Updated: Sep 23, 2019
The desire to “bulk-up” and gain muscle is sometimes used as an excuse not to go vegan – and that is absolute rubbish! Like any meal plan that has a specific goal in mind, it requires thought and planning, but it can be done, and importantly it can be done a lot more healthily (not to mention ethically!) than using animal products.
In order to bulk efficiently, you need to provide your body with excess calories. If you’re anything like me, your first thought when you read that was “hurray, I can eat as many vegan burgers as I want”, but I’d urge you to think twice. Bulking can often be used as an excuse to eat junk food and neglect your diet – a “dirty bulk” – but just because you want to put on muscle does not mean you need to undo all of your hard work in creating a healthy and sustainable diet. Here are some top tips for clean bulking on a plant based diet.
1. Eat the right foods
The main thing you need to build lean muscle is protein, protein, protein. Protein builds and repairs muscles, so getting enough of this macronutrient will be key. Ideally you want to be getting around 1-1.5g protein per kilo of lean body weight (meaning the weight you would be if you didn’t carry excess body fat for your height and gender). Beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh and seitan are all good sources of protein and should be incorporated into your diet (at all times, but especially when bulking). Make sure you are eating protein with every meal, not just dinner.
That being said, don’t neglect your healthy fats and carbs. Healthy fats and carbs are needed to support muscle growth, as well as for overall health and wellbeing – just because you are increasing your protein doesn’t mean you should skimp on these essential macronutrients! Carbs in particular are essential when bulking, as you will be depleting your energy in the gym and carbs are a good way of replenishing it. Just try to remember that whole grains and slow releasing carbs are better for your overall health, and the majority of your carbs should come from these sources!
2. Eat the right foods at the right times
Everyone will work out at different times in the day depending on their schedule, but an important meal when bulking is your post-workout meal. This does not have to be a full meal, it is often quicker and easier to grab a protein shake, but it is important that, once you have put the hard work in at the gym, you then nourish your body with the correct foods to maximise your gains. Your post-workout meal should include plenty of protein and carbs and, ideally, a small amount of healthy fats.
3. Be in a (slight) calorie surplus
It can be tricky to get this balance right, but the aim for a “clean” bulk is to eat sufficient calories to gain muscle but not to gain too much extra fat (some added fat is likely – don’t stress about it). The key is not to go crazy with your eating – your body only needs so many extra calories to build muscle. Just like bulking on an omnivorous diet, you should keep your potions larger than usual and eat frequently. This will mean that you constantly have nutrients to draw energy from all day. Don’t overeat or stuff yourself at every meal, but having healthy snacks throughout the day will help you achieve this. Foods such a nuts and seeds, nut butters, tofu and avocados are good ones to incorporate into your diet. Coconut milk is another delicious but calorific food that we like to incorporate into our meals when we are bulking.
4. Track your calorie intake and meals
This is another way of keeping yourself accountable, and also helps track your macro (and, depending on the tracker you use, micro) nutrients to make sure you are keeping your diet healthy and eating a range of delicious and nutritious plant based foods. We use the Cronometer app which gives a good breakdown of both macro and micro nutrients, but there are plenty of tracking apps out there. Try to be strict about tracking everything you eat, that way you will have a lot of useful information to help see what works for you and what doesn’t.
5. Track your progress
Tracking your progress is key to keeping you motivated and accountable. There are a number of different ways of tracking your progress, and it helps to use more than one to get a more accurate account of what you have achieved.
This is a useful guide as to progress but unfortunately isn’t very specific so it is best to use another measure alongside it. That is because the scales usually only tell you how much weight you have put on, not whether it is muscle or fat. The number on the scales can be misleading so, although it is good to track, take the results with a pinch of salt and, more importantly, alongside another tracking method.
Measure your body fat
Testing your body fat with calipers every couple of weeks is a good way of tracking whether the weight you are gaining is fat or muscle. They aren’t expensive to buy and are quite easy to use. Keep in mind though that the body needs fat, so use this as a tracking measure but remember to keep your body fat percentage in a healthy range.
I’m not going to lie, I don’t like this method of tracking, but it is effective. It is a good way of keeping you accountable and honest, and it is also good to be able to look back and see how far you have come. Try to take a photo of your body once a week, ideally at the same time of day and before eating.
6. Work out!
This might seem obvious, but it needs to be said. If you are in a calorie surplus and not putting in the work in the gym, you’re just going to put on fat instead of muscle. Unfortunately, when it comes to building muscle, there is no healthy cheat. Hard work in the gym and consistency in your diet will be key. If you want to understand the basics of exercise for bulking, check out our blog post here.
7. Be patient
Bulking takes time. You’re not going to get muscles like Thor overnight, or even in a few weeks. You will need to be strict with yourself, both in terms of your diet and your exercise, in order to get results. If you stick with it, and follow the tips set out above, you will feel great when you see results without compromising your health!