Ask any vegan or vegetarian and they’ll tell you that the question that they get most about their diet is, “are you getting enough protein?” Many people are sure that without meat, it’s impossible to get enough protein in your diet – and impossible to build muscle.
But as most vegans and vegetarians know, this simply isn’t true. It’s completely possible to up your protein intake and pack on the muscle mass without ingesting any animal products whatsoever. Here are three tips for bulking up on a vegan diet.
1. Pack In Protein
The first step to building muscle is to give your body the raw material to build from. That means increasing your protein intake.
There are a number of ways to do this, from simply focusing on eating more whole foods rich in protein to using supplements like soy protein isolate or brown rice protein powders. One of the most tried-and-true methods of increasing protein intake on a vegan diet, especially for those specifically trying to build muscle mass, is to substitute one of your meals for a high-protein shake or smoothie.
There are countless recipes for vegan protein smoothies out there, but most of them will include a main protein source in a powdered form, some nuts or seeds, fruit, vegetables like spinach or kale, and a liquid base like water or a plant-based milk.
2. Up Calorie Intake
Because you’re going to be burning a lot of calories during your workouts, it’s important to replenish your body’s fuel stores so that you don’t wind up burning through the muscle that you’re trying to build. For most people, an extra 500 calories per day is a good place to begin. As you work on sculpting your body, you may find that you need to increase your intake even more in order to build muscle on a vegan diet.
For many people, “more calories” can also mean increasing food intake a lot, especially if you prefer to rely on foods with lower caloric density than most non-vegan items. As long as you’re eating lots of healthy fruits and vegetables, your concern should be more about not eating enough rather than eating too much.
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3. Focus On Nutrients
It’s good to be aware of exactly what type of nutrients you’re taking in, especially when it comes to protein. Often, vegans have a lot of concern about “complete proteins,” because most of the plant sources of protein that they eat don’t contain all of the essential amino acids.
That said, as long as you’re getting those amino acids somewhere throughout the day, it doesn’t really matter to your body whether or not they come from the same meal or food source.
What’s more important than completeness of protein is your carbohydrate to protein ratio. It’s important to make sure that you’re eating more protein than carbohydrates, as carbs won’t do much to help you build muscle.
Try to eat protein before carbohydrates, so you don’t fill up on starches and run the risk of not taking in enough protein.