How to Bulk up and Build Muscle as a vegan: Ultimate guide

You've heard of it before: the vegan diet. Being vegan is a dietary way of eating that excludes any animal products. So, yes that means no meat, but it also means no dairy or other byproducts of animals. Many people have started switching to this way of life for the health benefits along with ethics around animal treatment! Most often veganism is considered for weight loss, but it’s becoming more and more popular among individuals looking to gain weight. This includes bodybuilders and athletes who still want to grow and perform at high levels, while still adhering to a vegan lifestyle.

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    If this is you, you’ll more than likely have someone tell you this isn’t possible? Many will say that you can’t get enough protein, or that veganism lacks certain vitamins and minerals. While this can be the case in the wrong settings, when things are done properly you can effectively build muscle and improve performance!

    In this post, our focus is going to be delivering you everything you need to bulk or build muscle on a vegan diet. It’s 100% doable, you just have to properly plan. So, let’s dive into using a vegan diet to bulk up!

    Bulking as a Vegan

    So, you’re looking to bulk on a vegan diet, right? Well, let’s start with the concept of bulking first. Bulking just means that you are putting on mass. Now, ideally, this mass would be all muscle, but somebody fat is gained in the process. This is normal and just a function of the human body. Yet, you need that extra energy to even build the muscle tissue in the first place.

    Bulking is not eating everything in sight either. You need to do everything strategically, with purpose, so that you can maximize muscle gain while minimizing body fat gain. Let’s talk about how…

    You need to be in what is called a caloric surplus. We eat food, and that food contains calories. Those calories are burned for energy production through your metabolism, but you need the right amount for certain outcomes. When you’re looking to gain weight or build muscle, you’re going to need a surplus of calories to fuel those changes. Regardless of your style of eating, a caloric surplus will always be key for a successful bulk.

    So, how do you know how many calories you need to be eating? Everyone has different activity levels, lifestyles, and genetics so this can vary from person to person. The best way to do this is to find out what your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is. This number tells you the total amount of calories that you burn daily. If you eat more than this number, you’re in a surplus. Finding your TDEE involves some lengthy equations, however, you can easily get an estimate using an online calculator that’ll spit it right out to you. Once you discover your TDEE, you need to increase your calories above that accordingly. A great place to start is 500 calories more than your TDEE. To ensure you do this correctly and as accurately as possible you should keep a log of your food intake. Doing so will allow you to know exactly how many calories you’re consuming. If you notice that nothing is changing, then you need to increase that number yet again.

    Bulking on a Vegan Diet

    Now, that’s the basics of bulking! However, now we need to dive into bulking as a vegan. Veganism, again, means that you’re consuming only plant-based foods. This will mean zero tolerance for animal products or byproducts. In addition to not eating animal products, it should also be said that you still need to prioritize whole foods. In some scenarios, eating vegan may turn into the habit of still eating processed and fast foods that just aren’t animal-based. This won’t provide the same boost to health that a vegan, whole food diet would.

    Protein Intake

    Bulking on a vegan diet is also going to require a lot more protein. Protein is the nutrient that builds muscle. As this is the goal, you’re going to need more of it than someone with just weight loss in mind. Traditionally this protein would come from lean animal sources like chicken or turkey, but now you need to find ways that are based on plant proteins. This can present a slight problem as all animal proteins contain the 9 essential amino acids (building blocks of muscle) needed for muscle growth whereas not all plant sources do. Plant proteins are often considered to be “incomplete”, but this problem can be solved by eating a variety of plant-based protein sources. Consuming a wider range of these foods will ensure that you get a complete intake of these essential nutrients.

    Of these essential amino acids, there is one in particular that you need to make sure you’re getting enough of. This is the essential amino acid leucine. Leucine is incredibly important for bulking due to its ability to trigger muscles to grow. While many people on an animal-based diet get plenty of this nutrient, vegans tend to miss out. You can, however, get leucine in foods such as soybeans and lentils which are 100% vegan!

    You now know that you need a surplus of calories and a high protein intake to bulk as a vegan, but how much protein is enough for you? A good recommendation for vegans is to consume roughly .9g-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 150lbs, you will need to consume a minimum of 135g of protein per day, in addition to a caloric surplus, to bulk up. Again, this all varies depending on your current weight.

    Vegan Approved Protein Foods

    You need calories and protein to bulk effectively, but as a vegan what are some foods that you can consume to do this? Here’s a list to help you out!

    Seitan

    This food is made from gluten, which is the protein found in wheat. Interestingly enough, this protein resembles the look of and the texture of actual meat. This makes it a great alternative for individuals on a vegan-style diet. It’s very high in protein for a plant source at 25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces. While it’s a great source of protein, if you’re someone who has a gluten intolerance, you may want to avoid it.

