Building muscle isn’t easy. It takes months of dedication in the gym. But perhaps more importantly, it takes serious dedication in the kitchen. Choosing the right foods, and the right kinds of macros, is the only way to achieve a fit and tone body.
If you’re diet isn’t on point, then you’re going to end up spinning your wheels and end up frustrated.
It’s hard enough to build muscle and get proper protein and carbs into your diet when you can avail yourself of every protein shake at the local GNC and load up on chicken and rice. But what happens when you’re a vegan?
Whey’s off the table. As is chicken, the staple of so many bodybuilders. And forget beef.
But luckily that’s not really an issue as long as you are educated and inventive with your meal prep. There are a bunch of elite level bodybuilders who have been able to stick to a vegan diet and make tremendous gains.
So, if you’ve been stuck trying to figure out what to eat to build muscle while on a vegan diet, sit back and let’s take a look.
This article is going to be divided up into pre and post workout meals.
Nutrition Before Hitting the Gym: Complex Carbs and Protein
While some people workout in a fasted state, and swear by it, most studies suggest that it is optimal to consume carbs and protein beforehand. The carbs are needed to supply energy during the workout, and the protein is there to help prevent the body from going into a state catabolism.
- In layman’s speak: you eat protein before a workout to prevent your muscles from breaking down and being used as an energy source(catabolism).
But what types of carbs? Should you just eat a bowl of fruit? No.
You want to eat slow digesting carbs. Think oats. Or even sweet potatoes. You don’t want a sugar rush during your workout. You want the carbs to slowly digest and solely release their energy into your body.
As a vegan, many of the protein sources you might normally enjoy might not fit into your morning routine: tofu, lentils, beans, etc…
So, what many vegan athletes do is make a protein shake with oats. The oats give you those healthy carbs, and the protein powder gives you the building blocks for muscle. Just make sure to not add any sweeteners such as honey or any fruit.
An example of a good pre-workout shake might be:
- 1 Scoop of your Favorite Vegan Protein Powder (Vega, Naked Pea, Garden of Life)
- ¼ Cup of Rolled Oats
- 1 Cup of Unsweetened almond Milk
Blend that into a drink and you’ll end up 14 grams of carbs from the oats and 12 grams from the almond milk. Depending on what brand of vegan protein powder you choose, you can add up to 25 grams of protein to the shake.
Post Workout Recovery Meals
A post workout recovery meal or shake is essential in order to maximize muscle growth. There is a certain amount of time after you lift weights and exercise where you body is able to build muscle at fastest and most efficient rate.
This period of time is called the “anabolic window”. There is a bit of controversy surrounding the actual timeframe, but suffice to say, it’s generally accepted as common knowledge by all serious gym rats and bodybuilders.
For a post workout recovery meal, you should focus on two things. Protein and Sugar.
The Importance of Protein Post-Workout
Now, most people are aware of the importance of protein. Nearly every gym has a refrigerator that is fully stocked with ready made protein shakes. So, protein is a no brainer.
Protein is what your muscles need in order to repair. Without protein, you simply won’t get bigger muscles.
Vegan Protein -Food and Shakes
You should focus on protein rich foods such as lentils, tofu, or seitan. You can even make a sandwich with peanut butter or almond butter (which clock in at around 3 grams of protein per tablespoon) and then use a high protein bread. That will average you around 19 grams of protein for a PB&J sandwich.
However, many folks aren’t in the mood to eat a large meal after they workout. Exercise makes some people ravenously hungry, but it has the adverse effect on others.
For people who can’t stomach the idea of sitting down to a meal of tofu and lentils and kale after a big workout, then the optimal approach is to make a protein shake.
You can make one at home with most blenders. If you’re just mixing protein powder and water or almond milk, then you don’t even need a blender. However, as we will see in a minute, I do recommend adding fruit to your post-workout shake, so a blender is a good idea.
Before buying anything, make sure to research online and pick the best blender for smoothies. Not all models are optimal for Vegans. You might want to buy one that can also tackle greens so that you can make kale shakes as well!
A basic protein shake made with pea protein will give you anywhere from 23 to 35 grams of protein.
The Importance of Sugar Post Workout
Have you ever wondered why you see big containers of dextrose for sale in health food stores? Or why some of the most jacked people eat smarties or other candies when they are leaving the gym?
The reason is that they are looking to create an insulin spike. This is believed to accomplish two things. First, it prevents muscle catabolism and secondly, it replenishes glycogen and allows your muscles to absorb the protein that you’re getting from your meal or shake. Dextrose is a form of sugar, and it’s very fast absorbing and spikes your blood insulin levels.
However, since most people reading this are not going to be competitive bodybuilders prepping for a competition, you can opt for the fructose found in fruits.
While fructose will not spike insulin as much as dextrose, it’s also natural and less likely to lead to weight gain.
So, when making your post-workout protein shake, an ideal recipe would be to combine vegan protein powder and some berries or bananas. These fruits will give you a slight insulin boost which can help absorb the protein and also prevent muscle catabolism.