Do you want to be healthy? Do you want to look good? But more than anything, you want to know how to gain weight quickly and naturally — with no animal products and in a way that preserves your wellness and vibrance.
Contrary to the stereotype, not all women want to lose weight. Some of us want to gain weight: to tone and build that fabulous muscle we’ve always wanted, and just as men do. But if you’re vegan, you can’t help but wonder: is this even possible?
Must you eat pounds of meat, fat, and dairy-based protein shakes to build muscle? Absolutely not. Can you manage to be healthy and stay atop your vegan diet in the meantime? Absolutely yes! Though a warning: it’s no walk in the park, but it is possible (professional and Olympic athletes can do it after all!).
There are fast, natural, and healthy ways to help you “beef” up as you work out (but without all the actual beef). And you can do so on a completely plant-based diet!
If you’re wondering where to start, here are some great tips.
Pack in plant proteins!
If you’re trying to build muscle, gain weight, or even get on that bodybuilding track, one thing’s for certain: whether you’re a vegan or a carnivore, you’re going to have to eat protein, protein, and more protein— and when you’re done eating protein, you’ll need to eat more protein.
When eating a fully plant-based or vegan diet, getting adequate protein is going to be your biggest priority. It’s an even bigger priority for muscle building, too.
The average human needs only 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram per day to be healthy. But when trying to gain muscle mass, you’ll need to eat more than twice that: 2.4 grams per kilogram per day!
This can be a lot easier to do with animal-based foods than plant-based foods. But it’s not impossible. The following are some amazing plant-based foods that are incredibly protein-rich— and if you’re trying to gain muscle mass, you have every excuse to eat as much of them as you want (even every day)!
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, etc.)
- Nuts (pistachios, peanuts, pecans, etc.)
- Seeds (sesame, sunflower, etc.)
- Mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, portabella, etc.)
- Root vegetables (turnips, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, etc.)
- Brassica vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, etc.)
- Athletic muscle growth formula
More important than just eating a ton of protein is getting all your essential amino acids. Eating a wider variety of aminos helps contribute to more complete proteins; as such, the wider variety of protein-rich plant foods and different amino acids you eat, the more complete proteins you get— and the more gains you experience!
However, you might want to consider some help from a natural amino acid supplement or two for your diet, like leucine or lysine, especially if you are beginning your vegan diet or muscle/bodybuilding (or both). Otherwise, there are leucine- and lysine-rich plant foods you can eat plenty of daily, to make up for a supplement: like beans, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and other sources.
While these amino acids are easier to get in a non-vegan diet, a supplement may help you get more complete plant proteins if you’re struggling in the beginning.
Keep up on healthy fats.
While protein is super important, you can’t forget about fat— or overall calorie intake, for that matter! And no, contrary to popular belief, fat won’t make you “fatter” rather than more muscular.
Plenty of healthy, plant-based fats will be essential for keeping up your gains because they’re much higher in calories than either protein or carbs.
That said, what are the best fats to eat? Here are some of the best plant-based sources, ranked by their high-fat amounts.
- Nuts (walnuts, macadamia, etc.)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Chia seeds
- Coconuts (and coconut oil)
- Nut and seed butters
- Dark chocolate
By all means, this above list isn’t the only group of fat-rich plant foods you can eat. There are far more out there to include and to make sure you meet your daily fat requirements. (Which, when you’re trying to build muscle, your fat intake should be 15-30% of your total calorie intake.)
As a rule-of-thumb with healthy fats, any plant-based food high in unsaturated fats is a great one to nosh on for meeting your daily fat needs. This means it can be high in either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, too (or both).
You should always be drinking plenty of fluids, no matter who you are or what you do. But many vegans and vegetarians will tell you: once you start eating all plant-based foods, you start eating a ton of fiber. And this can come with some sneaky problems, especially for those building muscle!
To be more specific: an increased fiber intake can cause cramping, digestive upset, bloating, and plenty more “unmentionable” tummy disturbances that can get in the way of your bodybuilding journey. To counteract these, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, whether or not you’re working out. This can help quite a bit with any possible discomfort!
Don’t miss those important nutrients.
Vegan nutrition for building muscle isn’t just about the gains and avoiding animal products. It’s also about staying healthy— and that means remembering micronutrient needs and attending to your energy levels.
This is an important priority for anyone pursuing a vegan or plant-based diet, whether you’re building muscle or not. And since you’ll be demanding more of your body with workouts and sapping nutrients, it’s important to pay extra-special attention to the following micronutrients in your diet, and not just the macronutrients protein, fat, or fiber:
- Vitamin B12. Unfortunately, this vitamin isn’t easy to come by in plant-based diets, which is why you should make sure you’re getting enough— because it’s absolutely essential! Eating plenty of nutritional yeast, seaweed, sea vegetables, mushrooms, and barley grass can help (or keeping up on a B12 supplement).
- Vitamin D. If you’re muscle-building animal-free, you might miss out on a lot of vitamin D. You can make up for this by spending adequate time with your skin exposed to sunlight outdoors every day (15 minutes will do the trick). Or, eat plenty of mushrooms, especially shiitakes, which are high in vitamin D.
- Selenium. In plant-based diets, selenium can be a scarce mineral, too. That’s why it’s smart to stock up on selenium supplements—that, or eat selenium-rich foods like broccoli, vegetables, and especially Brazil nuts. Though be careful with how many Brazil nuts you eat: eating a few every couple of days gives you plenty, and you don’t want to overdo it!
Don’t give up, and don’t give in.
Following a plant-based diet and building muscle is definitely possible. Vegan athletes are out there— after all, Venus Williams is one! And if she can do it, so can you. If you’re ready to start your journey in vegan nutrition to build muscle and gain weight, be sure to check out vegan sports nutrition for women book (in partnership with Saudia Chi’la!).
However, the biggest battle isn’t physical: it’s all mental. Keeping up on calories, protein, and energy levels in a completely plant-based way comes with its own challenges. It’s an easier path with animal products, and veering off course can be tempting if you’re craving the calories— but remember that the mind can be stronger than matter. Any uphill battle (especially when it comes to fitness) is absolutely worth it.