Building Muscle on a Vegan Diet

Here’s another guest post from a good friend of mine, Robert Cheeke. He’s a Champion Vegan Bodybuilder and Author of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness – The Complete Guide to Building Your Body on a Plant-Based Die

In this post, he explains the importance of properly consuming protein in building muscle. By the way, if you’re looking for a prime source of vegan protein, check out Sunwarrior Protein, my favorite protein powder.

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By Robert Cheeke

It might not be common knowledge. But many vegan and vegetarian athletes consume adequate, quality protein on a plant-based diet and thrive with high levels of health and fitness.

Building muscle on a vegan diet should not be considered a challenge, an oxymoron or an improbable task deemed for failure.  Like anything else in nutrition, getting enough protein in your diet comes down to the basics, and common sense.  Eat frequently, eat quality whole foods and consume an adequate quantity to elicit the kind of muscle gains you’re looking to experience.

If your goal is to build muscle, it must be understood how muscle grows in the first place.  You can’t expect to pack on muscle without understanding how the process works.

For starters, you have a basic minimum caloric need just to maintain your weight, muscle and health.  This is determined based on your age, size, weight and gender, and primarily based around how many calories you’re expending (burning) each day.

You burn calories in everything you do — from sleeping to walking to exercising. And the more intense the activity, the more calories you burn.

Due to the nature of physical activity, athletes burn far more calories than non-athletes. So they require more calories through the consumption of food than their non-athlete counterparts.

We know we need to eat well and eat often. But what we eat — and what we choose not to eat — are also important factors.  It’s pretty common for an athlete to require 0.8 – 1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to maintain muscle.

Building muscle, which is our specific topic, often requires the consumption of 1.2 – 2.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.  It may seem like a lot. But thousands of bodybuilders and athletes — who dedicate their personal or professional lives to building muscle — have found that this system is effective.  It’s just the way the body works.  It is a system which supports any sports interest from tennis to running to lifting weights.  We break the body down through exercise and need to build it back up through sound and adequate nutrition.

You’re probably not used to consuming this volume of food. But it’s also one of the main reasons why “vegetarians” as a group get the reputation for being underweight. It’s not a baseless stereotype and it’s something that I work hard to eradicate through my Vegan Bodybuilding lifestyle.

Of course, it’s not just consuming a lot of food that is important. It’s also an exercise program that supports the food intake.

Muscle grows as a result of the micro-tears that happen within a muscle following resistance training, usually weight training.  Lifting weights or putting your body under physical stress in other ways (such as manual labor or bodyweight exercises) causes the muscle fibers to tear.

The food you eat, protein supplements you take, and ensuing rest you get all help in the recovery process that builds you back up bigger and stronger.  Without exercise, you’re likely to gain fat eating a higher than usual calorie diet. That’s because the caloric consumption will greatly outweigh the caloric expenditure.

When put together appropriately, they work harmoniously and create outstanding results of proper nourishment, fat-burning and muscle building.  You can “have your cake” and burn it off too.

Consuming a gram to two grams of protein per pound of bodyweight isn’t an easy task. If it were, we’d all be walking around as muscle-bound citizens mimicking cartoon super heroes.  Of course that image isn’t the goal of many, but recovering properly from any type of exercise is our primary goal.

It usually requires the consumption of six to eight meals a day with the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats throughout the day.

Regardless of your sports interest, consuming smaller meals throughout the day keeps you constantly nourished and fueled for a run, a tennis match, cycling, swimming or anything else, providing important nutrition to start the day, throughout the day and pre and post-exercise.

The percentage breakdown for an active person may look like this:

  • 50% of calories from carbohydrates
  • 30% coming from protein
  • 20% coming from fats.

The exact percentages may change daily based on diet. They also vary per individual based on factors such as your food preference, your rate of metabolism (your body’s ability to burn fat) and your specific athletic goals.

Though it’s not an easy task to consume enough food, it’s also not extremely challenging either, it just takes some dedication, focus, planning and preparation.  I personally enjoy eating frequently throughout the day.  My meals tend to be a bit smaller and I get to incorporate a lot of variety, flavors, themes, etc. because I am eating more frequently than just three or four meals a day.

In general fruits are the easiest to digest and are often best eaten alone rather than combined with other foods such as proteins.  Consumed at the same kind could slow down digestion in many people so some people choose to eat fruit by itself and consume other carbohydrates with proteins in other meals throughout the day.

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Robert Cheeke is a competitive bodybuilder and the 2005 and 2009 INBA Northwestern USA Natural Bodybuilding Champion. He is also President and founder of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, a company dedicated to supporting natural vegan bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. Check out his website at www.veganbodybuilding.com.

 

Comments

  1. This did help a lot, I do naturally eat the right foods just because I’ve always chose to or have a hunch for. Anyway, I don’t know about the vegan thing but I respect it and I just think it would definitely be a lot of dedication and research and so hard, nothing’s impossible though.

  2. Hi I found this article interesting Ive been vegan since all my life I’m 17 years old but wanted to know if theres any vegan diet plans that are available, and also exercise methods to reduce body weight especially chest area, I want to avoid( man boob) but I don’t understand due to my recent visit to the gym I’ve build m chest muscle I haven’t been taking much protein, when room temperature or outside is cold my chest looks leaner and doesn give it a obesity chest form I hope you could help me give me tips ( and I don’t drink water at all )

    • Clément says:

      A great vegan supplement to help pack on more muscle that you can incorporate into any muscle building plan is Sunwarrior which I’ve reviewed in more detail here: http://muscle4hardgainers.com/sunwarrior-protein-my-review/

      The reason your chest tightens up and looks leaner in colder temperatures is because the skin contracts in the cold, and expands in the heat. If you’re finding that your chest is sagging even with a low body fat and you’re not happy, I would suggest visiting a cosmetic doctor to get some advice about what you could do to minimize it.

  3. CrossFit

    Hi I found this article interesting Ive been vegan since all my life I’m 17 years old but wanted to know if theres any vegan diet plans that are available, and also exercise methods to reduce body weight especially chest area, I want to avoid( man boob) but I don’t understand due to my recent visit to the gym

    • Clément says:

      Hi Remie,

      Well, it all depends how much fatty tissue you have on your chest that would determine the best course of action to take. Liposuction is available but it’s for situations where you simply cannot reduce the size through mere lifestyle changes alone.

      If you don’t have much, then I would suggest hitting the chest and shoulders hard in the gym, with a good amount of protein in your pre and post-workout meals. Have a good amount of carbs (maybe a plate of pasta or brown rice) around an hour to 1.5 hours before the gym to give you the energy you need to lift heavy. Focus on compound exercises like shoulder press, bench press, bent-over rows etc to get the most gains.

      Whenever you’re not in the gym, cut out carbs almost completely and do cardio. There’s no such thing as diet-induced targeted fat loss. Therefore, in order to lose fat on your chest, you have to lose fat everywhere which means cardio and only eating the number of calories you burn.

      I hope that helps.
      Clément

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