Vegan bodybuilding: build muscle on a plant based diet

(Vegan bodybuilidng meal plan included)

Author: Joep Rooijmans, 07 jan 2020

vegan bodybuilding

Vegan and plant based diets are becoming increasingly popular. And with that, the popularity of vegan bodybuilding increases as well.


Scientists keeps stacking evidence that shows that animal products are not necessarily better for your health. In fact, it is increasingly proven that a vegan or a plant based diet benefits your health in numerous ways.


And a number of recently released documentaries also state the benefits of plant based and vegan diets. The Game Changers (2018, Louie Psihoyos) is just one of many examples.


They attack our current ideas and believes regarding bodybuilding (and sport in general) in conjunction with our predominant animal based diets.  


Simultaneously, the sustainability trend is contributing to this development as well.


Due to the enormous emissions, research shows that it contributes to global warming.


The key question is: "is our current diet that revolves around animal products such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs still the best and healthiest choice"?


The answer: NO, it´s not!


This article explains o.a. which foods are included in a vegan bodybuilding diet. And it includes a sample vegan meal that will help you to build serious muscle mass!




  1. The definition of a vegan bodybuilding diet
  2. Vegan bodybuilding: food groups & products
  3. Potential benefits of a vegan bodybuilding diet
      3.1 Obesity
      3.2 Heart disease
      3.3 Cognitive decline
      3.4 Diabetes
  4. Vegan bodybuilding diet: nutrient facts
      4.1 More good, less bad
      4.2 Plant vs animal protein
      4.3 Common nutrient deficiencies
  5. Vegan bodybuilding: counting macros
  6. Vegan bodybuilding meal plan




1. The definition of a vegan bodybuilding diet

The terms ´vegan diet´ and ´plant based diet´ are often being used interchangeably in literature. But strictly speaking they don’t mean the same.


A plant based diet is a diet that consists entirely owhole foods derived from plants. 


It excludes:

  • animal products such as meat, seafood, diary and eggs
  • processed products such as junk food, ready-made meals, candy, crisps, baked goods and sugary drinks (sodas, energy drinks, fruit juices etc.)
  • refined foods such as sugar and grains (white bread, white rice etc.)

Vegans also exclude all animal based products. But veganism doesn´t exclude processed and refined foods. Although a lot of vegans choose to exclude or limit these products as well.


But veganism goes further than just excluding animal products from their diet. Vegans abstain from the use of all animal products like leather, wool, silk, products that contain bird feathers and cosmetics that contain animal products.


Although theory gives us exact definitions of vegan and plant based diets, in practice there are differences in the way that people approach it.


This article adopts the plant based definition and, besides animal products, also excludes processed and refined food. These shouldn’t be included in a healthy diet.


Bodybuilding is defined as a sport “involving strenuous physical exercise in order to strengthen and enlarge the muscles of the body”. 


A vegan bodybuilding diet is a diet that enables your body to become as big and as strong as you aspire. It fully supports your mental and physical health.


The only difference between bodybuilding and vegan bodybuilding is that a bodybuilder will hit his macros (calories, protein, carbs etc.) via animal based products such as meat, fish and eggs.


A vegan bodybuilder substitutes the animal products for plant based products and fitness supplements.


vegan bodybuilding


2. Vegan bodybuilding: food groups & products

A vegan bodybuilding diet is completely plant based. It only includes whole foods.


The list below enumerates all 8 food groups (in bold) that are part of a vegan bodybuilding diet and lists examples of products per food group.


Vegetables: kale, broccoli, collards, corn, spinach, tomatoes, avocado, cauliflower, lettuce, squash, green peas, aubergine, cucumber, celery, eggplant, bell pepper, leak etc.


Fruit: apple, oranges, banana, berries, mango, grapefruit, plum, peach, passion fruit, melon, pears, lime etc.


Tubers: potato, sweet potato, carrots, beets, parsnips, radishes, yams etc.


Legumes: peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy beans, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, lima beans etc.


Nuts: walnuts, almonds, cashew, pecan, pistachio, macadamia, hazel nuts etc.


Seeds: chia, pumpkin, hemp, sunflower, pomegranate seeds etc.


Spices & herbs: basil, cumin, pepper, mustard, chili, coriander, dill, lemon grass, nutmeg, oregano, poppy seed, rosemary etc.


Whole grains: brown rice, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, quinoa, buckwheat, oatmeal, bulgur, whole grain wraps etc. 



