Nutrition

17 Ways to Get Lean on a Vegan Muscle Building Diet

You really don’t need meat to build a lean, toned physique and we’re about to prove it with these tips on how to perfect a vegan muscle building diet.

For so long, building muscle has relied on one pretty much one thing – eating plenty of meat.

Sure, it helps to repair and rebuild your muscle fibres, but it’s not meat that’s the key – it’s the protein within it and a varied, healthy diet.

To help you nail your vegan muscle building diet, we’re about to hit you with 17 ways to develop muscle – all on a plant-based lifestyle. Check it out.

How to get lean on a vegan muscle building diet

1. Figure out your macros

vegan muscle building diet plate of food

The first step to getting stronger, whether you’re a meat eater or on a vegan muscle building diet is finding out what your macro nutrient intake should be.

This is important as, to build muscle after a workout, you need the right macro nutrient within your body to repair and grow – that macro nutrient is protein.

At a minimum, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommend you take on 1.4-2.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.

To work out your macro nutrient needs, check out this article.  

2. Track your food intake

Once you know how much you should be eating on your vegan muscle building diet, the next step is making sure you hit the right intake every day.

To do this, check out a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal. It’s completely free and you can scan foods in on your phone, making it really simple to keep track of what your calorie, protein, carb and fat intake.

3. Look out for ‘complete’ amino acid profiles

tempeh as part of a vegan muscle building diet
photo credit: Gesina Kunkel

Once you’re set up with the right food intake, it’s time to take a look at the best protein options for a vegan muscle building diet.

The key to developing strength and growing those fibers is finding a plant-based protein with a full amino acid profile.

Put simply, there are nine amino acids that make up protein. Meat contains all nine of these proteins, where only a few plant-based options provide the full spectrum. The best muscle growth comes from a protein source that delivers all nine of these amino acids.

Aim to eat the following on your vegan muscle building diet:

  • Soy protein isolate – 90g of protein per 100g
  • Spirulina – 57g of protein per 100g
  • Hemp seeds – 32g of protein per 100g
  • Edamame beans – 32g per of protein per 100g
  • Tempeh – 18.5g of protein per 100g
  • Tofu – 16g of protein per 100g
  • Quinoa – 14.1g of protein per 100g

4. Aim to eat unprocessed foods…

The temptation when you start a new diet is to take the easy route and opt for processed foods, that are easier to eat and involve less preparation. While they may be vegan, they also contain hidden nasties like chemicals and unwanted sugars.

These can often clog up your system, and prevent proper nutrient absorption. What’s more, extra sugars can be stored as fat, hindering your ability to get lean and build muscle.

Instead, check out some high protein vegan recipes online and expand your culinary skills. This way you’ll be able to see exactly what’s going in to each meal, nourish your body and stick to your macronutrient requirements.

5. … but add a protein shake to your diet too!

While we recommend you get your protein intake from clean, natural sources, we’d also recommend you check out the options for vegan protein shakes too.

While they may be slightly more processed, they’re a cost effective and time efficient way to add more protein to your diet. By supplementing with a shake a day, you may find it a whole lot easier to reach your daily target.

There have been huge leaps forward in taste and protein content in recent years when it comes to vegan shakes, so there’s plenty to choose from.

6. Up your calorie intake

plate of food from a vegan muscle building diet

One thing so many of us overlook when it comes to building muscle is our calorie intake.

Growing muscle requires energy. Therefore, you need to be consuming more calories than you burn.

While this feels scary for many of us who’ve focussed on achieving a calorie deficit to lose weight, the best way to get the most out of your vegan muscle building diet is to eat more. Don’t be worried about ‘getting fat’ or eating ‘too much’ – if your macro nutrients are balanced properly, you’ll just put down muscle and create a leaner physique.

7. Plan in high protein snacks

Between-meal hunger can be a killer for an otherwise successful vegan muscle building diet.

Don’t just focus on perfecting your main meals, otherwise you may end up going off track, or not hitting your protein intake.

To combat this, simply plan in some high protein vegan snacks you can enjoy whenever hunger strikes.

8. Drink plenty of water

water in a vegan muscle building diet

If you’re planning on hitting the gym and building muscle, you need your body working at it’s very best and often, that can come down to drinking enough water.

Water is essential to your overall health and is key to a huge number of internal processes – including muscle maintenance.

When you’re dehydrated muscle breakdown goes through the roof, which could have a serious impact on your vegainz.

It also helps to keep your joints in tip-top condition, which is essential if you’re planning on working out regularly (which of course you should be if you’re planning on building muscle!). As little as 2% reduction of water has been proven to have a big impact on your body’s physical abilities.

