Bodybuilding is widely considered as being one of the hardest disciplines due to the difficulty of its general aims, which are:
1. Increase Muscle Mass
2. Decrease Body Fat
It’s a common oversight to think that to gain muscle you just need to focus on increasing muscular cell growth, with many people overlooking the fact that you also need to lose body fat at the same time to get as lean as possible.
In bodybuilding it’s vital that you do both at the same time. For this reason, bodybuilders are often pushing themselves to their limits to attain a physique that the vast majority of people will never get close to.
And when it comes to vegan bodybuilding, we’re talking about people pushing themselves without the same fuel behind them as other athletes. That’s not to say that animal products and meat are the only sources of protein that can back a bodybuilder — just that they’re perhaps the most obvious choices that are usually associated with the discipline.
This article is here to prove that there are still plenty of plant-based options for vegan bodybuilders to turn to, as well as pass on tried and tested tips from personal trainer Jamie Bantleman, for how to best prepare yourself for the world of weights.
It’s important to note that for the purposes of this article we’re presuming that we’re discussing a natural athlete (drug free). We’re focusing on those vegans and/or vegetarians that want to either go into competitive bodybuilding, or take part in trying to get into the shape of a bodybuilder — by training and dieting without the help of synthetic hormones.
10 Top Tips for Vegan Bodybuilding
By Jamie Bantleman, Personal Trainer
1. Increase Amino Acid Profile
If not careful with their nutrition, vegans can be at risk of having a low amino acid profile. This can be caused by having a low protein intake, therefore I would recommend a protein source at every single meal.
When preparing someone for a bodybuilding show I would usually have my athletes take 5-6 meals per day depending on their calorie requirements, as well as the length of time they’re awake for. For example, if you’re up at 6am and going to bed at 10pm and you have a reasonably active job, you’re looking at keeping calories higher due to the output of calories also being high.
2. Supplement Your Protein Intake
For a vegetarian or vegan, Vegan Blend is a staple in your diet, taking 2-4 scoops per day. As your protein intake can be low from your food sources, I would advise a shake with your breakfast and lunch to bump up grams of protein.
For example, for the average 200lbs bodybuilder looking to gain muscle mass and continue to lose body fat would be looking to consume just less than 300g protein per day. I recommend working it out by the general rule of 0.05 oz. of protein per lb of bodyweight.
Therefore, if you break that into 6 meals for that person you’d be looking at eating approx. 1.75 oz. of protein per meal.
3. Take Care of Your Gut
High protein products can be hard to digest, so increasing the amount of them that you eat may lead you to struggle with processing them in your gut.
If your gut doesn’t utilize the fuel you’re feeding it, your body will not get the full effect of the diet in which you are working so hard to maintain. You won’t see the results that you want to from the hard work you’re putting in, which can be really demotivating. And positivity is key for successful vegan bodybuilding!
4. Use Of Amino Acids
Amino acid deficiency will cause a lack of protein synthesis, as they’re the building blocks of protein and therefore a vital to gaining lean muscle tissue, as well as maintaining a positive hormonal profile.
Therefore, I would recommend using vegan amino acid supplements throughout the day, especially post-workout to help with muscle recovery.
5. Testosterone Levels
Natural production of testosterone has been found to be lower in blood profiles of vegans, which can slow down your vegan bodybuilding progress. I’d recommend using supplements can to help this issue as it’s such a vital hormone for muscle growth.
Firstly, I would always recommend seeing a qualified doctor or endocrinologist for hormonal issues, however, it has been found that both zinc and vitamin D can improve testosterone readings in those that are deficient in the particular vitamins and minerals.
6. Vitamins and Minerals
Keeping on top of all your essential vitamin and mineral intakes can be really helpful for your general health, which in turn allows you to return to training feeling your best and able to give your best performance.
I often use magnesium to help reduce cortisol in the body — this is the stress hormone that effectively attacks the muscle cell and breaks it down, causing muscular atrophy.
7. Omega Intake
Fish are a great source of protein, but also healthy, essential fatty acids — but they’re obviously not an option for a vegan.
That’s why I’d always recommend a vegan omega-3 supplement as it provides a plant-based source of these essential omega fatty acids.
8. Don’t Neglect Cardio
It’s easy to just put all your focus and energy on weight lifting and trying to break your deadlifting personal best etc. But cardio is important to make sure that your body fat is kept right down.
When coming close to show date, possibly 6-8 weeks prior to stepping on stage, use cardio more often when your body has fully adapted to the stresses of bodybuilding. This extra workload can blast your body fat, but you should do this gradually to keep you cortisol exposure as low as possible.
9. Sleep and Rest
Sleep is a vital part of bodybuilding as the body naturally produces growth hormones while it’s at a complete rest.
This will aid with muscle growth and recovery, letting you train again at the same high intensity day after day. To help with sleep, you could try using magnesium, as thisese can help to limit cortisol exposure, relax muscles, and help with rest.
10. Carbs vs. Fats
A regular issue with vegan diets is that they’re predominantly based around a high-carb and high-fat diet. This isn’t advised when the goal is hypertrophy and/or fat loss, usually it’s one or the other.
If you’re keeping carbohydrates reasonably high, I would advise you to use them effectively and efficiently. To do this, it is all about timings — carbs used post-workout are found to have the most effect on muscle recovery.
After this, low to moderate GI (glycemic index) sources of carbs are advised to go alongside your protein sources, such as white or sweet potato. If you’re incredibly lean and want to maintain a higher level of carbohydrate intake, foods such as rice and oats can be beneficial.
On the flip side to this you may be on a higher fats diet. Healthy fat sources are from olive oil, nuts and avocado, and essential fatty acids are from the breakdown of fats in our diet.
If this is your preferred route to go down, I would still always look to use carbohydrates post-workout to aid recovery and replenishment.
Take Home Message
We hope you’ve been reassured that your journey to gains is still just as possible on a plant-based diet. There are so many amazing vegan-friendly products out there to support you, and with the right approach to nutrition, you should see positive effects on your training too. The combination of the two is needed for successful vegan bodybuilding, and should have you on the road to results in no time.