Vegetarian and vegan dieting has been growing in popularity. This may be because of the putative health benefits associated with eating more plant foods, or because of ethical concerns with modern farming, or some combination of the two. Regardless, any time you restrict yourself from some kind of food group, such is the case with veganism, you likely need to make appropriate substitutions or find proper alternatives to satisfy all of your nutritional requirements. This is especially true if you have goals beyond simply being healthy, such as building muscle. Then, given that vegan diets restrict a food group containing many rich sources of proteins, and that protein is the most important macronutrient for muscle building, how can vegans build muscle?

I would argue that the easiest way to answer the question above is to look into the strategies and routines of vegans that actually do build muscle. One such vegan is Ed Bauer. Ed has come in first and fourth place in a couple of bodybuilding compititions. He has also ranked in the top half of participants in Cross Fit winter and summer games. In other words, Ed manages to be a serious competitor in the fitness community while still maintaining a fully vegan diet. How does he do it? Crucially, Bauer ensures that he gets adequate protein day in and day out. He aims for roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. He also advocates that, beyond quantity, variety and quality are important. His protein sources include beans, tofu, nuts, tempeh, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds and flax seeds, and several others. Furthermore, Ed doesn’t shy away from soy protein, in moderation, provided it is non-GMO and organic. See the first link below for one of Bauer’s sample 1 day meal plans.

We’ve identified useful vegan whole food sources of protein. Now, let’s look at supplements. Unfortunately, whey protein, likely the most common protein supplement on the market, comes from milk and therefore is not vegan friendly. Luckily, there exists many good plant based protein supplements. See the first link posted below for a list of useful vegan supplements. Specifically, though, Ed Bauer recommends PlantFusion protein powder. Further, Collision Sports carries a vegan protein made from hemp and peas, and also VERDA products which are rich in vegan protein sources.

Alright, so we’ve established a good protein base coming from a combination of supplements and whole foods. However, there is more to building muscle than getting adequate protein. Several nutrient deficiencies are more common among vegans than meat eaters. Namely, Vitamin B12, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, EPA and DHA, and fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and B have been found to be lower in vegans than omnivores. Such deficiencies could affect not only muscle growth and performance, but also general health and wellbeing. Therefore, ensuring adequate nutrient intake via proper supplementation should concern the vegan athlete. According to Chris Kresser, it seems unlikely that, not only the vegan athlete, but the regular vegan can satisfy their nutritional requirements through foods alone.

In summary, the vegan athlete should identify their protein sources – both supplemental and from whole foods – and should eat enough of them, and should ensure that their nutrient requirements are met via proper supplementation to avoid performance-robbing nutrient deficiencies. If this is done, top athletes such as Ed Bauer are living proof that the vegan athlete can build substantial lean muscle mass.

Check out the link below for a sample meal plan from one of the most popular vegan bodybuilders.

Sample Meal Plan

Check out the link below for a great resource for vegan athletes.

http://www.veganbodybuilding.com/?page=resources

References
Andrews, R. (n.d.). Plant-based muscle: An interview with Ed Bauer. Retrieved February 09, 2015, from
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/plant-based-muscle-ed-bauer
Clark, S. (n.d.). Bodybuilding.com – No-Meat Muscle: 4 Rules For Building Lean Mass On A Vegetarian Diet. Retrieved February 09, 2015, from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/no-meat-muscle-4-rules-for-building-mass-on-vegetarian-diet.html
Kresser, C. (n.d.). Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian and Vegan Diets. Retrieved February 09, 2015, from
http://chriskresser.com/why-you-should-think-twice-about-vegetarian-and-vegan-diets