Vegan and plant based diets are rapidly growing in popularity in our society.
There is a greater number of vegans in the world now than there ever has been before, and that number continues to grow by the day.
This has therefore led to the discovery or creation of numerous foods designed to make following a vegan diet while still obtaining sufficient nutrition much easier.
However, receiving sufficient nutrients to be healthy is a very different prospect to receiving the correct nutrients to build muscle.
Many people are therefore left wondering how to build muscle as a vegan, or if it is even possible in the first place?
That is why, in today’s article, we will be looking at the prospects of a vegan bodybuilder.
We will examine everything from whether or not it is possible and, if so, what they will need to do to in order to produce results, to how successful they are likely to be while following such a diet.
How Does Muscle Growth Work?
The basis for any form of muscle growth begins with performing some form of exercise.
During strenuous physical activity, the muscle fibres used in the workout are slightly damaged and small tears are caused.
Once the workout is complete, the body then starts to repair the muscle fibres that have been damaged. This is why rest is such an important part of the muscle building routine, as it is the period when the actual growth takes place.
Muscular repair is a cellular process, during which the fibres in a muscle’s tissue fuse together. As two muscle fibres fuse together, a new protein strand known as a myofibril is created.
Each time the body goes through this process, these myofibrils become thicker and stronger, as the body is continually trying to prepare the muscles for greater and greater forces it expects to be exerted on it.
In some cases, the fibres are replaced and not just repaired, while more of the strands are also often created, leading to an increase in the quantity of them in a muscle.
This is how hypertrophy occurs.
In order for this myofibril production to occur effectively, the body needs a sufficient supply of nutrients to fuel the muscle building process. As a result, diet is a major part of ensuring the body is able to go through this particular repairing process after a workout routine.
While it is important to have a supply of all essential nutrients to achieve maximum muscle growth and repair, certain nutrients are known to accelerate the process of muscle repair and the production of myofibrils more than others.
Protein is generally considered to be the number one nutrient required for muscle growth, with carbohydrates following behind in second.
Is It Possible To Build Muscle As A Vegan?
It is definitely possible to build muscle as a vegan.
As long as you perform the correct exercises, exert the necessary stimuli on the muscles, and consume the right nutrients, the muscle building process will take place in the body of a vegan in the same way it would for someone who eats meat.
That said, the rate of muscle production and the ability to achieve your fitness goals will likely be made more challenging if you are a vegan, due to the different intake of nutrients you will generally consume in your diet.
The main problem comes from the fact that the most important nutrient for muscle building, protein, is also the nutrient that is the most difficult to find in a vegan diet.
Not only is protein more challenging to find in general in a vegan diet, but many of the protein sources you will be able to use won’t contain complete proteins.
These complete proteins are those that contain all nine essential amino acids that our body can’t produce itself and are the best type for building muscle. So, while it is possible to build muscle as a vegan, it will be more challenging.
You will need to put in much more effort to find sources of complete protein to help your muscles grow and may need to consume the foods that they are present in in larger amounts, as they are usually present in smaller quantities.
Best Vegan Protein Sources
So, while finding sources of complete proteins in a vegan diet may be more challenging, by no means is it impossible.
With that in mind, we will now look at some of the foods suitable for a vegan diet that are most abundant in protein, to help you on your journey to plant based muscle growth.
Quinoa is a whole grain from the amaranth family of plants, the seeds of which are rich in protein, fibre, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
It can be used interchangeably with rice and has a distinctive, nutty flavour.
Quinoa offers a similar nutritional value to rice in terms of carbohydrates and fats. As for protein, quinoa contains 4 grams of protein per 100 grams of cooked grains.
Also known as bean curd, tofu is a cheese like substance made from the curdling of soy milk.
It is available in a number of varieties, ranging from extremely soft, known as silken, to super firm.
Its extremely subtle flavour allows it take on the taste of the herbs and spices it is cooked with, meaning it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Tofu is incredibly low in calories, meaning it can easily be added to any diet, and contains very little carbohydrates.
It also contains a moderate amount of fat and iron, as well as other minerals, as well as 8 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Hemp seeds are the small brown seeds produced by the cannabis sativa plant.
While they don’t produce any of the mind altering affects most commonly associated with cannabis plants, they are full of antioxidants, fatty acids, fibre, and 5 grams of protein per heaped tablespoon of the seeds.
Hemp seeds have a nutty flavour, similar to that of pine nuts, and are most commonly consumed by being added to foods and drinks like smoothies, yoghurts, shakes, cereals, and salads.
Brazil nuts are commonly grown in South America and are one of the largest known types of edible nuts.
