‘Vegan’ and ‘bulking’ aren’t generally two words we associate with each other. Given that the clichéd stereotype of a vegan is someone who chooses their diet based on ethical and environmental reasons, not for aesthetics or size. With this being said, you can of course gain weight whilst following a vegan diet, it just takes a little creativity and consistency.
So, can I gain muscle and bulk up on a vegan diet?
Absolutely! With the culture and popularity of plant-based diets ever-growing by the day, as does the number of athletes and bodybuilders choosing to follow a vegan diet. Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking to ‘bulk’ off-season, or new to bulking and just trying to gain weight / muscle mass, it can seem a daunting task to bulk up without consuming any animal products. Especially as so many ‘gainers’ and protein products on the market are made using whey (derived from cows’ milk).
Protein is of particular importance when combined weight training to gain muscle mass. A 2017 study by the International Society for Sports Nutrition found that strength training athletes need close to 2g protein per kg bodyweight, compared to 0.8g per kg bodyweight for non-weight training adults (Rogerson, 2017). Fret not herbivores; all is not lost. It is absolutely possible to gain weight and muscle mass healthily and easily, without any animal products. See below our 12-step guide below to achieve the most successful vegan bulk:
TPW 12-step vegan bulking guide:
- Track your calories – with today’s technology, it couldn’t be easier to track your calories. As the goal is to gain weight, you need to eat in a calorie surplus, and therefore must start by establishing your maintenance weight (how many calories your body needs to maintain your weight). This will enable to you work out many more calories you need to increase this by in order to gain weight successfully. You can calculate your maintenance calories using our handy TPW Calorie Calculator . Now you’ve got your maintenance calories down, you need to increase this number by 20% to establish your surplus.
To keep track of this and ensure you are hitting your daily calorie goal, you can input your calorie goal into a calorie tracking app, such as MyFitnessPal (on this particular app you can do this from the ‘Nutrition Goals’ tab). Ensure you track your calories throughout the day to ensure you are hitting your 20% surplus and input any exercise you do to account for the calories you have burned.
- Track your macros – So, you’ve figured out your maintenance calories and added your surplus, but how many of those calories should be split into protein / carbs / fat? These three macronutrients are the biggest nutrient groups that make up our food. Whilst ‘a calorie is a calorie’ might be true for mere weight gain or loss, it is how these calories are spread into each macro group that will dictate how effectively your body builds are repairs muscle tissue. We could be here all day discussing the science of macros, but to keep things short and sweet, we have devised this optimal vegan macro split:
- Follow a high-protein diet of 1.6-2.2g or protein per kg of bodyweight
- Keep your fat intake moderate with around 20-30% of your calories coming from fat.
- Consume the remainder of your calories in the form of carbs.
Once you have established how much of these macronutrients you require a day, you can input these stats into the same app (just as you did with the calories on the ‘Nutrition Goals’ tab) that you are using to track calories (or similar calorie / macro tracker app if not using MyFitnessPal). This will make it easy for you to track your diet throughout the day to be sure you’re hitting your macro goals!
- Consistency is key – this goes for your diet, training and sleep. Ensure you stay on track of your diet (as discussed above) and are regularly strength training in order to gain maximum muscle gains. This being said, don’t overdo it! Training any more than 5x a week will put stress on your body and can hinder your gains. Your bulking efforts in the gym and the kitchen are to achieve your goal of muscle growth; however, in order for this to happen you must give your body chance to recover and your muscles chance to repair. This is where sleep comes into effect! Aim for a minimum of 6-8 hours of sleep at night to allow your muscles to repair and grow to their full effect.
- Good things come to those who wait – Successfully bulking takes time, even on a high-protein diet with animal products. Its therefore worth keeping in mind that it may take longer to bulk without animal products but do not be deterred or demotivated if you don’t see any change by week 2. You will need to create a calorie surplus, 20% higher than your maintenance calories’.
Simply increase your daily calorie surplus by an additional 200kcal and monitor if you see any changes. If still no change, increase your daily surplus by another 200kcal until you start to see results. Finding what works for you is really just a case of trial and error. Keep your end-goal in mind and trust the process – you’ve got this!
- Watch your portions – Just as with any non-vegan bulk, it’s recommended that you keep your potions large and your meals frequent, so you have a constant stream of nutrients to draw energy from all day. This doesn’t mean you have to stuff yourself sick! If you struggle with huge portions, make your meals smaller in size but ensure they are frequent and snack in between meals to hit your macros.
