Vegan Bodybuilding, Is It Possible?

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TL;DR Yes, but it’s going to be really fucking difficult

Disclaimer: I’m no expert on veganism, I know that in general vegan diets prohibit any animal products which obviously eliminates any meat, fish, diary or eggs but I’ve heard that there are certain other foods you can’t eat like avocados or honey for various weird reasons that I’m not really interested in. With that in mind, if I do get anything wrong in terms of food suggestions, feel free to jump down my throat and call me a senseless animal murderer.

Why Am I Writing This?

Veganism is becoming really popular (here’s a graph to prove it)
I reckon this is for a couple of reasons;

  1. That documentary that came out a few years back – ‘What the Health’ that claimed that stopping beef consumption would save the world. Or something. I think I watched it on a flight when I was half asleep so don’t quote me on that

2.  High profile sports people switching to Vegan diets. The two that spring to mind are Novak Djokovic and Lewis Hamilton. They’ve both done alright for themselves over the past couple of years, so idiots will immediately attribute that to their diet – when in fact they might have been performing well despite their diet

I could be completely wrong, but in my mind, they’re a couple of events that have been prevalent in the media that have triggered the popularity of veganism.

My View On Veganism

You might not care about what I actually think of Veganism but I’m going to tell you anyway because it will help me set out the context for the article.

I think that that if you eat a vegan diet for religious or ethical reasons, that’s great. More power to you. Carry on (unless building as much muscle as you can is more important to you).

However; if you are eating a vegan diet because you believe it’s ‘healthier’ than a carnivorous diet, then you’re probably grossly mistaken.

A ‘healthy’ diet, should be one that includes as many micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as possible (if eating as healthy a diet as possible is your goal), and this means eating a good balance of all three macronutrients; carbs, fat and protein.

It also means including some meat in your diet, since meat is rich in certain vitamins and minerals that you can’t get in sufficient amounts from a vegan-only diet (e.g. Zinc, B12).

Many will claim that a vegan diet is healthier because it contains ‘more fruit and vegetables’, but you certainly don’t need to go Vegan in order to eat more fruit and veg – just add more to your existing carnivorous diet and reap the health benefits of eating meat, fish, diary and eggs as well as plenty of fruit and veg.

So… What Would a Vegan Bodybuilding Diet Look Like?

Basically, the staples in terms of Vegan Protein sources are going to be;

  • Tofu
  • Nuts/Nut Milk
  • Beans
  • Pulses
  • Quinoa (not sure if that’s a bean or a pulse… A grain maybe)
  • Vegan or Soy Protein Powder (e.g, Pea Protein)
  • BCAAs

Yes, I know about Seitan, and I know it’s meant to taste like meat, but since it’s in it’s infancy and not widely available at the moment (at least in the UK) so i’m going to gloss over it.

I believe Seitan is also made from Wheat protein (Gluten), so if you’re vegan and gluten-free (lord help you if that’s the case), then I guess you’ll want to be avoiding that anyway.

Another thing; yes, I know vegetables contain protein as well; let’s all laugh again at that infographic that was doing the rounds recently.

beef vs broccoli protein
This is basically ani-meat propaganda

This infographic compares the protein PER 100 calories of steak and broccoli, the problem is, in order to eat 100 calories of Broccoli and get those 11g of protein, you’d need to eat around 300g of broccoli. That’s a lot of fucking broccoli. In fact you’d struggle to fit that in your stomach.

To get the same amount of protein from steak (almost), you’d only have to eat 37g, which is about one mouthful.

That’s why the vegetable/protein argument is completely redundant.

Now, those foods listed above do contain a bit more protein than vegetables, so it’s not all bad news.

Let’s take a look at the protein content of a few of these.


Vegan Protein SourceCalories per 100gProtein per 100g
Quinoa1204
Tofu768
Red Lentils1169
Chickpeas36419
Kidney Beans33324
Pea Protein Powder40080

So you can see that while it is absolutely possible to get protein from Vegan sources, they don’t pack anywhere near as much protein as meat or dairy sources… but you already knew that, and that information doesn’t help much if you are 100% committed to being vegan and you want to build muscle.

Vegan muscle Building Meal Plan

So, what would a typical day’s eating look like for a Vegan looking to build muscle?

