Vegan Muscle Building: Muscle Gains On Veggies

Muscle-Building Myths

Veganism has taken over the world.

With many health benefits, science-backed research, and information on veganism and the power of clean food scouring the internet, a transition to a vegan diet is not unheard of and thankfully, with the rising of interest in a vegan or “plant-based” diet, there has also been an increase in vegan products to cater to a variety in meals.

See also: The Best Breakfast For Every Diet

protein rich vegan dish for body-building

The reasons and benefits of transitioning to a vegan diet go far and wide, including:

  • Lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Treat or Reverse health conditions (including high blood pressure, cancer, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, strokes, and more)
  • Hormones naturally found in animal products can cause cancer development, gynecomastia, and obesity as well as a higher risk of food poisoning due to contaminated animal flesh. 
  • Save the environment (around 18-51% of man-made pollution comes from the meat industry)
  • Better skin and digestion
  • Boost your mood

A Guide to Vegan Muscle Building- How to Build Muscle

vegan lifting weights

To build muscle, we need to be in a caloric surplus and have a driven focus on our macronutrients (aka protein, carbohydrates, and fats). This means more calories than our body needs, so over our TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).

Contrary to when we are trying to lose fat, where we would need to be in a caloric deficit and make sure we’re eating a proper amount of protein to keep muscle while in the deficit and lose fat.

To calculate how much protein you need to intake, simply take your current body weight in pounds and multiply that by 1 gram of protein. So if you weigh 175 lbs, you’d need to consume around 175g of protein.

There have been studies shown that consuming the absolute highest recommended (the gram per pound of bodyweight) provides better results in maintaining muscle and losing fat.

Studies have also shown that consuming over the recommended amount of 1g per pound of bodyweight does not provide any advantageous benefits.

The absolute lowest amount of protein intake would be 0.54g per pound of body weight. If you are trying to maximize muscle gain and maintenance, this lower amount is not recommended. 

Meeting these high protein needs can be difficult on a vegan diet but NOT impossible.

Fill Up on High Protein Plant Foods

Some common high protein vegan foods are seitan, tofu, tempeh, and beans. With the advancement in vegan products, there are more vegan high protein foods available like Beyond Meat products, their burgers containing about 20g of protein per burger.

Sweet Earth seitan has 22g of protein per serving at only 130 calories. Lightlife tempeh has 18g of protein per 3 ounces of serving and only 160 calories. GreenWise extra firm tofu has 20.2g of protein per ½ box at 202 calories. 

The Difference Between Vegan Proteins and Proteins That Come From Animal Products

Excess consumption of animal proteins has been linked to some cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis, and kidney damage.

The average person needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36g per pound). It’s simple to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. Protein deficiency is practically unheard of in developed countries. 

When looking at the differences between the two very different forms of protein the biggest would be the health effects. Plant protein more commonly has fiber, antioxidants, complex carbs, beneficial phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Now with animal protein, this usually comes with some vitamins and minerals, devoid of fiber, plenty of unhealthy saturated fats, and a mixture of toxic and cancer-causing compounds.

There is a different amino acid proportion between the two proteins, as well, animal proteins holding more sulphur amino acids than plant protein (if there’s a consistent supply of animal protein, calcium may be released from the bones). 

With animal protein, the kidneys are sent into overdrive for hours after ingestion. Plant protein, on the other hand, doesn’t trigger this response and has been recommended for people at risk of or suffering kidney disease. 

Animal protein also contains phosphorus and, over time, this can lead to kidney and bone mineral disorders. While plants also contain phosphorus, it is combined in a form that is hard to digest meaning less of it is actually absorbed by the body, preventing the risk of excessive intake.

 The Ideal Ratio Of Vegan Protein Sources

lady doing yoga on rooftop

Eat a combination of healthy whole plant-based foods that include grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, leafy greens, and small amounts of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, and avocado). Seeds (chia, flax, and hemp) contain a robust balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. 

Plant-Based Protein Sources For Muscle Gain

Some common high protein vegan foods are seitan, tofu, tempeh, and beans. With the advancement in vegan products, there are more vegan high protein foods available like Beyond Meat products, their burgers containing about 20g of protein per burger.

SweetEarth seitan has 22g of protein per serving at only 130 calories. Lightlife tempeh has 18g of protein per 3 ounces of serving and only 160 calories. Greenwise extra firm tofu has 20.2g of protein per ½ box at 202 calories. 

Famous Vegan Athletes

Mike Tyson

In 2013, Tyson went vegan and was given an opportunity for a healthier lifestyle. After becoming congested from drugs and cocaine, having high blood pressure and arthritis, Mike Tyson decided to take a step towards a healthier version of himself. All of these negative health issues diminished after his transition to a vegan diet. 

Ricky Williams

    In 2005, Williams became one of the first vegan NFL athletes. 

Carl Lewis

Lewis adopted a vegan diet in 1990, stating his best year of track competition occurred his first year on a vegan diet. 

Venus Williams

 American tennis player, seven Grand Slam Title Champion and winner of four Olympic medals, Williams is a popular vegan athlete. She was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011 causing her to transition to a vegan diet. 

Tia Blanco

Professional surfer and two-time Open Women’s World Surfing Championship, Tia Blanco claims a vegan diet improved her wellbeing in both her personal and professional life.

Benefits Of Going Vegan

Rich in Nutrients

Vegan diets tend to provide more fiber, antioxidants, and benefits including potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E. 

Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Improves Kidney Function

With lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity, up to a 50-78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a vegan diet has shown to have benefits for those with type 2 diabetes and declining kidney function.

