A vegan sports nutritionist tips for a vegan athlete diet

vegan athlete diet nutritionist
11 min reading time

In recent years, the plant-based diet has attracted many people all around the world, mainly due to its associated health benefits and environmental impact.


More and more people are starting to cut back on meat and animal-based products. Hence, the demand for plant-based products is growing simultaneously.


Today, it has become significantly easier to follow a vegan diet due to the vast amount of information out there but also, the large variety of alternatives to animal-based products in the grocery stores.


Alongside the general population, athletes have also increasingly adopted a vegan or a plant-based diet. For example, some famous bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nimai Delgado, Zack Belknap, and Greg Lachance have effectively been able to train and bulk up while following a vegan athlete diet.



Benefits of a plant-based bodybuilding diet


The benefits of a vegan muscle building diet are vast and include better digestive health, reduced risk of diabetes and lower cancer risk.


More specifically, a plant-based bodybuilding diet also has some benefits related to athletic performance such as the promotion of healthy body weight and improved cardiovascular health. Let’s look at these in more details.


How can a vegan athlete diet help promote a healthy body weight/ healthy weight gain


To start off, a plant-based sports nutritionist would suggest considering if your weight gain goals are realistic based on your genetics, current training routine and other indicators such as age and sex.


Secondly, if you are starting out on your bodybuilding journey with excess body fat, the vegan athlete diet can be extremely beneficial in helping you gain a healthier body weight while maintaining muscle mass.


For instance, vegan diets tend to be lower in many fatty processed foods. Some examples include sausages, burgers, and other processed meats.


How many calories should I consume as a vegan bodybuilder?


Generally, a plant-based sports nutritionist would suggest consuming 500 calories per day above daily needs in a plant-based bodybuilding diet. At the same time, you should be meeting your protein and carbohydrate needs.


Moreover, eating a surplus of 500 calories daily (3500 calories weekly) will result in an extra pound of body mass per week.


Besides, the extra calories you consume will provide your body with necessary fuel to boost muscle size and strength while you exercise. 


This is because protein in your diet will supply the amino acids needed for muscle gain, but the carbohydrates will help spare the muscle mass. The reasoning behind this is the body’s preference of carbohydrates as the fuel of choice. 


Examples of high calorie and high protein vegan sources


It may be considered challenging to consume high calorie foods for muscle weight gain in a plant-based bodybuilding diet. However, there are so many healthy high calorie alternatives to animal-based products listed below:


Nuts and nut butters:  These are a great source of protein but also healthy fats and calories. For instance, chopped walnuts provide 400 calories and 9g of protein in ½ cup. This is a very easy & quick way to add some extra healthy calories needed in your diet. Nuts can be eaten alone as a snack or added in smoothies and salads. Another quick example is having nut butters on a whole grain toast. 


Tahini: Tahini is a delicious Middle Eastern condiment made from toasted ground hulled sesame. It can also be used as another ingredient in other Middle Eastern condiments such as hummus or baba ghanoush. Moreover, tahini is packed with high protein, fiber, and healthy fats.


One tablespoon of tahini alone provides approximately 90 calories, 2.5g protein, and 8g of healthy fat.


Like other foods mentioned above, this is also a very easy addition to a vegan athlete diet due to its various uses. For example, it can be added to your tofu wrap, sandwiches, and salads. However, the most common way it’s consumed is as a flavorful dip or blended in a creamy dressing.


Examples of other high calorie vegan sources


Olive oil: As we all may already know, olive oil is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats and it is also well known for its health promoting properties. Research studies have concluded that these healthy fats may help increase HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) but also help improve blood sugar levels.


Furthermore, 1 tablespoon of olive oil consists of 119 calories and 13.5g of fat. An easy way to use olive oil in your diet is by drizzling it over your cooked veggies or mixing it in your salad dressing.


It is also important to note that olive oil tends to be high in antioxidants which prevent oxidative damage and consequently, reduce your risk of chronic diseases. In regards to a vegan athlete diet, many bodybuilders may benefit from a high antioxidant diet due their potential to enhance recovery and repair from training. As a consequence, it can in fact aid your muscle building efforts.


Avocados: These are a delicious addition to breakfast due to their creamy texture and mild flavor. Similar to nuts and nut butters, they can also help promote healthy weight gain in plant-based bodybuilding diets. This is due to the presence of heart-healthy fats and fiber.


For example, one large avocado contains about 322 calories, 13.5g of fiber and approximately 30g of total fat. In addition, avocados also contain potassium, carotenoids, and folate. Avocados pair well with breakfast toasts or sneak them into your smoothies.


Sweet potatoes: A healthy alternative to normal potatoes, these are an excellent choice for those trying to add extra calories in their vegan athlete diet.


Sweet potatoes are vibrant in color and have a delicious flavor. More importantly, they are also high in calories, fiber, and many essential vitamins (Vitamin A, Vitamin C and B6), potassium and antioxidants.


For instance, one cup of cooked sweet potatoes contains 180 calories and 6.5g of fiber. An easy way to cook sweet potatoes is through roasting or grilling and have them on the side of vegan chickpea curry or try this quick recipe: Quinoa and black bean stuffed sweet potatoes.


Cardiovascular health benefits associated with a vegan athlete diet


To begin, a plant-based nutritionist would suggest a vegan diet for muscle gain because it contains less cholesterol and saturated fat. Due to this, vegan bodybuilders may have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.


In addition, vegan muscle building diet is also generally higher in fruits and vegetables, which tend to be a good source of dietary fiber. Many research findings have linked high fiber to lower incidence of stroke and heart disease.


