The vegan diet has increased in popularity in recent years, as an increasing number of people adopt this way of eating for its supposed health and ethical benefits around animal treatment.
Not only did it attract the interest of the general population, but also that of athletes – including bodybuilders.
This article looks at the vegan weight training diet, lists the foods to include and avoid and provides an example of a 5-day meal plan.
Photo by Rustic Vegan on Unsplash
What is a vegan weight training diet?
Bodybuilders strive to develop their muscles through intensive resistance training for aesthetic purposes.
Nutrition plays a key role in the muscle development process. It is generally accepted that, for optimal muscle growth, protein intake must be quite high, around 0.7 to 1.0 grams per pound (1.6-2.2 grams per kg) of body weight per day ( 1 ).
An excess of 10 to 20% of calories is also beneficial for muscle mass gain, especially for those who are not new to training ( 1 ).
Traditional bodybuilding diets include many foods of animal origin, due to their high protein and calorie content.
The vegan weight training diet is devoid of all animal products and has more protein than traditional vegan diets ( 2 ).
This represents a challenge for bodybuilders who follow a vegan diet, as plant-based proteins tend to have a lower quality than those of animal origin, which can affect muscle gain ( 3 , 4 ).
Therefore, careful planning is required to ensure that you have a sufficient intake of protein, calories and various micronutrients that a vegan diet may not have.
The vegan diet for bodybuilding also changes during the different stages of a bodybuilder’s life, as if they are out of season or preparing for a competition, when fat loss is common.
The vegan diet for bodybuilding is rich in fruits, vegetables and plant-based proteins. It excludes all animal products and generally has more protein than a traditional vegan diet.
How to implement the diet
Although implementing a vegan diet may seem simple enough, it takes a lot of planning to ensure that you are eating complete meals.
The vegan weight training diet includes several basic foods on which many of the meals are based.
To start the vegan weight training diet, it is beneficial to plan 5 to 7 days of meals to ensure that you have all the ingredients, as many vegan recipes require multiple items.
If you are switching from a traditional diet, it can help to slowly incorporate more vegan foods into your regular diet before changing completely.
Fill with protein-rich plant foods
When following a vegan weight training diet, it is important to get enough protein to help your muscle building goals.
Considering that many sources of vegan protein generally do not contain all the essential amino acids, larger amounts and a greater variety of these foods need to be consumed to regularly meet your needs.
Filling in protein-rich vegan foods, such as seitan, tofu, vegetables and quinoa, can help meet your protein needs to maximize muscle gain.
Vegan protein powders can also help you meet your protein needs by providing concentrated sources of protein around exercise and throughout the day.
Make sure you eat enough fat
By consuming sufficient amounts of fat, you get the calories needed to promote muscle gain, as fat provides twice as many calories as carbohydrates and proteins per gram.
The general recommendation for fat intake for out-of-season bodybuilders is 0.5 grams per pound (1 gram per kg) of body weight daily ( 1 ).
This is equivalent to about 80 grams of fat per day for a male bodybuilder weighing 80 kg.
By embarking on a vegan bodybuilding diet, you can help track your intake of macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates and fat – during the first few weeks to ensure that you meet your needs.
Drink lots of fluids
Since a vegan weight training diet tends to be high in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, fiber intake can become quite high.
When you significantly increase your fiber intake, certain side effects may arise, such as bloating, excessive flatulence and abdominal pain ( 5 ).
Drinking enough water is one way to help prevent complications from a high fiber vegan diet. A minimum of 1 ml of liquid per calorie is a good starting point ( 6 ).
For example, if you are eating a 2,000 calorie diet, look for 2,000 ml of fluids. Still, remember that your water needs may vary, especially when you are exercising.
Education plays an important role in following a vegan diet and can separate a successful diet from an unsuccessful one.
Given that the vegan diet prohibits eating various food groups, it puts followers at risk for certain nutritional deficiencies.
To avoid this, it is crucial to know which foods provide the main nutrients that the diet may not have.
Fortunately, with the increasing popularity of the vegan diet, educational resources have been created that can take you in the right direction.
The implementation of the vegan diet for bodybuilding requires a lot of planning and education. Ensuring adequate protein and calorie intake, including plenty of fat and drinking plenty of water, are three main aspects that should not be overlooked.
Benefits of vegan diet for bodybuilding
The vegan diet has been linked to several potential health benefits.
Reduces the risk of heart disease
People who follow vegan diets appear to have a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease ( 7 ).
This can be partly attributed to a reduced intake of saturated fats and cholesterol and an increased intake of fiber and various plant compounds.
Traditionally, vegans tend to have lower blood pressure and levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol than the general population ( 7 ).
In addition, the vegan diet for bodybuilding is rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain a good amount of dietary fiber. High fiber intake has been associated with a lower incidence of stroke and heart disease ( 8 ).
