Vegan Diet Plan For Muscle Gain

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Vegan Diet Plan For Muscle Gain – The idea behind this diet is to feed the muscles without stressing it; this means focusing on bodybuilding foods that increase recovery and don’t cause inflammation to the body.

How to Build Muscle on a Plant-Based Diet: Staple Foods, Meal Plans, and Philosophy

Let’s face it, building muscle is hard, no matter what “diet” you follow. And supporting your athletic endeavors with a plant-based diet can be challenging too, especially if you’ve only recently gone vegan.

I’ve been there—desperately hoping to gain muscle on a plant-based diet. After decades of learning from personal failures and successes, I have officially cracked the code on how to truly build and sustain muscle. I’m sharing those keys to success with you today so that you too can achieve your bodybuilding and fitness goals.

When I first started my plant-based, muscle-building journey many years ago, there wasn’t much publicly available on the subject. So little, in fact, that I had to rely almost entirely on trial and error. Thankfully, over time I started to figure it out, and I grew from weighing 120 pounds in 1995 when I went vegan, to a 210-pound champion bodybuilder at my peak, built entirely by plants (and hard work in the gym).

Even if you’ve struggled with building muscle in the past (while plant-based or not), I’m confident you can bulk up when you apply the strategies, habits, foods, and exercises necessary to achieve your goals.

And it all starts with nutrition.

Understanding Your Caloric Needs

Your quest to build muscle on a plant-based diet relies on understanding your true macronutrient and calorie needs. Not guessing, or estimating, or assuming characteristics about your current habits, but real, raw data based on who you are and what you do.

Believe it or not, it’s much easier to figure out than you might think.

Start with finding your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) using the Harris-Benedict equation. BMR is the amount of calories you expend simply by existing, based on your gender, age, height, and weight.

Combine that number with your actual activity level—any additional movements beyond just existing, like walking the dog, running errands, hitting the gym, or walking up a flight of stairs. This gives you the approximate number of total calories you expend daily… your calorie needs.

If you expend 2,500 calories per day, you need to consume 2,500 calories per day just to maintain weight.

In order to gain muscle, you would need to consume more than 2,500 calories, ideally from mostly real plant foods. Combine that with resistance weight training, and you’re on your way to muscle-town.

If you’re interested in learning more, Matt Frazier and I do a full breakdown of macronutrients in our new book, The Plant-Based Athlete, and not that long ago I shared the technique above, along with my own caloric needs, in an interview for the No Meat Athlete Academy. Check out this clip:

As simple as this sounds, implementing this approach into daily life is the real struggle. But it doesn’t have to be…

You just need to consume the healthy foods you enjoy most, with sufficient calorie quantities, and you’ve got it made.

To determine which foods will help most, it’s important to consider not only calories but also nutrient density.

Calories vs. Nutrient Density

The nutrient density of a food is the amount of nutrients you can obtain from it, given the number of calories it contains. Nutrients give your body nourishment, allowing for growth, muscle recovery, energy, and quite frankly, the maintenance of life—think vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, fiber, water, nitric oxide, and other phytonutrients. If you’re looking for the biggest bang for your nutrient buck, the best place to look is whole foods.

Simply speaking, there is nothing in fresh, whole food that doesn’t belong there (and yes, whole plant foods contain plenty of protein). There’s a profound difference between eating 2,500 calories of whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds, and eating 2,500 calories of processed food-like substances such as chips, fries, pizza, candy, and ice cream.

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You may be eating 2,500 calories either way, but the nutritional result is wildly different.

Therefore, low-calorie, nutrient dense foods provide a higher return on investment than foods that are high in calories but low in nutrition. Eating a high-calorie, nutrient-poor diet will make any fitness goals a struggle, whether burning fat and losing weight, building muscle, or improving endurance.

Here is a look at the rough calorie count vs. nutrient score for some common food types:

Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s ANDI score method is an easy way to measure nutrient density. ANDI stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, and basically reports “nutrients divided by calories,” Fuhrman’s formula for healthy eating. The higher the ANDI score, the higher nutrient density.

While calorie density is very important regarding weight gain and weight loss, nutrient density speaks to our health and the overall nutrition we are getting. Whole plant foods provide the perfect combination of relatively low calorie density with high nutrient quantity, and some foods such as the staples I list a little further down, are kings and queens of the plant-based jungle.

As we know, eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean limiting yourself to fewer food options than on an omnivorous diet. There are lots of options! While this is good news, it can also be overwhelming. But—like many things, it doesn’t have to be too complicated at all.

Five Staple Foods for Bulking Up

This is the section where calorie needs and nutrient density come together in beautiful union.

