If you are a vegan who is getting into fitness, you might need to modify what you eat here and there, but you won’t need to modify what you do in the gym. It’s completely possible to get bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner on a plant-based diet. It’s time to read up, hit the fridge, and smash some weights!
About the author: I got into lifting weights and eating to get bigger and stronger about a year ago. Since then, I’ve gained 30 pounds and made significant gains in size and strength. Warning: I am in no way a professional trainer or nutritionist. But I’ve found what works for me, and I’m happy to share it! Follow me and hit me up on Twitter @nickdiener. I’m happy to help with any questions that you may have, and I’m always open to advice and suggestions as well!
1. Set Your Goals
Do you want to bulk up and build muscle? Do you want to lose weight? Are you already muscular but want to cut some fat? Do you want to build endurance and keep your heart healthy? How many days a week can you and do you want to work out? Think about what you want to achieve. Remember: An hour is only 4 percent of your 24-hour day.
2. The Right Nutrition Plan
With any body transformation, what you eat is half the battle—seriously:
- If you’re eating to get big and strong, eat a lot.
- If you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories and eliminate junk food.
- If you’re lifting, keep protein-filled foods handy and don’t be afraid of carbs!
Most workout programs will include a suggested nutrition program. Online calorie calculators can help you get a good understanding of what your body might need.
Standard workout meal plans will almost always include animal products. Luckily, you can make some easy substitutions to get the show on the road:
- Substitute whey protein (whey = milk) with a vegan protein powder like Hammer Nutrition Vegan Protein, Vega Sport Performance Protein, or Ultimate Nutrition Protein Isolate.
- Substitute meat-based recipes with vegan-friendly options. Most mock meats are comparable to the real thing in taste and are still loaded with protein. Three of the most popular muscle-building foods (sweet potatoes, oats, and brown rice) are already vegan! Get creative in the kitchen and try to hit your macros!
4. The Right Exercise Program
When it comes to working out, listen up: if you’re not sure what you’re doing, do not just go to the gym (or basement) and attempt to “figure it out.” Your time is valuable, and not seeing results is disheartening, so your workouts need to be tested and effective.
Here are my two favorite places to find new workouts, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran of the iron:
- B.U.F.F. Dudes: B.U.F.F. stands for “Better Understanding of Food and Fitness.” These guys are smart and hilarious, and they look great. Their website contains workouts that can be done in the gym or at home, so no excuses! They even have great recipes that will help you with number 2 (on this list, not pooping), but with some of them, you’ll need to work on number 3 (“modify,” not … yeah, I don’t know).
- Bodybuilding.com: This site has plans for men, women, bulking up, losing fat—everything! Stick with the eight- to 12-week programs, and you’ll be headed in the right direction.
5. Quality, Not Quantity
This applies to everything. The websites mentioned above will have video tutorials on how to do many of the exercises in their programs with proper form. Do not sacrifice form for more repetitions. This can lead to a less effective workout or, worse yet, serious injury. Until you get the moves down:
- Watch yourself in the mirror.
- Use less weight.
When it comes to food:
- As tempting as it is to go a little overboard with vegan junk food, don’t eat 85 Oreos in one sitting because you need more calories and want to bulk up.
- On the other hand, just because a banana or an apple is vegan and nutritious doesn’t mean you should eat 31 of them a day. Watch your sugar and fat intake and think lean. It’s for your health!
Google these names:
- Vegan strongman Patrik Baboumian
They’re all great reminders that it is in fact possible to succeed as a vegan fitness buff.
7. Stick to Your Guns and Be Realistic
A lot of workout programs don’t tell you that your first week back (or first week ever) is going to suck. Your joints, ligaments, and muscles and even your mind have to get used to this new, awesome thing you’re doing. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your body needs consistency, intensity, and focus to become better.
8. Take Your Vitamins
With all the added stress you’re now putting on your body, you should be taking a multivitamin. It sucks that most pills are coated in gelatin (gelatin = animal bones), but don’t sweat it! There are plenty of vegan-friendly vitamins out there. Two of my favorites are:
There are supplements available to fit nearly every need. Do your research and find out what you think will benefit you. Here are a few products that I like to use and when I find them most effective:
- Pre-Workout: Try a pre-workout powder 20 to 30 minutes before lifting. Vega Pre-Workout Energizer is an awesome natural approach. I also use Cellucor C4 Extreme for a super-explosive workout. A creatine supplement is an optional addition that can be used 30 minutes before a workout.
- During Workout: I add Cellucor BCAA to my water bottle and sip on it throughout my workout. It helps with recovery, building muscle, and soreness, and it tastes great!
- Post-Workout: Whip up a tasty protein shake five to 20 minutes after lifting.
10. Don’t Let the Meatheads Drag You Down
There are always going to be naysayers and “experts” when it comes to eating a plant-based diet—you won’t get big, you won’t get enough protein, you’ll get man boobs from eating soy, etc.
Getting buff on a vegan diet may seem challenging, but just remember why you chose to eat the way you do. For me, it’s about compassion and ethics. There is so much suffering in the meat and dairy industries. I don’t think an animal needs to be killed or exploited for any gain of mine. The health benefits are just a bonus! Just listen to what I told peta2 about food ethics more than a year ago when I was 30 pounds lighter and didn’t even lift, bro:
P.S. I’ve been eating quite a bit of soy for 12 years now. No man boobs. Suck it.