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Fitness & Health

09th Sep 2019

Building muscle on a vegan diet: everything you need to know

Gaining muscle and strength on a vegan or vegetarian diet might take some getting used to, but it's still possible for most people

Alex Roberts

Gaining muscle and strength on a plant-based diet might be a little harder, but it’s still possible

If you’re a vegan looking to bulk up, first consider these key points before delving deeper into your diet plan.

Plant-based diets are generally lower in protein and calories, two crucial components of a muscle-building meal plan. As a vegan, you have to eat a much larger quantity of food to get sufficient protein and calories in your diet.

Because plant-based foods are higher in fibre and water, they tend to make you feel fuller early on. For general health and weight loss, this may be an advantage. But if you’re looking to pack on some serious mass, you’ll need to make sure you scoff down enough calories.

That said, vegan diets tend to be carb-heavy and rich in many micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and nutrients). Carbs will help you build size by supplying your muscle cells with energy in the form of glycogen.

According to a set of guidelines published by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vegans may need to supplement with certain items such as creatine, due to it mainly being a meat-based compound.

Despite the hoops vegans have to jump through, experts say “through the strategic selection and management of food choices, a vegan diet can achieve the needs of most athletes satisfactorily”.

Let’s look at the ins and outs of a plant-based diet in more depth, and how they correspond to muscle growth.

The best protein sources for vegans

For a meat eater, that 20 and 40 grams of protein you need per meal is pretty simple to achieve. A chicken breast, beef steak or fish fillet usually contains a level of protein somewhere between those two figures.

Vegan meals can’t rely on one single source of protein to hit that number. Unless you’ve got the time and appetite to sit there and eat kilos of peas.

Combining a number of vegan protein sources into one meal is the easiest way of going about getting your post-workout protein fix. The best plant-based sources include:

  • Tofu
  • Quinoa
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts/Seeds

Plant-based omega 3s

Yes, oily fish is by far the best and most potent source of omega 3 fatty acids, crucial for brain function and fighting inflammation. But you can still find them in plant foods too.

The best sources are:

  • Flax Seeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Hemp Seed

Vitamin B12

Many vegans supplement with Vitamin B12, as energy-boosting B vits are mainly found in meat. However, you can still find them in plant-based fortified foods.

Fortified foods are those which have had vitamins added. Cereals and plant milks are typically fortified with Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3.

Zinc, Iron and Calcium

No, Alan Johnson from Peep Show, the three amigos aren’t “Word, Excel and PowerPoint”. They are actually zinc, iron and calcium. Probably.

Anyway, these are all crucial for energy production. More energy equals lifting heavier weights for longer. And that spells growth.

Animal-derived protein is rich in zinc, iron and calcium, but in case you’ve gone vegan, these are the best plant sources to pick from:

  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Oats
  • Fortified Plant Milk
  • Green Veg (such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower)

Building muscle on a plant-based diet may take some getting used to. But it’s possible.

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