Two years ago I decided to go lacto-ovo-vegetarian. A form of vegetarianism where you cut out meat but still eat dairy and eggs.
I decided to go vegetarian mainy because I no longer could take the cruelty of how livestock (a horrific word for domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce labor and commodities such as meat, eggs, milk, fur, leather, and wool) was treated around the globe. But I also decided to go vegetarian because of our environment.
One and a half year after I had gone lacto-ovo-vegetarian, I decided to take the next step and go all out vegan, where I only eat plants, i.e. no more eggs and dairy. I wanted to go full vegan because I realized that the egg and dairy industry is also extremely cruel to animals. In fact, those industries actually causes more suffering than what slaughter for meat do.
Okay, so those are my reasons for going vegan. But let’s get to the actual point of this article, which is: How did going vegan affect my physique? And also, how can you build a ripped and muscular body while being on a vegan diet?
I know that there are many worries, especially amoung us fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders, when it comes to switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet. I had these worries in the beginning myself. I remember thinking; “oh god, I will lose all my hard earned muscle, and my strength will go down in the gym”. But, with my growth mindset and willingness to explore I decided to go for it anyways.
Well, read on and I’ll explain in detail what happened to my physique.
Can You Get Ripped And Muscular on a Vegan Diet?
The truth is that during both my transition to vegetarian and then to vegan I just continued to make the expected gains for my training experience. I also found it easier to stay fairly lean all year around. In fact, even during my bulking phases I’ve had a harder time gaining fat than what I used to earlier.
So, all my worries that I would lose my hard earned muscle and strength was in vain. I found out by trial that a vegan/vegetarian diet don’t cause muscle loss if you know what you’re doing.
Because here’s the thing:
What makes you build muscle and maintain a ripped physique depends mainly on these three things:
- That you’re resistance training with focus on progressive overload
- That you’re eating enough calories to support muscle growth and training performance, but not so much that you’re gaining fat.
- That you’re eating enough protein to support muscle growth and recovery.
If you follow these three rules it won’t matter if you eat animal products or only plant based products, all the nutrients you need can be found in either type of diet. With that said though, there are some nuances when it comes to nutrition that you need to take into consideration when going vegan that I’ll discuss later in this article.
Examples of Successful Vegan Bodybuilders
Before looking at the step by step process that you should follow if you want to successfully get ripped and muscular on a vegan diet, I quickly want to shine some light on a couple of my role models who helped me believe that a vegetarian/vegan diet work as I made the transition:
Torre is a professional natural bodybuilder. He’s been a vegetarian since birth and vegan since 1998. On his about me page he explains that he get all of his protein from plant-based foods such as seeds, nuts, and legumes. He also says that he eat soy and have done so all his life.
Max is a vegan bodybuilder who was and still is a huge role model to me because I like how his physique look. Not to big and bulky but yet very ripped and muscular.
But what I like most about Max is his fitness philosophy. He manages to maintain a godlike physique all while he attend medical school, spend time with his family and focusing on helping his clients. The way he do this is by training only 3 times per week focusing on full-body sessions that lasts around 1 hour each. He is an excellent example of a man who allows fitness to enhance his life and not take over it. I love it!
Okay, so I guess you’re convinced that it’s very much possible to achieve a downright sexy physique as a vegan? Or perhaps you already knew that and just wanted to learn the how? Well, no matter what’s your case let’s get to the how now:
How to Get Ripped & Muscular on a Vegan Diet – The Step by Step Process
Step 1 – Engage in Challenging Resistance Training
This is the most important step for anyone looking to get a ripped and muscular looking physique. If you’re not engaged in challenging resistance training and also try your best to become stronger overtime you won’t get ripped, no matter if you’re vegan or not.
You see, resistance training is the stimulus for growth. It is the thing that signals your body to build bigger and stronger muscles. Once you’ve created that signal, only then is the diet important.
So, what does a good resistance training program look like?
