Vegan Muscle Building: Why It's Hard + 5 Tips
No doubt about it â€“ there has never been a time in history when there have been more vegan athletes and weightlifters who are crushing it than there are now. Vegan muscle building has exploded in popularity and success.
There is a myriad of reasons why one is vegan. It may be health, environmental, social, or simply a food preference.
Whatever the reason, many vegans are currently wanting to gain muscle but are finding it difficult. There are a few key reasons why this might be the case. We have put together the five top reasons why vegans don't gain muscle mass and given strategies to combat each of them.
1. Not consuming enough calories.
One of the biggest and most common mistakes that vegan bodybuilders make is not eating enough food. The food options open to the vegan diet are usually very low on calories. That means that you will need to examine not the amount of food but rather the calorie intake. The goal is always to ensure that you are running a calorie surplus, which means that you are eating more calories that you are expending. The calories that are left over at the end of the day are what your body uses to gain weight.
So many vegans make this mistake, but you don't have to.
Use these strategies to make sure you are eating enough calories:
â€“ Eat a lot of grains and carbohydrates such as wild rice, quinoa, oats, potatoes, and beans.
â€“ Take advantage of more calorie-dense vegan foods such as natural peanut butter, avocados, and brown rice.
â€“ Aim for a calorie surplus of 300-500 per day. This will ensure that you do not gain unwanted fat that you will have to shed later.
â€“ If you feel as though you are not putting on weight after a month, reexamine what foods are being eaten or increase the amount you are consuming.
2. Not getting enough protein.
There is a clear nexus between protein intake and muscle growth. Muscle fibers are made up of amino acids (protein); when you exercise a muscle it requires protein to rebuild. Measuring and tracking protein intake will result in increased muscle gains.
How much protein do you need to build muscle on a vegan diet? Each body is different in its own way thanks to genetics. You will need to experiment to see how much protein is right for you and your situation
You can use this resource to get a ballpark idea, then you measure and track from that reference point over time. You can also get some great vegan nutrition tips from 6 Pack Ambassador Darlene Taylor in her guide to Vegan Meal Prep.
Examples of protein-rich vegan-friendly foods are:
â€“ Broccoli (a favorite recipe of mine is this one)
3. Not getting enough sleep and recovery time.
Adequate sleep and recovery is almost as important to your training regime as the workouts themselves. High-performing athletes are well aware of the importance of rest and recovery to their training. For vegan muscle building, it's no different.
Sleep: Depending on your training cycle you will require a solid 7-8 hours+ per night, more during intense training periods.
During deep-sleep cycles your body increases muscle recovery and rebuilding. Withholding sleep from your body will negatively impact your training. Also, sleep deficits can lead to sickness such as the flu. Even a mild flu could put your training out for as much as one week.
Recovery: Lucky for us, â€œrecovery" doesn't mean sitting on the couch. There is a whole range of activities that you can enjoy on those rest days. Try yoga, light running, swimming, or pilates. This will promote the movement of blood around your body and muscles, speeding up recovery. How much rest you require is based on age, genetics, and gender. Experiment with different amounts of rest periods. Then record how you feel and your results to see what works best for you.
4. Completing incorrect workouts or lifting with poor form.
Jeremiah Evans, another 6 Pack Ambassador, gives us some fantastic tips for how to train smarter and gain muscle mass the healthiest way.
Perform workouts with correct technique: Incorrect movements may work the muscle in an ineffective and/or unsafe way. Work out with an experienced trainer regularly so that you can be certain you are performing the right movements.
Plan your workouts ahead: Being smart about training involves correct planning. Your muscles react to stimulus (workouts). Accumulation training is essential at certain stages of your training journey, but you must also alternate with rep training so you can eliminate fat stored around the muscle.
Additionally, you should diversify your workout speeds and tempos. This will activate both Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibers, and your muscles will be forced to grow to adapt to the changing stimulus.
Knowing what stage you are at and planning ahead will vastly increase muscle gains.
Dominate the big lifts before hitting the isolations: Knowing how to properly deadlift, squat, and bench press are essential skills for building muscle and forming a stable foundation.
The recommendation is that once you have completed 500-1000 reps using proper technique, only then should you progress to isolations.
Use HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to cut body fat: Complete short and intense 30-minute workouts on days when not lifting, and 15-minute workouts after you have had a weight-lifting session. Adding this to your routines will promote Type 2 muscle fibers, which activate 30-40% of unused muscle motion in an average weightlifter.
Water is a vital nutrient to the body, as it's required for each of the body's functions. Most important to weightlifters is water's ability to facilitate essential nutrients to cells and removing waste out of those cells.
How much water you will require will be based on factors such as training stage, weather environment, diet, and gender.
The old-fashioned advice is that you require 8 cups or 2 liters of water each day. This amount should be a minimum.
Having the correct tools helps immensely. If you always have a water bottle on hand, you will be more likely to drink from it. The Power Thirst Hydration Bottle will be your best friend in your pursuit for adequate hydration. It has a large 2.2-liter capacity, but carries easily in your hand or stored in your gym backpack or meal management bag.
To get the best results from your vegan muscle building efforts, aim to drink 2-3 refills of water in your Power Thirst bottle per day.
Good luck on your health journey. If you would like some further reading on vegan muscle building, check out this article. Do you have any questions that weren't covered in the above list? Let us know, and we will be happy to answer them for you!
This post has been brought to us by Gregg Owens, who is dedicated to teasing out the strategies of high-performing athletes to find out what makes them better so that he can use them in his life and those around him. When not at the gym, or going surfing or hiking, he is contributing to his website Your Vegan Kitchen. Gregg lives with his fiancÃ© in the surf-and-wine-rich coast of Margaret River, Australia.