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This Is the Definitive Guide to Vegan Bodybuilding Every Plant Eater Needs

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This Is the Definitive Guide to Vegan Bodybuilding Every Plant Eater Needs

If you want to know the facts about vegan bodybuilding and how to build muscle and lose fat on a plant-based diet, then you want to read this article.

 

Many people think that veganism and bodybuilding are mutually exclusive.

That you simply can’t build a great body without eating animals and animal products.

Well, they’re wrong. You absolutely can.

You have to know what you’re doing, though.

One of the reasons why vegan bodybuilding faces a bum rap these days is it’s easier to mess up than the traditional omnivorous approach.

This is why studies have shown that omnivores tend to have more muscle than vegetarians and vegans.

There are also several nutrition myths prevalent among vegans that make it particularly hard to build muscle, which we’ll fully debunk in this article.

The bottom line is this:

If you don’t understand and address the downsides and limitations of the vegan diet in the context of bodybuilding, you’ll get disappointing results.

If you do, though, and plan and adjust accordingly, then you’ll have no problem building muscle, losing fat, and getting strong.

And that’s what this article is going to be all about.

In it, you’re going to learn the most common mistakes that vegans make when trying to build muscle and how to get the most out of your plant-fueled training.

Let’s start with the first hurdle that trips up so many would-be vegan bodybuilders:

Protein intake.

The Truth About Protein and Vegan Bodybuilding

vegan bodybuilding protein

When it comes to building muscle, decades of anecdotal and scientific evidence have proven that certain elements of your diet and training are more important than others.

For example, if you want to maximize muscle growth…

This last point is vitally important.

Dozens and dozens of well-designed and well-executed studies have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that a high-protein diet is superior for building muscle and losing fat than a low-protein one.

In terms of an exact amount, research shows that optimal protein intake for bodybuilding is between 0.8 grams and 1.2 grams per pound of body weight per day.

And this is where many would-be vegan bodybuilders die on the vine.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Where Many Vegans Go Wrong With Protein Intake

vegan bodybuilding supplements

Macronutritionally speaking, the main difference between a vegan and omnivorous diet is protein intake.

Most people eating an even halfway “healthy” diet are already getting a large percentage of their carbs and fats from plant foods like grains, fruits, veggies, and nuts and oils.

Going vegan doesn’t change this.

What it does change, though, is protein intake, simply because you replace your favorite high-protein animal foods like meat, eggs, and dairy with lower-protein plant foods like beans, grains, and nuts.

Not only that, but many people replace these protein sources that are particularly suited to muscle building with ones that aren’t.

(More on all this in a minute.)

Instead of acknowledging the fact that getting enough protein on a vegan diet takes a bit more thought and planning than an omnivorous one, though, many vegans chose to propagate myths instead.

That is, instead of admitting their diet isn’t perfect and peerless in every way, they whitewash.

And they usually rely on several falsehoods to do it:

1. You don’t need much protein to maximize muscle growth.

This is categorically false.

Low-protein dieting is popular among vegans and is almost single-handedly responsible for the misconception that they can’t build muscle like meat eaters can.

2. There’s no such thing as a “protein deficiency.”

Wut?

Here’s how the dictionary defines protein deficiency:

 “Reduced ingestion or inadequate digestion of dietary protein and/or essential amino acids, or excess elimination of protein due to compromised renal function.”

3. All/most vegetables are a great source of protein.

Veggies are a great source of carbs and micronutrients, but protein?

Not so much.

For example…

  • Broccoli contains about 13 grams of protein per pound.
  • Brussels sprouts are slightly better, providing about 15 grams of protein per pound.
  • A cup of green peas contains just 8 grams of protein.
  • And a cup of boiled spinach contains a measly 5 grams.

As you can see, if you need to eat around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, it’s going to take a couple buckets of these types of vegetables to get you there.

4. All plant proteins are equally good for muscle building as animal proteins.

Not all proteins are made equal, and especially not for building muscle.

To understand why, we first need to talk about amino acids.

Amino acids are the “building blocks” of protein and tissues in the body, including muscle tissue.

The body needs 21 amino acids to stay alive, and 9 of them must be obtained from food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are known as “essential amino acids,” and one in particular is especially related to muscle building. It’s called leucine and it directly stimulates protein synthesis via the activation of an enzyme responsible for cell growth known as the mammalian target of rapamycin, or mTOR.

This is why research shows that the leucine content of a meal directly affects the amount of protein synthesis that occurs as a result.

In other words, high-leucine meals have a higher muscle-building potential than low-leucine meals.

Now, when it comes to evaluating a source of protein, we need to consider two things:

  1. How well the protein is absorbed by the body.
  2. Its amino acid profile.

And while it’s not true that plant proteins are “incomplete” (missing essential amino acids), it is true that some aren’t absorbed as well as and are lower in certain vital amino acids than others.

For example, hemp protein is absorbed rather poorly by the body whereas rice and pea protein are absorbed quite well.

This point of bioavailability is important because eating 100 grams of hemp protein isn’t the same as eating 100 grams of rice and/or pea protein. The former has less muscle-building potential than the latter.

To understand the importance of amino acid profile, let’s compare the protein found in broccoli to the protein found in beef.

Here’s what 275 calories of each (4 ounces of steak vs. just over 9 cups of broccoli) will get you in terms of essential amino acids:

Essential Amino Acids Steak Broccoli
histidine 0.975 0.48
isoleucine 1.391 .0643
leucine 2.431 1.05
lysine 2.583 1.099
methionine 0.796 0.309
cysteine 0.394 0.228
threonine 1.221 0.716
tryptophan 0.201 0.269
valine 1.516 1.018

As you can see, it’s not even close.

You’d have to eat a 18 freaking cups of broccoli to get the essential amino acids found in just 4 ounces of steak.

You run into the same problems with many other plant sources of protein (bioavailability and amino acid profile), which brings us to our first big takeaway on how to make vegan bodybuilding work:

You must ensure you’re getting enough protein that is both absorbed well and rich in essential amino acids.

This is the main reason why vegan bodybuilding is easier to mess up than omnivorous bodybuilding.

The average Western omnivore’s favorite sources of protein (meat, eggs, and dairy) also happen to be very well absorbed by the body and very rich in essential amino acids (and leucine in particular).

This in itself makes their diets very conducive to muscle growth.

And based on my experience speaking with hundreds of people that have had trouble building muscle on a vegan diet, I’ve found that the average vegan eats too little “high-quality” protein to gain muscle efficiently.

This makes it much harder to gain muscle as a vegan than it should be.

Many don’t realize this, though, and think that vegan dieting as a whole is to blame–that you simply can’t get big and strong without animal foods.

Well, they’re wrong.

You just need to know how to make a proper vegan bodybuilding meal plan…

How to Create a Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan

vegan bodybuilding meal plan

Meal planning is very simple. There are just four steps:

  1. Work out your calories.
  2. Work out your macros.
  3. Work out your meal timing and sizing.
  4. Work out your foods for each meal.

If you’re not familiar with any of that, check out this article on meal planning before continuing here.

What we’re going to focus on in this article is step number four, because this is what trips many vegans up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specifically, they run into two problems:

1. Eating enough protein.

To many, 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day seems impossible.

2. Balancing their macros.

The wrong food choices can make it very hard to not only meet protein needs but carbohydrate and fat needs as well.

For example, many vegans struggle to get anywhere near the standard “bodybuilding calorie split” of 40% of daily calories from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fat.

They often find that meeting one macronutrient target makes another hopelessly high or low.

Fortunately, these issues are fairly easy to overcome.

First, let’s talk protein.

What Are the Best Sources of Vegan Protein?

vegan diet bodybuilding protein

As you know, the best sources of vegan protein are those that are both well absorbed and rich in essential amino acids, with special attention given to leucine.

There are quite a few protein sources that fit that bill:

  • Grains like wheat, rice, and oats.
  • Vegetables and legumes like peas, beans, and potato.
  • Nuts like almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and pistachios.
  • Seeds like quinoa and buckwheat (unfortunately most other seeds are poorly digested unless ground up into a flour).