What are you waiting for? Grab a glass and fill up on your recommended two litres a day.

9. Treat yourself to a protein bar

Remember we spoke about ensuring you have plenty of high protein snacks to keep you full between meals and top up your protein stores? Well a vegan protein bar is the perfect option.

There are plenty of delicious options out there that are completely plant-based, low in carbs and the perfect choice to complement a lean vegan muscle building diet.

10. Top up on creatine

This is one of the most highly-researched supplements out there, and an amazing way to boost your physical performance in the gym, and therefore help you build more muscle.

It’s especially important to supplement with creatine if you’re vegan.

Creatine is created naturally within your body, however it is found in high quantities in meat. Our fellow omnivores can top up on their stores whenever they eat meat, however for vegans, we can often be low on the compound.

Supplement your diet with a vegan-friendly creatine and you can top up your creatine levels, which can make for a much more powerful and rewarding muscle building workout.

11. Meal prep

Food prepping on a vegan muscle building diet

Although there are many more options out there today than there was just a few years ago, it can be hard to buy healthy vegan foods if you’re caught without lunch.

However, even if you do find something, it’s unlikely it will meet the macronutrient requirements of your vegan muscle building diet.

To keep you on track and ensure you’re ticking all your nutrition boxes, meal prep for the week in advance, and watch the gains come rolling in.

Check out our guide to meal prepping right here.

12. Lift heavy things

If you didn’t already know, you grow muscle by constantly challenging it in a process called progressive overload.

So while you may start on one weight and make some great muscle gains early on, you need to keep lifting heavier to ensure you continue to grow.

The human body is pretty amazing, it can adapt to the strain you put under it very quickly. That’s what muscle growth is after all. You tear your muscle fibres when you lift a challenging weight, then your body uses protein to repair these fibres, only bigger and better so they can handle that weight next time you work out.

If you stick to the same weight every time, your progress will very quickly plateau. Ensure you continue to get the most out of your vegan muscle building diet by lifting heavy every time you go to the gym.

13. Swap out endurance for HIIT

woman ready to sprint

So many of us are stuck in a cycle of running on the treadmill for hours whenever we go to the gym. However, this can be detrimental to your work in the weights room and you progress when it comes to building muscle.

Running for a long time requires a light frame and very little power – so your body will adapt by reducing muscle size in favour of a lighter physique.

Instead, you need a cardio that puts an emphasis on power and strength. That cardio is HIIT.

Check out our favourite HIIT treadmill workouts.

14. Enjoy a varied diet

Building muscle isn’t just about taking on enough protein, you also need to ensure you’re enjoying a variety of vitamin, mineral and fibre rich foods.

To do this, make sure you plan a variety of vegetables into your meals as well as protein, carbs and fats.

This is important as vitamins, minerals and fibres are essential to maintaining your overall body health and ensuring your internal processes are running smoothly. For example, B vitamins are crucial to a huge range of metabolic functions, including protein metabolism.

With that in mind, you can see why a varied diet is so important to muscle building.

15. Utilise carbs

vegan muscle building diet and carbs

When you’re planning out your vegan muscle building diet, don’t forget about carbohydrates. While so many people think of them as unhealthy or ‘bad for you’, they can be hugely beneficial to a vegan muscle building diet.

They can energise you, making them the perfect food to enjoy before you head to the gym.

Our main tip is to opt for high value carbohydrates, aka avoid refined sugars (which can give you an intense energy high, then an often painful crash) and stay away from alcohol. These two types of carbohydrates offer very little nutritional value and are often stored as fat within your body.

Instead go for complex carbohydrates like oats or wholegrain bread. These offer a slower, more controlled energy release that can benefit your workouts, and they also come with plenty of nutritious benefits.

16. Time your meals

Planning your food intake around your workouts can be essential to making your vegan muscle building diet work harder for your gym sessions.

For example, by energising your body with carbohydrates and creatine before you hit the gym, you can reap more reward from every workout.

You should also spread your protein intake out throughout the day in 20-30g portions to ensure you always have a store of these essential amino acids, ready to repair and grow you muscles.

17. Track your progress

One thing that could throw you off your vegan muscle building diet is lack of motivation. You may think you’re not getting anywhere, or you may not see the difference you were expecting in the mirror.

The trick to staying on track and keeping motivation high is to keep track of where you started, and how far you’ve come.

Whether that’s a progress pic at the start of your diet, or simply noting down the weights of your main lifts, it can be enough to keep you excited, motivated and on tack with your diet.

The final word 

There you have it. To all our plant-based sisters out there, good luck with your vegan muscle building diet.

Now get to the gym and start growing your strength and power today.

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