Building Muscle as a Vegan

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • For those who read my posts on a regular basis, most are aware that I support a primarily vegan diet.  Understanding where good sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fats are found in a plant-based diet is important for any vegan and requires a dedication to meal planning. This is no different for bodybuilders and athletes looking to build muscle, whether vegan or not. Understanding what the body needs in order to be healthy and build muscle is the first step. After that, with a little in depth food analysis, you can quickly see that all of the necessary nutrients are obtainable through a vegan diet and may even produce a healthier and stronger athlete than a non-vegan. There are many vegan bodybuilders and star athletes who have proved this point and are dedicated to educating people on how to effectively build muscle on a plant-based diet.

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    To quickly recap, a vegan diet is one in which no animal foods are consumed. This includes all meats, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. The benefits of a plant-based diet are vast. Some of the most commonly talked about ones include higher energy, improved digestion, weight optimization, healthy skin and the disappearance and prevention of chronic health problems. A diet heavily based on animal products and processed carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, and other sugar-forming foods may still produce external physical results for athletes due to the calorie in/calorie out equation of those exercising regularly. However, the damage being done on the inside will eventually manifest in other forms. To really be healthy from the inside out, one must understand that quality whole foods are imperative for proper functioning of the body.


    Since protein is required for building muscle, primarily because it supports the repair of muscle damaged during a workout, I’d like to recap plant-based sources of this vital nutrient. High protein plant foods include nuts, seeds, grains, beans and vegetables such as celery, spinach, asparagus, string beans, broccoli and cauliflower, which are all high in protein. Quinoa and flax seed are two complete proteins, meaning they contain all amino acids. Although soy and gluten products (such as seitan) also contain protein, it’s extremely important that you limit your consumption of gluten and ONLY consume organic non-GMO varieties of soy. Spirulina and chlorella, two varieties of micro algae that can be purchased as supplements or in powder form, are also complete sources of protein and can be mixed into juice, water or sprinkled on a salad to obtain high amounts of protein in one sitting. Another way to get plant-based protein for those with exceptionally high protein needs is through protein bars or hemp protein powders. Just make sure that you choose products that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup or artificial additives. Instead look for those made with organic, whole food ingredients.


    To be successful building muscle on a vegan diet, you need to understand what most bodybuilders already know. You need about .8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight just to maintain muscle. To build, you’ll need 1.2 to 2.0 grams per pound of bodyweight.[1] Although percentages vary depending on your personal body composition, metabolism, blood type, and body’s rate of glucose oxidation, a general guideline for building muscle is to obtain 50% of your calories from carbohydrates, 30% from protein and 20% from fat.[1] As a vegan, this means you’ll need to consume a significant number of calories and ensure that the foods you’re eating meet individual daily requirements in line with your goals. It’s best to eat frequently and choose from high quality whole foods. Your body can only absorb about 30g of protein in a 2-hour period (except post workout), which means you’ll need to spread out your meals.[2] You also want to make sure that you are eating complimentary proteins from a variety of sources to ensure that all amino acids are being obtained. A general rule is to eat more on active days, especially post workout, and less on inactive days to make sure that you don’t gain fat from excess calories.


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    If you take your fitness goals seriously, you won’t have any problems meeting them on a vegan diet. Again, you will likely even find that your overall health and strength are better than those who aren’t vegan. However, do remember to supplement with Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin D3, to ensure you are obtaining and absorbing all the nutrients your body needs. 


    [1] (n.d.) Retrieved from


    [2] (n.d.) Retrieved from

Published On: March 31, 2013