By weighing a food’s calories against its nutrient density profile, you’ll set yourself up for success in building muscle. Of course you want to consume as many nutrients as possible, but hitting your calorie goals on kale alone just won’t cut it.

So where do you start? Here are five staple foods to include in your bulking up program, based on their nutrient-to-calorie ratios and caloric density:

  1. Oats
  2. Potatoes
  3. Beans and lentils
  4. Brown rice
  5. Bananas and other fruits

With variations of just these five staple foods alone, you can create lots of variety and overall nutrition to help you in your bulking efforts.

Now, let’s put that in action…

Create Muscle-Building Meal Plans

In my new book, Plant-Based Muscle, my co-author Vanessa Espinoza and I provide a great collection of meal plans. I’d like to share two with you now to showcase the variety of foods that can help you hit your caloric goals.

Sample Meal Plan 1 with 2,500 Calories

Breakfast

Oatmeal

  • 1 cup cooked spelt
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower butter
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon                               
  • 1 sliced banana

634 calories, 95 g carbohydrates, 17.6 g protein, 20.4 g fat, 14 g fiber

Snack

Edamame

  • 1 cup

189 calories, 15 g carbohydrates, 17 g protein, 8 g fat, 8 g fiber

Snack  

Fruit

  • 2 cups blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries, or any combination of the three

92 calories, 20 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 0 g fat, 3 g fiber

Lunch  

Spinach and Kale Salad

  • 1 cup raw spinach
  • 1 cup raw kale
  • ½ cup cooked brown lentils
  • Any type of veggies you like
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • ½ cooked sweet potato

495 calories, 71 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 16.3 g fat, 12.3 g fiber

Snack

Nuts and Seeds

  • Handful of raw nuts and seeds (no oil or salt): peanuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

441 calories, 14 g carbohydrates, 15.2 g protein, 36 g fat, 9 g fiber

Dinner

Rice and Bean Bowl

  • ½ cup cooked black rice                                                        
  • ½ cup chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
  • 1 cup cooked broccoli or asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

343 calories, 64 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein , 3 g fat, 10 g fiber

Snack

2 Banana Protein Muffins

  • 4 bananas
  • 1 cup dry oats
  • 2 scoops protein powder
  • ½ cup coconut flakes
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ¼ cup vegan chocolate chips

For 2 banana muffins: 259 calories, 34.8 g carbohydrates, 10 g protein, 14.8 g fat, 5.6 g fiber

Totals

2,453 calories, 313.8 g carbohydrates, 93.8 g protein, 98.5 g fat, 61.9 g fiber

Sample Meal Plan 2 with 2,900 Calories

Breakfast

Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons chia
  • 1 banana
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds

699 calories, 96 g carbohydrates, 23.8 g protein, 24.4 g fat, 20 g fiber

Snack

Fruit and Nut Butter

  • Apple and 1 tablespoon peanut butter

275 calories, 31 g carbohydrates, 7.5 g protein, 15.3 g fat, 6.4 g fiber

Or, Protein Shake

  • Vegan protein shake with 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, water, and ice

211 calories, 13 g carbohydrates, 24 g protein, 7g fat, 5 g fiber

Lunch

Sweet Potato Plate

  • 6 ounces baked tofu using different types of seasoning
  • ½ cup sweet potatoes
  • 2 cups roasted or steamed veggies

698 calories, 62 g carbohydrates, 45 g protein, 30 g fat, 5 g fiber

Snack

Veggies and Hummus

  • Raw veggies of any kind (I like to keep chopped up celery, carrots, cucumbers, and radishes in the fridge)
  • 2 tablespoons hummus

78 calories, 9 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 3.8 g fat, 2 g fiber

Snack

Nuts and Seeds

  • Handful raw nuts and seeds (no oil or salt): peanuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

441 calories, 14 g carbohydrates, 15.2 g protein, 36 g fat, 9 g fiber

Dinner

Black Bean Bowl

  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 cup cooked brown basmati or black rice, farro, or quinoa
  • ½ avocado, diced
  • ½ cup salsa of your choice
  • Sprinkle nutritional yeast
  • Mix together in a bowl

658 calories, 96.6 g carbohydrates, 27 g protein, 18.3 g fat, 26.2 g fiber

Snack

Fruit

  • 1 cup strawberries and 1 cup blueberries

122 calories, 28 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 0 g fat, 6 g fiber

Or, Protein Shake

  • Vegan protein shake with 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, water, and ice

211 calories, 13 g carbohydrates, 24 g protein, 7 g fat, 5 g fiber

Totals

2,971 calories, 336.6 g carbohydrates, 122.5 g protein, 127.8 g fat, 74.6 g fiber