Can promote healthy body weight
Those who follow a vegan diet generally have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who follow a traditional Western diet, which reduces the risk of several disease factors ( 7 ).
A 16-week study looked at the effects of the vegan diet on 75 overweight people. He found that the vegan diet is more effective in improving body weight, fat mass and insulin resistance markers than a control diet ( 9 ).
So, if you’re starting your bodybuilding journey with a little weight to lose, the vegan diet can be beneficial in that regard.
Can protect against certain types of cancer
Following a vegan diet has been associated with a reduced risk of various types of cancer, compared to a traditional Western diet ( 10 ).
This effect probably occurs due to the increased intake of legumes, fruits and vegetables associated with the vegan diet, which leads to greater amounts of fiber, micronutrients and phytonutrients ( 11 ).
The vegan diet has also been linked to a reduction in BMI. A high BMI is another risk factor for certain types of cancer ( 12 ).
In addition, eating more soy, which is typical of those who follow a vegan diet, has been associated with a reduction in the risk of breast cancer in women ( 13 ).
Finally, various levels of intake of processed red meat have been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. This increased risk does not apply to those who follow a vegan diet ( 14 ).
The vegan diet for bodybuilding is rich in fruits and vegetables and can provide several health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer, in addition to promoting a healthy body weight.
Disadvantages of the vegan diet for bodybuilding
Although the vegan weight training diet appears to have a number of potential benefits, it does have some disadvantages to consider.
May increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies
The main disadvantage of the vegan weight training diet is an increased risk of several nutritional deficiencies.
By excluding animal products from your diet, your intake of several essential nutrients is reduced – mainly calcium, omega-3, iron, zinc and vitamins B12 and D ( 7 ).
It may be necessary to take a vegan multivitamin to ensure adequate intake of the above nutrients. Vegan omega-3 supplements are also available, usually made from seaweed.
While these nutrients can be obtained from fortified vegan foods, nutrition education plays an important role when starting a vegan diet.
Higher fiber intake
Another potential disadvantage of the vegan diet for bodybuilding is the excessively high intake of fiber.
While a high fiber intake is generally considered healthy, consuming too much fiber can cause digestive problems, such as bloating, excessive flatulence and abdominal pain ( 5 ).
The recommended dietary fiber intake is 14 grams per 1,000 calories, that is, about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. This value is easily exceeded in a vegan diet ( 15 ).
Excessive fiber intake can also lead to a feeling of fullness and reduced appetite. Although this can be beneficial for some populations, it can limit the progress of bodybuilding if not enough calories are consumed ( 16 , 17 ).
It can be difficult to meet protein and calorie needs
Given that a vegan weight training diet consists mainly of fiber-rich and nutrient-rich foods, it can be difficult to meet protein and calorie needs without proper planning.
Vegan diets tend to be lower in calories than traditional diets, due to the exclusion of many more calorie and animal-based foods.
So, following a vegan bodybuilding diet can make it difficult to consume more calories than your body burns to support your bodybuilding goals.
This can be tackled by increasing portion sizes, adding healthy fats to meals and eating cooked vegetables instead of raw vegetables to reduce the volume, which allows you to eat more of them.
It can be overly restrictive for some people
By eliminating all animal products, the bodybuilding vegan diet can be very limiting for some people.
Although the selection and availability of vegan foods has grown rapidly in recent years, the diet can be seen as slightly monotonous compared to the traditional Western diet.
Fortunately, the number of creative vegan recipes that can bring the diet to life and keep it interesting is limitless.
The vegan diet for weight training comes with some possible disadvantages, such as increased risk of nutritional deficiencies, excessive fiber intake and difficulty meeting protein and calorie needs. These should be considered before starting a vegan diet.
Food to eat
The vegan weight training diet usually includes many of the following foods:
|Beans and vegetables||These provide a good source of protein and fiber|
|Hemp, flax, sunflower and chia seeds||They contain a good amount of protein and omega-3|
|Quinoa and Amaranth||These two pseudogravures provide complete sources of protein|
|Meat substitutes||Made to look like meat, these products are often made with soy or pea protein|
|Soy products||Examples include tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk and soy protein powder|
|Calcium-enriched plant milks and yoghurts||These fortified products can help vegans meet their daily calcium and vitamin D needs|
|Spirulina||This bluish-green algae contains a lot of protein, in addition to several vitamins and minerals|
|Vegan protein powders||The best varieties are usually made from a combination of protein sources, such as peas, hemp and brown rice|
|Nutritional yeast||Used in vegan cuisine for its tasty flavor, nutritional yeast is commonly fortified with vitamin B12|
|Sprouted grain breads||These provide a good source of protein and complex carbohydrates|
|Oats||Oats and oats provide a good amount of protein per serving, in addition to some beneficial fibers|
|Fruits and vegetables||This is an important part of any vegan diet|
|Whole grains and cereals||These can provide a good source of protein, B vitamins and fiber|
|Nuts and nut butters||They can provide a good source of protein when combined with other complementary proteins. In addition, they are a good source of healthy fats|
|Tahine||This paste made from sesame seeds provides a good amount of fat and a little protein per serving|
|Healthy oils||Oils such as olives, avocados and hemp provide a good source of healthy fats and some essential omega-3s|
|Vegan dark chocolate||Rich in antioxidants, vegan dark chocolate contains some essential vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, B and E|
Considering that the vegan diet for bodybuilding may lack certain nutrients, it is recommended that followers take advantage of certain dietary supplements.
