the body will adapt and you won’t be able to make much more progress from there. Small changes are most effective over time, even though they require some patience.
Supplements are not mandatory but are very beneficial for any hard training bodybuilder looking to progress. With health being our primary concern, we always want to opt for supplements from whole food sources. That being said, my personal favorite supplement is an Irish moss, bladderwrack, and burdock mixture. These three plants combined contain all 108 minerals the human body needs to function optimally. Minerals are some of the most important things we can consume and almost everyone is deficient in some areas so this is a God send. It’s a one stop shop for all the minerals we need on a daily basis and therefore I highly recommend it. Next on my list of supplements would be a quality plant based protein powder. Go for a fermented form of protein here, or at the least, one with probiotics. This will ensure they digest properly and don’t give you gas. This is important because gas means bloating and bloating destroys the beauty of a physique. It expands the waist and blurs definition. I myself take in slightly more than a gram of protein per pound of body weight daily, however, the recommended minimum amount of protein for bodybuilding is about .7 grams per pound of bodyweight. I take in more because I train very frequently and my workouts are intense. I also find that I build more muscle with more protein. There is a limit however, and I don’t believe it’s ever necessary to go beyond 1.5 grams per pound in a day. Next on the list is a high quality amino acid supplement. This can consist of all essential aminos, or just bcaa’s. It can be in powder or tablet form. The only thing that matters is that it is high quality and therefore readily absorbed and used by the body. These supplements are, as I see it, staples for a plant based bodybuilder. They are not required, but when training intensely, and trying to recover and build muscle optimally they are greatly beneficial. There are other great supplements, such as glutamine, beet root powder, creatine, etc. but I don’t believe they are essential. The only prerequisite is that any supplements we use should come from natural sources. This is why I don’t take creatine, as it is synthesized. I recommend starting with the basic supplements once your eating and training properly for a few months. The only exception is the Irish moss mixture, which is beneficial to everyone, regardless of whether or not you train. From there, you can try others if you feel inclined to do so. See how different things work for you, but make sure that before you do, your training and diet are solid and consistent. This will ensure progress as supplements as their name indicates, are only meant to supplement everything else you’re doing. I
Stretching is one of the easiest, yet most overlooked aspects of bodybuilding. It is critical for maintaining mobility and staying injury free. It also helps with being able to perform certain exercises properly over a lifetime, and may even improve the look of the physique by improving postural problems and so on. For these reasons, I recommend a daily stretching routine that incorporates a stretch for every muscle and also stretching the spine. Each stretch should be held for a minimum of 30-60 seconds. Yoga is a great way to stretch also, and a good yoga routine will usually incorporate stretching the entire body. Ultimately though, it depends on what you enjoy. You can stretch the entire body in as little as 5-10 minutes a day just as a way to stay healthy and functional, or if you prefer, you can opt for a more extensive program. You may even switch back and forth. Whichever stretching routine you decide on, make sure to set a time, such as first thing in the morning, or before bed, so that you build stretching into a habit over time.
Of course, there is also training, which I discuss in detail in my article entitled “Advanced Bodybuilding Techniques for Taking Your Physique to The Next Level” right here: https://frommeatheadtomeatless.com/2018/12/31/my-best-tips-and-tricks-for-building-muscle-on-a-plant-based-diet/ Check it out if you want to take your training to the next level and break through any plateaus, or even if you’re just getting started and want to get the most out of your training. That’s it. Class dismissed, now I hope you’ll apply these lessons in your quest for taking your health and physique to the next level. Catch you next time.