Vegan Wonder

Unleash Your Vegan Strength: A Comprehensive Meal Plan for Bodybuilders and Competitive Athletes

In the world of fitness, there are few myths more pervasive than the idea that vegans can’t build muscle or sustain athletic performance.

But the truth is, plant-based diets can be just as effective for fueling athletic endeavors as any other diet—even more so when you know how to do it.

In this article, we’ll show you exactly how to do it. Whether you’re a bodybuilder looking to build muscle on a plant-based diet or a competitive athlete trying to optimize your performance, this comprehensive vegan meal plan will provide you with all the essential nutrients, macros, and meal strategies you need to reach your fitness goals.

Can Vegans Build Muscle?

Before we dive into meal planning, let’s dispel the myth that vegans can’t build muscle. The truth is, plant-based protein sources—including legumes, nuts, seeds, soy products, and whole grains—can all contribute to muscle growth in the same way that animal protein can. It’s not about the source of the protein but rather the amount of protein you consume, along with your overall calorie intake and exercise program.

Vegans do need to pay attention to their protein intake, but if you eat a variety of plant-based foods throughout the day, you should be able to meet your protein needs without much difficulty. The key is to consume all nine essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein, in each meal.

While it’s true that most plant-based proteins are incomplete proteins, meaning they don’t contain all nine essential amino acids, there are plenty of plant-based foods that provide a complete amino acid profile. These include:

  • Quinoa
  • Tempeh
  • Soybeans
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spirulina
  • Amaranth
  • Teff
  • Buckwheat
  • Sesame seeds
  • Mung beans
  • Peanuts
  • Tofu
  • Seitan

By incorporating a variety of these foods into your diet, you’ll be able to meet your protein needs and build muscle as effectively as any meat-eater.

In addition to protein, athletes need to pay attention to other key nutrients that can be found in plant-based foods. Some of the most important vitamins and minerals for athletic performance include:

  • Iron: Found in leafy greens, lentils, kidney beans, and fortified cereals. Iron is essential for transporting oxygen throughout the body.
  • Calcium: Found in almonds, kale, collard greens, broccoli, and fortified plant milks. Calcium is important for bone health.
  • Magnesium: Found in spinach, almonds, cashews, quinoa, and avocado. Magnesium helps with muscle and nerve function.
  • Vitamin D: Found in fortified plant milks and sunlight. Vitamin D is important for bone health and immune function.
  • Potassium: Found in bananas, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and avocado. Potassium helps regulate fluid balance and supports nerve and muscle function.
  • Vitamin C: Found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Vitamin C is important for immune function and wound healing.
  • B vitamins: Found in whole grains, leafy greens, lentils, and fortified plant milks. B vitamins are important for energy production and nerve function.

To optimize your nutrient density, incorporate superfoods like chlorella, spirulina, moringa, and maca powder into your meals.

Meal Planning for Bodybuilders

As a bodybuilder, your main goal is to build muscle. This means you need to consume more calories than you burn, which will result in your body storing excess energy as muscle tissue. In order to build muscle effectively, you’ll need to consume enough protein to support muscle growth and repair.

To calculate how many calories and grams of protein you need each day, use the following formula:

Your bodyweight in pounds x 14-17 = number of calories per day
Your bodyweight in pounds / 2 = number of grams of protein per day

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you would aim for 2,800-3,500 calories per day and 75 grams of protein per day.

To meet your calorie and protein needs, try incorporating more of these high-protein vegan foods into your diet:

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Black beans
  • Peas
  • Lentil pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Peanut butter
  • Almond butter
  • Soy milk
  • Protein powder

In addition to these foods, try incorporating nutrient-dense snacks and shakes into your meal plan. Some ideas include:

  • A smoothie made with frozen berries, spinach, almond milk, and a scoop of plant-based protein powder
  • Hummus with sliced vegetables and whole grain crackers
  • Roasted chickpeas seasoned with paprika and cayenne pepper
  • Sliced apple with almond butter and raisins
  • Roasted lentils with cumin, chili powder, and lime juice
  • Overnight oats made with almond milk, chia seeds, and sliced banana

When it comes to meal prepping and timing, aim to eat a high-protein meal or snack within 30 minutes of finishing your workout to help your muscles recover and grow. Some ideas for pre- and post-workout meals include:

  • Scrambled tofu with spinach, tomato, and whole grain toast
  • Black bean tacos with brown rice, avocado, and salsa
  • Lentil soup with a side of quinoa and kale
  • Peanut butter banana smoothie with a handful of almonds and chia seeds
  • Chickpea salad with cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, avocado, and lemon juice

If you’re bulking, aim to eat three large meals and one or two snacks each day. If you’re cutting, aim for five smaller meals and one or two snacks each day.

Meal Planning for Competitive Athletes

As a competitive athlete, your main goal is to fuel your body for endurance and recovery. This means you’ll need to consume enough carbohydrates to provide sustained energy during your events, as well as plenty of anti-inflammatory foods to support recovery.

To determine how many calories you need each day, use the following formula:

22-24 x your weight in kilograms = number of calories per day
60% of your calories should come from carbohydrates, 25% from fat, and 15% from protein

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg), you would aim for 3,144-3,531 calories per day, with approximately 1,947 calories coming from carbohydrates, 884 calories from fat, and 500 calories from protein.

To meet your calorie and macronutrient needs, try incorporating more of these carbohydrate-rich vegan foods into your diet:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Black beans
  • Buckwheat
  • Oats
  • Fruits
  • Dates
  • Jersey sweet corn
  • Melon
  • Mangoes
  • Pineapple

In addition to these foods, make sure you’re consuming plenty of anti-inflammatory foods like leafy greens, berries, nuts, seeds, and legumes to support recovery. Some ideas include:

  • Spinach and kale salad with sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and a lemon-tahini dressing
  • Roasted sweet potato and black bean tacos with avocado, salsa, and brown rice
  • Quinoa bowl with chickpeas, roasted vegetables, and a tahini dressing
  • Oatmeal topped with sliced banana, almond butter, and chopped nuts
  • Lentil soup with a side of steamed kale and whole grain bread

When it comes to dining out or traveling, do your research ahead of time to find vegan-friendly restaurants and grocery stores. Pack snacks like plantain chips, trail mix, and energy bars to keep you fueled on the go.

If you’re training for an endurance event, make sure you’re practicing your fueling strategy during long training sessions. This might involve consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal three hours before your event, a smaller meal or snack one to two hours before, and another snack 30 minutes before.

Transitioning to a Vegan Diet

Transitioning to a vegan diet can be challenging, especially if you have a lot of muscle mass or are training for a competitive event. To make the transition easier, try the following tips:

  1. Start by adding plant-based foods to your diet rather than eliminating animal products. For example, try having a tofu stir fry one night per week, or adding chickpeas to your salad.
  2. Make sure you’re getting enough calories and protein each day. You may need to increase your calorie intake initially to support muscle growth and maintain energy levels.
  3. Take a multivitamin to ensure you’re getting all the essential nutrients your body needs.
  4. Experiment with different plant-based protein sources to find the ones you enjoy. You might be surprised by how many options there are!
  5. Seek out support from other vegan athletes or join a vegan sports community to connect with others who are going through the same thing.
  6. Consider working with a vegan-friendly sports nutritionist to create a meal plan that meets your specific nutritional needs.

Remember, transitioning to a vegan diet is not an excuse to slack off on your training or nutrition. In fact, it’s an opportunity to explore new plant-based foods and find creative ways to fuel your body in a way that supports your athletic goals and your values.