Bodybuilding on a vegan diet can be done, but you have to carefully choose your protein sources to get complete essential amino acid coverage and not hinder your progress. Here are some tips.
Is Vegan Bodybuilding Possible?
The basic problem a vegan bodybuilder faces is that he needs protein, but that the most convenient protein sources are animal products. It gets even trickier once he delves into the subject and finds out that essential amino acids, those the body can’t produce itself but are the most important in enlarging muscle tissue, are especially difficult to come by in the form of vegan sources.
Yet it can be done. It just requires carefully planning. I looked through the protein contents of various plant sources and came up with the following list with the highest to lowest protein per g ratio:
|Source||Protein Per 100 g||Calories Per 100 g|
|Soybeans, Roasted||39.6 g||451 kcal|
|Peanuts, Roasted||26.4 g||581 kcal|
|Miso||12 g||199 kcal|
|Lentils, Cooked||9 g||116 kcal|
|Kidney Beans, Cooked||8.7 g||127 kcal|
|Tofu, Firm||8 g||70 kcal|
|Quinoa, Cooked||4 g||120 kcal|
|Soy Milk||3 g||43 kcal|
Watch The Calories!
Two things you have to keep in mind here: you have to watch the total calories and you need to combine these sources.
The most common rule of thumb about how much protein you need per day to build muscle is 1 to 2 g per pound of body weight. Which means if you are 175 lbs, you need 175 – 350 g. If you were to try to do this solely with peanuts, you would be consuming about 7,702 kcal per day (350 / 26.4 = 13.3, therefore 581 kcal x 13.3 = 7,702 kcal). That would be almost triple the amount of daily calories you need to maintain your weight. You would grow rather chubby in rather short time.
The other reason why you shouldn’t solely rely on a single source is the one I already hinted above: many plants vary wildly in what amino acids they contain and how much of them. Beside that, they also are all over the board in the amount of minerals and vitamins coming with them.
The WHO (World Health Organization) for example recommends that a 165 lbs person gets about 2,900 mg of the essential amino acid leucine per day, but 100 g of cooked lentils only come with 390 mg. 100 g of roasted soybeans, however, have 3,232 mg. That is more than fulfilling that 165 lbs person’s daily need. But then again those soybeans are hefty in calories.
The keys to vegan bodybuilding nutrition therefore are:
- Combine different plant protein sources to get all required amino acids
- Keep an eye on the number of calories you consume
- Your body needs more than protein to live, so have fruits and vegetables in your nutrition
Soy And Hormones
Let us give this a mention as well: time and again you get to read stories that consuming soy produces too much of the female hormone estrogen in males and that that could do everything from hindering muscle growth to causing infertility.
Looking over a couple of years worth of research, it seems to me that there could be an effect, but nothing is definite. This study here quite nicely summarizes things. My hunch is that being vegan, working out and eating soy products to gain muscle is better than being vegan, working out and saying “no” to soy, which could mean not getting enough protein.
I know some guys are able to simply pop open a can, grab a spoon and eat beans right out of their rotund container, but I wager some of you are a bit more refined.
Therefore have a look at this article about affordable protein sources for bodybuilders. Toward the end you will find two recipes that work for vegan bodybuilders, as one is for lentils and the other for beans and neither uses animal products. Both also are easy to prepare and you should be able to fix these dishes even in a dorm room.
Vegan Protein Powders
Finally there also are vegan protein powders, who often use soy or rice as basis (this one and this one, for example). Some users are rather satisfied with them, others report the taste to be bland or say they had difficulty mixing them in juices or water.
Dissecting these products will require an article of its own, but you may want to keep an eye out for them. You can also try getting in touch with the manufacturers and ask for a free sample. Many should be willing to send you one.