    Tofu, Tempeh, Edamame

    These options are some of the most well-known in the vegan world. These are special, as they cover a problem we discussed earlier. Not all plant proteins contain the 9 essential amino acids needed for building muscle, but these three do! This makes them an exceptional source of protein as a vegan, and you can expect to get anywhere from 10-19 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces.

    Lentils

    Comin in next, you have lentils which are a very versatile food to include for protein. You can use them in salads, soups, sauces, and much more! Not only do they include protein, but you also get a good amount of fiber from lentils. This really can help to aid in your digestion and gut health as you consume more food for bulking. The better your digestion, the better you’ll absorb what you need. A cooked cup of lentils is going to bring you around 18 grams of plant protein!

    Beans and Peas

    Similar to lentils, these pack a protein punch as well as a high fiber amount. After they’re cooked you can do many different things with them for meals, which makes them a great place to start while eating vegan. You’re looking at getting around 15 grams of protein per cooked cup!

    Nutritional Yeast

    You may worry about flavors on a vegan diet, but things like nutritional yeast help out. This is often used as a topping or seasoning for vegan dishes, but it comes with a ton of protein. Just an ounce of nutritional yeast contains 14 grams of protein. Its flavor is somewhat similar to cheese, but is vegan friendly!

    Ancient Grains

    These grains have been around for quite some time and may not be as well-known as a plant-based protein source. However, this food includes things like spelt (which is a kind of wheat) and teff. They have around 11 grams of protein per cooked cup, this is due to the gluten that they contain. Many people may bake with them or even use them like risotto for higher protein, vegan meals.

    Hempseed

    Hempseed is on the rise as a great source of protein for vegans. This is because hempseed contains complete proteins, which vegans need more for optimal muscle growth. You can find up to 10 grams of protein in just an ounce of hempseed!

    Spirulina

    This food comes from algae and contains a blue to green color. This food packs a nutritional punch, but it’s also very high in protein. You can get up to 8 grams of protein from just two tablespoons of spirulina. It can easily be added to a smoothie or shake to take it up a notch.

    Quinoa

    This gluten-free grain is a perfect option for vegans and gluten intolerant individuals. It contains up to 9 grams of protein in a cooked cup and is also a complete protein. You can use quinoa as a substitute for rice or as a base for many dishes!

    Nuts and Seeds

    While they do contain other nutrients like fats, nuts and seeds also have a good amount of protein in them. You can consume them raw as a snack or eat them as nut butter. Both are a great option for bulking as well, seeing as they provide a dense source of calories.

    Protein Shakes

    We can’t talk about sources of protein without including supplementation. Most protein shakes are made with whey protein, which is created from cow’s milk. Since veganism avoids cow’s milk, you’ll have to find others source for shakes. Luckily, there has been an influx of plant-based protein shakes being created. Not only do they taste great, but they provide a quick and easy way of getting a protein boost. Some of these shakes may contain pea protein, rice protein, hemp protein, soy protein, or even a blend of them all. A blend is great, as it can cover any gaps that you may find in getting a complete protein source. So long as the shakes contain the right number of amino acids, you are good to go on taking these!

    Vegan Approved Carbs

    Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. When you consume carbohydrates, they’re broken down into molecules called glycogen that are either used up immediately or stored for later use. When you run low on these energy stores, you may feel sluggish and tired during exercise. When it comes to bulking, you’re going to be lifting weights. Lifting weights requires a lot of energy and carbs are the perfect fuel for this. So, if you want to bulk, carbs are your friend!

    Luckily, most carbohydrate sources are vegan. You can find carbs in many plant sources, so you shouldn’t have too hard of a time here. Some of the best sources of carbs you need to be taking advantage of are fruits, whole grains, starches, and even some vegetables. This includes things like rice, apples, watermelon, berries, quinoa, potatoes, squash, and many others. You’ll even notice that some of the protein-rich vegan foods contain carbs as well, so you really won’t have to worry about a shortage of them.

    You’re going to be able to find vegan carb sources, but how much of these carbs do you need to eat for bulking? A good aim for you to put on muscle and operate at your best would be around 2-2.5g of carbs per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 150lbs you would need to consume around 300g of carbs. Now, this is taking into account that you’re lifting weights and trying to put on mass. If there isn’t as much exercise or energy being spent, those additional carbs could be stored as body fat.

    Vegan Approved Fats

    We’ve covered proteins and we’ve locked down carbohydrates, but what about fats? Fats have been demonized as being bad for your health, but many different kinds of fats play numerous roles. Some aren’t that great for you, but many are crucial for health and optimal growth. There are also fats that come from animals (non-vegan) and others that come from plants.

