So you’re on a journey to build muscle and a seriously strong body? And you want do it on a plant-based vegan diet? You’re incredible! On this journey you’ve no doubt realized that building the perfect physique has become an ever evolving science.
Before we get started though, I just want to say that while this is a vegan guide and all food recommendations made are vegan, this guide is not focused on veganism and the details surrounding it.
This guide is focused on the basic building blocks of nutrition bodybuilders need to achieve their dream physique.
If you would like more information on veganism, please visit www.herheartisvegan.com and we would be thrilled to give you any information you need!
So, let’s say you do a basic Google search on bodybuilding nutritions. This search gives you millions of options to supposedly help you achieve your fitness goals. Some have a little bit of bearing, but most are nothing more than gimmicks to either sell you a product, or put your body into a negative state of stress or starvation, giving you a false sense of health. It doesn’t have to be that way!
The only true way to a cut and ripped physique lies in the kitchen just as much as the gym. You have to carefully learn to lose fat without losing the muscles you are training so hard for. Whether you are just beginning your fitness journey, or finding that your method isn’t giving you the results you want, this guide will show you the essentials of good body nutrition.
Today’s approach to bodybuilding is inherently different than how it used to be done, and this is not necessarily a good thing. What is now referred to as “The Golden Era of Bodybuilding” was at its height in the 1970’s, but goes back as early as the 1930’s. Bodybuilders like Lou Ferrigno, Steve Reeves, Frank Zane, and the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger built their bodies around eating protein (lots of it), followed by fat (yes, fat), and a small amount of carbohydrates to fuel and fill.
That was it.
No mass loads of supplements and artificial powders. No pills. Heck, back in those days they didn’t need it! These guys ate real food. This alone should tell you that you can build a physique like Mr. Olympia himself without succumbing to the myriad of products that you’ve been told are absolutely essential.
Additionally, train your mind away from eating every 2-3 hours around the clock, as if somehow your body will eat itself within the extra hour or two you go between meals. Focus on about 3 substantial meals high in protein and fat, with low to moderate carbohydrates every day. Your body will still be digesting what you ate at lunch when are sitting down for dinner. This should help you focus on making your meals extremely high quality and you won’t be tempted to down a sugar-packed power bar because you don’t have time to stop for meal #5.
Your nutrition should focus on 3 main food groups. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and what follows is the basis of what you need to know about each.
CHAPTER 1: PROTEIN
Given that the word protein comes from the Greek word “protos”, meaning “first rank”, this itself should help convey the importance of protein in your diet. It is essential to life. A protein molecule is made up of a chain of amino acids, those little things we often hear referred to as “building blocks”. The number of amino acids depends greatly on the type of protein.
Some proteins have a chain of just a few amino acids, while others have thousands! While not all of them come from food, your body makes and processes around 50,000 different types of proteins! The ones that you aren’t directly consuming are manufactured by your body from the enzymes in the proteins you do eat.
Protein is used to build everything from muscles, to skin, hair, nails, and bones. It even affects chemical processes in the body by speeding up or slowing down essential functions and provides immune system support.
The average, mostly sedentary person should consume roughly 40-50 grams of protein per day, which equates to approximately .3 – .4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, if you are trying to build lean muscle, you may want to consider consuming 1 – 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
So what exactly should you be eating?
In today’s world, we are learning more and more the incredible impact eating meat has on our health, on the environment, and on the innocent animals that endure a life of torture for something that we actually don’t even need to eat!
If you are unfamiliar with vegan and plant-based diets and think there is no way you can live the life of a bodybuilder without eating traditional meats, eggs, and cheeses, check out these amazing and VEGAN bodybuilders and the incredible physiques and strengths they have built without animal-derived foods.
In addition to these guys, more and more TOP athletes are going vegan and reaching new levels of fitness they previously thought impossible.
Venus Williams, Scott Jurek, Jermain Defoe, Colin Kaepernick, David Carter, and Trent Williams – those are just a few names of fantastic examples to show you what is possible.
Even the great Arnold Schwarzenegger himself speaks to the incredible benefits of a vegan and vegetarian diet.
When choosing good quality vegan proteins to help you meet your daily intake, look to these incredible foods:
There is protein in EVERYTHING. In a lot of the foods that we already eat on a daily basis like broccoli, spinach, edamame, peas, asparagus, and plant-based milks.
Lentils: They’re the bomb! These little guys cook up quickly and are so versatile. Use them in place of meat, in soups, stews, and even top a salad with them. You can make lentil burgers or tacos which are SO GOOD. 1 tbsp. = 1.1 gram of protein
Beans: Beans of every and any kind are high in protein and they are so cheap. You can replace meats, make dips, spreads, soups, stews, and so much more with some good ole’ beans. And yes, you can make hearty veggie burgers with beans as well! 1 cup = 35-45 grams of protein
Tofu: When most people think of tofu they think it’s gross. Really though, people just don’t know how to cook tofu! Marinating your tofu and baking or frying it to get a nice texture and flavor will result in some yummy goodness! 1 cup = 20 grams of protein
Quinoa: Quinoa has really boomed in the last few years and has become a grain of choice for health and nutrition. But did you know quinoa is also one of few complete proteins? 1 cup = 8.14 grams of protein
Faux Meats: Back in the day, mock meats such as chicken patties and veggie burgers were really hard to find in stores. If you did find them, they were expensive and many didn’t taste very good. However, today, we are SO lucky. Not only does just about every store you go to sell a variety of vegan “meat” options, they have improved in taste and texture drastically, AND the price is quite affordable.
