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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.)

  Jasey at 145 when he started S2B. And 170 when he graduated from the program.

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.

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.

A snapshot of Jasey’s screen in the S2B Coaching Program.

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.

Another shot of Jasey’s habit compliance screen in the S2B Coaching Program.

Jasey’s Muscle Breakfast: Tofu scramble and 1 cup cooked oats with berries.

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.”

We agree.


Read more articles from Nate at the Nate Green Experience.

Nate Green Nate Green is an author and fitness expert.

About the Author: Nate Green is the Program Director for Scrawny To Brawny. You can find him on Facebook or Google+.

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