Vegan and plant-based diets are more popular than ever these days. Athletes, celebrities, and everyday fitness enthusiasts are increasing their intake of plant foods while reducing the consumption of animal products or removing them entirely.
There’s a lot of conversation, argument, and confusion surrounding resistance training and plant-based diets, and we’re here to help clear up some of the misconceptions that might be floating around.
Here are 6 important tips for vegan and plant-based athletes to keep in mind.
6 Important Things to Understand as a Vegan Weightlifter
One of the main concerns or questions individuals switching to a plant-based have is “where am I going to get my protein?”
This makes sense given that consuming enough protein is essential for optimal muscle recovery and growth. Research indicates that individuals concerned with optimizing body composition need to consume between 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which comes out to ~0.8-1.1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Typically we think of animal foods as being the primary sources of protein in the diet, but there are a number of plant foods that are also high in protein.
Vegan sources of protein include:
- Nutritional yeast
- Nuts and nut butters
Another great option, especially for those looking to build muscle and lose fat, is to invest in a high-quality vegan protein powder, such as 1UP Organic Vegan Protein.
Unlike most plant protein sources, 1UP Organic Vegan Protein is a complete protein source, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids required to support protein synthesis. Our Organic Vegan Protein contains 24 grams of protein per serving, and it’s USDA Organic, Eco Certified, and Vegan Certified!
#2 Amino Acids
Above we mentioned that our Organic Vegan Protein is a complete protein source in that it supplies all nine essential amino acids (EAAs) the body requires to build proteins.
Most plant protein sources (brown rice, beans, etc) are deficient in one or more of the EAAs, typically leucine, lysine, or methionine.
Lacking one (or more) of these essential amino acids limits the body’s ability to effectively build proteins, which can hamper muscle recovery and growth as well as athletic performance and immune function.
This is why you see many vegans combining multiple plant foods together in a single meal (beans and rice, peanut butter on bread, etc).
There are some complete vegan protein sources, such as soy or pea protein, but it never hurts to supplement with some additional essential amino acids and BCAAs.
1UP His and Her EAA/BCAA makes a fine addition to any individual’s diet who's looking to augment their intake of those key amino acids that enhance recovery, repair and growth. If you are looking for amino acids sweetened with stevia than we got you covered as well Natural BCAA
Not only is consuming enough protein and amino acids necessary for optimal performance, recovery, and muscle growth but so too is total calorie intake.
To build muscle efficiently, you need to be in an energy surplus whereby you consume more calories than you burn in a given day.
Without sufficient calorie intake, your body doesn’t have enough energy to build new muscle tissue or recovery optimally from one training session to the next.
This begets the question, “how many calories should I eat to build muscle?”
There’s no cut and dry answer for every person. We each have individual calorie and macronutrient requirements.
The good news is that it isn’t that hard to figure out the right number of calories for your body.
We’ve created a completely step-by-step guide to help you estimate how many calories you need to eat to build muscle (or lose body fat), here.
Basically, once you have an idea of how many calories you burn each day (your TDEE), increase your daily calorie intake by 10-20% and that should be a good starting level of calories to fuel muscle growth.
#4 Resistance Training
To build the body of your dreams, eating right is critical, but so too is training hard.
In order to build muscle and gain strength, resistance training is a muscle.
The reason for this is that resistance training provides the stimulus your muscles require to grow stronger.
Regarding vegan and plant-based athletes, there really isn’t a difference in the type of resistance training workouts they need to perform.
Omnivore, carnivore, and plant strong athletes should base their training programs around compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, and pulls. These recruit a substantial amount of muscle fibers and provide a tremendous muscle building “bang” for your exercise “buck.”
Also, keep in mind that building muscle and gaining strength requires consistency, effort, and patience. There are no shortcuts, magic workouts, or superfoods to building muscle.
Consistently showing up, pushing your muscle to a high level of fatigue, and using good exercise selection are the keys to building muscle regardless if you’re a vegan or omnivore.
Each time you show up to the gym aim to do more work (progressive overload). This could mean doing more reps, increasing weight, increasing range of motion, increasing time under tension or reducing rest between sets.
#5 Rest & Recovery
As we just discussed, resistance training provides the stimulus your muscles need to adapt and grow. However, your muscles aren’t actually growing during the workout.
It’s in the hours and days following your workout that muscle recovery and growth occurs.
As such, you need to give as much attention to your rest and recovery habits as you do your diet and training ones.
This means getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, along with keeping your stress levels under control, as being stressed all the time actually reduces protein synthesis (muscle building) and increases protein breakdown (muscle loss).
It can be incredibly tempting to follow the “team no days off” mentality, but the truth is that even elite athletes take days off each week because they understand the value of proper rest and recovery in allowing them to achieve their goals both in terms of performance and aesthetics.
#6 Nutrient Timing
The final piece of the puzzle to consider when looking to optimize your results is nutrient timing.
The reason we say it’s the “final piece” is that if you’re not consuming enough protein or calories, not resistance training, and not sleeping adequately, then that post workout protein shake isn’t going to have much benefit.
However, if you’ve got the big picture things (total calories, daily protein requirements, hard training, good sleep) taken care of, consuming certain nutrients at certain times of day can enhance your recovery and growth.
Based on the current body of research, athletes looking to optimize resistance training adaptations should consume between 20-40 grams of protein (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass/dose) from a high-quality source (such as Organic Vegan Protein) every 3-4 hours, as this most favorably affects muscle protein rates.
Additionally, consuming carbohydrates in and around the training window also helps increase muscle glycogen stores, reduce muscle damage, and promotes greater acute and chronic training adaptations.
In other words, having a post workout meal or shake can improve muscle recovery, reduce muscle damage, and facilitate greater gains in strength and size!
When we’re pressed for time and don’t have the opportunity to eat a full meal, a favorite easy-to-fix post workout shake is one scoop of 1UP protein powder mixed with 1-2 scoops of Tri-Carb.
Getting results as a vegan or plant-strong athlete is entirely possible. Just like every other athlete, you need to be mindful of your daily protein and calorie needs, but pay extra attention to consuming enough complete protein sources and essential amino acids.
Additionally, hard training and quality sleep also plays a big role in getting the results you want.
Last, but not least, remember that building muscle and gaining strength takes time. As such, focus on the process -- improving one workout at a time, adding one rep each week, and in no time at all you’ll look back and see just how far you’ve come!
- Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, Cribb PJ, Wells SD, Skwiat TM, Purpura M, Ziegenfuss TN, Ferrando AA, Arent SM, Smith-Ryan AE, Stout JR, Arciero PJ, Ormsbee MJ, Taylor LW, Wilborn CD, Kalman DS, Kreider RB, Willoughby DS, Hoffman JR, Krzykowski JL, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 20;14:20. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8. PMID: 28642676; PMCID: PMC5477153.
- Gorissen SHM, Crombag JJR, Senden JMG, Waterval WAH, Bierau J, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJC. Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates. Amino Acids. 2018 Dec;50(12):1685-1695. doi: 10.1007/s00726-018-2640-5. Epub 2018 Aug 30. PMID: 30167963; PMCID: PMC6245118.
- Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, Stout JR, Campbell B, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Kalman D, Smith-Ryan AE, Kreider RB, Willoughby D, Arciero PJ, VanDusseldorp TA, Ormsbee MJ, Wildman R, Greenwood M, Ziegenfuss TN, Aragon AA, Antonio J. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug 29;14:33. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4. PMID: 28919842; PMCID: PMC5596471.