With a rich, nutty flavour and smooth, buttery texture, they are a great option for snacking, as they can be eaten raw on their own.
That said, they can also be cooked and used in recipes for things like cakes.
They are abundant in fats and minerals, while also containing a reasonable amount of carbohydrates and protein, clocking it at about 4 grams of protein per six of these nuts.
Almonds are a type of nut native to the Middle East which have become one of the most commonly consumed nuts in the world.
They are available in sweet and bitter varieties, both of which have a slightly subtler flavour than the majority of nuts.
They are commonly used to makes marzipan and chocolate, as well as products such as almond milk, while they can also be eaten raw or added to salads or cakes.
Like most nuts, almonds are high in healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, while also containing a reasonable amount of protein, which works out at around 3 grams of protein per six nuts.
Almost all of their carbohydrate content consists of dietary fibre.
Chia seeds are small, grey seeds, produced by the Salvia hispanica mint plant native to Central America.
They are virtually tasteless and take on the flavour of anything they are added to, making them a good option to help boost the nutrition of a meal, without affecting your enjoyment of it.
They do, however, absorb a great deal of water and have a tendency to swell up, making them a great way to add texture to things such as yoghurts or smoothies, while also being able to help quell hunger pangs.
Chia seeds are high in carbohydrates, although this comes almost exclusively from fibre, while also brimming with healthy fats, minerals, and other micronutrients.
However, at 2 grams of protein per tablespoon, they are an easy option to top up your protein content, no matter what you are eating.
Oats are a commonly used grain that are frequently used to make cereals, cakes, and flours all around the world.
While primarily used as a source of carbohydrates, the protein content of whole oats should not be overlooked, with around 17 grams of protein per 100 grams of raw oats.
Oats are also a great source of fibre, minerals, and vitamins, while even boasting a reasonable quantity of healthy fats.
Despite its name, wild rice isn’t actually a type of rice. Instead, it is a grain produced by a species of grass.
It gets its name as it tastes almost identical to rice, making the two interchangeable in dishes. It has a slightly chewier texture than normal rice and can sometimes be slightly smokier in flavour.
Much like regular rice, wild rice is rich in antioxidants and contains a reasonable amount of vitamins and minerals.
However, it contains roughly 30 percent less calories and 4 percent more protein than traditional rice, with around 4 grams of protein per 100 grams of cooked wild rice.
This makes it not only a good source of protein for vegans but also a great way to cut calories for those looking to lose weight.
Sorghum is a plant in the grass family, the grains of which can be used for cooking, making cereals and flours, or for substituting for rice.
Sorghum’s flavour is relatively mild and earthy, while its texture is similar to wheat.
While notably high in carbohydrates and vitamins, sorghum also contains around 8 grams of protein per 100 grams, making swapping out some of your traditional options a great way to quickly and easily boost your protein intake.
Spinach is a green, leafy vegetable from the amaranth family, which originated in the Middle East.
It has long been eaten for its strong flavour, and due to that fact that it is filled with antioxidants, fibre, minerals, and vitamins.
While it doesn’t have the highest protein content on this list, an 80 gram serving contains 2 grams of protein and less than 20 calories, making it the perfect choice to bump up your protein intake, while consuming virtually no extra calories.
Sweetcorn is well known for its distinctive taste and is commonly consumed for its rich fibre content, which is incredibly beneficial for the digestive system.
It can be added to salads, used as a side dish for meals, or even eaten straight off of the cob.
Being low in calories and containing a reasonable amount of protein, which works out at 2 grams of protein per three tablespoons, sweetcorn is a great way to boost your protein intake without upping your calories.
Now that you have a better idea of the sort of foods that are available to help you build muscle as a vegan, let’s have a look at some of the supplements which are available that can help you to achieve your goals even more effectively.
What Supplements Should All Vegans Use If They Want To Build Muscle?
Despite the great amount of nutrient rich food sources available to vegans these days, there are still some nutrients that are challenging or even impossible to get while following a plant based diet.
While these deficiencies may cause minor issues or problems for regular vegans, they can be complete physique killers for those looking to build muscle, especially if you plan to compete.
The most important supplements all vegans should look to use if you are hoping to build muscle are calcium, iodine, iron, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and zinc.
Between them, these nutrients can affect your energy levels, cognitive ability, metabolism, immune system, mental health, sense of feeling, ability to gain weight, and the health of your bones, organs, skin, hair, and nervous system. All of them are also severely lacking in traditional vegan diets.
All of these nutrients are vital even for people simply hoping to enjoy a high level of health and wellbeing.