It’s as simple as this:

If you get the majority(70%+) of your daily protein from high-quality sources like these, you’re going to do well.

If, however, you get the majority of your protein from lower-quality sources, you’re going to struggle.

Now, there’s one food conspicuously missing from this list: soy.

Here’s why…

The Problem with Soy Protein

vegan soy protein

Soy protein is a mixed bag.

It’s an all-round good source of protein for building muscle, but it’s also a source of ongoing controversy.

According to some research, regular intake of soy foods has feminizing effects in men due to estrogen-like molecules found in soybeans called isoflavones.

For instance, a study conducted by scientists at Harvard University analyzed the semen of 99 men, and compared it against their soy and isoflavone intake during the 3 previous months.

What they found is that both isoflavone and soy intake were associated with a reduction in sperm count. Men in the highest intake category of soy foods had, on average, 41 million sperm/ml less than men who did not eat soy foods.

On the other hand, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Guelph had 32 men eat low or high levels of isoflavones from soy protein for 57 days, and found that it didn’t affect semen quality.

Furthermore, several reviews suggest that neither soy foods nor isoflavones alter male hormone levels.

There’s even evidence that isoflavones can help normalize estrogen levels by either suppressing or increasing production as needed.

What gives, then?

Well, there isn’t a simple answer just yet.

What we do know, though, is the effects can vary depending on the presence or absence of certain intestinal bacteria. These bacteria, which are present in 30 to 50% of people, metabolize an isoflavone in soy called daidzein into an estrogen-like hormone called equol.

This can be seen in a study conducted by scientists at Peking University, which found that when equol-producing men ate high amounts of soy food for 3 days, their testosterone levels dropped and estrogen levels rose. These effects were not seen in women, regardless of equol production or lack thereof.

Now, that’s an overview of soy and men. What about women?

Well, research shows it’s even less likely to negatively affect their hormone levels. There are other things to consider, however.

Studies show that soy protein contains substances that inhibit the digestion of protein molecules and the absorption of other nutrients (antinutrients), as well as several known allergens.

While there is research that indicates soy might have special benefits for women such as reducing the risk of heart disease and breast cancer, other research casts doubt on these findings.

And to the contrary, studies have shown that soy can even stimulate the growth of cancer cells.

So, all things considered, I’d say that completely avoiding soy protein is probably unnecessary.

That said, if I were vegan, I would limit my intake to no more than 30 to 40 grams of soy protein per day (and, if I’m going to be completely honest, would probably just choose a rice or pea protein powder instead).

Balancing Your Macros for Vegan Bodybuilding

vegan bodybuilding nutrition

The dictionary defines “macronutrient” in the following way:

Any of the nutritional components of the diet that are required in relatively large amounts: protein, carbohydrate, fat, and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorous.

(Most people think of “macros” as just protein, carbohydrate, and fat, but technically it includes the macrominerals as well.)

When it comes to diet and meal planning, the macronutrients you want to pay the most attention to are protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

When it comes to building muscle, getting your “macros” right is extremely important.

This is true regardless of whether you’re vegan or omnivorous.

Now, the standard baseline diet I recommend for bodybuilding looks like this:

  • ~1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day

This can be slightly lower when maintaining and bulking and slightly higher when cutting.

  • ~0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day

This can be slightly lower when cutting and slightly higher when maintaining and bulking.

  • The rest of your calories from carbs.

The amount of carbs varies based on your protein and fat intake, but generally speaking, the more carbs you can eat, the better it is for your weightlifting and body composition.

If you want to learn more about these recommendations and how to adjust them based on your needs, check out this article on figuring out your macros.

Now, hitting macro guidelines like those above is fairly easy as an omnivore, mainly because of the amount of low-carb and low-fat sources of protein that are available to us.

As a vegan, however, you might find that you need to raise your fats and lower your carbs to hit both your protein and caloric targets (and especially when you’re cutting).

(This is primarily because most forms of “good” vegan protein also come with carbs and/or fats.)

And that’s fine because, as you know, eating enough calories and enough protein are of paramount importance when you want to build muscle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A high-carb diet is more conducive to muscle growth than a low-carb one, but this is secondary in importance to the above.

So if you have to “sacrifice” some of your carbs to make sure you get enough protein without eating too many calories, you should do it.

I wouldn’t recommend that reduce your carbohydrate intake more than necessary, though. If you’re not sedentary and very overweight, you have no reason to follow a low-carb diet.

Otherwise, balancing your macros is just a matter of familiarizing yourself with the calories and macros of the foods you like to eat and then using that knowledge to create a proper meal plan.

Again, you can read more about the whole meal planning process here, but all it takes is a bit of trial and error and you’ll get the hang of it.

I should also mention here that a good vegan protein powder can help with this tremendously because it allows you to add large amounts of protein to your diet without adding much in the way of carbs and fats.

As I mentioned earlier, my go-to would be a rice protein or, ideally, a rice and pea protein blend (their amino acid profiles are complimentary and, when combined, look a lot like whey protein).

What About Micronutrient Deficiencies?

vegan deficiencies

You’ve probably heard that excluding animal products from your diet increases the risk of various nutritional deficiencies.

This is true.

For example, studies show that many vegans have low levels of…

(Many omnivores have various micronutrient deficiencies as well, so eating indiscriminately doesn’t necessarily make for a healthier diet.)

You’ve probably also heard that these common deficiencies among vegans can be avoided by simply adding certain foods to your diet.

This is true to point, but it’s also easier said than done.

For example, the calcium in some vegetables isn’t as bioavailable as the calcium in dairy products (and in any case, multiple servings of veggies are needed to equal a single serving of dairy).

Many plant sources of iron and zinc are also inferior to animal sources and require rather large amounts to be eaten.

The omega-3 fatty acid problem boils down to the fact that a vegan’s primary source of this vital fat is alpha-linolenic acid, which is poorly absorbed by the body.

All this means that you have two options if you want to optimize your health and performance on a vegan diet:

  1. Micromanage your diet to include generous amounts of foods high in the nutrients listed above.
  2. Supplement.

And in some cases like vitamin D and EPA and DHA, supplementation is the only viable choice.

Personally I would choose door number two because it’s easy and fairly inexpensive, but if you’re a staunch anti-supplement guy or gal, you’ll need to put extra time into your meal planning to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of the many vital nutrients your body needs.

Examples of Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plans

vegan bodybuilding meal plan examples

At this point you’d probably like to see some well-made vegan bodybuilding meal plans, so here are a few that we’ve made for our custom meal plan clients.

Vegan-muscle-building-meal-plan

vegan-weight-loss-meal-plan

As you can see, with a little work and creativity, you can do just fine.

The Bottom Line on Vegan Bodybuilding

vegan weight lifting

You can build plenty of muscle and strength as a vegan…if you know what you’re doing.

If you’re not willing to plan and/or track your calories and macros and eat a handful of staple foods regularly, you’re going to struggle.

The biggest problem is you’re not going to eat enough high-quality protein, and that will inevitably stunt muscle growth.

If you are willing to be deliberate with your meal planning, though, you’re going to have no trouble gaining muscle.

And I hope this article helps you do just that.

What’s your take on vegan bodybuilding? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Nanker

    Just a quick correction–on the sample bulk plan you have listed, there is milk chocolate included in the lunch portion, which isn’t vegan. I assume it was intended to be dark chocolate instead?

    • Doh! That’s supposed to be dark chocolate. Fixing. Thanks for pointing out.

  • Michael

    Great article as always and I have been doing what you describe in the past actually when I took your BLS advice and just pivoted to a vegetarian almost vegan diet.

    I think the main issue for me is that this vegetarian/almost vegan approach works super easy while bulking. As you mentioned, I used a lot of quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat to bring up the protein levels on top of all the beans,nuts and other vegetables because I did not want to rely too much on vegan blend protein powder, but this also brings up the carb/calorie levels.

    When having a 3100 calories target this works great, but when aiming at a 1950 calories cutting target, having all those additional carbs while attempting to reach the protein goal doesn’t seem achievable. The protein to carb ratio in normal vegetarian/vegan sources feel inadequate for cutting so I have added lean meats and chicken again since the protein to carb ratio is more manageable.