Protect Against Certain Cancers

 About one-third of all cancers can be prevented by factors within your control, this includes diet, according to the World Health Organization.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fiber is linked to a lower risk of heart disease (1,2,3,4,5). Vegans have about a 42% lower risk of dying from heart disease (6). A vegan diet may help lower heart-damaging inflammation more than a diet recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) according to a new study

Reduce Pain From Arthritis

Based on a study, those on a vegan diet were found to have higher energy levels and better general functioning than those who didn’t change their diet (7). In two other studies, it was reported that the vegan group experienced an improvement in symptoms such as pain and joint swelling (8,9). 

Can Help You Lose Excess Weight

Many people turn to a plant-based diet to lose some extra pounds or simply to get a healthier grip on their diet. Studies show that vegans have lower body mass indexes than non-vegans (10,11).

Downside Of A Vegan Diet

Though not as serious as one would make it seem, especially when eating a balanced diet, there are some possible downsides of a vegan diet if not taken into consideration. 

1. Protein

For an average individual, this is not as difficult as it would seem. With a vegan diet, eating a balanced diet to include tofu, nuts, seitan, beans, and tempeh would easily meet the daily requirements of protein. For an individual with fitness goals trying to build muscle, just like any other person with such goals, you have to eat towards those goals and go out of your way to reach (aka eat) those goals. 

2. Getting Enough Calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12

 Like I said before, there are easy ways to counteract this. Taking a vegan multivitamin every day that has the daily requirement for each can easily counteract this issue. There are also vegan products fortified with these vitamins.

3. Possible Iron Deficiency

Once again, eat a balanced diet and you will reach the daily requirement for this OR take your daily vegan multivitamin. Simple as that. There are also products fortified with iron and plenty of iron-rich vegetables to eat to hit that iron requirement. 

4. Difficulty Eating Away From Home

This is true. There are some areas that have very minimal products for vegans and eating out can be difficult, catered more to dairy and meat-eaters. Bringing your own foods and products from home really helps with this issue or simply dealing with the options available.

Most places have stepped up to include vegan and gluten-free options by including the Impossible and Beyond Meat Burgers, but smaller towns are still not there yet. Walmart locations do have tofu, beans, nut butters, chia seeds, soy milk, and veggies so that can easily be sustained for the time period you’re away from home. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What do vegan athletes eat?

  • Simply put, foods that aren’t derived from animals--this can range from fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, bread, rice, pasta, oils, dairy alternative, and many more vegan food alternatives. 

What do vegan bodybuilders eat for protein?

  • Vegan bodybuilders eat a variety of foods when building muscle. In vegan bodybuilding, the importance of nutrient-dense high-quality whole foods and high protein foods can range from legumes, lentils, shelled peas, black beans(15.2g of protein per cup),  lima beans (14.7g of protein per boiled cup), garbanzo beans or chickpeas (14.5g of protein per boiled cup), edamame (16.9g of protein per cooked, shelled cup), tempeh (5.1g of protein per ounce), tofu (40g of protein per cup), fake meat (vegan alternatives), whole grains, quinoa (8g of protein per cup), oats (26g of protein per cup), amaranth (9.3g of protein per cooked cup), seitan(75g of protein per 100-gram serving), protein powders, and nuts and seeds (74.8g of protein per roasted cup of pumpkin seeds).

Is vegan protein as effective as whey protein?

  • Yes. There are many different types of vegan protein powders (soy, pea, brown rice, et). Out of all of them, pea protein digests slower than whey but faster than casein.

What vegetables have more protein than meat?

  • Black beans carry 15g of protein in 1 cup cooked, equivalent to 50g of pork loin or 80g of chicken meat from drumsticks. 
  • Lima beans, 14g of protein in 1 cup cooked, are equivalent to ½ cup of scrambled eggs. 
  • Quinoa, 8g for 1 cup cooked serving, is equivalent to 1 slice of non-fat mozzarella cheese. 
  • Buckwheat, 6g per 1 cup cooked serving, is equivalent to 1 large egg. 
  • Soybean, 18g per 1 cup cooked serving, is equivalent to a 75g portion of salmon or 180g of cottage cheese. 
  • Organic tempeh, 20g of protein in 100g serving, is equivalent to 30g of protein in 100g of a chicken breast. 
  • Hemp seed, 31g of protein per 100g serving, is equivalent to 85g of lean beef, or 1 serving.
  • Hummus, 8g of protein per 100g serving, is equivalent to 1 cup of skimmed milk or 3 spoonfuls of minced beef.
  • Jackfruit, 3g per 1 cup serving, is equivalent to about ⅓ cup of skim milk.

What should Vegans eat to build muscle?

  • Make sure you’re eating your protein and calorie goals. Meat substitutes, seitan, tofu, beans, nuts, tempeh, and quinoa are all high-protein foods. 

How do I bulk up on a vegan diet?

  • Make sure you’re eating in a calorie surplus while also hitting your protein goals (and exercising to gain muscle mass).

Does a vegan diet cause muscle loss?

  • No. Not eating to reach those goals creates muscle loss. Make sure you’re eating a wide variety of foods and getting enough protein in your diet.

How much protein do I need as a vegan?

  • You don’t need less or more protein just because you’re vegan. If you’re exercising and in a caloric surplus or deficit make sure you’re eating the proper protein amount for YOUR body. To calculate this, simply multiply 1 gram x your current body weight = the amount of protein you need to eat. This is the absolute highest you would need to eat and is recommended, to maintain muscle, especially when in a caloric deficit. The absolute lowest amount of protein you want to eat while exercising and eating towards your goals would be 0.54g x your bodyweight = amount of protein you would be eating. This is not recommended, but finding a middle ground or creating a meal plan would not be a bad idea if you’re struggling with muscle growth or finding good sources of protein. 




kaelyn buzzo  Kaelyn is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach (ISSA) with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing (English) and a Minor in Nutrition from the University of South Florida. Read More.