What's your favorite vegan product and why? Leave a comment below!




3. Potential benefits of a vegan bodybuilding diet

A lot of animal products, processed foods and refined products contain too much sugar, salt, saturated fats and complex carbs.


Because a plant based diet excludes all of these products, it potentially benefits your health greatly! This is just a selection of diseases that you are significantly less likely to get when you stick to a plant based vegan diet.



3.1 Obesity

Because of that, whole foods contain less calories. Research shows that people that are on a plant based diet have a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) than people that eat animal products and processed foods.


Research shows that due to the absence of excessive fat in their diet, people who follow a plant based are less likely to be overweight. Vegan, vegetarian and plant based diets are all associated with a lower BMI.



3.2 Heart disease

Red meat, eggs and dairy products such as cheese and butter contain cholesterol.


But when your blood contains too much cholesterol it increases the risk of heart disease.


Because the arteries are narrowed, the blood flow to your heart is blocked. Your heart receives not enough oxygen causing chest pain.


If the heart is completely blocked from blood flow and oxygen it will result in a heart attack.



3.3 cognitive decline

Research shows that cognitive decline and alzheimer disease is related to the amount of saturated fat a person eats.


Saturated fats are found in animal products such as meat and dairy products. Consequently, people that follow a plant based diet that excludes animal products consume no (or less) saturated fat.


Therefore, they are less likely to suffer from cognitive decline.



3.4 diabetes

With respect to the management of diabetes, plant based diets help in preventing and managing diabetes.


People that eat meat run twice as much risk of developing diabetes compared to people that don't eat meat. 





4. Vegan bodybuilding diet: nutrient facts!

“A vegan diet lacks essential nutrients”


“You can’t build muscle mass on a vegan diet”


“Plant protein is inferior to animal protein”


“You need dairy to keep your bones strong”


This is just a selection of comments that I received when I told people that I was building muscle mass on a vegan diet.


And they are all UNTRUE!


Just stubborn, outdated myths that athletes who apparently are not aware of the recent developments in both the nutrition and the bodybuilding world. Or are familiar with the results of the latest scientific research regarding nutrition and building muscle mass and strength.


In the 70’s and 80’s there was a large movement of athletes that proclaimed that you could only grow muscle mass if you devoured chickens, red meat, tuna and eggs.


Bodybuilding on a plant based diet didn’t seem to exist. It was all about protein, calories and carbs which were all solely associated with eating meat and animal products.


And to this day, a large number of athletes still think that is still the case.


Well… I would like to welcome them into the 21st century and prove that these views are highly old-fashioned. You can absolutely get your macros from plant based products.



vegan bodybuilding

4.1 more good, less bad

A vegan bodybuilding diet works both ways.


It only contains healthy products that are rich in the important major nutrients: protein, lipids, carbs, vitamins, minerals and water. These nutrients help to grow and repair muscle tissue and therefore crucial if you want to build muscle mass.


Because of the specific composition of a vegan diet, and the prominent role that whole foods from the 8 different food groups play, it’s rich in a.i.:

  • Fruit and vegetables: vitamin A, B-group vitamins, vitamin C, D, E, K, calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, fiber, simple carbs and folate
  • Tubers: vitamin A, C, fiber and potassium
  • Legumes: vitamin A, B-group vitamins, vitamin C, fiber, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium
  • Nuts: vitamin C, E, fiber, iron, potassium, folate, selenium, protein, thiamine and manganese
  • Seeds: protein, fiber, calcium, zinc, copper, potassium and magnesium
  • Spices & herbs: calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium, phosphorus, potassium and protein
  • Whole grains: B-group vitamins, protein, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium


As stated above, a vegan bodybuilding diet works both ways.


So besides the fact that it contains both important major and minor nutrients, it excludes unhealthy products. This limits/eliminates your intake of:


  • Sodium: salted and canned meat such as bacon, ham and sausages, canned and packaged soups, pizza, salad dressings, processed cheese, tomato sauce, crisps, frozen meals etc.
  • Sugar: sodas, energy drinks, fruit juices, candy, chocolate, ketchup, ice cream, cereal bars, breakfast cereal, cake etc.

  • Saturated fats: fast food, processed meats, butter, pastries etc.

  • Simple carbs: baked goods, sodas, brown sugar, corn syrup, candy etc.