    I guess my question here is if my observation is correct that a vegetarian/vegan strategy while cutting and aiming at the 1.2ish grams of protein per pound of body weight and 1g of carbs per pound of bodyweight is not practical when trying to keep the vegan protein shake supplementation to 1-2 shakes with 50g per day?

    Or is there potentially a vegetarian/semi vegan diet plan I am not considering with the standard BLS macro goals? Since reducing meat intake was just something I did to have a more balanced diet and be more health conscious, I don’t mind consuming meat while cutting and reverting back to vegetarian/vegan while bulking, I was just wondering if I was missing a trick here.

    Also, your articles are always very insightful, so thanks! I actually cut down from 190 pounds to 169 pounds in about 3 months last year following BLS, and after my last bulking cycle, I am currently cutting from 185 pounds and after 7 weeks am at about 174 pounds with fasted lifting and cardio while strength stayed the same (and am building a following in the office that are now all going to the gym too, hah).

    • Thanks, Michael!

      Yep, trying to cut on a vegan diet while hitting your target macros can be tough. Good call adding in lean meats. A few other options you have are low-fat Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. There’s also low-fat tofu and seitan. Other than that, whatever you can’t get with those, you’ll just need to supplement with protein powder. Ideally, you’d get the majority of your protein from whole food sources.

      Glad you’re enjoying the articles! My pleasure. 🙂

      Great job on the weight you’ve lost while maintaining strength!

      Thanks a ton for spreading the word to everyone at the office! I look forward to seeing your and everyone else’s results!

      Hope this helps! LMK what you think. Talk soon.

    • Cláudio

      I have recently experienced great results while cutting based on a vegetarian (meat free) diet, following a meal plan made by a sports nutrition (professional) advisor. I would never accept including meat in my diet, and that was my demand to the guy who made my meal plan: to arrange the protein intake with absolutely no meat. Beside protein obtained from vegetables (chickpeas, beans, rice, lentil, soy, bitter cocoa powder, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts and some others) I had dairy products (cottage cheese, fat-free yogurt, lactose-free milk) and supplemented with isolated whey protein, bcaa, creatine and glutamine powder. I went from more than 15% of body fat in december, 2015, to 7% of body fat in april, 2016.

      • coco

        Who was you professional advisor I will like to do the same as you

  • Marco

    I’m an omnivore but this is great information to have.

  • TD

    I like how you discussed veggies and how much protein they have. That always confused me, so much differing or incomplete information out there on that.

    And every time I see that photo of the guy with the bright green shorts in your articles…I think, “Hulk!” Haha

  • Ketan Pandya

    Thank you for the great article. Looking at these meal plans, I feel I’m not eating any protein at all, working out regularly and expecting lean muscles + strength. I’ve read some books that talks more around fiber and carbs and do not promote high protein diets for a healthy lifestyle (they’re not about bodybuilding though). Post going vegan, reading/gathering knowledge (right or wrong) in bits and pieces from good/bad sources is been a continuous process and most confusing in life. I feel I need to focus on 2 things to start with here.
    1> Taking care of nutritional deficiencies as you spoke about, vegans (especially here in my country) tend to ignore them and gets into problem after a while
    2> Making my protein numbers on regular basis by micromanaging the diet + supplements – I see limited availability of some vegan protein sources in my country, but there are others and need to make a good plan that looks similar to what you have posted (I’m sure I’m not going to match the no you posted, but will try to be close)
    Hopefully, this will help me with the muscle growth and get the worth of time and efforts spent on workout. I have seen lot of benefits of going vegan in terms of loosing fat and weight, right now in the middle of growing and toning muscles.
    Thank a ton for the great article, Mike, its surely been very helpful. Keep posting.

    • YW! Let’s change your diet then!

      I completely agree. Those are the 2 things you should focus on. You also want to make sure you’re hitting your other macro targets. You can see what they are here:

      https://legionathletics.com/diet-meal-plans/

      Awesome on the fat you’ve lost since going vegan. Now let’s build some muscle on a vegan diet. 🙂

      My pleasure! Happy to help! Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • Gabe

    Thanks for taking the time to delve into this, Mike. I’m sure you’ve been getting a lot of messages asking for just such an article.
    I appreciate the balanced discussion of the evidence, particularly on soy and how it’s not super obvious either way.

    I agree with what others have mentioned, bulking without animal products isn’t really that difficult. Particularly as higher carb is generally a welcome addition and basically all plant foods have some appreciable amount of carbs attached.

    I like to get the majority of my calories from whole or minimally processed foods but I don’t have any problem with including some protein powders. They’re very versatile and can be included as flour substitutes, in smoothies, as part of dips/spreads, or as frostings (the thicker consistency spreads much better than whey).
    When looking at more macro-friendly protein options soy products, if you tolerate them well, come in a wide range from whole edamame to super firm tofu, tempeh or as the fat-free TVP.

    Black bean spaghetti and Banza pasta (made with chickpeas) are also great, with a very high percentage of calories from protein: http://amzn.to/1qp8IZN

    PB2 or the bulk version from Naked is also amazing as a low fat peanut butter: http://amzn.to/1Q75r6H

    • My pleasure! Yep, I definitely have, haha.

      I agree. I recommend getting the majority of your protein from whole food sources. Other than that though, it’s totally fine to use protein powder, and they can be very useful.

      Yep, those are some great vegan and macro-friendly protein sources! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Amber Wilhoit

    I love that you covered bioavailability. It is extremely difficult to write an article that appeals to someone well-versed in nutrition and the beginner alike. Kudos! Back to bioavailability–It is a huge factor for multiple nutrients. Iron is a great example with spinach vs beef. For such a thorough article, I would recommend covering more practical application of complementary food and nutrient examples in your next revision; like what you touched on with rice and peas (a more obvious example would have been beans and rice (Sir Mix-a-Lot knew what he was talking about)). I would focus a bit more on the essential aminos and matching the foods high in some with the foods high in essentials that the other is missing. If I am not clear: http://m.bastyr.edu/news/health-tips/2011/09/what-are-complementary-proteins-and-how-do-we-get-them …scroll past the meat options, obviously…
    I’ve listened to many of your podcasts and appreciate the research and time you put into what you do. That was also an interesting definition of macronutrients that I have not come across before. I was taught that Macronutrients were proteins, carbohydrated and fats (i.e. Your calorie sources (besides ETOH)). Micronutrients are all the vitamins and minerals. I think it is important to point out that calling them micronutrients does not make them micro-important.

    • Thanks Amber!

      FYI the “complete protein” bit is a myth. All proteins are complete.

      • Amber Wilhoit

        Forgive me. A complete source (complementary sources) of amino acids to enhance bioavailability.
        You did indeed state this in your article as well; it is more about having little room for “junk” foods.
        There is no need for the lay person to ask, “Am I having my legumes with some seeds?”, but a vegan trying to build muscle, especially during caloric restriction should probably pay attention to this. 🙂

        • Unfortunately you can’t improve the bioavailability of one protein by combining it with another.

          You can, however, combine proteins that have complementary amino acid profiles.

          • Amber Wilhoit

            What word would you have used other than bioavailability? Is it as useful to the body if not complementary, given that it is a vegan source, lacking a complete essential amino acid profile? Not being argumentative…just curious.

          • The nutritional value of the protein I suppose? That’s what we’re talking about really–how many vital nutrients (essential aminos) it provides.

  • Megan H

    Hi Mike! I was a vegetarian for a while but have since added animal protein back into my diet due to lack of protein and headaches. I’m having a problem hitting my macros as you prescribed because I can’t seem to stomach too much meat. 3 Oz of chicken yesterday at lunch I couldn’t even finish. Can I increase my fat macro and decrease my carb so that I can get protein from other sources like dairy? Will I still cut and should I expect it to take longer? Even with 3 protein shakes a day I can’t seem to hit my number without going over on my fats. Thanks!

    • Hey Megan! Cool you added animal protein back into your diet.

      Ideally, you’d stick to the macro splits, but you do have some freedom to play with your carb and fat intake. Remember it’s 2g of carbs for every 1g of fat.