With optional protein shakes:

2,996 calories, 303.6 g carbohydrates, 161 g protein, 126.5 g fat, 72.2 g fiber

Combine an Effective Exercise Program for Desired Results

I’ve talked a lot about nutrition in this article, but before you think gaining muscle is all about eating, an effective exercise program is unsurprisingly a key component. I won’t go into too much detail here (there are plenty of lifting routines out there), but I do want to share the fundamental principles everyone should follow:

  1. Although you may start out with at-home workouts, the foundation of your workout program should eventually consist of barbell and dumbbell free weight exercises.
  2. Perform exercises you enjoy. Ultimately, if it isn’t fun, you will find a way to avoid it.
  3. Create a workout program that targets all major muscle groups, including, legs, chest, back, shoulders, arms, and abs, to ensure you stimulate muscle growth throughout your whole body, not just your chest and biceps. You can train one muscle group per day, for five or six major workouts per week, or you can combine multiple muscle groups into a single workout.
  4. Consistency is key to success. You will need to put in the requisite time in order to attain desired results.
  5. Set attainable goals.
  6. Document your workouts as a way to hold yourself accountable.

The key is to train hard with consistency and with a level of intensity geared toward igniting and eliciting change and forward progress.

(You can learn more in an interview about Plant-Based Muscle that I did for NMA Radio.)

Set Goals and Objectives and Track Your Progress

A great exercise and nutrition plan creates an excellent foundation for your bodybuilding goals. The next step is to create actionable goals with attainable objectives.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

Goal: Add 10 pounds of total mass over the next 6 months. (Pro-tip: Share your goal with some friends and on social media, and hold yourself accountable by providing regular updates, good or bad.)

Timeline: Add 2 pounds of mass per month (muscle, fat, and water weight), and evaluate progress monthly.

Action Plan: 5 days per week of resistance weight training, and develop a nutrition plan that supports your goal by meeting your calorie and other nutritional needs.

It’s also important to track your progress daily. Not only your gains, but also track the food you eat.

This may seem tedious at first, but I’ve found that over time, it becomes second nature, and with little effort you’ll be able to construct a nutrition program that will set you on the path to success.

Meal tracking can be the secret sauce to your muscle-building plan. But of course, sometimes, life gets in the way.

Recently, I spent many months editing, revising, and re-writing a book I spent nearly two years writing. I was working 12- and 15-hour days leading up to the day I submitted the manuscript for printing. Subsequently, I took some days off from the gym, and my nutrition plan took a hit too, and things like frozen vegan burritos made their way into my diet…

I’m not afraid to admit it. I wasn’t tracking or focused on my goals, and inevitably, things went awry.

Vegan Muscle Building Meal Plan: Vegan Macros Needed For Building Muscles

Although we have emphasized a lot on proteins, proteins are not the only macronutrients required for body building. A person also requires carbohydrates and Fats. The ratio amounts of the different macros needed by a bodybuilder differ to those a normal person needs. This stems from the fact that a bodybuilder needs a higher intake of proteins. The ratios of macros are 55% to 60% from carbs, 25% to 30% from proteins and 15% to 20% from fats. 

You need carbohydrates to provide your body with the necessary energy when you work out. You also need carbs to fuel your brain while working out so that you can stay sharp and focused at the task at hand. When you reduce your carb intake, you are likely to slow down your bulking process and this is certainly not what you want. 

Fats also help in providing energy, they enhance stamina, they help improve muscle development, help in recovery from tiresome workout sessions and help improve concentration.

vegan muscle building meal plan

Vegan Muscle Building Meal Plan

Below is a vegan bodybuilding food plan that will help you bulk up. 

Day 1

Breakfast

Scrambled tofu on toast

Ingredients

  • ½ block of tofu
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 slice of regular multi-grain bread

Calories – 425.5, Carbs – 18.7 grams, Fat – 28.7 grams, Proteins – 29.1 grams

Snack 

1 cup of grapes

Calories – 46.1, Carbs – 11.1 grams, Fat – 0.4 grams, Proteins – 1 gram

Lunch

Strawberry protein smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup of water
  • 8 tablespoons of organic plain rice protein
  • 1 tablespoon of almond butter
  • 8 large strawberries
  • 6 ice cubes

Calories – 384.4, Carbs – 22.1 grams, Fat – 9.3grams, Proteins –  52.3 grams

Snack 

1 ounce of almonds

Calories -164.1, Carbs – 6.1 grams, Fat – 14.2 grams, Proteins –  6 grams

Dinner

2 servings of garlic green beans with tofu

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil 
  • 4 cloves of minced garlic
  • ½ a pound of tofu 
  • 4 cups of ½ pieces of green beans

