There’s this nasty rumor that’s been going around for years. Maybe you’ve heard it, or maybe you’ve even spouted it yourself: There’s no way a guy’s going to get enough protein from a vegan diet to build the kind of ultra-ripped body you’re aiming for.
Your muscles don’t reward the seemingly superior source. It doesn’t matter whether protein intake is from animals or plants—as long as men and women are getting at least the recommended daily allowance (that’s 0.8g/kg of bodyweight), carnivores and omnivores had roughly the same muscle mass and strength.
Of course, switching over to veganism is totally different from trying a new diet like Paleo or high-fat, low-carb. But once you learn the basics, it’s actually really, really easy. So if you’ve been thinking about ditching meat—for animal advocacy, environmental impact, or maybe just because you watched What the Health and haven’t been able to look at chicken since—we’re serving up everything you need to know.
The Basics of Gaining Muscle While Vegan
Your basic dietary tenets still apply:
Eat protein after a workout
Eat fewer carbs late at night
Eat a balance of fat, protein, and carbs at every meal
The Primary Difference:
Eating only plants is totally different for your digestive system. Not all your calories will be getting digested in the same way. Just eat more in that sitting, although You might be hungry more often.
What’s primordial is to eat enough to fuel those HIIT workouts to shed body fat. Likewise, as long as you’re hitting your protein goals, you’ll have no problem being an ultra-ripped vegan.
Best Way To Give up All the Meat, poultry, fish, and dairy—pretty much every source of protein you probably eat right now—and still get totally ripped.
Ease into veganism / Avoid Going Cold Turkey
Bloating and gaing is normal when you first switch over. Eating a super high-protein diet and not all that much fiber, your gut bacteria is pretty brutal. Eating more vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is radically different on your system. Over time, your stomach will build up its stores of good bacteria, but in the interim, the bloating can be enough to freak out any body-conscious dude—potentially to the point of retreating back to the safer the usual diet.
Moreover, nixing animal products all in one go implies a vastly different way of grocery shopping, cooking, snacking, and eating out. Until you learn your go-to meals, it’s going to be more mentally exhausting to eat than normal—especially if you’re super-busy and can’t devote a ton of time to finding non-dairy grab-and-go snacks. Just like with any diet, that mental exhaustion increases your risk of giving up.
Give soy a chance
Giving up chicken, meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, whey, and casein means you’re definitely adding in soy (among other proteins). But if you still equate eating soy with growing man boobs, you need to get with the 2017 science. “As much as people want to say there’s an issue with soy, the science says it’s just fine,” Guest says. “There is some research showing the testosterone spike you get from a workout is slightly blunted when you consume soy post-workout compared to other proteins, but testosterone has no bearing on muscle protein synthesis or how much strength gains you’ll get, and it doesn’t affect your other testosterone levels.”
Plant proteins’ ability to build just as much bulk as dairy varieties, namely soy and brown rice. And even if there is an advantage to whey, “That extra bit of leucine will make maybe 1% difference in building muscle.
Learn Your Plant Proteins
Protein is extremely important for fitness and building muscle, as 20g of protein at each meal is actually very easy to do when beans and whole grains are part of your eating habits.
Your heaviest hitters are now soy milk, tempeh, seitan, tofu, edamame, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and vegan meats. Yes, you’ll certainly bite into a few terrible soy dogs and veggie burgers before finding brands that actually taste good—but hey, the same could be said for all the whey powders you sipped before finding the one brand that doesn’t taste like chalk.
Worth checking out is the ” Beyond Meat product line at Whole Foods, particularly the Beyond Burger, which everyone from Ruscigno to the 76ers’ Reddick recommends thanks to its high protein count and texture that’s as close to meat as you’ll get from plants.
High-protein veggie options (tempeh, tofu, edamame, and most vegan meats) are soy. Please try to cap yourself at up to three servings of soy a day, as you should be getting your protein from a variety of sources. Plants variety is important, as they offer such a variety of phytochemicals. The more phytochemicals, the more your hard-training body is getting what it needs.”
Even leafy greens—which every athlete should be eating because of their ability to increase nitric oxide, which helps deliver oxygen to the muscles—contain protein, which is right around the protein of one egg. Thus, as long as you’re eating a variety of protein sources throughout the day, you’re good.