- High protein foods – yes, we know it goes without saying but ensuring you hit your daily protein goal is essential to see the best results from your efforts in the gym (and the kitchen)! A useful tip is to keep cooked lentils and black beans in the fridge at all times so you have a quick go-to when short of time. Beans are a fantastic muscle-building protein source and very versatile, so if in doubt, throw some beans in for good measure!
- Even more protein – got your blender at the ready? By far the easiest way to pack in plenty of plant protein is by blending a variety of sources into a nutritious shake. You don’t necessarily have to down the whole lot in one go either if you are struggling with the volume. You can have first thing half in the morning and save half for before bed to ensure you hit your protein goal with ease. See our TPW Big Fat Vegan Shake recipe in step 10 below for a calorie-dense shake to get a serious nutritional boost while getting those all-important calories in!
- Fake it ‘til you make it – No matter how organised you are, there will be times that you find yourself without the resources you need, or the required time to prepare a meal or shake from scratch. This is where protein shakes and mass gainers really come into their own. TPW Vegan Mass Gainer packs an incredible 549kcal and 39 protein per serving! So, life just got a lot easier. Simply, shake up with your favourite milk alternative or water and you’ve got a delicious and convenient nutrient hit. The perfect addition to any vegan bulk to make sure you get the results you want!
- Supplements – Anyone following a plant-based diet is recommended to supplement their diet with a multi-vitamin , vitamin B12 (due to lack of red meat) and vitamin D3 . It is also recommended to supplement your diet with Creatine (5g daily) and glutamine (5g daily) when bulking to gain optimal results. It’s also recommended to include a post-workout carbohydrate drink to deliver quick, post-workout carbs.
- Reduce or limit your cardio – An effective way to speed up your gains is to reduce (or completely exclude) cardio training to hold onto those precious calories you’re putting into your body. Hitting the recommended 10,000 steps a day won’t do you any harm at all, however long duration or high intensity cardio is a sure-fire way to torch off those precious surplus calories you’ve been putting in.
So, you would need to replace the calories burned during your workout in addition to your 20% surplus, meaning you just need to eat more food, so it’s your call! As mentioned in steps 1 and 2, if using a fitness app (such as MyFitnessPal) to track your macros, you can also use this to input your training (type, duration and intensity) to work out how many calories you burned. It will remove these from your daily calorie count so you know exactly how much more you need to eat to replace them!
- Healthy fats – Including plenty of avocado, coconut, flax seeds and chia seeds into your diet will help to protect and your cells. Try adding chia seeds to your shakes, or soups (anything with liquid), once it has been cooked or blended and after 10 minutes of soaking it will be ready. Chia pudding is an easy and delicious snack – simply soak chia seeds in your choice of plant-based milk (add a sliced banana, nuts, and a drizzle of your favorite flavor TPW Zero Syrup to take it to the next level)!
TPW Flax Seeds are another great source of healthy fats, however be sure to grind them up first or use powder such as TPW Flaxseed powder to reap the full benefits (which aren’t absorbed by the body when the seeds are in their whole form). See our TWP ‘Big Fat Vegan’ Shake recipe below for a delicious, high-calorie shake packed to the brim with healthy fats! You can also easily adapt this recipe by using different fruit, adding cacao powder, changing your milk-alternative or nut butter –variety is the key to making any bulk as enjoyable and sustainable as possible!
TPW ‘Big Fat Vegan’ shake – (approx. 1000 calories)
- 350ml unsweetened almond milk
- 2-3 tablespoons TPW almond butter or TPW peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon TPW flax seed powder
- 1 tablespoon TPW coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon flax seed oil
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 scoops TPW vegan protein extreme powder (24 grams of protein per scoop)
- 1 teaspoon maca powder
- 1 banana
- 1 teaspoon TPW Zero Syrup in flavour of your choice – we love this shake with the maple syrup flavour.
12. Treat yourself! – As discussed in step 3, consistency is undoubtedly key to maximise the results of your bulk. However, it can be beneficial to include a ‘cheat meal’ or allow yourself an off-plan meal or sweet treat once a week. The incentive of having something you really crave to look forward to can provide a much-needed (and well-deserved) morale boost. This will make the bulking process more sustainable and enjoyable. One meal will not undo your progress, just as one meal won’t give you instant results. So, treat yourself – you deserve it!
TPW 4-Week Vegan Bulking Meal Plan
Our TPW nutritionists have devised this 4-week vegan bulking meal plan to make plant-based bulking a breeze! See below a wide selection of flavoursome and nutritious recipes you can mix and match to keep your meals interesting and (most importantly) enjoyable!