Gardein is hands down my favorite brand, as they offer a huge selection of vegan proteins such as nuggets, patties, burgers, cutlets, meatballs, ground crumbles, CRAB CAKES, and so much more!
Boca Burger, Morningstar Farms, and a variety of smaller guys like Dr. Praeger’s and Beyond Meat also offer tasty options for vegans. It’s not your mama’s veggie burger that’s for sure! 1 serving = 20-30 grams of protein
Nuts and Seeds: You probably around know about nuts such as almonds, cashews, and pistachios and how they are filled with protein, but do you know about the awesome seeds that you can easily incorporate into your diet as well?
Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are delicious, but real vegan power lies in hemp, flax, and chia seeds! Both of these last two are protein powerhouses and pack a lot into a tiny little spoon. These are popular added to everything from smoothies, to salads, to baked goods, to oatmeal – and will help you fill in your nutritional needs easily. I always keep chia, flax, and hemp seeds on hand! Protein amounts vary.
Nutritional Yeast: This little classic has a flaky, powdery consistency and is a huge favorite that does more than offer protein! It has a cheesy taste, which makes an awesome substitute for parmesan cheese. 1 tbsp. = 8 grams of protein
CHAPTER 2: FATS
Consuming fat is as taboo as a food group can get. Most people have the misconception that fat makes you fat. I remember growing up hearing my brother say this all the time. Turns out he was wrong!
This is something many bodybuilders have known for a long time.
Fat actually increases the anabolic effect in muscles and increases muscle gains. Fat also aids in the absorption of vitamins, insulates your body’s vital organs, and provides your body with much needed energy during your workouts. Fat is a calorically dense food, packing 9 calories per gram, that’s nearly twice the density that proteins and carbohydrates have. For bodybuilding, you should aim to consume .5 – .6 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight per day.
There are 3 types of fats, and not all are created equal.
Trans Fats and Saturated Fats: There are good fats, and there are bad fats. Trans fats and saturated fats are the bad ones, and in a nutshell, don’t eat them. They are the ones that clog your arteries, cause high cholesterol, inflammation, and weight gain. The process of making trans and saturated fats is ugly (a discussion for another time!) and they mainly come in the form of hydrogenated oil, meat and dairy products like cheese, butter, eggs, cream, etc. These are foods we don’t recommend eating anyway, so we highly urge you to avoided them.
Fried foods like chips and those packaged, sugary baked goods are usually the biggest culprits of trans and saturated fats. So are most pre-packaged snacks, especially if they are sweet or high in carbohydrates. Given that you shouldn’t be consuming these types of foods for many, many reasons, it shouldn’t be too hard to avoid these two categories of fatty foods altogether.
Unsaturated Fats: Unsaturated fats come in the form of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Both are considered “healthy” fats and also include the all important Omega-3 Fatty Acid. Similar to chains of amino acids in protein, fats are made of carbon chains and some have longer chains than others. In terms of fats, mono means “one”, so monounsaturated fats are those that have a singular bond to its structure. Likewise, poly, meaning “many”, means polyunsaturated fats contain two or more bonds to their structure. Both kinds of unsaturated fat are great, healthy additions to your diet that will boost your fat consumption and help you get what you need while staying lean and muscular.
Good sources of monounsaturated fats:
Oils (such as olive, sunflower, canola, soybean)
Nuts (such as macadamias, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds)
Good sources of polyunsaturated fats:
Some Nuts (such as walnuts)
CHAPTER 3: CARBOHYDRATES
This essential macronutrient is the main fuel for your muscles, your central nervous system, and your brain. However, since you are already getting a good amount of energy from fats, you do not need as many carbohydrates. Choose your carbohydrates carefully and consume them in a lower to moderate quantity. You can aim for .7 – .9 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight every day.
Carbohydrates are classified into 2 groups: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates contain just one or two sugars and are digested by the body very quickly. This means you will experience that notorious spurt of energy that doesn’t last long. Complex carbohydrates, however, have three or more sugars and take your body much longer to digest; they also release energy at a much steadier rate. Most of your carbohydrates should be complex carbs.
Simple carbohydrates include:
Simple sugars (such as sucralose, table sugar)
Flour (such as white flour)
Complex carbohydrates include:
Beans (such as lentils, kidney beans, garbanzos)
Potatoes (such as golden or sweet potatoes)
Whole Grains (such as wheat, rice, buckwheat)
The most common way to get your carbohydrates is simply through the foods that you are already eating in conjunction with your proteins and fats. It’s not usually necessary to seek out additional sources of carbs. However, depending on your personality, you may have trouble with wanting to consume added carbohydrates that you don’t need. This is usually in the form of simple carbs. It is key to trim these to the proper range in order to see the full results of your program.
A FEW LAST WORDS
It is amazing what a person can put themselves through in the quest for the perfect physique. In today’s world, it can seem like it’s less about self-reliance and hard work, and more about gains in science, shortcuts, and supplementation. In addition to time spent at the gym, nutrition is your key to successful training. Feed your body with the right mix of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and you WILL achieve success. To see these results, it is essential to be consistent with your approach. As you take all the information you’ve learned, remember this Arnold quote whenever you are faced with a difficult choice of what to put in your body:
“I’d ask myself, what am I hungry for? Am I more hungry to be Mr. Olympia, or to eat what I want and look like everyone else?”
Wise words from a man most synonymous with bodybuilding to this day.
While you may not be training to be Mr. Olympia, remember to always ask yourself: what am I hungry for?