How to Gain Muscle Mass as a Vegan
Despite many misconceptions, you can be a vegan and gain muscle mass. Plant-based foods offer enough protein to help you achieve your goals, as long as you are eating a varied diet. To gain muscle mass, you need to know what your body needs to build muscle, and you need to have a healthy body overall. You also need to practice weightlifting to slowly strengthen and grow your muscles.
Gaining Muscle Mass with Food
Get your protein.Muscles need protein to repair and build themselves. The amino acids in protein are what the body uses to perform these tasks. Therefore, your body needs protein to build muscle over time. As a vegan, protein will come from plant-based sources. Remember that many foods contain protein, not just animal products.
Calculate the amount of protein you need.If you're trying to bulk up, you really do not need that much more protein than an average person. An average person needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So if you weigh 120 pounds (54.4 kg), you need 43.5 grams (1.5 oz) of protein per day.
- A casual exerciser, on the other hand, needs 0.5 to 0.9 grams (0.02 to 0.03 oz) per kilogram of protein per day. So the same 120 pound person would need 27.2 to 49 grams (1 to 2 oz) of protein per day. People who lift professionally have even higher protein needs.
- Always talk to your doctor or dietitian about the right amount of protein for you per day.
- It may be tempting to eat large amounts of protein to build muscle. However, your body does not need the extra protein. That is, it takes any extra protein and stores it as fat, which means that taking in more protein does not help you achieve your goal.
Eat enough calories.If you are becoming serious about weightlifting, your body will need extra calories to gain the weight you need to build muscles. For instance, a male weightlifter who's just beginning needs about 18 calories per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 120 pounds, you need to eat at least 2,160 calories a day.
- Be sure that your calories aren't coming solely from carbohydrates. This is very hard with a vegan diet as so many foods that vegans lean towards are carbohydrate-heavy.
Get complete proteins.That is, most plant-based proteins are only partial proteins, unlike meat and eggs. They do not contain all the amino acids needed to build muscles. However, when you combine proteins by switching what you eat during the day and adding variety, you can create complete proteins.
- For instance, wheat and rice do not have as much lysine, one amino acid, as other vegetable proteins, such as beans and peas. Where wheat and rice shine, though, is in methionine, another amino acid, which beans and peas do not have as much of. The point is to balance different types of vegetable proteins, such as eating both grains and and legumes some time during the day, to make sure you are getting the needed amino acids. Nut proteins can also help you balance your amino acids.
Use carbohydrates to your advantage.Carbohydrates give you energy so you can workout. In fact, you need about 1,200 calories of a 2,000 calorie diet to come from carbohydrates. They key is to stick with complex carbs, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.While limiting carbohydrates is hard on a vegan diet, choosing the right type of carbohydrates is beneficial.
Research how much protein is in your food.As a vegan, you do have a number of options open to you for protein. For instance, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter has 4.5 grams of protein, while 1/2 a cup of legumes has 9 grams of protein. A full cup of grains has 6 grams of protein.
- A cup of beans has as much as 15 grams of protein.
Putting Together a Balanced Diet
Eat your greens.Dark, leafy greens, such as kale or turnip greens, contain large amounts of calcium, an essential nutrient to keep your bones strong and healthy.
- The government recommends you get 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day.A cup of raw kale has 137 milligrams of calcium.
Get your vitamin B-12.Vitamin B-12 is important in maintaining healthy blood cells. It will also help keep the iron up in your blood. If you become anemic, you may not have the strength to lift weights.
- In the same vein, it's important to get enough iron in your diet to keep you from being anemic. Iron is in peas and lentils, as well as dark, leafy greens. One of the best ways to get both iron and vitamin B-12 is through enriched cereals.You'll also find vitamin B-12 in nutritional yeast.
- The government recommends you get 6 micrograms of vitamin B-12 daily and 18 milligrams of iron per day.Most enriched cereals more than cover your vitamin B-12 needs in a single serving, some having as much as 28 micrograms per serving. Read the labels to make sure you are getting enough.A cup of lentils (already cooked) will provide you with 37 percent of your daily value of iron.
Eat sources rich in zinc.Zinc helps keep your body healthy. Therefore, it's important to get enough in your diet so that you can continue to build muscle mass.
- Beans, enriched cereals, and pumpkin seeds are a great way to get enough zinc in your diet.
- You should get at least 15 milligrams of zinc per day.To put this amount in perspective, you get 2.57 milligrams of zinc from 1/4 of cup of pumpkin seeds.
- After testing your zinc blood levels, you may find that a zinc supplement would benefit you.
Find sources of omega-3 fatty acids.Omega-3 fatty acids help keep you heart in good shape, your body's most important muscle.
- For vegans, the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans. Certain oils are also good sources, such as canola and soy.
- The American Heart Association recommends eating sources of omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week.
Lift 3 times a week.While you may think you need to lift everyday to build up your muscles, you really need to only lift 2 or 3 times a week for 30 minutes each time.
- In fact, the vegan diet may better sustain this type of workout method, rather than a long daily workout, as it allows more time for recovery.
Trade off which body part you work.Don't work the same body parts everyday. Pick a day for each group, so that you are slowing building up each set. For instance, you could work on your front upper body one day, your back and buttocks the next workout, and you lower half at your next workout.Another strategy would be to do a full-body workout 3x/week so that all muscle groups are being hit 3x/week versus 1x/week. This is helpful if you are following a vegan diet because muscle retention/building is so important to overall health.
- One exercise you could try for your front upper body is the barbell bench press. Lay down with your back to a bench. Lift the barbell up over your body with your arms almost locked. Have someone spot for you if you haven't done this exercise before. Lower the bar towards your chest, and then hold it for a brief second. Extend your arms back up, lifting the bar. Breathe in as you bring it back down, and breath out as you push it back up. Repeat 6 to 8 times until you begin to feel the strain, then set the bar up to take a short break.
- For your back and biceps, try a wide-grip lat pulldown. Once sitting on the bench, make sure your knees are up against the knee bar. Grab the bar from above. Push your chest out, and lean back a little. Pull the bar down using only your arms. Breathe out as you slowly bring the bar back up. Breathe in as you pull it back down. Repeat until you feel it in your muscles, and then take a break.
- For your legs, use a barbell squat. With the barbell at the correct height on a rack, center the bar on the back of your neck across your shoulders. Move away from the rack with the barbell on your shoulders with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down with the barbell still on your shoulders, as if you are sitting in a chair. Breathe in as you squat down. Try to keep your back straight. You should stop lowering yourself once your thighs are parallel to the floor. Breathe out and push yourself back up. Repeat 6 to 8 times, then place the barbell back on the rack for a break.
Ask for help.If you're new to strength training, use the help available to you at your gym. Many gyms have trainers to help you learn how to properly use equipment, including weights. If you don't learn proper technique, you could injure yourself.
- Your trainer will work with you to learn techniques such as warming up (doing 5 minutes of aerobic exercise before lifting), keeping your body in proper alignment, increasing the weight you lift slowly, and learning to breathe properly while lifting.
Feel for the burn.That is, you are trying to work certain muscles at a time. If it seems too easy and you don't feel anything while lifting, you may need to adjust the way you're lifting.
- Don't automatically switch to a higher weight. You don't want to strain your muscles by adding on too much weight too quickly.
Know when to stop.If you feel sudden pains or strains in your joints, you should stop that exercise. It's ok for the muscle to have slight burning, but you can injure your joints if you don't pay attention to them while lifting.
Sources and Citations
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