How to build muscle on a plant-based or vegan diet
Can you build muscle without eating meat? Learn how one guy packed on 13 pounds in just 2 months by following two simple nutrition habits tweaked for the non-animal eater.
As coaches, one of our favorite things to do is sift through all the new recruits to get a feel for their goals and see how we can help them kick ass in the program.
And every year we have at least a few guys who want to gain muscle without eating meat.
You may know them as “vegans” or “vegetarians.” But we call them “plant-based eaters.”
Why? Two reasons.
Reason Number 1: The words “vegetarian” and “vegan” don’t mean much. We’ve seen vegetarians eating boxed cereals, foods with processed chemicals, TV dinners and other crap. Their diets were defined by the absence of meat, not by what was included.
Reason Number 2: Our friend and nutrition guru Ryan Andrews once quipped, “I prefer to be called a plant-based eater because vegetarians are usually assholes.”
So, how do you gain muscle by eating a plant-based diet? As it happens, one of our recent clients, Jasey, is a plant-based eater who gained 25 pounds in S2B and even won $1,000 of our money in the transformation contest.
Here’s how he did it. And how you can do it, too.
(A note to Meat Eaters: We have a challenge for you here in a bit. So keep reading.)
How To Gain Muscle, PLant Style.
“You’re gonna die if you stop eating meat.”
That’s what Jasey heard from his friends when he made the switch to plant-based eating. And although he was skinny as hell (145 pounds at 6 feet tall) he certainly wasn’t going to die. But he did need more muscle. Lots of it.
“I decided I wasn’t gonna turn into one of those frail guys who barfs when they eat,” he says.
So Jasey worked with his coach to slightly tweak the first couple S2B nutrition habits. The results surprised the hell out of Jasey. “I probably put on 10 pounds by doing two things,” he says.
(Actually, it was 13 pounds. We checked.)
Step 1 – Drink 3 Super Shakes Every Day.
Total gain from this one step – 9 pounds.
Like most guys who need to gain muscle, Jasey wasn’t eating nearly enough food. His coach, Chuck, fixed that immediately by having him drink 3 plant-powered Super Shakes every day.
With only a blender and a few choice ingredients, Jasey instantly and easily increased his calories, sending his body into muscle-building mode.
Plant-Powered Vanilla-Coconut Super Shake
- 5 ice cubes
- handful of frozen strawberries
- handful of fresh spinach
- 2 scoops Vega or PlantFusion vanilla protein powder
- 2 TBSP raw almond butter
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/4 cup coconut flakes
For a full month, Jasey didn’t touch any other part of his diet or modify any other meals. He simply focused on making and drinking his Super Shakes, without fail, every day.
It became his first muscle-building habit. Every day he logged into the S2B Coaching Program and gave himself a green check mark.
Step 2 – Eat a Muscle Breakfast every day.
Total gain from this one step: 4 pounds.
After a month of consistently nailing his first nutrition habit, Jasey was ready for more. This time, Coach Chuck instructed Jasey to increase the quantity and quality of his breakfast.
S2B and Coach Chuck supplied the food recommendations and support, and Jasey showed off his culinary skills by coming up with own version of a tasty, muscle-building tofu scramble and pairing it with a big bowl of oatmeal and berries.
For the next month, Jasey ate this breakfast and only missed one day, charting 93% compliance.
Spinach Tofu Scramble
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup white onion
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/2 block medium firm tofu
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 Tbsp water
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 cups spinach, chopped
- 1 avocado, sliced
How to make it
- Combine all the spices with the water and add to a separate dish. Set aside.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Put the onion and garlic in the pan and cook for 5 minutes.
- Crumble tofu in the pan and saute for 8-10 minutes.
- Pour over the spice/water mix. Add spinach and simmer for 2 minutes.
- Serve with sliced avocado on top.
2 Steps To More Muscle? You Better Believe It.
Jasey ended up gaining 13 pounds in the first two months of the S2B Coaching Program by working on one habit at a time. And he did it without eating meat.
Month 1 – Drink Three Super Shakes Every Day
Month 2 – Eat a Muscle Breakfast Every Day
It’s the beginning of the exact same formula we use to help hundreds of guys build muscle every year, with a few simple tweaks to make it plant-friendly.
“But what kind of workout did he do?”
That’s the first thing most guys want to know.
But after coaching hundreds of guys, we know that working out is NOT the most important step to building muscle. The crucial component is how much food you eat. Which is why Coach Chuck started Jasey off with two simple but important nutrition habits.
Still, working out is an essential part to building a good body. That’s why Jasey trained his ass off a few times per week on the year-long workout program that’s part of the S2B Coaching Program.
But what workout should you do?
The simple answer: As long as your training program focuses on mostly compound exercises and uses progressive overload, you’ll be good to go.
(If you have no idea what “progressive overload” means — or if you simply want a free six-week workout program — we recommend checking out Day 3 of our free 5-day muscle-building course.)
5 More Muscle-Building Tips for Plant-Eaters
While we suggest you start small by adding in one new nutritional habit per month, we wanted to share some more plant-based muscle-building tips. So we asked our friend Ryan Andrews for his top secrets.
1. Swap your water with a simple protein shake.
Add a scoop of protein powder to your water and drink it with every meal. Hey, look at that! You just added an extra 20 grams of protein without thinking about it.
2. Use nuts & seeds instead of oils.
Nuts and seeds have protein. Oils don’t. Take advantage of this. Instead of lentils with coconut oil, try lentils with pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup pumpkin seeds = 15 grams protein). Instead of salad with olive oil, try salad with almonds (1/4 cup almonds = 10 grams protein). Instead of oatmeal with margarine, try oatmeal with cashew butter (1/4 cup cashew butter = 12 grams protein).
3. Supplement when necessary.
If you’re unable to get something from food, don’t be afraid to supplement. Supplements that can help plant-based eaters include: zinc, selenium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, carnosine, creatine, carnitine, taurine, choline and DHA/EPA from algae. (There are plant-based versions of all these supplements. Just check with the company.)
4. Scale back (a little!) on veggies.
Vegetables are filling, especially bulky raw veggies like peppers, carrots, and broccoli. This isn’t very useful when you’re trying to eat more food to gain weight. So feel free to scale back on vegetables and replace them with foods that have more calories like grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
(We still recommend one or two fists of vegetables with every meal, though.)
5. Always have cooked beans ready to eat.
Beans = protein. But it’s hard to eat them if they’re sitting on the shelf at the store. Cook up a big batch of beans a couple times per week and have them ready to eat at all times. Frozen and canned beans are totally fine, too.
“What About Soy? Isn’t That Bad For You?”
Our friend Ed Bauer, a vegan athlete with plenty of muscle, gets asked this all the time.
Here’s what he says:
“Sure, going overboard on soy can be harmful. But having a limited amount in your diet is fine. It will not turn you into a woman and it does not influence your sex drive. I try to limit my daily soy intake to around 50 grams, mostly from whole food sources like tempeh and tofu. But a little more on occasion has never been a problem for me.”
A Challenge for Meat Eaters
Hey, meat eaters. You still with us here? Good. Because we have a challenge for you, one that we’ve done ourselves. (And we’re definitely fans of high-quality, humanely-raised meat.) Ready for your challenge?
Pick one meal per week and make it all plant-based. We recommend trying Jasey’s spinach tofu scramble (recipe above) in place of your normal breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Why should you accept our challenge? Well, if you’re like us, it’ll force you to get out of your comfort zone, try some new foods, learn a new recipe, and realize there’s never only one right way to accomplish a goal.
All good stuff.
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Read more articles from Nate at the Nate Green Experience.