When it comes to people looking to build muscle though, you will struggle to even get started if you don’t take care of issues such as these by getting your supplementation regime right.
What Supplements Can Vegans Use To Help Them Build Muscle More Quickly?
Beyond the supplements that all vegans should be taking, there are also options available specifically designed to help vegans build muscle.
As veganism becomes more and more popular, supplement companies are making vegan versions of many of the most popular fitness supplements, so as to not leave a gap in the market.
However, products like amino acids, BCAAs, carbohydrate powders and gels, creatine, and pre workouts are all now also available in versions specifically designed to meet the requirements of people following a vegan lifestyle.
If you are looking to make the best gains possible in muscle production, perhaps try experimenting with some or all of these types of products.
They may not only help to bring your diet on par with traditional athletes but can even help you to elevate it beyond people who abstain from using supplements of any kind.
What About Raw Vegans?
Raw vegans are an extreme type of vegan who obtain all of their nutrients exclusively from plant based foods that haven’t been cooked.
While some warming is allowed on a low heat, nothing is allowed to be heated at a temperature of 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) or above.
While this makes it even harder to build muscle than it is for normal vegans, raw vegans are still able to obtain an adequate supply of protein from their food, provided they pay extremely careful attention to what they consume.
There are several ways of obtaining protein from raw food sources.
Nuts and seeds are an excellent choice of protein for raw vegans, while vegetables like artichokes, broccoli, kale, and water spinach all make great additions to a vegan salad and can be enjoyed raw.
They all pack a high amount of protein; however, they do contain less than in foods available to omnivores and traditional vegans.
As a result, raw vegans need to be prepared to consume large quantities of many of these foods if they are going to produce results comparable to the other competitors.
Are There Any Vegan Only Bodybuilding Competitions?
At present, there aren’t any major vegan only bodybuilding competitions.
That means anyone looking to build muscle on a vegan diet is going to have to be prepared to compete with people training while consuming a more traditional, omnivorous diet.
While plant based diets are becoming more popular in the world of fitness and competitions, there simply aren’t enough people competing at the top level who follow a vegan lifestyle to warrant promoting a competitive competition, for now that is.
Are There Any Vegan Bodybuilders?
While there aren’t any vegan bodybuilding competitions yet, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any vegan bodybuilders.
In fact, there are a number of vegan bodybuilders and athletes competing in sports that require a great deal of strength, many of which are competing at a very high level.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most successful vegan bodybuilders in the world.
This will hopefully give you an idea of the sort of results you will be able to achieve, while also introducing you to some people you may find give you inspiration on your fitness journey.
Kendrick Farris is an Olympic weightlifter from Louisiana who represented the US Men’s Olympic Weightlifting team in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 summer Olympic Games. He placed 8th, 10th, and 11th, respectively, at these games, while competing in both the 85kg and 94kg weight classes.
He has only been vegan since 2014, so some will say much of his base was formed using traditional means.
However, his continued success shows that you can, at the very least, remain competitive while following a vegan diet, which is a concern that stops many people from making the change.
Jehina Malik holds the unique distinction of being the very first person to qualify as an IFBB Pro Physique competitor while having been vegan since birth.
She was raised as a vegan by her parents, so feels it is less of a diet and more of a lifestyle, as she simply knows no other way.
She started participating in bodybuilding competitions in 1999, at 19 years of age.
Her main goals are to compete at the Olympia level and continue to break down stereotypes for what is and isn’t possible to achieve when following a vegan diet.
Nimai Delgado has been a vegetarian for his entire life, having never eaten any type of meat, before making the switch to become completely vegan in 2015.
He qualified as an IFBB pro in 2016 and claims to be the only male IFBB Pro to currently be completely vegan.
Much like Jehina Malik, his goals are to compete at the Olympia and to continue breaking down the stereotypes that surround vegans and their way of life.
Also known by the moniker Vegan Coach, Meghann Reich is a fitness equipment professional and health and fitness coach from Ohio.
She has won several awards as a bodybuilder, competing in the Bikini category, and has inspired many vegans in the process.
As we draw our article on how to build muscle as a vegan to a close, it should hopefully now be clear that you can not only build muscle as a vegan, but you can also thrive while doing so.
While it will admittedly be harder than for someone following an omnivorous diet, there are plenty of people out there demonstrating that you can develop a physique great enough to compete at the highest level with other competitors who don’t have to overcome the same roadblocks.
With so many more vegan foods and supplements available than in the past, there has never been a better time for anyone thinking about making the change to take the plunge, switch to a plant based lifestyle, and not have to worry about being able to accomplish everything you hope to in life.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost