7 Ways to Build Muscle on a Vegan Diet

Adhering to a vegan diet doesn’t mean having to lose muscle, find out why below.

vegan athlete drinking her smoothie after a workout

If you’re moving over to the plant-based way of life, or you’re a seasoned vegan looking to make some gains, then there a few things you need to know. 

Building muscle as a vegan might seem like a difficult task. After all, we’re all told meat is the best source of protein. However, it really can be quite easy.

With the right knowledge, mindset and dedication, you can build muscle and craft an enviable physique all from meat free foods. 

Of the three main elements of building muscle, (training, nutrition and recovery) only nutrition changes. When you know what you should be eating and how you should be eating, then everything starts falling into place.

Tips on how to build muscle as a vegan

vegan bodybuilder meal prepping
By Markus Mainka

Now it’s time to get into the specific tips to building your muscles while following a vegan diet.

Figure out your macros

The key to building muscle comes down to balancing out those all-important macros. Perfecting your ratio of protein to fat to carbohydrates is essential to training, recovery and building muscle. 

Most importantly, you need to figure out how much protein you should be eating to optimize muscle growth. The International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests somewhere between 1.4g to 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight. 

Eat whole foods

Your first thought may be to start searching out for a plant-based protein supplement now you’ve figured out how much protein you should be taking on. However, the best thing for you to do is to find high protein whole foods instead. 

This is because whole foods are far more nutritious than supplements. They’ll help nourish your body which is key for energy and recovery, so look out for unprocessed, fresh foods wherever possible. 

The catch is, it’s not as easy to find plant-based protein sources that offer a full amino acid profile, which is key to building muscle. But that’s not a stumbling block, once you know your main sources of complete profile proteins.  

Check out these vegan high protein whole foods: 

  • Spirulina
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Edamame
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Quinoa

Watch your calories

The key to building muscle, whether you’re a vegan or not, can often come down to calculating your calories. If you’re not eating enough your body won’t have the energy it needs to build muscle, and you could actually end up losing your gains. 

Too many calories and you might add muscle to your frame, but it may come with fat too. 

The safest option is to add between 10-20% to your maintenance calories, make sure you’re training weights regularly and hit your protein intake. This should give you the additional energy your body needs to lay down lean, fat-free mass.

To help you get started, there are tons of sites out there offering helpful tools, like this calorie calculator from Top10Supps and this tip sheet from MyPlate.gov.

Find a quality vegan protein powder

As we said above, it’s important you get the majority of your protein requirements from whole foods, however one shake a day is an excellent way to supplement your daily requirements and help you reach your recommended intake. 

Nowadays, there are plenty of tasty vegan options to choose from when it comes to protein shakes – all good supplement companies should have a selection of protein shakes and snacks. 

Look out for soy isolate protein as it offers one of the highest serving of complete amino acid protein per 100g. 

Try supplementing with creatine

Creatine is essential to the muscle energy process, and has been proven to heighten power output during resistance training [1]. This has been shown to lead to greater strength, enhanced athletic performance and more muscle [2]

While all this is great for anyone looking to build muscle, it’s even more important for vegans. Your body makes creatine naturally, but it can also be found in meat. So, without meat in your diet, you may struggle to top up your natural creatine stores and benefit from the results they offer. 

By supplementing with creatine powder regularly, you can benefit from additional power in your workouts, without eating meat. 

Lift heavy

This may feel obvious, but if you’re doing everything above and you’re still not seeing the muscle gains you’re hoping for, it might be time to look at your workouts

It can be very easy to plateau with your training, so it’s important you’re challenging your body. You only build muscle through progressive overload, which is the process of continually adding load to your lifts as your body adapts to the strain you place it under. 

Next time you head to the gym assess your lifts. Are they difficult? Are they leaving you with muscle pain the next day? Could you lift heavier? If you can safely lift more weight and complete your reps, then always try to. 

Work variety into your meals

Finally, the best way to ensure you stay healthy and maximize the results of your workouts is to plan lots of variety into your diet. This provides your body with the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs to keep you in good shape and to improve metabolic functions, which are key to building muscle. 

By mixing up your plant-based menu, you’ll also keep your muscle building diet exciting, so you’re more likely to stick to it. If you’re set on staying lean, you can also add some weight loss foods to your diet to complement your efforts in the gym. 

Related: 8 Easy Ways to Improve Your Diet

Final say on building muscle as a vegan

woman lifting dumbbell wearing vegan fitness t-shirt
By FXQuadro

With these tips on how to build muscle on a vegan diet, you should have everything you need to begin on your journey to plant-based gains. Once you know what you should be eating and how much, vegan muscle building is no harder than a meat-based diet. 

Stock Photos from Shutterstock

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Lauren Wood

Written by Lauren Wood

Lauren’s expertise lies in lifting weights, and living a healthy lifestyle. While she’s a passionate writer, her background is in powerlifting competitions, through which she discovered another passion – eating and living well. Lauren has written for a number of health and fitness blogs, but mainly works on Spot Me Girl. She is always looking for a new and exciting ways to expand her knowledge.

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