The Recommended Daily Intake of sodium for an adult man is 1.5g and should definitely not exceed 2.3g per day.


The Recommended Daily Intake of sugar for an adult man is 37.5g.


Limit products that contain saturated fats and simple carbs and replace them with products that contain unsaturated fats (avocado, olives, peanuts, nuts and seeds) and complex carbs (peas, beans, vegetables and whole grain products).




4.2 Plant vs animal protein

Your protein intake is essential if you want to build muscle mass


The main reason that animal products are linked to bodybuilding is because they are rich in protein.


But this doesn’t mean that you can’t build muscle mass. There are a lot of professional bodybuilders that only eat plant based products such as Kenny G Williams (Americas first vegan bodybuilding champion), Billy Simmonds (Winner Mr. Natural Universe Competition in 2009) and Patrik Baboumian, a vegan strongman holding multiple world records.


And even the number 1 bodybuilding icon in the world, Arnold Schwarzenegger, switched to a mostly-vegan diet after his professional bodybuilding career and says he never felt better!


Do don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t grow muscles on a vegan diet!


The following are foods included in a vegan bodybuilding diet that are rich in protein (grams of protein per 100 grams):

  • Seitan (27g )
  • Peanut butter (25g)
  • Pumpkin seeds (33g)
  • Hemp seeds (23g)
  • Flax seeds (22g)
  • Almonds (22g)
  • Cashew, hazel- and walnuts (15g)
  • Pecans (10g)
  • Tempeh (20g)
  • Tofu (14g)
  • Buckwheat (5g)
  • Oats (10g)
  • Beans (between 7g - 10g)
  • Chickpeas (10g)
  • Lentils (9g)
  • Broccoli (5g)


Share your favorite protein source in the comments below!



4.3 Common nutrient deficiencies

As with any balanced diet, you need to make sure that you take in all important nutrients.


Research shows that there are certain nutrients that a lot of people are lacking. This occurs with both animal based and plant based diets.


These are 7 common nutrient deficiencies:


  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Long-chain omega-3s
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Zinc


It’s important that you get all the nutrients to support your health and provide you with energy. But it's wise to keep an extra close eye at the 7 nutrients listed above.


If you are unable to take these in via your diet you can take a daily (vitamin) supplement to complement your nutrient intake.




Recommended read:

5. Vegan bodybuilding: counting macros

Macros is short for “macronutrients”. Macronutrients are the three major (hence the name ‘macro’) nutrients protein, fat and carbohydrates.


You meet your macro intake goals simply by consuming a variety of foods.


Why are these macros so important?


They are the fundamental source for developing a strong and healthy body, including the development of muscle mass!


  • Protein consists of different amino acids that instigate muscle building and recovery.

  • Carbs is your body’s primary energy source.

  • Fat is essential for your body in so many different ways: it allows your body to absorb vitamins, support cell growth, produce important hormones and protect your vital organs.


Why not just monitor your calorie intake, that’s easier than keeping track of 3 different nutrients?


By breaking up your daily calorie into these 3 macros you are better able to tailor your intake to your goals.


You can meet your daily calorie intake by eating saturated fat and a truckload of sugar. But if your goal is to develop muscle mass then meeting your calorie intake with these nutrients is pointless.


Therefore, you have to dig a little deeper and not just monitor calorie intake but break it down to the 3 important macronutrients!


So how much of each macro should I eat on a daily basis?


This depends on a variety of factors: sex, age, weight and goal to name just a few. But there are several good macro calculators available online. I prefer to use the calculator.


This specific information regarding my macro intake now allows me to put together a diet that provides me with the right macro quantities.


Calculate your macros HERE!


Tracking your macro intake for every meal can be quite a hassle. But luckely there are ways to make your life easy!


Download a (free) food tracker app that enables you to track your nutritient intake to monitor your progress.


I'm currently using the MyFitnessPal app, a free calorie and macronutrient tracker. It shows your daily nutrition intake via your personal food log. 


Adding products to your daily food log is very easy, simply scan the barcode of the product and the app calculates the different nutrient values.


The food database include over 300.000.000 products.






6. Vegan bodybuilding meal plan

vegan bodybuilding

The following is an example of a vegan bodybuilding meal plan.


This is actually my current vegan bodybuilding meal plan. And speaking from experience I can say that it supports my personal fitness goal: building muscle mass.


I was able to gain 2.5kg (5.5lbs) in 10 weeks.


