How To Build Muscle On A Vegan Diet – Tips And Tricks
Just can’t seem to pack on that muscle you’re working so hard for?
Let me tell you, it ain’t easy.
While most fitness magazines and bodybuilding websites claim you can pack on 20 pounds of muscle in the next month, the truth is, it’s all lies.
There’s no magic pill and there’s certainly no way around hard work.
It takes consistent amounts of dedication and effort every single day to get the results you truly want.
Now I know it might seem like I’m telling you it’s impossible to reach your fitness goals, but this is hard… really hard.
If you’re not in it for the long haul, don’t even bother.
But the tips I’m going to give you below are going to provide such amazing value and insight, that it’s going to make your fitness journey a hell of a lot easier and get the results you truly desire.
I truly hope you learn something from this article and gain a little inspiration along the way.
Remember, your mind is the most powerful tool in the muscle building journey!
Make it your friend and use it to conquer the obstacles ahead of you.
Here we go!
All Compound Lifts – Nothing Else
Tip #1, do nothing but compound lifts.
You heard that right, all those silly machines and bicep curls that you’ve been doing for 40 minutes in the gym is a waste of your time.
You’re not going to grow by sitting on the leg extension machine or by doing barbell curls.
The number one rule is to focus almost all your time and energy on compound lifts.
What’s a compound lift?
An exercise that works and incorporates multiple body parts during the full movement of the exercise.
The most common compound lifts you should be doing are
- Bench/Incline Bench
- Military Press
- Pull Ups
- Barbell Rows
- Weighted Dips
When done correctly, each of these exercises put a tremendous amount of stress on your body, which sends your body into an anabolic state and makes it grow!
Compound lifts require a huge amount of your effort that gives you a little benefit to grow some muscle.
When performing a heavy deadlift, your mind will release natural growth hormones to aid in all that weight being lifted off the floor.
Compound lifts also save you time by working multiple muscle groups. You can complete a solid workout simply by benching and deadlifting in 30 minutes.
No need to find the tricep machine!
If you’re interested in incorporating these lifts into your workout, I wrote a whole article about compound lifts and their benefits which is on my blog.
Train For Strength And Hypertrophy
While most people I see at the gym have no idea what their training goals are, you know what you want!
If you want to pack on muscle you need to train heavy! But you also need to train for hypertrophy.
Have you ever seen a super jacked guy at the gym who was weak?
What about a super strong guy who was not muscluar?
Why is this?
Both strength and hypertrophy go hand in hand!
If you train for strength, yes you’ll get stronger, but you’ll also get bigger!
And if you train for muscle mass, you’ll certainly pack on some nice muscle, but you’ll also get strong!
So what you should do is start have training days where you focus on strength and other you focus on hypertrophy or muscle mass.
This is exactly what I do, and it’s given me amazing results! Here’s what your training routine should look like.
Monday: Upper Body Strength (3-5 Reps)
- Incline Bench
- Pull Ups
- Military Press
Tuesday: Lower Body Strength (3-5 Reps)
- Calf Raises
Thursday: Upper Body Hypertrophy (6-12 Reps)
- Incline Bench
- Pull Ups
- Military Press
Friday: Lower Body Hypertrophy (6-12 Reps)
- Calf Raises
A very simple training routine that requires minimal time in the gym with guaranteed results!
Also be sure when training for strength, you use lower rep ranges, usually around 1-5 reps max. This promotes the greatest results for gains in your strength.
For hypertrophy, aim for hitting the 6-12 rep range. And don’t train for failure! You’ll burn out and exhaust your muscles, which takes a longer time for recovery.
Short for “Blood Flow Restriction” this is an amazing form of training I like to use one to every two months.
Very simply, bfr training is simply eliminating the flow of blood to a limb or muscle.
You do this by using a strap or tourniquet style band. Check this one out I bought from Amazon. Been using it for a few months and it works like a charm!
After wrapping and tightening the bands on your arm, leg, calf, or forearms you crank out some repetitions with some lightweight.