Adjust your macros to account for more clean carbs
Chances are your meat-eating macro breakdown was either 30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbs or 30% protein, 50% fat, 20% carbs. But on a muscle-building vegan diet, your new breakdown will land closer to 20% protein, 30% fat, and 50% carbs.
Don’t freak out.
“When you switch over, your macros will have to change somewhat because plant-protein sources are inherently lower-fat and higher-carb,” Guest says. “Tofu, soy milk, any protein powders—all can be low-carb or zero-carb. But most pulses, like beans, lentils, or dried peas, are between 15-30g of protein per cup. That’s the same as beef, chicken, or fish, but they come with more carbs.”
Otherwise, the same eating rules apply—every meal should have a balance of fat, protein, and carbs; pre-workout snacks should be a hit of carbs without too much fiber or fat; post-workout fuel should be a mix of protein and carbs.
Learn to Love Carbs
Regardless of how tempting they may be, there’s no room in a healthy, muscle-building, athletic diet for refined bread and cookies.
Obviously you know refined junk was never on the “OK” omnivore list, but if you’re cutting out eggs and butter, suddenly the small cheats that quickly fill your 20% bucket—a small piece of birthday cake, a few bites of croissant—aren’t even options anymore.
Plus, fiber and starch are part of the carb count, so the grams on the label aren’t necessarily how many grams your body is actually getting, Ruscigno says. “Fiber isn’t ‘zero’ calories, but it’s definitely not the four calories per gram that other carbs are—which is why vegetarians and vegans weigh less, according to ongoing study cohorts with hundreds of thousands of people.”
So: Definitely pop B12 and DHA/EPA every day. And add 5g of creatine to your post-workout shake if you don’t already: A recent study review Opens a New Window. found that creatine can significantly improve the performance and recovery in vegetarian athletes, since the nutrient is mainly found in beef and fish.
Eat Way More Often
It’s totally normal to be hungry more often and to need snacks when you follow a vegan diet and when switching to plants. You end up eating a larger volume of food but fewer calories, so it’s important to make sure you’re eating more, and eating more often.
Listen to your body rather than your daily count. If you are hungry right after eating, it’s a sign that you need to add more volume and/or more fat and protein. Start adding bean spreads to your raw vegetables. Instead of just plain ol’ oatmeal, make it with soy milk, frozen blueberries, walnuts, and/or chia seeds. Believe it, the small additions really go a long way when you’re vegan.
Learn New “Anchor” Foods
Getting serious about your training takes planning and effort, and nutrition is part of that program. Being vegan requires meal planning and cooking, but that’s true of healthy eating whether it includes meat or not.
The good news: It’s way, way easier to be vegan now than ever before. Go to Whole Foods or your local health grocer and check out what pre-made vegan options are available to give you an idea for meal prep. Develop a few go-to foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (we’d suggest just straight copying what these seven elite vegan athletes eat to get (and stay) ultra-jacked).
Most important, keep snacks on hand. “If you’re a busy athlete, snacks can be the hardest since most of the easiest grab-and-go foods are dairy-based, like Greek yogurt or string cheese,” Guest points out. “Drinking two cups of soy milk can deliver about the same amount of protein to hold you over.” We’d also suggest stocking up on vegan bars like GoMacro, CLIF Builder’s, and PROBAR to keep hangry from happening.
Keep It Simple
New vegans must keep it simple by thinking of meals like this: grain, bean, vegetables, sauce, brown rice, black beans, salsa, avocado, fajita vegetables; quinoa, chickpeas, kale, pesto; wild rice, falafel, hummus, roasted cauliflower, and tahini dressing. However, you must adjust your ratios based on your macros, adding more legumes or less grains, and controlling the calories with the sauce or dressing.
Chew Your Food For Long Enough
Eating slower and chewing your food is the best ways to reduce bloating, though it’s a tough habit for people to acquire, since not chewing beans all the way is one of the leading causes of the quintessential discomfort. Eating more mush: Making hummus or refried beans is a way to get your protein without risking bloating or GI distress from beans since they’re already somewhat broken down.
Just be sure to fuel your workouts and eat enough to fuel the workouts to build the muscle to be lean. The most important factor in gaining mass is eating enough energy, or calories. Most meat-eating men who want to gain mass, almost always consume around three times the protein they need, half as many carbs, and not enough calories.
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