Feel free to use my vegan bodybuilding meal plan as an example and a source of inspiration.


But understand that it’s put together to facilitate the intake of my macros (340g carbs, 212g protein and 98g fat).


When your macros are different than mine (and they probably are) you have to alter the composition of this meal plan so that it meets your macros.





  • Breakfast: protein shake with banana and oats
  • Snack: apple
  • Lunch: quinoa salad with green vegetables, avocado and kidney beans
  • Post workout meal: protein shake with creatine and blueberries
  • Dinner: stir-fry tofu with veggies and sweet potato
  • Evening snack: carrot with hummus


Protein: 212g   Carbs: 338g  -  Fat: 70g




  • Breakfast: protein shake with blueberries and spinach
  • Snack: pineapple slices
  • Lunch: spinach salad with red pepper, lentils and pumpkin seeds
  • Post workout meal: protein shake with oats and raspberries
  • Dinner: black bean burgers with tomato, cucumber on a whole grain bun
  • Evening snack: celery and red pepper dip


Protein: 171g  -  Carbs: 280g  -  Fat: 78g




  • Breakfast: protein shake with strawberries
  • Snack: banana
  • Lunch: kale salad with corn, avocado and yams
  • Post workout meal: protein shake with creatine and mango
  • Dinner: broccoli with black beans and brown rice
  • Evening snack: walnuts


Protein: 184g  -  Carbs: 341  -  Fat: 122g




  • Breakfast: protein shake with oats and pear
  • Snack: grapes
  • Lunch: whole grain toast (4pcs) with peanut butter
  • Post workout meal: protein shake with creatine and banana
  • Dinner: burrito with beans, corn, onion and brown rice
  • Evening snack: hazel nuts


Protein: 208g  -  Carbs: 418g  -  Fat: 135g






  • Breakfast: protein shake with oats and strawberries
  • Snack: blueberries
  • Lunch: vegan pasta salad with sweet potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine and green peas
  • Post workout meal: protein shake with creatine, blackberries and flax seeds
  • Dinner: stir-fry veggies with brown rice
  • Evening snack: cashew nuts


Protein: 202g  -  Carbs: 245g  -  Fat: 87g




  • Breakfast: protein shake with carrot and mango
  • Snack: banana
  • Lunch: salad with lettuce, chickpeas, avocado and mushrooms
  • Post workout meal: protein shake with creatine and apple
  • Dinner: chickpea burgers with corn, red pepper and brown rice on a whole grain bun
  • Evening snack: peanuts


Protein: 214  -  Carbs: 399  -  Fat: 79g




  • Breakfast: protein shake with oats banana
  • Snack: celery sticks
  • Lunch: spinach salad with vegan pasta, tomatoes and avocado
  • Post workout meal: protein shake with creatine and blueberries
  • Dinner: pumpkin soup with whole grain toast and hummus
  • Evening snack: cashew nuts


Protein: 198g  -  Carbs: 347g  -  Fat: 81g





Plant Bases Recipe Cookbook

100+ delicious recipes


A vegan bodybuilding diet consists entirely of whole foods derived from plants. It includes products from the following food groups:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit 
  • Tubers
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Spices & herbs
  • Whole grains


A vegan plant based diet excludes:


  • Animal products such as meat, seafood, diary and eggs etc.
  • Processed products such as junk food, ready-made meals, candy, crisps, baked goods, sugary drinks (sodas, energy drinks, fruit juices) etc.
  • Refined foods such as sugar, grains (white bread, white rice) etc.


Because a vegan diet excludes these products, it contains less sugar, salt, saturated fats and complex carbs than other diets. This leads to numerous health benefits such as a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cognitive decline.


You don’t need animal protein to build muscle mass. A vegan diet contains a variety of products that are rich in protein, including nuts, seeds, whole grain products, vegetables and legumes.


In order to gain muscle mass you have to focus on more than just your calorie intake. You need to keep track of your macros. Your macros are the 3 major nutrients: protein, carbs and fat.


You can use a free macro calculator to calculate your macros.


When you have established your macros it’s crucial that you keep track of your daily nutrient intake to ensure that you actually hit your macros! There are free apps that help you to monitor your daily nutrient intake.


This is an essential part of bodybuilding and crucial when it comes to building muscle mass and achieving results!


A vegan plant based diet is healthy, it leaves a smaller carbon food print than animal based diets and it doesn’t hurt any animals during the entire production process.



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