Regarding exercise, your heart must pump blood at a sufficient rate and therefore, cardiovascular health is extremely important for athletes. In other words, you need to maintain a sufficient supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the muscles and other body organs to function properly.


Over time, athletes do tend to have better heart health as the heart becomes more equipped to support the higher metabolic demands of the exercising muscles.

Get help from ou vegan sports nutritionists and dietitians:

vegan sports nutritionist

Challenges associated with a vegan athlete diet


Is a vegan muscle building diet too restrictive in calories?


Many athletes fear that a vegan athlete diet may be overly restrictive, and generally, vegan diets do tend to be lower in calories than traditional diets due to the exclusion of animal-based products.


Nevertheless, this does not mean it is not possible to gain weight or muscle on a plant-based bodybuilding diet.


More specifically, this can be counteracted by some helpful tips such as:


  • Increasing portion sizes: Using a bigger plate.
  • Eating meals with fibrous carbohydrates and healthy fats (some foods mentioned above).
  • Eat enough protein for muscle gain.
  • Spreading food intake throughout the day by having protein rich snacks in between meals.
  • Take advantage of post exercise meal timing: Ingesting protein but also carbohydrate right after exercising helps promote muscle protein synthesis. The reason for this is the improved anabolic hormone function that helps maximize weight gain. A plant-based sports nutritionist would suggest not to miss the 30 minute – 1 hour window post workouts.
  • Eating cooked vegetables as opposed to raw ones to reduce volume. Consequently, this will allow you to eat more calories.

Is high fiber intake a downside for a vegan muscle building diet?


Firstly, it is in fact correct that a vegan athlete diet tends to be higher in fiber intake due to the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts and seeds.


Despite the benefits of a high fiber diet on cardiovascular health, it can also cause digestive issues such as bloating, excessive flatulence and possibly abdominal pain.


Plant-based sports nutritionists would recommend vegan athletes to have around 50g of fiber. It is suggested not to go over 70g of fiber due to possible digestive issues.


Excessive fiber can also lead to a feeling of fullness and can therefore, reduce your appetite. As a result, a vegan muscle building diet may prevent you from consuming sufficient calories needed for progress. 


Consult a plant-based sports nutritionist to ensure adequate fiber intake in a vegan athlete diet.


Does vegan diet cause low testosterone?


To start off, Testosterone increases levels of growth hormone which promotes tissue growth and muscle mass.


Secondly, larger scale studies have demonstrated that neither total testosterone nor free testosterone concentrations are different among vegans and non-vegetarians.


In fact, some observational studies have shown that the total testosterone tends to be elevated in long term vegetarian men. There may be a slight drop during the transition to the vegan diet, but rest assured this drop is very short lived.


How to implement a vegan diet for muscle gain?

What do vegan bodybuilders eat for protein?

For a vegan diet, the recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.9g/kg body weight. However, for strength athletes it can go up to 1.3 – 2.1 g/kg bodyweight.

Some recommended vegan sources of protein in a vegan athlete diet include:

  • Beans and Legumes: Kidney, black and pinto beans all contain high amounts of protein. Generally, one cup of cooked beans contains 15g of protein.
  • Hemp, flax, sunflower and chia seeds: These contain relatively high amounts of protein but also omega-3s. For instance, 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain 9g of protein. Apart from this, they also contain high levels of magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc which are all important in a vegan diet.
  • Quinoa and amaranth: These pseudo grains surprisingly contain a high amount of protein. They provide 8-9g of protein per cooked cup and important to note that they are complete sources of protein.
  • Nuts and nut butters: Apart from being good sources of protein, they are also good sources of fiber and healthy fats. They are best eaten raw as roasting them can potentially damage the nutrients in them. To see best results in a vegan athlete diet, consume natural nut butters to avoid over consumption of excess oil, sugar and salt.
  • Soy products: Tofu, tempeh and edamame all originate from soybeans and are considered a whole source of protein. This means they provide all nine essential amino acids our body needs to synthesize new proteins.
  • Spirulina: A popular supplement packed with protein from blue-green algae but also high amounts of magnesium, potassium, and essential fatty acids. For reference, 2 tablespoon serving provides 8g of complete protein.

Other ways to increase protein in your diet

Protein powder: This is a useful method for athletes to increase protein in their diet, especially those finding it hard to meet their daily protein requirement with diet alone. Check out the list of popular vegan protein powders.

TVP – textured vegetable protein: It is also known as textured soy protein or soy meat and it is often used as a meat analogue. This is because its protein content is similar to meat products (9g protein per ¼ cup TVP). Its meaty texture and mild flavor make it an excellent choice for many sauces but also veggie burgers.

Seitan: Seitan is a vegan meat substitute made from wheat gluten. It is one of the richest plant protein sources available (21g per ¼ cup Seitan)

Is vegan protein powder good for bodybuilding?

If you are finding it challenging to meet your target protein goal in a vegan diet for muscle gain, you may choose to take vegan protein powders. Some common combinations of protein sources include brown rice, peas, and hemp such as garden of life organic plant-based protein powder, gainful personalized protein powder and many more.

Consult a plant-based sports nutritionist to ensure you are meeting your daily protein requirements in a vegan athlete diet.

An example of a meal plan for a plant-based bodybuilding diet.

Breakfast: Oatmeal – oats, soymilk, banana, and nut butter.

Lunch: Black bean and quinoa “meatballs” with whole grain vegan pasta.

Dinner: Stir-fry – Tofu, rice noodles and vegetables.

Possible snack in the day: Peanut butter protein shake


Check out our article: Can you build muscle on a vegan diet?