Well, training is a big concept and there’s a bunch of things to think about. If you want to learn more about how to set up a great training program then check out the training part in my free guide: How to Build an Aesthetic Physique.
But in short, here’s what you should do:
- Do between 5-10 sets per muscle group per week spread out over your preferred training split/routine.
- Train each muscle group at least twice per week.
- Train mostly in the 5-10 rep range with ~3 min rest between your sets.
- Do your best to achieve progressive overload. If you can lift 50 lbs (25 kg) more for the same number of reps in a year than what you can do now, then you will become more muscular.
Step 2 – Control Your Calorie Intake
When it comes to fitness and specifically when it comes to getting ripped, calories matters a lot. If you want to get or stay lean you must learn how to control your calorie intake.
When we are talking about controlling calorie intake I mean deciding what you should do. I.e. should you cut or bulk?
What you decide to do depends a lot on your starting point.
What’s your starting point?
Your starting point will decide more than anything what needs to be done as a first step. In general here’s what I recommend that you do:
*If you’re above 15% body fat as a male or 25% body fat as a female you should ideally go on a cut first. Your goal should be to reach 8-10% body fat as a male and 15-17% body fat as a female before you go on a bulk.
Here’s a picture with samples of what various body fat percentages look like:
You can also find out your body fat percentage here.
But do I need to cut and bulk to get ripped?
Well, you don’t but if you want to see results fairly soon, especially if you’re very skinny or very fat, then I recommend that you use bulking and cutting cycles to build your physique. You can read more about setting your bulks and cuts up in this post.
If you truly don’t want to cut and bulk then you can certainly see good results using a body recomposition strategy. Sure it will take longer but in the long-term it is usually a bit healthier and also a better strategy for building a good lifestyle around fitness. You can read more about setting up a good body recomposisiton strategy here.
Step 3 – Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Protein
The biggest challenge of a vegan bodybuilding diet is getting enough protein while still remaining in a calorie deficit. Most plant-based protein sources also come with a large amount of carbs or fat. For instance, beans are high in protein but they are also very high in carbs. Nuts and seeds are high in protein but they come with a lot of fat.
Not only that, another challenge is that plant-based protein sources include less muscle building amino acids than what animal sources do. So, to get enough protein you actually need a higher protein intake to make up for the lower amino acid quality.
But as it turns out, these challenges were very easy to overcome once I learned how. Going vegan is simply learning to buy and cook different foods to what you’re used to, and if you know what to look for you can easily enjoy meals very high in protein.
High protein grocery list:
- Tofu (10 g protein per 100 g)
- Tempeh (14 g protein per 100 g)
- Back bean or edamame pasta (45 g protein per 100 g)
- Pea and rice protein powder (50 g protein per 100 g)
For example, here’s how a full day of eating usually looks for me (I learned about these meals from Radu’s ShredSmart program):
- Intermittent fast for 4-6 hours and doing my regular tricks to make the fast feel easier.
- Small meal – Scrambled tofu
- Snack – Banana vegan protein shake
- Large meal – Broiled tofu and tempeh, baked potatoes and a green sallad
When I’m cutting I usually eat around 2000-2200 calories per day. When I follow the schedule mentioned above I get roughly the following macros:
- Protein – 160 g
- Fat – 65 g
- Carbs – 236 g
Eating these foods allow me to get 2.15 g of protein per kg of body weight which is a perfect number when cutting.
Recommended protein intake for a vegan:
- Cutting: 2-2.2 g per kg (1-1.2 g per lb) of bodyweight per day
- Maintaining: 1.8-2 g per kg (0.8-1 g per lb) of bodyweight per day
- Bulking: 1.6-1.8 g per kg (0.6-0.8 g per lb) of bodyweight per day
Step 4 – Base Your Diet Around Healthy, Wholesome Foods
This is important no matter if you’re vegan or not. But so often I see new vegans eat nothing but meat substitutes like soy patty, quorn and oumph etc. and completely leave out veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils etc. This will lead to deficiencies very quickly, especially if you’re cutting as well.