I’m going to assume this meal plan is for a 35 year-old, 5ft 10 70kg male with a sedentary job looking to build muscle. According to the Harris-Benedict BMR equation, he’d need 2350 calories per day to maintain his weight, so we’re going to go add 10% to that and shoot for a calorie goal of;

2585 Calories

General protein recommendations for muscle building vary, but a sensible amount would be 1.8g per kg of bodyweight, so for our male subject, this means a protein target of;

126g Protein

N.B. These aren’t going to be very creative meals because I’m not vegan so I don’t know what sort of wacky  things you guys have for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner for that matter).

Let’s go ahead and put a meal plan together;

Breakfast

V-Proats (I think I just made that up).

Basically a vegan version of Proats – I’ve never tried this before so it may well be horrible – you may want to add some Coco powder to improve the taste.


ItemAmountCaloriesProtein
Oats100g36511
Almond Milk100ml130
Pea Protein Powder60g24050
TOTALS41061

Lunch

Chickpea Salad

I don’t trend to track vegetables – the calories are so low they’re negligible


ItemAmountCaloriesProtein
Chickpeas100g36419
Vegan Cheese (Sainsburys)70g2130
Avocado60g961
Olive Oil14ml (1 Tbsp)1200
Spinach/Tomato/Spring OnionsUnlimitedN/AN/A
TOTALS/79320

Snack

Yes, Greande now make a Vegan Carb Killa…


ItemAmountCaloriesProtein
Grenade Go Nuts Vegan Protein Bar1 bar17910
Apple1800
TOTALS/25910

Dinner

Tofu Stir Fry 0 again, don’t worry about tracking the vegetables


ItemAmountCaloriesProtein
Tofu200g15216
Instant Noodles (Amoy)1 Pack (150g)22710
Mixed Stir Fry VegUnlimitedN/AN/A
Cashew Nuts20g1114
Sweet and Sour Sauce (Uncle Ben’s)100g710
TOTALS/56130

Snack

(This random Vegan diet i’ve cobbled together is actually starting to sound pretty good isn’t it?!)


ItemAmountCaloriesProtein
Vegan brownie (recipe)12800
Peanut Butter32g (2 Tbsp)1888
Pea Protein Powder20g12025
TOTALS/40033

So, we have grand totals of;

2611 Calories

154g Protein

Slightly over our target amounts but close enough

Happy days; you can get enough calories and protein in on a Vegan diet to produce muscle growth.

But wait. There’s bad news.

The Problem with Plant-Based Proteins

Unfortunately, the quality of protein in plant based diets like the one above aren’t sufficient to gain muscle mass as effectively as the types of high quality protein you get from animal sources.

You see, protein is made up of amino acids of which there are 20, and while most animal based protein sources contain all the amino acids you need to build muscle, most plant proteins don’t.

Leucine is the most important amino acid because it tells the body to ‘turn on’ protein synthesis (i.e. the process of synthesising protein into new muscle). The requisite amount of whey protein required to optimally trigger is 20g according to this study

Whey protein generally has 10% Leucine, so the amount required is 2g

One scoop (25g) of My Protein Impact whey contains 21g of protein, and 2.1 of leucine.

MPS Dose Response
This graph demonstrates that Muscle Protein Synthesis tops out optimally with a minimum of 20g of whey protein (which usually delivers 2g of Leucine. Image credit https://www.researchgate.net/

Generally, most plant proteins are too low in leucine to get a sufficient amount in a sensible serving. For example, to get 2.1g of leucine from Chickpeas, you’d need to eat 300g in one sitting. That’s a lot of Chickpeas – not really practical.

So What Do I Do?

Well, you have a few options;

  1. Whatever the main protein source is in each meal – make sure you eat enough of it to get the requisite 2.1g of leucine required to trigger the muscle building process

2. Combine vegan protein sources to ensure that, together they provide enough leucine

3. Supplement each meal with BCAAs or pure leucine powder. This could get really expensive really quickly.

BPI BCAAs
1 serving ofBPI BCAAs contains 1.7g of Leucine, enough to compensate for the lack of Leucine in most of the meals above… But at a cost

Sidenote – I once wrote an article slating BCAAs and basically said they were a complete waste of money. I still stand by that, however I think a Vegan diet is probably the only situation where BCAAs have a valid application.

Conclusion

Getting enough calories, protein and essential amino acids to build muscle is possible on a Vegan diet, but it will require a lot more attention to your nutrition than it would if you were eating a carnivorous diet.

In my mind, you need to decide what’s most important to you; if it’s building muscle then I would strongly recommend a diet containing animal products (even a vegetarian diet would make things a lot easier).

If sticking to a Vegan diet is your number one priority, and you want to build muscle, then be prepared to educate yourself about amino acids, and invest in some leucine.

Good luck…

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