(Edit: This article turned out longer than I expected so if you want a quick summary/list of my main points you can scroll to the bottom!)
When I became vegan I had already been actively training every day for a few years
with the goal to build the best physique I could. I started off my athletic journey on the lighter side at around 120 lbs which is what really drove me to become athletic in the first place, the fact that it made me feel better than I ever had before was just an amazing bonus.
But when I (basically) turned vegan over I definitely took a hit in my size. That’s only because I suddenly changed for ethical reasons and thus was super unprepared for what laid ahead. What laid ahead was healthy, ethical, tasty and low-calorie. As someone who actually WANTS to gain weight, this quickly became something I had to learn to adjust to and overcome.
Luckily, I grew up and started my athletic journey as an ectomorph, so weight gaining issues were nothing new to me. The new issue was gaining muscle weight solely on plant-based products, which as an uninformed individual seemed like an arduous and daunting task. One of the ways I knew I needed to eat was frequently enough so my body would spend a minimal amount of time in a fasted state. In the field of ketosis, your body can always be placed in one of two categories; fasted and fed. A fed state, as you probably could guess, is when your body is fed and is using the energy provided by your last meal. Whereas a fasted state is when your body has resorted to other sources of energy, typically your previously stored fat cells. If you have ever heard of intermittent fasting, these are the body processes that lifestyle aims to manipulate. So for me, I needed to stay in a fed state in order to consume more energy then I was using.
If you look around the internet you’ll see hoards of bodybuilders preacher the 5 meals a day method, and that’s for a good reason. Eating 5 moderately sized meals a day seems to be the perfect balance of feeling full and feeling hungry throughout the day, and the most time efficient too. In my experience, I spend less time eating 5 pre-cooked meals that are moderate in size as opposed to 3 larger meals.
Supplement, but don’t over supplement
The next step in my process was to find the right types of supplementation I would need. Now before I go into detail in this part, I want to be very careful because of the mass-spread misconception that a vegan diet is unnatural because of the need for supplements. An argument I hear frequently is that because vegans need the essential vitamin B12 supplemented that this way of life can’t be natural. In reality, virtually the entire first world is supplemented B12 due to the global/international trade markets. Due to international produce and agriculture trade being so prolific the bacteria-laced dirt that would naturally be on our food in a hunter-gatherer setting is washed off to avoid contaminating different ecosystems and/or spreading bacteria to people who lack immunity. I am all for globalization and international capitalism, this is just one cost we have to pay for that. Due to all of this, however virtually all dairy products, juices, cereals, nut milk, and faux meat are fortified, a.k.a supplemented, with an array of vitamins/mineral like B12, Calcium & Iron.
The supplements I considered a must-have for gaining lean muscle mass efficiently was a vegan weight-gainer. The downside with trying out new weight gainers are that most bags come in a 1-2 month supply, which is a pretty big gamble that I lost a few times before I realized my local supplement shop would actually provide a tiny taste sample upon request. After much trial and error, finding ones that made me feel bloated, gassy or were just too thick and bitter to enjoy at all, I found my baby. Iron Vegan’s Athlete Gainer is my ultimate recommendation for a plant-based weight gainer/meal replacement or protein supplement.
This is literally the only weight gainer I have found that is so easy to drink that
I actually look forward to each one. I’ve always been so used to forcing these shakes
down thinking the thick glugging quicksand mixture was just a cost I had to pay. If you’re someone who struggles with appetite or becomes easily bloated from shakes, I strongly encourage you to try this one, even if it’s one last try for you. I always get the chocolate flavor which is weird for me because in the past I always had to get vanilla so I could mix the taste with blended fruit, now I just scoop & shake and it truly feels like a blessing.
Thankfully Amazon carries this gainer and I save 15% off of every bag because I subscribe!
Now as for other supplements, your needs will obviously vary on an individual basis. I personally recommend keeping supplements down to a minimum in order to keep them as supplements. You don’t want to get yourself in the position where you feel you need an array of pills and powders to keep the edge, instead, aim to consume all the nutrients you would seek in a supplement in real food/fortified foods. For example, I can’t speak on whether or not it’s healthier to take a B12 supplement or drink B12 fortified Almond Milk, but what I do know is the almond milk also comes with an array of other nutrients and actual calories that can be used as energy.