You may also add sauces and dressings to add more flavour and variety to your meals over the 4-week bulk, however be selective with what you choose (avoid sugar-laden sauces) and just be mindful of how much sauce or dressing you add!
Breakfast options – choose one from the following list each day.
- Tofu scramble with spinach, mushrooms and vegan cheese on toast (approx. 554 kcal)
- Large portion of granola, almond milk, handful of almonds, tbsp chia seeds and sliced banana (approx. 750 kcal)
- 1 or 2 bagels with peanut butter (approx. 380/760 kcal)
- TPW ‘Big Fat Vegan Shake’ (approx. 1000 kcal)
Morning meal/snack options – combine these to increase calories if needed
- TPW Vegan Protein Crunkies (approx.168 kcal each)
- TPW Vegan Mass Gainer (approx. 525 kcal)
- Handful of almonds (approx. 595 kcal per 100g)
- Hummus on 4 oatcakes (approx. 424 kcal)
- Soya or coconut yogurt with berries, seeds and mixed nuts (approx. 455 kcal)
- Apple with peanut butter (approx. 200 kcal)
- Small portion of veggie sausages, avocado, tomatoes and wholegrain rice (approx. 450 kcal)
- Kale Salad with Crispy Chickpeas and Spicy Tempeh Bits (approx. 500 kcal)
- Lentil soup with wholemeal bread roll (approx. 420 kcal)
- Vegan ‘chicken’ pieces, salsa, wholegrain rice and mixed peppers (approx. 720 kcal)
- Mixed bean chili wraps with avocado and vegan crème fraiche or yogurt (approx. 900 kcal)
- Falafel sandwich on wholemeal bread with tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, 1 tbsp mango chutney, 2 tbsp herby vegan yogurt (approx. 600 kcal)
Snack options (select 1 or 2 daily depending on calories)
- Dark chocolate (approx. 65 kcal a square)
- TPW Vegan Meal Replacement shake made with 30g cashew butter and almond or soy milk (approx. 556 kcal)
- 130g mixed nuts (approx. 640 kcal)
- 3 TPW Pea Protein Tahini Truffles (approx. 180kcal)
- 150g sliced marinated tofu (approx. 160 kcal)
- 6 Falafels (approx. 350 kcal)
- Vegan sausage Jambalaya (Linda McCartney Chorizo and Red Pepper Sausages are the perfect flavour for this) with Cajun rice mixed with sweet potatoes, spinach and topped with sesame seeds (approx. 700 kcal)
- Meat-less balls (such as Linda McCartney’s), pasta and marinara sauce with vegan cheese (approx. 600 kcal)
- Black Bean Burritos in whole-wheat tortillas, black beans, mixed peppers, avocado, salsa, brown rice and jalapenos (approx. 520 kcal)
- Marinated Tofu Sub, sweet potato chips, guacamole dip (approx. 900 kcal)
- Lentil and Chickpea Samba Curry, served with rice or vegan naan/chapatti, soya yogurt raita and mango chutney
- TPW High-Protein Falafel Burger, on white or wholemeal burger bun, chips, cup of green beans (approx. 650 kcal)
- Super Green Chickpea pasta salad with olives, new potatoes, avocado, spinach, pasta with vegan pesto and olive oil dressing (approx. 600 kcal)
- Chili ‘sin’ carne with wholegrain rice and ½ avocado and vegan crème fraiche/yogurt on the side (approx. 700 kcal)
- Spicy Seitan Thai Fried Rice (approx. 700 kcal)
- BBQ vegan ‘pulled pork’ (such as Oumph) burger on whole wheat burger bun with chips (approx. 700 kcal).
The Take Home
Given that you follow the 4-week meal plan and follow our 12-step guide, you will undoubtedly see results for your efforts! As previously discussed, remain patient, consistent, and motivated, keeping your end goal in mind and you are well on your way to achieving your body and fitness goals! Take before and after photos to track your progress and if you feel your gains are plateauing, increase your calories by an additional 200 calorie surplus and assess any changes. If still no change after another 2 weeks, increase again by 200 calories. Gradually and safely increasing your weights in the gym can also speed up your gaining progress, however do this at a pace and weight that suits you and ensure you maintain good form as an injury is the last thing you want! Mix up your meals with differing flavours and spices and be sure to include a weekly ‘cheat meal’ to stay motivated and sustain the process. Have a look at our huge range of vegan products to assist with your bulking journey and help you achieve your body and fitness goals!
- Rogerson, David. (2017). Vegan diets: Practical advice for athletes and exercisers. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 14. 36. 10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9.