15 top tips for building lean muscle on a vegan diet
1 Eat real food
Whole unprocessed foods will help you stay leaner, because what you see is what you get. There are no hidden nasties. While meat-free alternatives can be delicious, there are often hidden sugars and fats that prevent us from leaning up and absorbing nutrients.
Do you eat a good balance of carbs, fats and proteins? To build lean muscle we need all three in unison for maintenance, muscle growth and muscle recovery. Complex carbs like oats and sweet potatoes will nourish your nervous system and give you the energy you need to lift. Fats like avocado and nuts keep your heart healthy as well as helping to balance hormones. Proteins like chickpeas and lentils help you feel fuller for longer and repair faster.
Eat the rainbow! Fruits and vegetables have so many vitamins and minerals and they are low in calories, which means you can have more of them; which is great if you are trying to lean up. Vitamins A, B, C, D, potassium, magnesium and iron will help boost your immune system and are extremely important if you want to train hard for results. The choice is endless so be brave – from veggies like broccoli, carrots, spinach and beetroot to fruits like bananas, which help rebalance electrolytes and prevent muscle cramping.
You will go far on your journey to build lean muscle if you aren’t afraid to step out of your comfort zone. It’s very hard to stick to a plate of beans, sweet potato and courgette every day, but if you change it up it will remain exciting. Even that same meal can be made interesting by spiralising the courgette or blending the beans into a dip or making sweet potato mash. Keep it fresh!
It’s dead simple – eat more! To build muscle you have to create a calorie surplus – eating more calories than your body burns through daily activities, workouts and normal physiological processes. Just be smart with your food choices and you will see and feel the benefits.
65% of our body is made up of water, so keeping hydrated will help keep you at your full strength. Maintaining adequate hydration levels will also reduce protein breakdown and help with protein synthesis, which will help you grow. It also helps to lubricate between the joints, which will help to prevent pain.
7 Feeding times
Always try to eat regularly and not just one or two large meals per day. Eat every few hours so that your body has the energy it needs to perform and function at its best. Pre and post workout meals are the most important times to eat if you’re looking to gain muscle, so that you can have the energy to smash a workout and then be able to replenish the muscle glycogen depleted during your workout.
8 Good quality protein powder and bars
Do your research! As vegans we tend to get excited when we see that magical VE sign, but don’t settle. There are so many types of protein out there, from hemp to pea. Ideally, you want to pick one that has the least amount of ingredients, flavourings and thickeners that can be bad for the gut. A shake or a bar is always handy to have on you for a quick snack or to boost up your protein levels on a particular day.
9 Mobility and flexibility
The more range you have, the more muscle you can engage; and the more muscle you work, the more calories you burn doing it. It’s one thing having more muscle, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to move around with it.
As vegans, our natural creatine levels tend to be a little lower than non-vegans. Adding a little extra from a supplement (in powder or tablet form) can be extremely beneficial for increased strength, cognitive skills and managing glucose levels.
11 Food and fitness tracking
Be accountable! It’s the best way to track if you’re eating enough of the right foods or getting benefits from your workouts, whether that be in muscle mass or an increase in the weights being lifted. This way you can make little adjustments if progress stops.
12 Lift heavy
Heavy weights will challenge you and ultimately change you. Using big compound movements like squats and deadlifts will build strength and muscle faster.
13 Multi-directional movement
Our bodies move multi-directionally, so why shouldn’t we train like this? Bending, turning, twisting, forwards, back, side-to-side is the best way to strengthen out stabiliser muscles that help support the bigger muscles and joints.
High Intensity Interval Training is the quickest way to get leaner, fitter and faster in one go. If you want to get leaner and stronger, this is for you. Get a timer app and pick a couple of exercises. Something like a run on the spot and a mountain climber, 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest, then repeat both eight times.
It’s a great way to cut cortisol (stress hormone) levels. When the body is stressed in fight or flight mode it is drained quickly and clings onto reserves like fat, stopping you being as lean as you could be. This is when the body repairs and recovers; mentally, physically and emotionally.