We’re talking really light, around 20-30% of your 1RM.
Aim for 20-40 repetitions per set and watch your muscles pump up as you’ve never seen them before!
Once you’re finished with your first set, rest for 30 seconds and go back at it again! Do 6 sets and your muscles will be dying from exhaustion!
What’s so great about bfr training is that it helps you work out when you’re pressed for time.
Only have 20 minutes to work out?
No problem! Just slap on the bands and do 12-20 quick sets of exercises! You’ll get a super intense workout that will trigger tremendous growth.
Blood flow restriction training is also great for individuals with injuries who are still recovering and still not able to lift heavy weights. Since bfr training only uses light weights, you don’t have to worry about aggravating an injury.
So what’s the point of using the blood flow restriction bands?
You might think restricting the blood and oxygen to your muscles is a negative and a big no-no, but compelling evidence has shown the most amazing results from bfr training.
- Increased strength
- Increased muscle mass
- Increase in growth hormone secretion
- Triggers faster muscle repair
- Stimulates protein synthesis
Studies have even show that bfr training with light weights has an even better effect than regular strength and hypertrophy training!
It’d be silly to pass up the benefits of bfr training!
I really suggest you consider buying some straps and try it yourself.
I like to do bfr training around once every two months for about a week straight. It’s a great way to shock my muscles from the normal and general sets and reps.
It helps me overcome plateaus and bust through strength levels!
Track And Increase The Weight
I notice a lot of people just go to the gym to “go to the gym.” Or many people just mindlessly end up on a treadmill or sitting there on a machine, thinking they’re going to get results.
Sorry to break it to you, but if you’re not trying to improve and better yourself every single time you step in the gym, you might as well stay at home.
This means tracking your progress and making an effort to add more weight next time you hit a workout.
Every time I bench, deadlift, or squat, I look at my results from last week and try to break it by adding more weight to the bar or by doing another rep.
If you did 135 pounds on the bench for 4 reps your last workout, try 140 pounds, or aim to do 5+ reps of 135.
Do this EVERY SINGLE WORKOUT and I promise you’ll get bigger and stronger.
I like to keep simple tabs of my lifts and exercises in my notes app on my phone. Once I break a PR or rep PR, I simply add it to my phone so I know what I have to conquer for my next workout.
Super simple but super effective.
Eat In A Caloric Surplus
If you want to get big, you have to eat big.
Being honest, this is the most difficult part of the journey.
Everyone can go to the gym for an hour a day and train no problem, but putting in the time and effort in the kitchen is a killer.
Try prepping meals every single day, often eating the same thing day in and day out.
There’s no short cut or easy way around this, do it and see the results, or don’t and stay the same.
Getting big and increasing muscle mass requires you to eat in a caloric surplus. This means eating around 300 – 500 calories above your caloric maintenance level.
Not sure what you’re maintenance level is?
It really depends on a lot of factors, the main ones being your weight, gender, and activity level
The more you weigh and the more you move throughout the day, the more calories your body needs in order to maintain it’s energy levels and keep going. Pretty simple.
To find your caloric maintenance I suggest using this calculator from bodybuilding.com.
Be sure to select the ‘maintenance’ goal. Once you have your desired number you can add 300-500 calories to determine the number of calories you need to be eating a day in order to gain muscle.
Another simple way to find your daily caloric surplus is just by taking your weight in pounds and multiplying it by 16 or 18. This number represents your daily caloric goal as well.
For example, I weigh 195 pounds. I simply multiply 195 by 16 and I get 3,120 calories.
I’m right on track. I’ve been consuming roughly 3,200 calories every day.
Get Some Protein
Most people think vegans don’t get enough protein in their diets. Although we vegans know this is completely false, it’s still important to note that building muscle requires more protein than the average person.
How much you may ask?
Results can vary, but protein synthesis tops out around .75 grams per pound of body weight.
With that being said, I suggest aiming for .6 – .75 grams per pound of body weight per day.
