How to bulk up on a vegan diet

There's a misconception that if you follow a vegan diet you’re unable to build muscle mass because you don’t get enough protein. We’re here to tell you that this isn’t true. You can still bulk up on a vegan diet–you just need to be creative about where you get your calories from. 

The majority of people, when asked to suggest high protein foods for bodybuilding, would probably choose animal based proteins such as chicken, eggs and milk. Being on a vegan diet means that you'll need to get your protein for muscle building from other, often less thought of, sources. While it’s possible to achieve–it can be a little bit harder if you don’t know which plant-based proteins to turn to.

That’s where we come in. At DNAfit, we always recommend a food-first approach before turning to supplementation. We’re going to help you optimise your vegan diet for muscle growth.


Tips for bulking up on a vegan diet

When bulking you need to include sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, fats and most importantly proteins into your diet. Protein assists with muscle synthesis, repair and recovery. Instead of the 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight recommended for most adults, strength-training athletes need close to 2 g per kg of body weight daily.

It’s also necessary to up your caloric intake. Quality of foods count to some degree, but if you want to get bigger then you also need to eat more–it’s that simple. You need to ensure you aren’t experiencing a deficit in nutrients and vitamins, giving your body everything it needs to repair itself after your workout.

As you probably already know, there are fewer plant-based protein options. To keep your bulking meals interesting and flavourful, we’ve put together a selection of vegan-friendly, protein-rich options that can be ‘dressed’ up with spices and garnishes.


Vegan foods which increase your protein intake

  • Quinoa (14.1g of protein per 100g) is a great source of protein and can be enjoyed with an aromatic vegetable curry or you can enjoy it in a warm salad with vegan feta and pumpkin cubes.
  • Soy (36.5g of protein per 100g) might be the most well-known source of vegan friendly protein, but it certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a great addition to our breakfast routine with soy milk in your morning coffee or with your cereal. Edamame beans (an immature form of soybeans) can be enjoyed in soups, curries and are found in many Asian dishes.
  • Buckwheat (13.3g of protein per 100g) is a lesser-known superfood that shouldn’t be forgotten. Interestingly enough, it’s not a grain at all, but a seed. It’s great for cooking and baking with! After all, who hasn’t enjoyed a plate of buckwheat pancakes?
  • Ezekiel bread (12g of protein per 100g) has been heralded as a wonder-food. It’s not only rich in legumes (soybeans and lentils) it’s also made from whole grains that have already started sprouting before being milled. This drastically changes the nutritional composition for the better.
  • Seitan (24g of protein per 100g) is a wheat gluten that can be used in creating meat substitutes. This wheat byproduct is a great source of protein.
  • Nuts and seeds are a great on-the-go snack. Keep a bag of trail mix on you which can be enjoyed throughout the day.
  • Chickpeas (8.4g of protein per 100g) are a great item to include in your diet if you’re wanting to bulk up. Not only are they easily accessible but will add another dimension to your meals. They’re also the main ingredient in falafel–yum!  

According to the Academy of nutrition and dietetics, it’s recommended to eat smaller amounts of protein throughout the day. A well planned vegan diet can provide all the protein and energy that your body needs in order to gain satisfactory muscle mass.

best way to bulk up on a vegan diet

Supplementing to build muscle on a vegan diet

You can make use of supplements to aid your bulking journey–however, it’s not essential.

Supplementation can play a role in bulking if you are finding it difficult to get the necessary amount of protein you need through diet alone. A few supplements that can help you bulk up and are animal-free alternatives, are:

  • Creatine
  • Glutamine
  • Vegan post workout shake

Are you getting all the essential amino acids your body needs through a vegan diet?

Our bodies need nine essential amino acids. Our bodies cannot, however, make these amino acids themselves. Instead they need to be consumed in the diet. These amino acids are essential for vital processes such as the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters–so they play a big role in muscle growth.

Unlike animal-based proteins, not all plant-based proteins are complete proteins–meaning they don’t contain all nine essential amino acids. However, it is possible to ensure you are consuming all of the essential amino acids. All you need to do is eat complementary proteins. To put it simply, the essential amino acids lacking/low in one source of plant based protein will be present/high in another. For example, grains are low in lysine but legumes are high in lysine. By combining legumes with grains, nuts and/or seeds you will be consuming all the essential amino acids your body needs.

Complementary Protein Examples:

  • Nut butter on whole grain bread
  • Hummus and pitta bread
  • Bean stew with brown rice
  • Quinoa salad with nuts and/or seeds

In conclusion

Overall, don’t be dissuaded by your vegan lifestyle or people telling you that it is impossible to bulk up. You’ll need to experiment with what works for your body. It may take more time than it does other people but if you’re eating correctly and listening to your body then you will see the results that you want.

While you take on board everything that we’ve spoken about, check out our 4 delicious vegan smoothie recipes that will definitely get your day off to a proper start.

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