Health benefits, meal plans, and more

Bodybuilders need more protein than most people to support the development of healthy muscle. Getting enough protein while following a vegan diet may seem challenging since people avoid common sources of protein, such as meat and dairy products.

However, with a diligent approach to nutrition, a vegan bodybuilding diet is possible and may even offer some health benefits, including better gut health, weight management, and cardiovascular health.

Keep reading to learn more about vegan bodybuilding diets, including the benefits, potential challenges, and some meal plan ideas.

A bodybuilding diet usually includes many high protein foods. The goal is to consume nutritionally dense food that minimizes fat gain while promoting muscle growth.

A vegan bodybuilding diet incorporates these principles into the vegan diet, which typically means consuming no meat or animal products, including milk, cheese, and other dairy products.

Because animal products are significant sources of protein, a person may not consume enough protein in their diet if they do not focus on eating high protein plant-based foods.

Typically, for most of the year, bodybuilders are in the “off season.” Their target protein intake for this period of time is 1.6 grams (g) to 2.2 g per kilogram (kg) of body weight. This is because calorie intake tends to be much higher during this period than during contest preparation.

During contest preparation, most bodybuilders need 2.3 g to 3.1 g of protein per kg of body weight.

To convert kg to pounds (lb), divide a person’s weight in lb by 2.2.

During contest preparation, a person requires a very low calorie intake relative to their energy needs, which is part of the reason why their protein intake needs to be so high, in order to offset potential muscle loss.

For example, a 200-lb person weighs 90.7 kg. They need 208–281 g of protein per day, which is three to five times as much as most diet guides recommend to an average person. This high amount means that vegan bodybuilders may need to use protein supplements.

That said, there are numerous plant-based foods that are high in protein, including hemp seeds, tofu, and beans. Learn more about them here.

Bodybuilders can experience the same health problems as everyone else.

In fact, those who use steroids may have an even higher risk of certain conditions, including cardiovascular disease. Following a vegan diet may help offset some of these risks.

Some health benefits of a vegan bodybuilding diet include the following:

Better digestive health

Some research suggests that people who follow a vegan diet have a more diverse range of healthy bacteria and other microbes in their guts.

Researchers are uncertain of the health benefits that this may offer, but healthy gut bacteria may contribute to overall health, especially digestive health.

Better cardiovascular health

Vegan diets generally contain less cholesterol and saturated fat. Consequently, people who follow them may have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.

Better weight control

Most vegan foods are lower in fat and calories than animal-based products. This can make it easier for a person to maintain a moderate weight.

High in certain nutrients

Vegan diets are high in fiber, which can help control blood sugar and appetite.

They are also higher in certain nutrients that are abundant in plants, including magnesium, potassium, and vitamins C and E.

Lower cancer risk

Plant-based diets correlate with a lower incidence of certain cancers, including breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer.

Better brain health

Following a vegan diet may lower the risk of certain cerebrovascular conditions, such as cerebral aneurysms or stroke.

There are also some potential health issues associated with following a vegan diet.

For example, people who do so are more likely to become deficient in vitamin B12, which is present only in animal products and fortified foods.

They may also develop deficiencies of:

Vegan bodybuilders should check nutritional labels and consider eating fortified foods. They may also need to talk with a doctor about taking a multivitamin or supplement.

Dietary tips for vegans and vegetarians

Some foods to consider including in a vegan bodybuilding diet include:

  • beans, such as black beans and red beans
  • vegetables, such as artichokes, avocado, and asparagus
  • vegan meat replacements, such as tofu, mycoprotein, and tempeh
  • nuts, such as pistachios, cashews, peanuts, and walnuts
  • seeds, such as chia, sunflower, pumpkin, and hemp seeds
  • protein bread, or Ezekiel bread
  • grains, such as buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, and millet
  • milk alternatives, such as soy milk and almond milk
  • soy products, such as soybeans and soy-based meat replacements
  • snack foods, such as hummus and peanut butter

Because of the extraordinarily high protein requirements that bodybuilding demands, some vegan bodybuilders will need to add vegan protein shakes. Some of these shakes contain other key nutrients or blend well with fruits and vegetables.

It may also be wise to add vitamin-fortified foods, especially those containing vitamin B12, to the diet.

Many breakfast cereals come fortified with important vitamins. A person should try to choose whole grain breakfast cereals and consume them with a nut milk to get a little more protein.

Bodybuilders typically need to eat much more than the average person to get enough calories.

Vegan bodybuilders may need to eat even more frequently to get adequate protein. They may wish to plan on eating every few hours and on supplementing meals with high protein snacks.

Some meal options include:

Breakfast

  • vegan protein powder with avocado, banana, frozen mixed berries, and leafy greens, such as kale or spinach
  • overnight oats with peanut butter, chia seeds, and banana pieces
  • tofu and avocado scramble
  • quinoa with sliced almonds, sliced pecans, and almond milk
  • whole grain cereal or oatmeal with almond milk

Lunch

  • red beans and rice
  • lentils with roasted vegetables and tofu
  • mycoprotein sandwich with peanut butter, almond butter, or avocado
  • red beans and tofu in a whole grain wrap with vegan cheese
  • roasted chickpeas over a salad with a peanut butter sandwich
  • quinoa, black beans, and stir-fried vegetables
  • sweet potatoes stuffed with black beans, avocados, and a range of stir-fry vegetables

Dinner

  • vegan sloppy Joes using tempeh and whole grain buns
  • vegetarian cheeseburger with tofu patty and vegan cheese
  • seitan stir-fry with mixed vegetables and seasoned to taste
  • lentil soup with vegan “chicken” nuggets
  • shepherd’s pie, with lentils replacing the meat

Snacks

  • hummus on whole grain toast or high protein bread
  • a handful of pistachios, almonds, or peanuts
  • granola, peanut butter, and honey balls
  • roasted chickpeas on toast, with sriracha or another hot sauce, if desired
  • protein bars
  • protein shakes
  • high protein granola bars

Getting enough protein as a vegan bodybuilder may seem challenging in the absence of traditional sources of protein, such as meat and dairy products. However, it is achievable and carries numerous potential health benefits.

Some people following a plant-based diet may wish to include animal products from reputable sources in their diet during the training season then return to a vegan diet during the off season.

A dietitian can help with selecting healthy foods and meeting weight and muscle gain goals.