How to Lose Fat and Build Muscle on a Plant-Based Diet

Let’s put away all myths, prejudices (both pro and con), and legends. Let’s talk nutritionally because that’s the only way that actually matters. Sound good? Okay, we’re going to not talk about your specific training regiment here. This is strictly nutrition.

Your body needs certain diet requirements to build muscle, duh. The most important is a small calorie surplus and enough protein. When you workout, you will damage your muscles, and these two factors will help your body repair your muscle tissue in a stronger way than it was before.  For muscle growth, your protein intake should be between 0.8 and 1 grams/lb of body weight per day. You can absolutely get this through a vegan diet, but you’re going to need to be clever. We’ve already gone over the reasoning behind this, so I’ll keep it brief here and give you some examples you can use today.

Peanuts (26g of protein per 100g), mung beans (24g of protein per 100g), kidney beans (24g of protein per 100g), black beans (21g of protein per 100g), chickpeas (19g of protein per 100g), pumpkin seeds (19g of protein per 100g), chia seeds (17g of protein per 100g), oats (17g of protein per 100g) and lentils (9g of protein per 100g).

Eat a few servings of those through the day, and you’ll get a significant amount of protein very quickly. I’d recommend also tossing in a vegan protein powder supplement, the best of which are usually pea or rice protein powder. Better yet, get one that blends both. Take one or two scoops of them per day, and you’ll be fine.

Keep an eye on your calorie balance. You’re going to need a slight calorie surplus to gain muscle, which might be difficult, seeing as vegan diets are not known for their ability to let someone overeat. If you’re having trouble and find yourself not gaining weight consistently, consider increasing your fat intake through olive oil, which is more calorie-dense than most vegan sources of carbs or protein. If you do this, make sure you still reach your macro requirements of carbs and protein per day.

Here’s the bottom line: you can build muscle and strength on a vegan diet.

cardio

Cardio. Personally, I hate cardio with regarding passion even though it does great stuff for you, but you need to decide what your workout goals are before doing cardio. Cardio burns calories, and if you burn too much, you won’t have a that important calorie surplus, and your body just can’t build muscle. If you want to pack on muscle, consider eating more or doing less cardio.

Eat. Yes, I know that people like to think of calories as awful, but you need that surplus if you’re going to build muscle. Your muscles don’t grow as you workout. They grow after you finish, and you need to be getting the right calories and from the right places.

Recover. The fun part for many people this is the part when your body is reeling from working out, getting the necessary fuel, and doing what you want: getting stronger and building muscle. Much of this is done when you sleep, so make sure to get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, at least. Less than seven, and you’ll be sacrificing possible progress and maybe your health in general. It’d be pretty stupid to go through all the effort of working out, then lose it because you didn’t do the easiest thing on the planet: sleep.

Pea Protein Powder

Pea powder is made of dried yellow field pieces of fiber as a legume. It contains all the essential amino acids (except for methane). It’s an excellent protein source for vegans and vegetarians. It’s basically the vegan alternative to whey protein. You need protein for building muscle, and while you can get it from various foods, it’s tricky and requires a good amount of planning and calculation… Or you could use pea protein powder with a balanced diet. It’s completely vegan, and it’s a high-quality protein and is extremely comparable to whey protein, and studies can prove it. Also, since it’s not made from milk, it’s an excellent choice for those who are lactose intolerant.

Don’t use any kind of protein powder as your sole source of protein. Maybe get a third of your diet, a half max, of your protein from protein shakes.

Are there side effects? Nope. It’s very safe. If you have preexisting kidney problems, talk to your doctor first, but studies have shown it’s safe for everyone else.

How to Use Creatine?

Creatine stands out as one of the very few supplements that actually does make you see more gains. Through the magic of science, it will make you stronger, and it will cause more water retention in your muscles, which you want because it makes them appear bigger and fuller. But, who cares if it isn’t safe? Luckily for us, study after study shows that it’s completely safe.

But what kind? There are tons of forms, but luckily, the research is pretty obvious: creatine monohydrate is the most effective form. You’ll see more expensive kinds, like creatine ethyl and Ke Alkalyn (aka, buffered creatine), but they don’t have any extra benefits, and they can be more than twice the price. No, here’s what you have to do—traditional creatine monohydrate supplement. Make sure you look for the Creapure trademark because they will assure you that you’ll have one hundred percent pure product.

When should I take it? It doesn’t matter very much, seeing as it doesn’t have an instant effect. Some people like to say that you should take it after your workout. These people like to cite studies that say there is better absorption after a workout, but here’s the thing: in those studies, the researchers actually declared that the difference was so tiny that it wasn’t statistically relevant. You do you. You take it when you can.

How much? 3-5 grams per day (like a teaspoon). That’s enough to saturate the muscle within 2 to 4 weeks. If you take excess, cool, but you’ll just pee the excess out, and it won’t help.

With what liquid should I mix creatine? Great news—whatever kind of drink you want. Traditionally, it was a juice or very sugary drink, but research has proven this does nothing very beneficial.

Should I have a loading phase? Loading phases are when you take 20 grams per day for 5-7 days before going to the recommended amount of 3-5. Do this if you want, but it won’t be all that important. Initially, a higher level will lead to a faster saturation of the muscle cells, but only by a couple days, and the recommended dose will do the same thing anyway.

Should I cycle creatine? Nope! If you decide to stop taking it at any point, your body will be completely fine. You will have no side effects or withdrawal symptoms, other than the decrease in strength.

Vegan Food for Energy

Theoretically, every food has calories, and calories give you energy, so it would make sense that every food would provide you with energy, with very high-calorie foods giving you the most energy. This is not quite right, unfortunately, if you consider longterm effects. Fortunately for us, there are plenty of foods that can help you get energy without compromising you in the long term.  Here’s what to look for!

Quality carbs:  Even though they aren’t vital to your survival like some other kinds of foods, they’re an excellent energy source, and they’re fantastic for instant energy boosts. The more intense that your workouts are, the more important carbs become. Fats provide up to 90 percent of your energy during normal activities, but when you start getting into moderate and high-intensity workouts,  it shifts into overdrive and carbs start providing energy. Focus on unprocessed or minimally processed carbs like pasta, whole-grain bread, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. Bonus points for being very nutritious and being high in fiber!

Fruits: They are also carbs, but they get their own section because they hit a lot faster. If you need instant energy, you’re not going to find a better source.

Coffee and tea: Well, duh. Tea takes longer to break down than coffee, so it’s better for the long term, drawn-out a release of caffeine. Use them before a workout, and it’ll increase your performance, but be careful—your body will get used to caffeine levels and you’ll have to start drinking more and more over time.

Anything you’re deficient in: If you’re feeling low on energy, it could be a nutrition deficiency. I’m going to leave you with this: blood tests will tell you if you have a nutritional deficiency. If you live in cold places, you’re more likely to be deficient in Vitamin D. Athletes are particularly susceptible to Vitamin C, magnesium, and iron deficiencies  (which, fortunately, is an easy fix with a diet adjustment or with the right supplement). Vegan or vegetarian? You might be lacking vitamin B12 and calcium. If this is you, I have good news: these are common problems, and if you get rid of these deficiencies, you should expect a massive energy boost, and your quality of life will increase exponentially as such.

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