With the increasing popularity of the vegan diet in recent years, nutritional supplements aimed at those who follow it have greatly improved in quality and taste.
One of the main supplements to consider is a vegan protein powder, which allows you to reach the protein intake levels recommended for bodybuilding, while staying within a certain calorie range.
There are several vegan protein powders available, such as soy, pea, hemp and brown rice isolates. It is best to find a powder with several sources to ensure that you get all the essential amino acids.
Another potentially beneficial supplement is a vegan multivitamin that includes sufficient amounts of nutrients that are normally lacking in the vegan diet, such as calcium, iron, zinc and vitamins B12 and D.
Some other supplements to consider are creatine and beta-alanine. These two well-studied compounds are found naturally in meat products and are available in vegan-friendly varieties. They can play a role in energy metabolism and muscle gain.
Although supplementation is not entirely necessary in the vegan diet, it can reduce the chances of nutrient deficiency and optimize the diet for weight training purposes.
The vegan bodybuilding diet is based on several nutritious whole foods. Food supplements can also play a crucial role in compensating for the nutrients that the diet may lack.
Foods to avoid
The vegan weight training diet tends to avoid or limit the following foods:
- Animal feed: Meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs and bee products are totally prohibited in a vegan diet. Certain animal additives found in various foods also fall into this category.
- Foods that may not be favorable to vegans: Some breads, fried foods, sweets, chips, dark chocolate and other products may contain ingredients derived from animals.
- Vegan junk food: Sweets, ice cream and some vegan protein bars should be restricted, as they tend to be rich in refined sugar and calories.
- Meat and cheese: These tend to be processed and may contain additives. They also tend to provide less nutrients than whole foods. Therefore, these products should be limited.
Although vegan diets are typically based on whole, non-animal foods, there are some foods you should look for when starting the diet. Some may contain traces of animal ingredients, while others may not have a solid nutritional profile.
While calorie and macronutrient intake varies widely according to individual and specific goals, here is an example of a 5-day meal plan for vegan diets for weight training.
Menu day 1
|Breakfast||Protein oats made from oats, vegan protein powder, soy milk, bananas and nut butter|
|Lunch||Sautéed tofu made with extra firm tofu, vegan pasta, beans, red lentils, celery, onions and spinach|
|Dinner||Teriyaki tempeh with broccoli and quinoa Snack: strawberry and banana protein shake|
Menu day 2
|Breakfast||Breakfast burritos made with a mixture of tofu and vegetables in vegan tortillas|
|Lunch||Lentil bread made with lentils, beans, vegetables and nutritional yeasts|
|Dinner||Vegetarian black bean burger with fries|
|Snack||Peanut butter and oat bars|
Menu day 3
|Breakfast||Hummus toast made with sprouted grain bread, hummus, hemp seeds and sunflower seeds|
|Lunch||Vegan burrito bowl made with rice, beans and homemade simulated taco meat|
|Dinner||Bittersweet sautéed with tofu, rice noodles and vegetables|
|Snack||Tuna salad sandwich|
Menu day 4
|Breakfast||Chocolate smoothie bowl with peanut butter made with bananas, peanut butter, almond milk, vegan protein powder and cocoa powder|
|Lunch||Black bean and quinoa dumpling with whole grain vegan pasta|
|Dinner||Vegan pepper with ground beef with tofu, beans, tomatoes and red lentils|
|Snack||Roasted chickpeas with red pepper flakes|
Menu day 5
|Breakfast||Protein pancakes made with whole grain flour and powdered vegan protein with toppings of your choice|
|Lunch||Coconut-tofu-curry stew made with tofu, soba noodles and edamame|
|Dinner||Vegan sloppy Joe made with lentils and vegetables|
|Snack||Chocolate protein shake, peanut butter|
With many creative recipes available, the vegan bodybuilding diet doesn’t have to be boring. There are several basic ingredients on which many of the recipes are based. It is useful to plan several meal days to make shopping easier.
The growing popularity of the vegan diet has attracted the attention of many people, including those in the community for weight training.
Although traditional bodybuilding diets include large amounts of animal protein, the vegan diet eliminates all animal products and is richer in protein than a traditional vegan diet.
Following a vegan diet can provide several health benefits, although this does have some disadvantages for bodybuilding, which must be taken into account.
It is advisable to consult your doctor or nutritionist before starting a vegan diet.