      To help with the protein intake, I recommend low-fat dairy options like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. Low-fat tofu and seitan are also good options. Whatever you can’t get with whole foods, it’s fine to supplement with protein. Just try to get the majority of your protein from whole food sources.

      Hope this helps! Welcome!

  • Marco

    Hi Mike,

    as I am a vegan bodybuilder, I am glad you dedicated a whole article to the topic. 🙂 Of course, as a regular reader of yours, it didn’t escape my notice that you already covered vegan diet in your past articles, though not to such a great extent.

    The misconception that a vegan diet is inferior for bodybuilding is too common. A few years ago, a trainer at a university gym told me that it was not going to work well. I already knew too much about the topic to believe him, though. 😉 On the other hand, I once read an article promoting veganism that suggested vegans do not have to worry about protein intake because many vegan foods contain lots of protein, comparing protein amount of a meat with protein amount of dry, uncooked (!) legumes. It was so stupid, and the author got even pissed off when I criticised her.

    I don’t know about the situation in the US, but in Germany there are a couple of well known advocates of vegan bodybuilding/strength training. I repeatedly stumble upon them in my Facebook feed, e.g. Most notably, there are bodybuilder/physician Alexander Dargatz and the very successful strongman Patrik Baboumian. As I recall, he even experienced a vegan diet as superior to a non-vegan diet in his endeavors.

    At a vegan event in 2015, I had the opportunity to ask Alexander and Patrik about soy and feminization. They told me I should not worry about it. They said something along the lines of “if it would be feminizing, we would have grown breasts already”, implying their huge soy intake. Nevertheless, I do avoid soy protein powder, just to play it safe. There is simply no need for it, given rice and pea protein powder.

    It has been nice to read that rice and pea protein amino acid profiles combine very well. Without knowing this, I had already been combining them for a while (though in separate meals), just motivated by intuition (based on general knowledge of nutrition) that this may be a good practice.

    But most important:

    I have repeatedly read that although dairy products do indeed contain a lot of calcium, they actually cause the body to lose a lot of calcium as well, and thus, are not a great source of calcium at all. Unfortunately, I do neither remember the exact mechanism by which this happens, nor a source. However, in case you have not heard of it, I will gladly search for the source. In case you have heard of it, I wonder what your opinion is on this phenomenon.

    Regards,
    Marco

    • Gabe

      This is a great nutritional resource that will hopefully help answer some of your questions/concerns. Especially in regards to Omegas.
      http://www.veganhealth.org/

    • Hey Marco!

      Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you liked the article.

      I think where many vegans get tripped up on the issue of protein intake is the average, sedentary person doesn’t need to eat nearly as much protein as us weightlifting folk.

      The one thing you have to remember with top-tier bodybuilders and strength athletes is the amount of drugs that are involved. It changes everything. Genetics are hugely influential too (some people are just naturally bigger and stronger than others).

      I agree that there’s a CHANCE a high soy intake won’t have feminizing effects but research clearly shows that some men don’t respond well to it.

      The dairy and calcium point is a myth. Dairy is a fantastic source of calcium, which you can read about here:

      http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-full-story/

      Getting adequate omega-3s is the one REAL challenge with vegan dieting because ALA is so poorly converted into EPA and DHA. I don’t know off the top of my head how much ALA would at least be acceptable but I would guess at least 15 to 20 grams per day, which sucks.

      That said, I may be off there and I’ll be looking into this more for a course I’m working on that’s going to be a deep dive into meal planning (going to go far beyond just hitting calories and macros).

      • Marco

        Thank you!

        Having read the relevant sections on the site Gabe suggested in the other comment (http://www.veganhealth.org), I conclude that I am doing the right thing with the flaxseed oil, that I should reduce my sunflower oil intake, increase my canola oil intake and try supplementing omega-3s (at least DHA). I just ordered a vegan supplement with DHA and EPA.

        • Gabe

          Glad this helped, Marco. I also gather that conversion rates to long chain omega 3 fatty acids are enhanced in vegans because our bodies don’t receive much preformed EPA/DHA.
          For future reference you might consider looking into this source as an omega supp: http://cleanmachineonline.com/products/ahiflower-oil/

          • Hm do you have any research you can provide on that EPA/DHA conversion point Gabe?

          • Gabe

            I’m sure more research is needed and my interpretation skills aren’t advanced but I think this study points to there being upregulated ALA conversion in populations that aren’t eating preformed long chain fatty acids:
            http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/92/5/1040.full

          • Thanks. I’ll check it out.

          • Gabe

            Excellent, thanks mate. I’d very much like to hear your thoughts.

          • The body can definitely increase absorption/sensitivity when a micronutrient is low but this won’t necessarily prevent a deficiency from developing (if intake is ultimately too low).

          • Gabe

            That’s fair, Mike. I think the ultimate, but difficult to answer questions would be: are there genuine deficiencies in reasonably health-conscious vegan populations? Moreover, are there appreciable hypertrophy benefits (not short term, specific health markers) from increasing intake beyond merely sufficient levels?
            I doubt there will ever be a study to tease apart the hypertrophy differences regarding vegan vs. omnivorous groups equated for everything but omega intake but I’d love to see it!

          • I would like to think that more vegans are health conscious than omnivores (and omega-3 deficiencies are quite common among vegans) but I can’t be certain there.

            You can read a bit about the hypertrophic mechanisms here:

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21501117

          • Gabe

            Thanks for replying and sharing that study.
            It’s definitely an intriguing topic. It certainly seems like there’s some potential there with higher doses though it would be nice if the studies demonstrating actual muscle growth (as opposed to some markers) were done in non-elderly populations.
            I wonder if it’s the Omega 6/3 ratio change that’s most responsible or long chain fatty acids in and of themselves that can bring about positive change (presuming an initial balanced intake).

          • My pleasure and I agree. I feel like I’ve seen some research of high EPA/DHA intake with powerlifters helping with recovery but I can’t say for sure…

          • Gabe

            Thank you again for taking the time to discuss and share. I really appreciate what you’re doing in the industry and that you’re willing to objectively address a highly reactive topic like vegan bodybuilding.

            It’s a small but vocal minority and I feel like there’s an incredible amount of misinformation and skewed perspective floating around the vegan fitness circle (on youtube in particular)—we need a thoughtful blending of science-based information that also recognizes and respects the philosophy behind veganism. Bodybuilding and a vegan lifestyle need not be mutually exclusive goals but I feel it’s critical for proponents to acknowledge and work with the constraints these dietary choices bring.

          • Well said Gabe and I totally agree.

            FWIW I’m currently working on a vegan protein powder that will be primarily a rice/pea/hemp/quinoa blend with a slew of micronutrients that vegans often don’t get enough of in their diets. I’m excited for it myself, actually.

          • Gabe

            Nice! That’s great to hear. There are a few vegan-friendly powders I like, including custom mixes from truenutrition, but I’m stoked you’re formulating something like this that will help differentiate it from similar products.
            I remember using vegan protein blends even when I wasn’t vegan because they mixed up nicely into a frosting-like consistency I could spread on baked goods. Whey just doesn’t work well in that capacity.

          • Yep! Definietly LMK what you give it a try. 🙂

            Cool to know on the vegan powder!

        • Good call Marco.

  • Jennifer Valentine

    Thanks for this article! More and more people are switching to or at least experimenting with plant-based diets, and many of us also have fitness/athletic goals. I think one of the main tradeoffs when trying to go higher protein as a vegan is fruit. Many of us are accustomed to eating a lot of fruit and vegetables, and indeed that is one of the healthiest things about this way of eating. But you do have to cut back on fruit when reducing carbs and increasing protein. I appreciated seeing daily eating suggestions, but was wondering which protein powder you used in your calculations. I have been struggling for years to find one I like that is actually high in protein. Some of them only have 10 grams or so in a scoop and you would NOT want more than that in a smoothie! Anyway, it is definitely a change in mindset. You have to add a few things that are less natural (like protein powder, seitan, etc.) because you just can’t get more than 50-70 grams of protein a day solely using beans, grains, vegetables, fruit, and nuts unless your calorie intake is very high. Thanks again for the article.

