Everything You Need to Know About Gaining Muscle on a Vegan Diet

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Gone are the days when you had to down half a dozen egg whites a day to become strong and muscular. Times are changing, people are evolving, and so are the methods once used by the fitness industry to achieve a body target. And it’s not just the eggs; for many years, the conventional belief ruling the fitness world was that devouring meat regularly is the only way to build muscle.

As more and more people are shifting to a vegan diet, the fitness world, particularly the part that practices muscle building, has also given vegetables a try and the results are overwhelmingly positive. A vegan diet has proven to be highly effective in building muscle, and not all vegans are skinny, as the misconception so profusely propagates.

This article helps you to understand how to gain muscle on a vegan diet, while also busting myths around the vegan diet. I will also highlight the convenience of a vegan diet and to show that you can indeed build muscle on a plant-based diet.

The right mindset

You can achieve a lot in your life if you really set your mind to it. But this might not always be enough to get into a particular diet routine. To start with a vegan diet, you must first get into the right mindset, i.e, to really know that this is going to be slow progress and nothing happens in the blink of an eye. Any diet or workout regime, for that matter, takes time to start showing results. Your success in this area is the total sum of daily steps you take which will lead you to your desired goal.

Don’t let the dramatic transformation stories fool you into rushing through your chosen path. Steer clear of those bodybuilders on the internet who promise crazy transformations by falsely projecting their own real stories. Little do we know that they take supplements and growth stimulants to grow in size. Your body is not a lab rat and you should never experiment with it. Know what you are getting into and do your research to get into the mindset that precedes the appropriate steps required to achieve a healthy, muscular body.

Everybody is different

Like every person is different from another, our body types are also different. For some, it’s easier to get through a transformation in no time. Some people put on muscle or weight easily and vice versa. Some keep trying for a long time and notice few results. But with the right method, the right tools, and the right mindset, you can get very close to your ideal body. Remember that muscle mass is concealed and layered under body fat, so the key to achieving your goal is tackling both of these areas, i.e., growing muscle and cutting fat.

Protein obsession is unhealthy

Working out and not holding a protein shake in your hands? Not a complete picture, right? Well, not really. Despite being every bodybuilder’s favorite nutritional option and also a favorite topic, proteins are not always healthy for you. Animal protein, dairy, and eggs come packed with manifold issues. They are enriched with cholesterol, saturated fat, hormones, cancer-inducing elements, antibiotics and little or no fiber. Imagine feeding your body with that on a regular basis. No wonder some bodybuilders die so young or end up with chronic heart diseases or other dysfunctions.

Eat unprocessed food

The hidden and harmful additives in processed food expose your body to a range of diseases. If you want to build muscle and store lots of energy in your body, be mindful of what you are feeding it. In order to support your body properly, eat smartly and add more unprocessed food to your fitness regime. A well-rounded vegetarian diet that includes a wide range of grains, nuts, vegetables, legumes, and seeds fulfills the body’s demand for nutrients, calories, and protein. No matter how hard you train, a proper plant-based diet satisfies your body’s needs without filling it up with fats and additives that can cause diseases.

Don’t worry about meat

If you think that a plant-based diet does not fulfill your protein needs, you are mistaken. If you need a high protein dosage for your muscle growth, eat beans, lentils, peas, soy, rice, and edamame. Mother nature offers a great assortment of nutritional foods that most of us are unaware of.

Carbs are not your enemy

Training for muscle building and eating carbs? No, you’re not ruining it, and carbs are most definitely not harmful to your muscle training. If anything, they are those friends who back you up when you are about to fail and drop down. That’s right! Carbohydrates are your main source of fuel for intense muscle training and as equally important for muscle building as proteins. If you limit carbs in your diet, you might not be able to perform at your maximum capacity.

March for the starch

Carbohydrates give you easy energy, but complex carbohydrates give you an extra dose of the easiest energy. (The irony!). If you opt for complex carbs like potatoes, pumpkins, fruits, grains, and oats, you get extra fuel that helps you during your workout and keeps you going for longer periods of time. However, if you cannot consume large portions of potatoes, go for bread and pasta to stock up enough calories for your workouts. Steer clear of oil, sugar, and alcohol that put extra body fat on you while also slowing you down during your training.

Consume nutrient-dense food (Macros)

The goal is to also replenish your body, and not just fill it up with food. You want to eat nutrient-dense food that not just gives you energy, but helps build healthy muscle tissue as well. Iron, calcium, zinc, and potassium are the most important macros that you should look for.

Iron is your biggest source of energy and can be found in beans, lentils, dried fruits, and leafy greens. Calcium keeps your bone health at optimum levels while also facilitating muscle contraction. It can be found in spinach, collards, broccoli, kale, and hemp milk. The macro that is responsible for your muscle growth and repair is zinc that can be found in pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, almonds, cereals, and macadamias.