For myself, at 195 pounds, this means consuming between 117 and 146 grams of protein per day.
Some of you may be thinking this is a lot of protein but that’s because it is, and it takes quite an effort to eat this much protein every single day.
Break up your protein goals accordingly into every single meal.
Since I need to hit a minimum of around 120 grams of protein per day, I eat around 30 grams of protein per meal 4 times a day.
If you’re wondering how much protein you should consume, input your weight and goal in the protein calculator widget on the sidebar. (You may have to scroll up to see it.)
Consume below the threshold and you’ll struggle to make gains.
Consume too much and there will be no negative benefits but you won’t gain better results by eating more. This isn’t just an opinion but a scientific fact.
For vegans, good sources of protein include seitan, tofu, beans, couscous, quinoa, kale, spinach, oats, and much more.
You can take a look at our article on the best vegan sources of protein to get some more ideas.
Mix Up Your Protein
As a vegan, I know it’s always better to get your protein from multiple different sources rather than just one source.
While it’s straight horse crock that plant based proteins are “incomplete” and inefficient at building muscle, you’ll benefit by eating multiple different sources of protein.
This means combining your rice with beans, your grains with legumes, and eating a whole dish with a variety of different foods sources. You’ll get better amino acid profiles and your health will benefit as well.
What’s a good test to know you’re eating healthy and a good variety of proteins?
Your dish will comprise of a multitude of different colors such as green, yellow, orange, red, and brown.
- Brown – Grilled Tofu and Pasta
- Yellow – Squash
- Green – Kale and Spinach
- Red – Goji Berries and Raspberries
Track Your Macros
It’s not enough to just guess how many calories you’re eating every single day.
You need to track your food!
Use an app like MyFitnessPal to track all of the food you consume.
Even better is that MyFitnessPal allows you to take pictures of barcodes which will automatically implement all the macros from its database of foods. This allows you to track your meals without you having to enter the food itself.
When tracking your food through MyFitnessPal, be sure to set your goals in your profile area. Constantly aim to reach your goals every single day.
That means getting the right amount of protein, carbs, calories, and fats.
Tracking your macronutrients will help keep you on top of your goals and avoid aimlessly guessing.
Eat Testosterone Boosting Foods
We all know testosterone as the manly man of hormones.
Specifically its widely proven that it helps you in the muscle gains departments.
High testosterone has a whole bunch of benefits that will have improve your quality of life.
- Increases muscle mass
- Burns fat
- Improves bedroom performance
- Improves mood and energy levels
- Strengthens bones
On the other hand, low testosterone has a ton of negative benefits that I won’t get into, and neither should you.
To keep your test levels high there are a few things you can do like getting enough sleep, lifting heavy weights, having more sex, and eating the right foods.
As for your diet, to increase testosterone you should implement these foods into your daily meals:
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Goji Berries
To see the whole list on the best testosterone boosting foods you can check out that article out here.
Get 7-9 Hours Of Sleep
Rest and recovery are where the muscles grow, not in the gym.
This means getting a minimum of 7 hours of sleep PER night.
If you know that you have to wake up at 6 in the morning to get up for work, you should already be asleep by 11 o’clock. That means lights out and you’re snoring, not climbing into bed at 11.
This can be a difficult habit to get into, even I am a victim of hitting my bedtime hour.
I always tell myself I’ll be asleep by 10:30 and before I know it, it’s 10:45 and I’m still working on my laptop.
In order to help fall asleep or keep you on a correct sleep schedule, try using an alarm clock. If you need to be asleep by 11, set an alarm for 10:30.
When your alarm goes off, you’ll know its time to stop whatever you’re doing and get ready for bed.
This alarm will naturally program you and form a habit that will help you count sheep every night.
Next tip for better sleep: Stay off your phone, laptop, or tv.
Your electronic devices release something known as ‘blue light.’
Studies show that blue light can be harmful to our health, especially our sleep.
It reduces our production of melatonin, the hormone which is responsible for putting us to sleep and waking us up.