    • Gabe

      I would highly recommend https://truenutrition.com/veganplant-proteins.aspx for powders. You can create custom mixes too as a way to dial in the ratios and sweetener you prefer.
      http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/plantprotein.html has a pretty solid selection too. MRM and plant fusion and S.A.N make some quality, affordable blends.

      • Thanks Gabe.

      • Jennifer Valentine

        Which ones tend to be the least gritty? I know pea and hemp are popular right now. I have tried rice (very gritty) and soy (not gritty, but don’t want a ton of soy I guess).

        • Gabe

          Pea is actually quite smooth and creamy, at last compared to rice and hemp. When making blends I would recommend a 2:1 ratio of pea to rice for a good balance between amino profiles and texture.

          Chocolate, coconut, cinnamon and vanilla flavors all tend to suit these powders/blends well in my experience.

          • Jennifer Valentine

            Great! I’ll give pure pea a try then. Maybe the blends are gritty due to the hemp. Thank you!

          • Gabe

            You’re so welcome.
            That’s very possible, hemp is probably my least favorite taste/texture wise but might be fine in small percentages. Good luck!

    • YW! Thanks for the comment. I agree!

      This the protein I recommend:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/product/sunwarrior-raw-vegan-protein-powder/

      Exactly. You can make it work though! 🙂

      My pleasure! Talk soon.

  • Abel Vargas

    Hey Mike,

    I do agree with your point on Soy and couldn’t help but notice that on the bulk food plan there’s a recommendation of tofu which would be earned everyday for a long time.

    Would you just add a third protein shake?

    • Abel Vargas

      *would be eaten not earned

    • Ah yeah that was an actual plan for a client that really wanted it. I was okay with it because it’s not enough to be a concern.

  • Durian Rider

    You are on steroids. Why don’t you mention this? Why don’t you mention how VITAL steroids are for muscle growth?

    • Mr. Durian! I’ve been following your Kinobody shenanigans. Would love to chat. Shoot me an email? mike @ muscleforlife.

      P.S. Not on gear and never have used. FFMI is 23.4, FYI, and been lifting since I was 17 (31 now).

      You may also find this interesting on the subject of what’s achievable naturally:

      http://strengtheory.com/much-steroids-increase-hypertrophy/

      • Gabe

        Such a great article you linked from Greg Nuckols, Mike. I think everyone interested in the fitness industry would benefit from reading his articles on the topic.

      • dgr

        No way that’s dr from YouTube. The real durianrider cannot compose a sentence without at least 3-4 curse words.

    • Kevin George

      didn’t you recommend people to take roids and lie about it to be successful… maybe thats why.

      • Durian Rider

        hey worked for Guzman and co!

    • James Winne

      durian, we know you are conditioned to assume every dude with a good looking physique is on gear thanks to the douchers that pollute fitnes, but this man is the only truth in an industry of garbage. show me one other guru who trains the way mike does w heavy weightlifting and not pussy high rep stuff with a similar physique. you can’t because if a guy on gear were to train the way mike does he would be a behemoth.

      btw durian been vegan for a year now and following mike’s program for 1.5, i look awesome and i’m getting strong as hell. 6’2 190 ~10% with good abs right now, this man is only 6’2 192ish @7-8% i challange you to interview him and then tell me he is in the same realm of shady behavior as kinobody. They train similarly and their bodies are a result of strengh, learn to keep an open mind about good in the industry like we kept an open mind when you were advocating for the animals and diet.

      • Durian Rider

        Mike is that you? xD

        • James Winne

          lol dude. i go to fsu in florida and i’m 20, i wish i was mike. For all the cool stuff you do you really disappointed me here man. The worst part is that you could be sharing this guy with your audience and helping them achieve their body goals while raising their TDEE through heavy weightlifting, essentially giving the vegan community a much better rep past “they’re too skinny”. You ever wonder why you never heard about this guy until me and my buddy started spamming your shit about him? He looks better than kinobody and actually fucks with science but he doesn’t spam advertise himself like that. one of the most humble dude’s ever and answers every single question from his viewers. if you really can’t see the difference here then I guess you never will and your viewers are the ones who will lose out. I already experienced what this guy has to offer so it’s not hurting me but still makes me sad that other’s won’t just because you are holding your nose up. good luck bud i hope you’ll change one day.
          btw please tell me again how un-legit he is for naturals after reading these reviews.
          https://www.amazon.com/Bigger-Leaner-Stronger-Bodybuilding-Weightlifting-ebook/dp/B006XF5BTG

          • Keep in mind it probably isn’t Durian. Probably just a random troll.

      • Thanks for the support James. Keep up the good work.

  • Arturo Reaza N

    Mike, Tempeh is an incredibly good source for protein. Tempeh is fermented soy, and this means that all the bad things about soy are eliminated while the good ones get to be even more nutritious!

  • Jon L

    Great article! As you’ve said, the most practical way of hitting protein levels as a vegan, especially when cutting, is to use pea or rice protein powders (or even soy powders if you are not worried about the soy-related issues you raised). Ask around with vegans and you’ll hear that these powders often cause really bad flatulence. Its not an issue of lactose intolerance like you find with milk-derived powders but its a real (and embarrassing!) problem. My theory is that vegans new to this sort of program are not used to digesting so much protein and the flatulence is a response to (i.e., an inability to digest) the much higher levels you suggest, but I’ve got no scientific proof of this. All that said, do you have any suggestions on how to manage this?

    • Gabe

      For what it’s worth I haven’t had this issue with vegan blends but I would suspect that some of the additives used in certain formulas could pose a problem for some people.
      Chicory root in particular stands out as a fiber source you see added sometimes that can cause issues for people with a fodmap intolerance (mike talks about fodmaps in bit half way through this article of his: http://www.muscleforlife.com/why-gluten-free-diet/ ).
      I’d be willing to bet a very simple blend with few ingredients beyond the protein would help out. Sunwarrior or just straight up NOW foods pea protein isolate might be good starting points.

    • Thanks Jon!

      Yeah that much plant protein can can be tough to digest, which is why a good vegan protein should include stuff to help IMO (amylase, bromelain, papain, betaine Hcl, etc.).

      (I’m working on this product, by the way. Really liking the formulation so far.)

      • Jon L

        Thanks! I’ve always thought that if there was a way to help the body digest protein more efficiently, so that less went to waste (so to speak) that would be a serious tool for better results and living. LMK if there is any way I could help beta-test your product. Seriously.

  • ClaraS

    Great article, thanks!
    I often find myself caught in debates between vegans and meat lovers – and boy, do I hate those discussions! I’m one of the meat lovers but by no means for or against either of the two. My issue with these debates are that they get crazy emotional from both sides and I think it’s ridiculous.
    So thanks for this really thorough and objective article on the topic 🙂

    • Yep, it’s definitely a touchy subject, haha. My pleasure, Clara!

  • Alex Mora

    Great post! Love it man…
    This question is not related with the post, But, Do you think Greg Plitt physique its obtainable natural?
    You’re the only guy out there who speaks the truth… So i would appreciate that answer : )

    • Thanks!

      If you have very good genetics, yes. GP most definitely wasn’t natty but I do think that look is attainable naturally.

  • Sarah

    Great read! I eat mainly tofu, beans and eggs as my protein sources (preference) but I do include some fish. Don’t eat dairy due to intolerance either. I’m currently not training due to an op but was wondering if your meal plans can be catered to the type of food I like etc? I currently need to shed body fat since my last meal plan I was given meant I kept my muscle but couldn’t shift the fat, so my legs muscles etc are just covered in fat and no definition at all. I could do with the guidence so I don’t put on weight while unable to train. Is the meal plan you do possible with no training at the moment?

    Thanks, Sarah

    • Thanks, Sarah! Cool on the foods you’re eating.

      To answer your question, yes. All meal plans are made completely custom.

      I get where you’re at. We’ll take good care of you and get you a plan that actually gets the fat moving. 🙂

      It’s of course better to be properly training while on the meal plan, but either way, we’ll be able get the weight moving in the right direction with the meal plan.

      Welcome! Talk soon.