The last macro to look out for is potassium that can be found in oranges, kale, avocados, and bananas. Bananas also are a decent source of iodine for vegan diets.

Take complementary proteins

Did you know that amino acids are the building blocks of protein? Our body is engineered to produce some amino acids on its own, but it cannot make essential amino acids. For that, it relies on the food we eat to make up for the production deficiency. Now, these nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make on its own are found in ‘complete proteins’, whereas the ‘incomplete proteins’ are the ones that do not contain these essential amino acids. The point to be noted here is that most plant-based proteins are incomplete, excluding quinoa, soy, hemp, and chia. Conversely, though, all animal proteins are complete proteins.

In order to make up for the protein deficiency in your body, it’s important to pair up your everyday proteins with other foods to make them whole. Normally, pairing two or more vegetarian sources can give you that essential amino acid that your body needs to complete its macros. These paired proteins are called complementary proteins. You can pair beans with rice, whole grain bread with nut butter, barley with lentils, pita with hummus or almonds with oats, and voila! Your daily requirement for complementary proteins is checked.

Keep track of your calorie density

Raw vegetables and salads add a lot of bulk without giving you much energy, despite being extremely nutritionally dense. Eating vegetables in a blended or juiced form can be a better way of consuming them than having them raw. Many vegetables and plant-based foods contain about 600 calories per pound, except nuts and seeds that contain around 3000 calories per pound. It’s best to try all types of vegan food you find in the market, instead of sticking to a few.

Learn from experience, see which flavor works for you, and find out the volume that can fill you up without overdosing you on calories. It’s not a one size fits all scenario. Different people have different calorie needs, despite pursuing a common goal. Also, keep in mind that if you overdose on whole-plant based foods, you are likely to gain fat, instead of muscles. One of the most common misconceptions is that only junk food and meat make you gain fat. Don’t go overboard with consuming nuts, seeds, and avocados under the misconception that you won’t get fat.

Know when to eat what

Knowing how to gain muscle on a vegan diet is good, but it’s just as important to know when to eat and also when to eat a particular food. You can’t distribute your food sporadically during the day. You want to eat most of your calories after your workouts to regain strength, replenish your glycogen stores and feed your stomach. You can whip up a shake made up of greens, fruits, soy milk and maybe beans. This cocktail will not only be nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory but will also compensate for your post-workout protein shake.

In general, though, it’s wise to eat around two to three hours before any activity. This will help you eat a well-rounded diet, boost your energy and give your body the right amount of time to process the food and digest it enough for the next activity without feeling lazy.  Before every workout, there is a nice combination of vegetables, fruits, and starches you can have to stay energized. In vegetables, you can have cucumbers, avocado, spinach, or mushrooms, whereas in fruits you can have watermelon, dates, grapes, oranges or bananas. When it comes to starches, your best bet is quinoa, lentils, tofu, chickpeas, and rice. However, the list is not exhaustive, and you can always add your own favorite vegetable, fruit, or starch, but make sure you know their nutritional elements as well as the calories they carry.

Stay Hydrated

Let’s not forget that, all food and no water makes Jack an unwell boy. All that you take in your body in the form of food and liquids need water to be processed. Stay hydrated before and after your workout, 30 minutes before your meals, and during the day and night as well, at regular intervals. Listen to your body’s demand for water, and hydrate yourself promptly. If you maintain adequate hydration levels throughout the day, it will reduce your protein breakdown and helps with protein synthesis that results in muscle growth.

Work those muscles to grow

Lastly, no matter how well-rounded your vegan diet is, and how much you stay hydrated, if you are working out your muscles that you want to grow, you’re not getting anywhere with your goal. Without enough calories, you cannot build muscles, and without a good workout regime, you will end up getting fat from calorie surplus. Find a good workout regime, depending upon your current level of fitness and try working your way up to five to six sessions a week. Train each muscle group once or twice a week for better results. Be consistent in your approach and keep your muscle protein synthesis going on without fail.

Important Tips

  • Adjust your calories accordingly if you have a higher resting metabolic rate.
  • Track your calories and macros through a fitness app.
  • Create a personal schedule of your workouts and be consistent.
  • Cut back a bit on cardio if you want to build up strength.


If you think meat is the answer to building muscle, hopefully by reading this article you have realized that actually it’s a vegan diet that offers the most health benefits and also muscle mass. Trying any type of diet and fitness regime requires dedication, patience, and discipline to achieve any form of results and a vegan diet is no different.

Always remember ‘Green is GOOD’ and stick to your regiment. You will be surprised at the results.