    Regardless of the source, fats are high in energy. This means that they boast the highest calorie count between themselves, carbs, and proteins. Carbs and proteins contain just 4 calories per gram, whereas fats contain 9! This means that you can easily add in a ton of calories very quickly. While this may seem like a bad thing for most, since you want to bulk up, it can help. We need that surplus of calories to build size and muscle mass, and fats do a good job of helping push the needle.

    You’re going to want to avoid all animal fats, however, to keep things vegan. This will mainly mean things like butter, cream, red meat, and eggs. However, you can consume fats from plants! Make sure to choose fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds. Including these in your diet can help you to stay vegan and hit those bulking goals!

    When considering how many fats you need in a day to bulk, let’s take into account the total calories you should be consuming. Once you know the amount of food you need for your calorie goals, set a protein and carb goal (use the recommendations from above). Take your protein and carb totals and just multiply them by 4, as that’s how many calories per gram you’ll be getting. If your goal is 3,000 calories a day and your protein/carbs take up 2,400 of them, you can fill in the remaining 600 calories as fats. This would roughly come out to about 67g of fat. Now you’ve got your recommended intake! Keep in mind that this could change depending on the person and their dietary needs, and some people would like to have a little more fat than that in their diets. It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t go much lower than about 20% of your total calories for fat intake.

    You Have to Train Hard!

    So, we’ve covered some of the nutritional needs that you’re going to have when attempting to bulk as a vegan, so what other things are you going to need? First up is your training. It’s going to take a lot of work to build that muscle you’re after. When it comes to building muscle, there’s an adaptation process. While lifting weights or exercising, you tear down those muscle fibers. Those tiny tears repair themselves by using the protein and amino acids you consume. However, they don’t just repair themselves and come back the same. They rebuild bigger, faster, and stronger. Every time there is an intense stimulus against your muscles, this is going to happen.

    Now, with that adaptation, you need a driving force! If you do the same thing every day at the same intensity, the rate of growth you experience won’t be substantial. Your body will become accustomed to it, which will no longer drive adaptation. This is where progressive overload comes in. All this means is that as you lift weights, over time you progressively add in more weight or volume. This could mean squatting with 100lbs one week and squatting with 105lbs the next week. It needs to be a slow, steady progression. This is the most effective way to drive muscle growth for bulking, and it’s a simple act of repair, rinse, repeat.

    In addition to adding in more weight as you improve, you should also keep in mind the amount of volume that you’re doing. Higher rep sets are great for causing muscle growth or hypertrophy (the process we just described), and this can be achieved by completing sets of 8-12 repetitions of a given exercise.

    Ensuring a great training program is paramount for taking advantage of those bulking protocols. You’re eating more food to support the more intense exercise you’re performing to make maximal gains in the muscle department!

    Take Rest Seriously

    While it may be popular to have the “no days off” mentality, it can be detrimental to your muscle-building process. As stated earlier, you need to be training hard and that training needs to be recovered from. In addition to more food, you have to rest so that your body can work on repairing all of the damage you’ve done. You accumulate that stress, and there has to be room for it to be taken care of.

    Rest can be achieved in a few ways. One of the most important is sleep. While you sleep, your body is at work repairing any damage from the day. The optimal range for sleep is about 7-8 hours depending on the person. In addition, it needs to be quality sleep! Things like too much caffeine or exposure to screens before bed can lower the actual depth at which you sleep. While you may get 8 hours of sleep that night, you may only be getting a few hours of good sleep. Rest can also be in the form of off days or an active recovery day. This is just a day away from training but can include something light. Taking advantage here gives your body some breathing room to repair any damaged tissue and prepare for the next training session. A good recommendation is to take about 1 to 2 rest days a week depending on your training volume.

    If proper rest and recovery aren’t present, you may see less than ideal results in the gym. You may even end up with injuries that keep you out of the gym completely. Overtraining is a real concept and can cause you to be irritable, have cravings, lose strength, and even experience injuries. Something as simple as better sleep or a few rest days can ensure that this doesn’t happen.

    Vegan Friendly Supplements

    Now no nutritional guide would be complete without mention of some supplements to take. Supplements are a great way of getting that extra 5% out of your training. As you want to maximize muscle gain, this is where they can come in. You don’t need anything fancy, and even some of the most basic supplements provide amazing results.

    We’ve already talked about protein powder, so let’s break down some of the other vegan-friendly supplements! First up is creatine. Creatine is one of the most studied supplements on the market. It’s a naturally occurring substance that we already possess in our muscle tissue. Most individuals may get creatine naturally from meat, but you can easily get it in supplement form as well. While natural creatine is from animal sources, the supplements are synthesized from sarcosine and cyanamide, which make it vegan-friendly. Creatine works by pulling water into your muscle tissue, which helps to fuel your workouts as well as increase the size of your muscle. This is the perfect supplement for bulking, as you’re attempting to maximize growth. One of its main benefits, however, is its ability to help you train harder. Creatine is used up naturally when you perform intense exercise, but it runs out quite fast. Having extra creatine built up in your system allows you to perform at this level for longer periods of time, thus allowing you to work out harder and build more muscle.