  • Jackson R

    Mike,

    Great article as always. I was somewhat surprised to find it on Muscle for Life. I remember listening to one of your Q&A podcasts where the topic of vegan bodybuilding came up and you mentioned a study in which meat eaters gained muscle and vegetarians (maybe vegans?) didn’t gain any muscle. It seemed like you were saying that building muscle on a vegan diet was NOT possible.

    I am considering going on a vegan diet for my skin issues and I’m wondering if you could link the study you mentioned just so I could take a look at it to help in making this decision.

    Thanks!

    • Thanks Jackson!

      Hmm I might have been referring to research showing that meat eaters gained more muscle than vegans? It’s definitely not true that vegans CAN’T build muscle…

      • Jackson R

        Okay, that would make more sense. I think I misheard what you were saying.

        Do you think that the amount of muscle vegans are able to gain is significantly less than meat eaters? Or is it more of a minor difference

        • No, I wouldn’t say it’s significantly less if you stick to the advice in this article. I’m not sure it would be less at all, really…

          • Jackson R

            Good to know!

          • Jackson R

            Mike, I had another question concerning Veganism.

            Would the lack of animal protein and cholesterol lead to less than optimal testosterone levels and hormonal functioning?

            I have been dealing with low testosterone recently and have read multiple places that cholesterol is essential in the production of testosterone. But, I know our bodies do produce some amount of cholesterol on their own. Is this amount produced by our bodies sufficient for optimal hormone production, or is the inclusion of dietary cholesterol in animal foods absolutely essential to have normal or high testosterone levels?

            Thanks!

            PS- just bought Triumph. Really like what you are doing here and at Legion.

          • Thanks for the support Jackson.

            Saturated fat and cholesterol are important for T production, yes.

            Have you seen this?

            https://legionathletics.com/how-to-increase-testosterone/

          • Jackson R

            I have actually. I read the article a couple of months ago. I just skimmed it again and did a quick search and didn’t find anything about saturated fat and cholesterol. You only mentioned total daily fat intake, but nothing about cholesterol. When you say they are important, what exactly do you mean? Can one still have high testosterone without consuming cholesterol from animal foods?

            Is there any hard evidence that your body needs cholesterol to produce testosterone and other hormones optimally? This seems to be what many of the testerone “gurus” claim.

            After a great deal of experimentation I have found that when I include meat in my diet I need to completely cut out any wheat, fruit,
            coffee, nuts/seeds, and any type of food with fructose (including things like sweet potatoes and even squashes and pumpkin) to keep acne-free skin. I will get a severe cystic breakout in response to any of those foods when meat is included in my diet. I pretty much eat meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, beans, oatmeal, brown rice, potatoes, olive oil, avocado, and a couple other foods. It can get kind of boring after a while and I am craving some more variety.

            When I stop eating meat, I am able to include those foods that would otherwise cause acne and my diet becomes a lot more flexible which
            allows for an easier life and less stress.

            I can never include dairy
            without getting severe acne regardless of whether i am eating meat or not.

            But, I am worried that going vegan will prevent me from raising my T because there are no sources of dietary cholesterol on a vegan diet.

            Is this worth worrying about at all?

            Thanks again for taking the time to respond to me !

          • Ah sorry. Have you seen this?

            http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-many-grams-of-fat-per-day/

            I’ve read a fair amount on the subject and there’s no question that sat fat and cholesterol support T production, and that raising HDL levels can raise T levels (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1998648, http://jap.physiology.org/content/82/1/49, http://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0014/ea0014p628.htm, http://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0013/ea0013p161.htm, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15741266?dopt=Abstract).

            This is one of the downsides of vegan dieting.

          • Jackson R

            Thanks again for taking the time to respond to me and for linking those studies.

            I was interested so I did some reading online.

            What I found stated on a lot of websites was that dietary cholesterol intake does not have a very significant affect on the level of cholesterol in your blood at all.Your body will adjust its cholesterol production up or down in response to the amount of dietary cholesterol you eat.

            However, saturated fat does have an affect on blood cholesterol levels and HDL by raising the amounts.

            So, since there are sources of saturated fat on a vegan diet, it would seem that you could have optimal Testosterone production on a vegan diet.

            Any thoughts on this? Do you agree with the idea that dietary cholesterol will not have significant impacts on blood cholesterol levels or HDL, thus making it non-essential for optimal hormone production?

          • Again this isn’t something I’ve read too deeply into but I’ve definitely come across evidence that dietary cholesterol does indeed raise blood cholesterol levels (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1534437 is worth reading).

            Ultimately you may just want to get blood tested, go vegan for a few months and do your best to optimize your nutrition, and get tested again.

          • Jackson R

            I guess that’s really the only way to know.

            Thanks Mike.

          • NP!

  • J

    Hey MM

    I finally finished reading your book Thinner Leaner Stronger- I bought it prior to a TV appearance I did a couple years ago. While I never put it into practice fully back then (I was easily distracted), I’m seeing now that the things I did weren’t far from what you suggest- and I got great comments when the episode aired which was nice. Now I’ve retreated from the spotlight, and I’m back to a more vegan approach. I was shocked that you had an article outlining my exact concerns on this topic, and addressing them. Nice work! Now I just need to work on getting the right form in the gym and figuring out what all these exercise names mean and I’ll be golden. 🙂

    Thanks-
    J —-

    • Thanks for reading my book and writing! I really appreciate it.

      Glad to hear you were pretty much doing it right already. Most people aren’t–believe me.

      Thanks. 🙂 Glad you liked the article!

      LMK if you have any questions regarding form on the exercises. I’m happy to help.

      Welcome! Talk soon.

  • Seth Adams

    I’ve been a vegan for nearly 8 years and this is may be the best article I’ve ever read concerning lifting and a vegan diet. Immediately forwarded it too several friends. Thanks for this!
    Seth

    • Hey Seth! Really happy to hear that, and thanks for spreading the word! 🙂

      My pleasure!

  • eduardo

    Hey Mike! What do you think about Robert Cheeke? He is a vegan bodybuilder and claims that a high protein diet could yield to liver damage and in the case of casein, cancer.

    Cited here :
    “Two of my favorite professional bodybuilders, Nasser El Sonbaty and Mike Matarazzo, recently died in their forties, likely from diet-related health issues. In all probability, their deaths were a result of too much protein consumption, coupled with the use of performance enhancing substances day after day until their organs failed. ”

    Another:
    “Years ago, I learned from Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s book, written with his son, Dr. Thomas Campbell, The China Study, that casein has the ability to turn on and turn off cancer growth simply by adjusting the level of intake of that protein. This was determined through years of clinical trials, experiments, and tests, which yielded these results, and are outlined in detail in Dr. Campbell’s research. His findings show that when casein is consumed in large quantities, cancer cells increase in size, and when there is a cessation in consumption of casein, cancer tumor cells recede.[1] I later learned that elevated levels of protein can also cause kidney damage, liver problems, kidney stones, excess fat gain, contribute to the damaging of the lining of artery walls, lead to plaque build up in arteries, result in lethargy, diminish bone density, and cause a host of other health problems. If this is truly the case, as it has been revealed by Dr. Campbell and numerous other world renowned experts who came to the same conclusions through experimentation, observation, and scientific research, why are these products consumed at such high levels? With their direct correlations to increased risk of disease, why is casein, which has been linked to illnesses such as prostate cancer, more than any other protein, allowed to be sold in stores? Why are these products even produced? After all, who needs them, besides calves?”

    Here’s the article link: http://nutritionstudies.org/no-whey-man-ill-pass-on-protein-powder/

    What I found interesting is that he only mention 1 source for his belief about casein protein doing all that damage, but he says it has been widely research. Do you know about it? I would like to know if those points against casein are real.

    He says vegan protein is healthier but he does not say why. He only states that it is weird or disgusting the way the protein is acquired (whey pr casein protein) and because vegan protein is raised on a garden, it is healthier.