In order to get the best sleep possible and increase your gains, I suggest staying off any blue light device during the last hour of your day.
Instead do something productive like taking the time to read a motivational book, meditate, journal your goals, or reflect on your day.
Take the last hour of your day for yourself, it’ll help you fall asleep much faster and it can help motivate you for tomorrow!
HIIT Cardio – But Not Too Much
Most people will tell you that if your goal is to build muscle, you need to skip out on the cardio.
I don’t think so!
It’s actually proven that a little bit of cardio after lifting can help increase your performance at the bar. (Weightlifting bar you fools!)
I get it, too much cardio can put you into a catabolic state and decrease your muscle mass and gains.
But if you do just a few minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) after your lift, you’ll notice a huge difference. It’ll help burn more fat and get your cardiovascular system going.
Remember, cardio is extremely good for your heart! So don’t leave it out of the equation.
Always Have Prepped Food
One thing I always noticed is that when I don’t have prepped food ready for me in the fridge, my gains and goals suffered.
Why is this?
Most weekdays, I’m in a rush. I have to catch the train for school and I don’t have time to prepare a meal with the proper macronutrients.
My nutrition starts to suffer. I also have less energy and my mood worsens.
I don’t achieve the gains I want because my diet isn’t on par.
I also notice that if I’m already tired from a long day, preparing a meal when I get home is difficult enough. It’s much easier to have prepared tofu, vegetables, roasted potatoes, and more in my fridge waiting for me when I get home.
Moral of the story – prepare your foods for a later date. It will save you time, money, and it’ll prevent you from being lazy in the future.
Consistency And Lifestyle Changes
This brings me to my next tip.
If you truly want to get the results and goals of your dreams, whatever they are, not just fitness, you have to make lifestyle changes.
If you want to get big or get that body you’ve always wanted you can’t just decide to work out for a week and then claim you reached your goal.
It doesn’t work like that.
You also can’t just work out for a week here, take a break, workout another week, take another break, and so on and so forth.
It has to be every day!
This is not a once in a while job, it’s a lifestyle!
Like I started the article, it’s going to be hard. So hard that you’re going to want to quit.
But the reality is, you can’t! You know you can’t, you need to push at it every single damn day and make lifestyle changes!
That means sleeping more every night.
Consistently getting enough protein, carbs, and calories at every single meal.
And having a solid workout plan that busts your ass but lets you recover afterward.
When you revolve your lifestyle around your goal(s) there’s no stopping you.
Bring extra protein shakes to work, stretch every morning and night to help you recover, and wake up an hour earlier and head to the gym since you’re too busy to work out during the day.
You can do it! It’s not impossible, just adapt your life around it, and I promise it will come.
What About Supplements?
I’m not too big into supplements.
Supplement companies are solely out for your money, and many of the supplements on the market don’t even work.
Stick away from pre-workouts, they’re just expensive forms of caffeine.
If you want to get amped for the gym, watch a motivational video on YouTube and drink straight black coffee. It’s much safer, healthier, and works 10x better.
As for supplements that I promote, try creatine. If you’re looking around, give this Optimum Nutrition one a try.
A lot of people say it’s a gimmick, but it’s one of the most heavily researched supplements out there. And trust me, it’s proven to work 100%
It increases both short and long term strength and can provide some pretty impressive gains.
As for amino acids supplements, it’s a toss-up. If you track your aminos (which is hard to do) and find you’re not getting all the 9 essential amino acids, then give it a try.
There’s no negative effect to consuming too many amino acids, so go for it. The brand I’ve enjoyed using is Muscle Pharm.
Lastly, protein shakes.
Protein shakes are not some magical pixie dust that’s going to have you ripping your t-shirts when you flex.
Protein powder is simply a nutritional tool for you to use when you’re not getting enough protein throughout the day.
If you’re short of your protein goals, drink a protein shake, simple as that. Don’t overuse it, they’re expensive.
The brand I use is Orgain. Tastes pretty good and goes excellent with peanut butter and a banana in a blender. Give it a try!