You probably found this article because you want to pack on some meat and build muscle. That’s good for so many reasons, not only that you found my blog, you also want to lead a healthy lifestyle and getting strong in the process. Working up your strength is good for many reasons, not only does it support bone density, but building muscle also helps prevent the loss of muscle that occurs when we are aging. Going to the gym and working out allows you to stay more active when you get older, so you can see the time you spend in the gym as an investment for the future with the added benefit that you will also feel better now.
Muscles and fat
There is a common misconception that muscle weighs more than fat. I can see where this comes from though, but it makes me think of the “riddle” my dad told me when I was young: “Which weighs more, a kilo of cotton or a kilo of iron?” Of course, they weigh the same, a kilo is a kilo. However, they differ in density, so if you put a kilo of fat next to a kilo of muscle the fat will take up more space, more volume. So when going after that lean muscular look you might actually weigh the same (if not more) than before you started working out. I can see that this can be frustrating for some; my advice is to throw out the bathroom scale altogether.
Build muscle on a vegan diet
There are some things that are hard to get around when you want to build muscles. I will try to sort them out for you here.
This might seem obvious but there is no way getting around it, in order to get more muscles you need to lift weights. In my opinion, if you are a beginner, you should start out with compound movements that work the large muscle groups and some supporting muscles at the same time. Typical exercises include, but are not limited to, squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, bench presses, dips and military presses. Go on and have a look at this beginner workout program to see how you could incorporate these exercises into your routine.
When you work out you create small micro tears in your muscles on a cellular level. If we simplify it a bit, what happens when you have created these micro tears in your muscles is that blood flow to the affected area increases, which in turn brings the necessary components the muscle needs to repair itself. When you feel sore the day after (or maybe two or three days after) this is due to the micro tears in the muscle, and they are healing. When this occurs, your body will recruit amino acids (the blocks of which protein are made of) to help out repairing your muscle (protein synthesis). The body is intelligent though, so it will see that this type of tear down might occur again and build up the muscle bigger and stronger than it was before to be able to cope with the new and harder stimulus. As mentioned the body needs protein to repair the muscle and that’s why it’s so important to get enough protein in your diet when your work out.
A normal person needs around 0.8 grams of protein per kilo body weight (that’s roughly 0.4 grams per pound) every day. If you work out, you need more up to about 1.5 – 2 grams per kilo body weight (0.7 – 0.9 grams per pound). On a vegan diet, this can be achieved by finding out good plant based sources of protein. Examples of good sources of plant based proteins are;
- Chia seeds
- Black Beans
- Green peas
You can find more detailed information about complete vegan protein sources in this post I wrote.
If you are out for a leaner look, or just want to strip some body fat off in order to have your muscles more visible you need to burn that fat off as energy. I have gotten the best fat burning results from a combination of carb cycling, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and intermittent fasting. In short, what I did (and still do) is to go on an intermittent fasting scheme of 16 hours of fast and an 8-hour eating window. You can read about this in more detail in this post I’ve written. Then, on the days when I do HIIT I cut down on carbs. I prefer Tabata training when doing HIIT, it’s fast, reliable and in my opinion, easy to incorporate into the weight lifting routine you are doing. A week could look like this;
I personally like to rest during the weekend. Working out during the week makes me feel like I’ve earned a weekend off but you should set up the routine so that it fits your schedule and goals.
Rest is not only a nice thing to do, it’s essential for your workout progress. It’s during rest your muscles are growing and getting stronger. Remember earlier in this post, I mentioned the micro tears in the muscles? These tears need time to heel. Unfortunately, there is no universal amount of time that you need to rest, it’s individual. Some people need more time to recuperate than others. I think you should get to know your body and how much rest it needs. I sometimes skip a day in the middle of a routine or switch days around if I feel that I’m sore in a certain muscle group. Sometimes I don’t rest and do two full rounds of the routine before resting. It depends on how I feel, really.
Don’t forget to get adequate sleep! When you sleep you are not only resting the body and mind, your growth hormones levels are at their highest. Try to get 7-8 hours every night.
Depending on your goals different supplements are applicable (or no supplements, it’s not always a must). You don’t always want to make quinoa porridge or eat chia pudding (even though it’s delicious), sometimes a stiff protein drink will do the trick. I will list some good vegan-friendly supplements you can take when you work out on a vegan diet.
There are plenty of vegan options when it comes to protein drinks. They can be made from a variety of sources but most common are soy protein, pea protein, and hemp protein, or a combination of different sources. This option is good because it’s fast, you don’t have to cook or prepare anything. Just mix it with the beverage of your choice, shake it, and down it!
BCAA (Branched Chained Amino Acids)
BCCAs are made up by the three essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are essential because the body cannot make them by itself, they need to be ingested either by food or as I am telling you here, by supplements. One great benefit of taking BCAAs as supplements is because pure BCAAs don’t have to go through the liver and gut in order to get to the muscles. It goes directly out into the blood stream, making it a supplement you can take before, during and after the workout. They will help the body fight fatigue, muscle soreness as well as bringing down recovery time which will help you be able to train more and harder.
BCAAs are available in tablets or as a powder. I prefer the powder. Keep some attention to the ingredient list as some BCAAs brands have gelatine in them (mostly the tablets), and some are made from duck feathers or hog hair.
One the most popular and cost effective supplement on the market today. Creatine can be found in small amounts in animal foods (mainly muscle) but can also be produced in the liver and kidney from amino acids. Since animal foods are a no go on a vegan diet, this supplement comes great in handy. It is synthesized in a laboratory and is therefore safe to use for vegans as well.
ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is a molecule used for cellular energy. For a cell to use ATP it must break it down into smaller molecules, creating by-products that are recreated into ATP again. The more ATP your cells can store the faster they can regenerate it after it has been used. When the body regenerates ATP, creatine is a vital part and helps out to speed up this process, which enables you to increase the work that your muscles are doing.
I hope this post has helped you when it comes to building muscle and work out on a vegan diet. Regardless if you are new to eating plant based foods or been doing it for a while, you should know that there is absolutely no problem at all combining hard workouts and vegan foods.