Calories – 521.2, Carbs – 37.4 grams, Fat – 34.1 grams, Proteins –  23.7 grams

Snack 

2 apples 

Calories – 189.3, Carbs – 50.3 grams, Fat – 0.6 grams, Proteins –  0.9 grams

Total calories for the day: 1911

vegan muscle building meal plan

Day 2

Breakfast

Apple sandwiches with almond butter and Granola

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of almond butter
  • 1 medium apple
  • ¼ cup of granola with almonds

Calories – 424.2 , Carbs – 50.3 grams, Fat – 23.2 grams, Proteins –  10.5 grams

Snack 

2 apples 

Calories – 189.3, Carbs – 50.3 grams, Fat – 0.6 grams, Proteins –  0.9 grams

Lunch

Strawberry protein smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup of water
  • 8 tablespoons of organic plain rice protein
  • 1 tablespoon of almond butter
  • 8 large strawberries
  • 6 ice cubes

Calories – 384.4, Carbs – 22.1 grams, Fat – 9.3grams, Proteins –  52.3 grams

Snack

Strawberry, lemon and ginger shot

  • Ingredients
  • 3 slices of ginger root
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice 
  • ¼ cup of water
  • ½ cup of strawberries

Calories – 41.5 , Carbs – 10.8 grams, Fat – 0.4 grams, Proteins –  0.8 grams 

Dinner

2 servings of big bad bean burrito

Ingredients

  • 4 leaf outer lettuce
  • 2 tortilla tortillas
  • ½ a cup of salsa
  • ½ a cup of refried beans
  • 1 avocado without the skin or the seed

Calories – 488.8 , Carbs – 61.9 grams, Fat – 23.9 grams, Proteins –  15.1 grams 

Snack

Carrots with hummus

Calories – 174.5 , Carbs – 22.4 grams, Fat – 7.5 grams, Proteins –  7.1 grams 

Total calories of the day: 1789

vegan muscle building meal plan

Day 3

Breakfast

Peanut butter and banana oatmeal

Ingredients

  • ½ cup of oatmeal
  • 1 ¼ tablespoon of peanut butter with omega-3 
  • ½ cup of water
  • ½ medium banana

Calories – 307.7 , Carbs – 45.9 grams, Fat – 12.1 grams, Proteins –  10.6 grams 

Snack

Apple and almond butter

Ingredients 

  • 2 tablespoons of almond butter
  • 1 medium apple

Calories – 291.1, Carbs – 31.1 grams, Fat – 18.1 grams, Proteins –  7.2 grams 

Lunch

Kale white bean and pesto salad

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups of chopped kale
  • ⅓ cup of chopped raw grape tomatoes
  • ⅔ cup of white beans
  • 3/16 cup of sauce; classico, basil pesto, ready to serve
  • ⅓ lemon yields lemon juice 

Calories – 422.6, Carbs – 54.1 grams, Fat – 16.4 grams, Proteins –  18.8 grams

Snack

1 cup of carrots

Calories – 86.1, Carbs – 20.3 grams, Fat – 0.3grams, Proteins –  1.6 grams 

Dinner

Smashed white beans on toast 

Ingredients 

  • ¼ cup of arugula
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil 
  • ½ cup of white beans

Calories – 411 Carbs – 51.9  grams, Fat – 15.9 grams, Proteins –  16.6 grams 

Snack

2 servings of 1 minute quick boiled spinach

Ingredients

  • I minced garlic clove 
  • 2 cups of spinach
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice 

Calories – 98.9, Carbs – 3.5 grams, Fat – 9.3 grams, Proteins –  1.9 grams 

Total calories for the day – 1931.3

But, after submitting my manuscript, I got back to documenting meals and workouts, and in just one month, the results were obvious:

Had I put more effort into tracking what I ate throughout those busy weeks and months, I wouldn’t have slipped as far as I did.

Tracking holds you accountable, and gives you a clear picture of what you’re eating, what you’re not eating, and where you’re falling short.

I use Cronometer, MyFitnessPal, or the Shred It! 13-Week Training Journal to document my daily meals and workouts to have an accurate account of my efforts. This way I can look back at my progress to see where I’ve hit my goals or where I need to make some adjustments.

You Have the Tools, Now Make it Happen

My experience in building muscle on a plant-based diet took decades of trial and error—but your experience can be so much better! The systems and approaches I outlined above have proven effective time and time again, not only for me but also for the thousands of plant-based athletes who have followed these principles.

Your exact approach will be filled with variation and interpretation, but the core concepts remain true and lead to success: set meaningful goals, eat healthy with whole plant foods, perform exercises you truly enjoy, and be consistent.

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