    “If health is your goal, clearly, your answer to cow-based protein powders should be, “No whey, man.” Let’s put this into perspective. If you had to buy a clearly labeled animal-derived fat powder and carbohydrate powder at the same time of purchase as a whey or casein protein powder, would you proceed with the purchase? Or would it seem so silly to get your required macronutrients from canisters of animal by-products, the cashier at the store would raise an eyebrow and question your sanity? Consider these questions the next time you think about buying powders made from cow secretions for proper nutrition. How about eating something from a garden instead? Not only is it a much healthier choice, but fresh produce is a lot more appetizing, too.”

    Thanks in advanced Mike, I really appreciate your toughs about this.
    It is amazing how people do things just because someone else told them to or because they feel or think that something is like. Nowadays we have so much information sources and lots of them are full of unsourced or unproven information.
    It is nice and relieving having someone like you stating to the facts and proven information. And I think is good to mention your way to address people with other beliefs, educating them with information instead of confrontation. The world needs more of that!
    Thanks.

    • Thanks man! Glad you liked the article.

      “Two of my favorite professional bodybuilders, Nasser El Sonbaty and Mike Matarazzo, recently died in their forties, likely from diet-related health issues. In all probability, their deaths were a result of too much protein consumption, coupled with the use of performance enhancing substances day after day until their organs failed. ”

      That’s nonsense.

      Years of steroid (and likely recreational drug) abuse will explode your heart, not eating 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.

      You can find quite a bit of research on high-protein dieting here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/high-protein-diet/

      Check this out on the China Study:

      https://rawfoodsos.com/the-china-study/

      The association between dairy and cancer relates to IGF-1, which causes all cells to increase.

      The long story short is this: if you’re sedentary (or if you have cancer), high IGF-1 levels = bad. If you’re physically active, however, and especially if you lift weights regularly, high IGF-1 levels = not bad.

      You can read more about this here:

      https://examine.com/blog/high-protein-diets-linked-to-cancer-should-you-be-concerned/

      It’s quite strange how some people become so married to their ideologies that they can’t acknowledge ANY shortcomings…

  • David Soobie

    This is great. I just came across this website, you seem to offer some helpful knowledge.

    I have been vegan/vegetarian on and off for 5 years. Heavily in to working out, but feel like my diet needs to be dialed in for better gains, for repair, and to reap the benefits of my efforts.

    I am doing weights about 4-5x a week, have largely cut cardio out (
    i use to do a lot of sprints and intense lighter weight circuit
    training classes) for probably the past 8 years. I want my efforts to
    pay off, so I am switch up my exercise routine and my diet.

    I do still eat an egg or two a day and a little bit of tuna but apart from that my diet basically consists quinoa, flaxseed oil, mix of nuts – almonds, brazil, peanuts, 4 avocados, oatmeal, raisins, dates, carrots, soy protein powder, flax seeds, chia seeds, broccoli, spinach, chard, tofu, bananas, potatoes. I would say that all of the above is basically what i eat on a daily basis. Probably about 3,000 calories worth. I have just started using a tracker, so I am getting more exact measurements, the past few days.
    I am going to try and dial up the protein to 1 gram of weight and will try to get my protein in take from as you say

    Grains like wheat, rice, and oats.
    Vegetables and legumes like peas, beans, and potato.
    Nuts like almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and pistachios.
    Seeds like quinoa and buckwheat

    I am presently in South America and struggle to find rice or pea protein down here otherwise, I would be all over it. However, they do source Sunwarrior. Do you recommend that?

    The do tend to sell ground up flours of things like almonds, Amaranth, grains, maybe those would be good to tackle.

    I also have my Vitamix with me so should be able to do some damage with that!

    I’m about 5’10, 176lbs, probably about 15% body fat I would
    think, going to get it tested next week. My goal is to get to 180 at about 9-10% body fat. Am I dreaming?
    Lol.

    I did track my food today:

    2942- calories
    134.8 – fats (80 grams of this came from 6tablespoons of flax seed oil)
    270.2 – carbs
    185.0 – protein

    Thanks man, really dig the site.

    David

    • Hey David,
      Great food items in your diet.

      Are you bulking or cutting right now? Assuming 15%BF, and 4-6hours of exercise per week, your cut should be 2000cals.

      • David Soobie

        Hey Roger,
        Thanks for getting back, I presume your on the Mike team.. 🙂
        I had posted this just after, I found the site. I have since done about 4 hours of learning. Here is what I have concluded:
        -I was in bulking mode, but realize I should be in cutting mode, I am gaining way too much fat right now over the past 3 weeks of doing this. My new goal now is to cut to 10% body fat and see where I want to go from there, hopefully without losing to much muscle. My guess is I am 16%, I am getting tested next week.
        – My target calorie count for cutting is between 1,972-2,103 calories.
        – I am INSANELY SKINNY FAT! The article on that was me to a T. So many years of working out and bouncing around with diet, deficient in calories at times, maybe lack of protein rom trying different diets, way to much cardio (even though I have been
        doing HIIT for at least 10 years, I have done prolonged circuit training
        with light weights, high reps and lots of cardio involved in those
        classes usually betweeen 1-2hours. has resulted in a physique that does not represent my work ethic, displine, or desired result. But I am will to change strategy, it’s the end result that I am after, not the strategy and want it bad enough that I am willing to change.
        – I have chosen a 5 day a week weightlifting plan that Mike advise. Focused only on weights
        – I will only do HIIT 1-2x a week, if at all.
        – I am going to limit my calories to the 2,000 as you say
        – I am struggling to find pea/rice protein, so only for now, I am incorporating WHEY protein and plan to get maybe 75-100 grams of my protein of that per day (and try to get at least 175grams of protein per day) and shoot for 40% carbs,40% protein ,20% fat of my 2,000 calorie a day diet.

        I am now tracking my calories daily online, so I will stay on point.

        Does that sound right that it might set me straight?? I plan to stick to this strategy for 3 months.

        THANK YOU!!!

        • Yup. #teamMFL!

          That’s solid learning and application in 4 hours. Good work! Solid plan. Let us know how it goes. You’re very welcome!

          • David Soobie

            Fantastic! Thank you for confirming that I have decided on the right path! I will follow up and let you know!

          • Sounds good, David. 🙂

          • David Soobie

            Quick question if you don’t mind again:)
            Just wrapping up my first workout. Did Shoulders and Abs as my Day 1. I wanted to make sure I understood the rep count correctly

            One of the excercises Today was push press.
            I did a warm up with light weight and then went heavy.
            Only 3 sets between 4-6 reps. When I can do 6, I add weight to make only 4 or 5 possible. As the goal is to get progressively stronger.

            Am I correct? Only 3 sets of 4-6 reps for what I am trying to obtain here? 10% body fat, from 15%? I ended up doing one or two more sets.

            Also the ab cycle is killer 6-9 sets of weighted leg raises, leg raises til failiure and air bycle to failiure- love it!

            Thanks again

          • Yeah, that’s right! 3 sets each exercise.

            Abs circuit is definitely a fun time 😉

          • David Soobie

            Sorry, just a couple more questions if you don’t mind! I really appreciate the valulable responses:)

            1. If I do HIIT immediately after a weight training session, should I have a protein drink before my HIIT session? Or go straight from weights to HIIT

            2. How long should one keep up a fast for? The 20-25% deficit? Any harm in keeping it going? I really don’t want to lose muscle mass and notice I have been hungry the past couple of days on it at times, but have stuck to the 2,000 cals per day…just don’t want don’t want to lose too much muscle as I have done that before – but in the past it was all began and extremely restricted, I think to about 1,500 cals and I think most Definitley lacked protein.

            Loving the program so far that I have chosen and excited to aggressively stick with it. Thanks again!
            David

          • Happy to help.
            1. It’s fine. You can go straight to HIIT
            2. For cutting, it’ll take as long as it needs to or until you lower your calories to a point where you can’t go any lower (BMR) and are seeing no results. As long as you keep protein at 1.2g/lb body weight, you’ll be OK.
            3. Those are great protein sources!

          • David Soobie

            Perfect. Thanks!

            I will not go below 1830 calories, I believe that is my BMR. I will shoot for 1,991-2,124 calories per day.

            Crazy the difference between 1,991 cals and 1,830 does not seem that great but I guess it makes a big difference. Every 100 calories really counts

            I will also shoot for 210 grams of protein everyday.

