I hesitated to become vegan for so long. As a fitness trainer, building muscle was obviously a priority for me. Like many others, I believed that the only way to get a tight, toned physique was through consuming animal protein. I now know that is total BS. You can definitely build and maintain muscle mass on a vegetarian or vegan diet, as many athletes have proven. Here’s how:
Whole, unprocessed foods will help you stay leaner because there are no hidden and harmful additives. Avoid processed meat-free alternatives, which are tempting but often contain hidden sugars and fats that prevent us from staying lean and absorbing nutrients. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes contain so many vitamins and minerals and are low in calories—meaning you can eat more of them. These vitamins, along with the potassium, magnesium, and iron found in whole foods, will help boost your immune system and are extremely important when you train hard.
2. Be aware of your macros
A good balance of carbs, fats, and proteins in your diet is essential when it comes to building lean muscle. Complex carbs like oats and sweet potatoes will nourish your nervous system and give you the energy you need to lift. Fats like avocados and nuts keep your heart healthy and balance hormones. Proteins like chickpeas and lentils keep you feeling fuller for longer and help your muscles repair faster.
3. Eat enough calories and drink plenty of water
To build muscle you have to eat, period. Eating more calories than your body burns throughout daily activities and workouts is a major component in muscle growth. I also recommend drinking a vegan protein shake daily. I like shakes made with pea protein, but there are many options to chose from. It is also extremely important to stay hydrated. I recommend drinking two to three liters of water a day. Maintaining adequate hydration levels reduces protein breakdown and helps with protein synthesis, which also aids in muscle growth.
4. Track your food and fitness
There are so many great apps that will ensure that you are getting enough protein on a plant-based diet, as well as calculate your daily calorie burn. I use one called MyFitnessPal.
IMO, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most efficient way to get leaner and stronger. Get a timer and pick three or four exercises. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, with a 10-second break after each circuit. Repeat the circuit three to four times. If you are not dying and/or drenched in sweat by the end of the workout, then you didn’t work hard enough. You should be sore after 90% of your workouts.
Consuming branched-chain amino acids improves strength and muscle development, speeds recovery, and increases endurance. I always make sure to add a scoop to my water and drink it during my workout.