Lose the Ego, Train & Lift Properly
While I firmly believe that your diet is about 75% of what matters in achieving fitness results, how intense and frequently you train is obviously still a crucial aspect of any training program. Throughout my year in the gym, I have slowly realized that there is a fine line between pushing your limits and flexing your ego. In fact, I struggled with this issue for a while because it sometimes just feels like everyone in the gym is watching/judging you, when in reality, people are typically too focused on themselves and how THEY look to care about the weight you are lifting or the types of exercises you are doing.
For example, for years I would see female bodybuilders using the hack-squat machine in a peculiar way in order to isolate and target their glutes. I always saw them doing this but brushed off the exercise and useless for me because it was intended for women, after all, you don’t hear about men trying to make their butt bigger. It wasn’t until one day I was approached in the gym while doing pause reps on the hack squat machine and this girl recognized I was trying to grow my booty, she approached me and taught me how to do the reverse hack squat thing properly. You wouldn’t believe the burn I got. Keep in mind I had been training for years at this point and hadn’t felt this type of burn or soreness in years.
In short, I had let my ego and the fear of what others would think about me stop me from growing and improving myself. It can be a dangerous trap. You may have also seen some individuals who “ego-lift” especially when doing exercises like barbell curls and bench press. Ego lifting became a problem for me in several areas, so much so that at times I was unable to recognize if I was pushing myself super hard or was I just priming myself for injury.
This forced me to take a step back and formulate my own personal checklist, in order to ensure I never found myself in the ego lifting trap again.
My Ego-Removing Checklist:
- Heels should stay planted on the ground for the entire rep
- Momentum should be contributing to a 10% max of the lift
- I should be able to keep my Core tight for the entirety of the lift
- Dropping the weight if I failed to do minimum reps in a given set
- Maintaining proper posture in standing & seated lifts (shoulders back and typically chin up)
Take Advantage High-Calorie & High-Fat Vegan Foods
While the previously mentioned Iron Vegan Athlete Gainer is my favorite way to ensure I am maintaining an energy surplus, there are plenty of raw plant foods that can give you large amounts of calories in the form of healthy unsaturated fats.
Three staples in my diet now are; Peanut Butter, Hummus & Avocados. When I say “staples,” I mean at least 2 out of 3 of these will be eaten by me every day. To see how many extra calories you can grab with these foods, let us do some simple math. In one measly tablespoon of peanut butter, there are approx. 90 calories with 3 whole grams of protein. That means if you eat 2 bananas only with 7 tablespoons of peanut butter, you would be getting over 650 calories & 21 grams of plant-based protein. Add that with one of the other high-calorie foods I mentioned, and you can easily consume an extra 750-1250 calories per day. That could mean the difference between gaining muscle and losing weight for many.
Lastly, you want to train efficiently.
Similarly to the ego-lifting, over-training can result in the detriment of your overall gains. There is a lot of debate online over what is and what isn’t over-training, and how over-training will really affect your performance. When looking at this, it’s best to take a scientific approach. We know that for the average person, it takes 24-48 hours for a muscle to fully recover from a vigorous workout. It’s important to keep this in mind whilst planning your workout routine. Personally, in weightlifting, I prefer a “Push, Pull & Legs Routine or a DAY 1: Back, DAY 2: Shoulders & Arms, DAY 3: Legs & Abs, DAY 4: Chest & DAY 5: rest day. Notice how on”DAY 1” I am utilizing bigger body parts and lifting heavier weights, DAY 2 is shoulders and thus I am using less weight and putting less stress on the lower back, then DAY 3 is when my lower back has has 24 hours to rest and is ready to be stressed again during my leg workout. Carefully planning a workout routine to ensure you are getting enough rest is another crucial aspect in any form of athleticism.
#1: Eat Frequently
- Take advantage of your ability to keep the body in a fed state, a 5 meal a day plan is typically the easiest way to do this.
#2: Supplement, but don’t over supplement
- Make use of protein powders and/or weight gainers like my favorite chocolate Iron Vegan Athlete Gainer 🙂 Also, if your choice comes down to a supplement or real food, always choose the latter.
#3: Take Advantage High-Calorie & High-Fat Vegan Foods
- Peanut Butter, Hummus & Avocados are three foods that can help you easily consume an additional 750 to 1250 calories every day. That could mean the difference between gaining muscle and getting skinnier!
#4: Lastly, you want to train efficiently.
- Carefully planning a workout routine to ensure you are getting enough rest is another crucial aspect in any form of athleticism.
I hope you enjoyed this read and got some value out of my post! If you know someone who is new to being vegan and athletic or someone who is struggling to gain weight on a plant-based diet, I would really appreciate if you could share this piece with them.
Until Next Time,