    You also can take advantage of branched-chain amino acids or BCAA’s for even more recovery and muscle growth. These are super beneficial for vegans as they contain some of the essential amino acids that a vegan diet lacks. Now, most BCAA supplements in the past were made with animal products, however, vegan options are now more readily available. Most of the plant-based BCAAs are made with a process using fermented corn! Now, even when supplements claim to be vegan, be sure to check your nutrition labels to ensure that they are. Having this boost in amino acids will go a long way in building some high-quality muscle mass.

    Vegan Bodybuilding vs Normal Bodybuilding

    Now that you know what bulking on a vegan diet takes, it’s time to talk about the differences between vegan bodybuilding versus just normal bodybuilding. The biggest difference is going to be the availability of the nutrients you need for muscle growth. With most bodybuilding diets, animal sources of protein are high. Now, this isn’t the case for vegans, as that source needs to come from plants. As discussed earlier, plants tend to come without some of the essential amino acids needed for proper muscle synthesis. While this could be something that makes gaining muscle hard, so long as you strategically approach it, you should have no problem.

    So, a big difference is going to be in the approach taken to see the best results. You’ll probably need a few more ingredients than a standard bodybuilding diet, and you’re going to need a wide variety of protein sources to hit your amino acid needs. Other than that, the training is pretty much the same. You need simple progressions over time along with a consistently high protein and calorie intake. There are still staple supplements that fit within a vegan lifestyle as well! So, regardless of your reasons for the vegan diet, you can still accomplish the goal of bulking up!

    To reinforce this point even more, there was a recent study comparing an omnivorous diet to a vegan diet for muscle mass gain. Both groups consumed the same amount of protein, just with their respective guidelines. At the end of the study, both groups had gained the same amount of muscle mass! This goes to show that as long as you consume the necessary amount of protein and calories needed for muscle growth, you can get to the same destination! The key is that effort is put into including the right foods!

    The Benefits of a Vegan Diet for Bodybuilding

    With any type of body composition goal, health should always be at the forefront. So, what are some health benefits that can come along with a vegan diet for bodybuilding?

    First up, most of the foods you’re going to be consuming are plant-based. This is going to mean more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. All three of these nutrients can lead to improvements across the board. In addition, you’ll be consuming a significantly lower amount of saturated fats, which can increase your cholesterol levels over time.

    All of this is good news for your heart health and the reduction in cancer risk!

    Are There Any Downsides to Plant-Based Eating for Bodybuilding?

    While there are many different benefits to the vegan style of eating, there can be a few downsides. The more significant downside would be in the case of a nutrient deficiency. This could potentially become a problem if you were to consume vegan foods, but not eat a variety of vegan foods. Let’s say you only eat vegan pizzas and nothing else. While it is vegan, you’re still missing out on some key nutrients for health. So long as you stick to eating multiple different foods, you should be perfectly fine!

    In addition, you could run into some deficiencies surrounding things like vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. This would happen because most of these we find in animal products, and you wouldn’t be consuming those sources. Thus, you would need to utilize a multi-vitamin or ensure that you consume rich plant sources of these nutrients!

    Wrapping Up

    To wrap it all up, yes, you can bulk on a vegan diet! You can get similar, if not the same, results that someone eating a traditional bodybuilding diet would get. It all comes down to being strategic with the foods you eat. You must ensure that you consume a variety of protein-rich vegan foods to get all of the necessary amino acids for muscle building. You’re also going to need to put yourself into what is called a caloric surplus so that your body is primed for creating new tissue, without doing so, you’ll slow the process dramatically. Carbs and fats are important for a vegan bulk as well and should be included in the proper amounts listed in this post!

    Needs will 100% vary per person as well, and this should be taken into account when setting up your plan of action.

    Create yourself a sturdy training plan too, as this will be what stimulates growth in the first place. This plan should also include a strategy for rest, as you have to recover from all of the strain you put into building that muscle. Without proper recovery, you can run into overtraining.

    Train hard, eat well, and be consistent and you’ll see amazing results!

    About The Author

    Michael Collins

    Michael Collins

    Michael is a gym enthusiast with experience that spans more than 20 years. He started his exhilarating journey of keeping fit in his late teens, and over the years, he has immensely grown to become a resourceful gem in matters of fitness.

    He has been writing for many years, focusing on answering all the questions you may have on nutrition, muscle building and fitness. Keeping fit and staying healthy is his main passion, and this is evidenced in the articles he writes in a simple and understandable language out of intensive reading and real-life experiences.