As always I recommend that you stick to the 80/20 rule of dieting, where 80% of your meals is made up of wholesome nutrient dense foods. Then once you have that covered you can let the remaining 20% come from “junk foods” that you enjoy. I’ve found this to be more or less the perfect balance between getting in enough nutrients to feel good while also allowing myself to indulge in some tasty lower quality foods as well.
Remember your supplements
I’m not a big fan of supplements, but if you’re vegan there’s one supplement you must take and that is vitamin B12.
In today’s day and age where everything is very sanitized we can’t get enough vitamin B12 the natural way (from micro-organisms). That’s why we must take it as a supplement. In fact, the supplement we must take is the same supplement that farm raised animals are given which we then ingest by eating the animals.
Another supplement worth taking when going vegan is vitamin D. This is recommended if you’re living in a country far away from the equator and don’t get much sun for multiple months on end.
Step 5 – Make Step 1-4 as Enjoyable And Sustainable as Possible
This is important, if you truly want to build a ripped body you must be able to do step 1-4 consistently for a long period of time. For instance, if you have a bunch of body fat to lose, you can’t simply diet for 8 weeks and then go back to your old ways and expect to transform your physique. No, you must be able to stay consistent and create a lifestyle.
So, how do you create a lifestyle around who you want to become?
Well, you set up your fitness plan in a way that makes it feel as enjoyable and hassle free as possible. When you enjoy your fitness plan, you will enjoy your life more and hence that see great long-term results.
So, how do you make your fitness plan as enjoyable as possible?
I think that I have found the most enjoyable way ever to become ripped, I learned this from Greg over at Kinobody and Radu over at Think Eat Lift. In short, here’s how to make your fitness plan enjoyable:
1. Train only 2-3 times per week and focus on building strength
I’ve found that when people focus on improving their performance, more than simply working out to look good, the experience of training becomes a lot more enjoyable.
I’ve also noticed that for strength training to be an enjoyable process, and more importantly allow you to see quicker strength gains, you shouldn’t go to the gym for more than 3 times per week, at least not for your first few years of lifting.
2. Use intermittent fasting
The reason why I’m using intermittent fasting isn’t because there’s something inherently magical about it. I’m using it simply because it allow me to enjoy myself A LOT more when dieting.
By fasting I can take advantage of the following 5 benefits that I wrote more about in this post:
- I can enjoy a huge number of calories later in the day, making it easier to control calories
- I feel more satiety and enjoyment to the diet, especially when cutting
- I can more easily participate in social events and gatherings where food is often in focus
- I can save time from cooking, eating and cleaning
- Every meal will feel like a cheat meal since they’re so big
3. Follow the 80/20 rule of dieting
No one likes to eat only “clean foods” day in and day out. I’ve tried it and it just felt like life sucked. If I feel for a pizza every now and then, I will make room for the pizza in my diet! The same is true for whatever I feel like eating.
Learning to be flexible with your diet is very important if you want your fitness plan to be a long-term and sustainable one.
Now, the problem with junk food is that it’s very easy to overeat and indulge too much, simply because it tastes so good. To avoid the problem of eating too much is to follow the 80/20 rule of dieting. This is where you make sure that you’re eating 80% clean and once you have that covered then 20% can come from junk food.
For instance, if you eat 20 meals per week (3 meals per day), then 4 of those can be junk. I’ve found this to be the perfect ratio that still allow you to get all the nutrients and fiber that you need to feel good while still allowing you to eat some tasty junk once in a while.
Getting ripped as a vegan is not rocket science. In fact, it’s quite the same as for non-vegans. The biggest challenge is simply learning to cook new food. Often times people support animal suffering and environmental degradation simply because it feels like such a hassle to learn how to buy and cook new types of food.
But if you want to make a difference and you’re looking to become a downright ripped vegan, then I definitely recommend getting your hands on Radu’s ShredSmart Program. In the program you will not only get, what is in my opinion, the best fitness program out there, but also vegan meal plans with recipes included as well!
You can learn more about the ShredSmart Program here.