            Thanks again man.
            David

          • Sounds like a plan! LMK how it goes.

          • David Soobie

            Wow. So I underestimated my body fat, I got examined. Nutritionist determined 19% body fat. She took about 15 different measurements with measuring tape as well so I am confident it’s close to that.

            I’m pretty pissed after 10 years of exercising and “healthy eating” I have ended up with a body that does not represent my efforts! That really pisses me off. So much so, that I am now more determined than ever to go after this and get what I deserve. I have actually dropped 5lbs in the past week. I have followed Mikes 5 day plan for the last week and a half, very closely. Just finished Day 3 of this week today.
            When I started last Monday I was about 175lbs, and I am only guessing but maybe I was 22% body fat or something. So I have dropped 5 and I definitely have not gotten weaker, only stronger(I hope , time will tell as still early on and I am writing all weights down so I will know).

            But I am going to drop my calories further now given my higher body fat and new weight.

            I am also doing HIIT 2-3x per week (6, 30 second sprints at speed 12 on the treadmill) I have not read the HIIT article yet, and keep meaning to, if that’s a poor hit formula please advise:) or I hope to read the HIIT article tomorrow.

            Physical States June 29
            170.63 lbs
            19% Body fat
            5’10.3″

            2331 is my TDEE with 4-6 Hours per week
            1865 is a 20% deficit
            1748 is 25% deficit

            My plan is to drop to about 1800 calories per day, 40% protein, 40% carbs, 30% fat

            Solid? Missing anything?

            With a routine like this, how many months to shoot for my goal, it’s 10% bodyfat. 6 months maybe? I realize might be impossible to know, was just curious, to have some sort of expectation, but then again maybe it’s better not to and just work at it.

            It’s go time.

            Thanks again.

          • Nice work getting the numbers in line and accurate. 1800 sounds like a solid plan. I’m sure you mean 20% fat though? Shoot for 204g protein, and the rest in carbs. It’ll take as long as it needs to, but expect long term results 🙂 You got this!

          • David Soobie

            Fantastic, thanks!! Yes, of course 20%, not 30% lol. Sounds good, I will shoot for that in protein. I can live with that…long term results:)!

          • Great!

          • David Soobie

            Haha Wow! I was just reading this thread that I wrote. I have made a pretty killer change! I have dropped about 10lbs and went from 19% BF to 13%. Results are starting to appear. You and mike have been very helpful. I NEVER want to get that fat again. Looking at my pics from 3 months ago and now…I LOVE where I am at Jejej wahoo and hope to only get better! I really hope to cut down on the 10% BF and then take it from there. To get rid of that last bit of belly fat would be amazing. Mike responded to a post on some questions, vegan powders, etc and offered some helpful articles in helps with that and I am going to respond soon. Just thought I would post again here to keep this post fresh and up to date with the new state! I will post back on te other soon. Thanks guys💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻

          • Awesome! Happy to hear it. Keep up the great work, David!

  • Cat

    THANK YOU for this article! This is super helpful. Especially since I know a few of those infuriating people who subsisted on french fries and coffee as a “vegan,” then moved to a proper diet (that happened to include animal products) and now walk around loudly blaming their “veganism” for all their problems (b**ch you lived on french fries for 3 years, that was your problem!). For me, if it was a choice between being flabby and harming others/our planet, I’d grudgingly suck it up and take the trip to flab-town, but I’m so glad you don’t think that has to be the only choice, phew! Can’t wait to try out one of these sample plans xx

  • Heisenberg

    Been vegan now (ok except some honey and bee pollen,i called this beegan) for 4 years and my training performance and muscularity is as good as it was if not better.The thing that is definitely better is my endurance during training.I always was on high carbohydrate diet even back when i was eating everything,maybe for some people its a liiiiiiiiiitle harder consuming many carbs but as i say,if you are not obese TRAIN LIKE A HORSE and you WILL DESERVE EVERY BIT OF CARB,doenst matter if its sugar or sweet potatoes.For people who dont want soy protein pea protein is really great high solid amino acid profile.I consume in big quantities soy products and soy protein (even back when i was eating meat) and OF COURSE nothing i wrong with testosterone because soy acts like a SERM (selective estrogen receptor modulator) its ANTIESTROGENIC if you are on high estrogens binding with the A receptors in order to protect you from your own MAMMALIAN estrogens to bind with the A receptors which are linked with hormone related cancers,and estrogenic if you are very low on estrogens which is BAD cause basic estrogens are CRITICAL.I take pea and soy protein which are the best plant proteins,and of course there are the blends like brown rice with pea etc.Of course you can be vegan and have a succesfull bodybuilding,strongman or any other sport career.

    • That’s awesome man! Thanks for sharing.

    • FrenchyNS

      Very helpful. In the meal plans above, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of fruits and vegetables. They don’t add much calories but are loaded with all kinds of nutritional benefits. Also absent from the conversation is the major health risks associated with high animal protein consumption (http://nutritionfacts.org/video/protein-intake-and-igf-1-production/).

  • csandycarrahlynn

    I didn’t see nothing about cutting as a vegan. Is it doable to cut on a vegan diet and get all protein in without going over carbs?

    • Absolutely. And when you are having trouble meeting your protein target, you can turn to vegan protein supplements.

  • StingRay

    Sounds like some there is some info missing here and maybe misinformation. I know all of this is strictly for building the body past what it’s meant to be, so for the sake of this argument I will say that all animal proteins come with fat and plenty of cholesterol. I wonder why so many bodybuilders die from heart attacks (can’t always point at the steroids). Vegans also get CLA from coconuts/oils, although you should watch even though it’s good cholesterol.

  • StingRay

    When I was a personal trainer I met dozens and dozens of hardcore meat eaters who could never gain muscle or weight, and even some who could never just loose that round puffy look. Just FYI. This article is almost passive aggressive in a way..Go search all the vegan body builders. It’s no different. Yes animal protein is higher per calorie, but it comes with all the junk. I’d rather take the hard way out.

  • geenak

    For your 1 on 1 coaching, do you offer meal plans for vegans? I was looking particularly for someone who is obese.

    • Sure do! They just need to specify that they want a vegan meal plan.

  • D1re1fit

    What if your obese, and you want to go vegan and begin body building? What should your macros be? I see that you said high carbs shouldnt be a problem unless your obese?

  • Chris

    Hey Mike. How about lentils as a protein source in terms of absorption and essential amino acids? Where do you check this information?

    With a lot of the vegan sources of protein having high carb or fat content, It’d be amazing to find a reliable list ranking protein sources in terms of density of protein per calorie.

    • Hmm I can’t say I remember seeing lentils per se, but legumes in general are good, so there’s that.

      I know, it’s tough.

  • Dan Turek

    What about getting some protein intake from the Beyond meat products? They are soy free

  • Pete Fishman

    Hi Mike- as everyone else agrees, fantastic article. Huge help for me and many others. I’m a new vegan, at the moment working on a cutting diet. My biggest protein sources are rice+pea powder and seitan, with some tofu. I’ve heard there is a concern that over-eating seitan can cause a gluten intolerance. Do you have any thoughts/info on this risk?

    • Thanks! Glad I can help.

      Yeah, it’s pure gluten, so there’s that. I wouldn’t worry about it TOO much, but would probably limit my intake of it.

  • Erick

    Hello Mike,

    Do you recommend any specific product for the rice pea protein mix?

    • Not at the moment, but my vegan protein will be available in 4-6 weeks, and it’ll be a rice and pea protein blend. 🙂

  • coco

    Mike what macros can you recommend me Having a hard time figuring out. Iam 123 lbs 5’2″ my bf is 29% my TDEE is 1800 .I workout 5 day a week weight and 25-30 min of cardio trying to low my bf and gain muscle.? Tks

  • Robertson

    This has been the most thorough article I’ve read to date on building muscle for vegans or anyone desiring to stick to a plant-based diet. Thank you very much Mike for the MUCH needed knowledge. I will definitely be referring back here.

    • Happy to hear it! Glad you enjoyed the article and got a lot out of it.

  • Jessica E Paulus

    Can’t wait for your vegan protein powder!! C’mon April!!

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