In the last two years I dramatically changed my body composition on a fully vegan diet. I went the natural route, without performance enhancing drugs so there’d be no question about the source of my results. Namely, plant-based protein and hitting the books to improve my understanding of diet and exercise. In the first year I gained 26 pounds of mostly lean mass on a 5’6” frame which is right around the maximal rate of gains for a natural athlete as projected by the Lyle MacDonald model assuming a few pounds of fat gain.
In the second year, my gains dropped off substantially because of the law of diminishing returns, and in part because I was working, studying mandarin and writing the first draft of a book, which cannibalized some of my time. But I still gained about 10 pounds of quality mass, which is actually on par with a maximal rate of gains for a natural athlete in their second year.
In recent months I’ve been continuing to make rapid progress, and this is what I want to emphasize: neither my muscularity nor my physique are particularly exceptional in this century. But my rate of progress, so far, is about as fast as can naturally be achieved, i.e. without performance enhancing drugs.
As a normal guy, with less than remarkable genes, I transitioned from 6 years of ineffective training and nutrition (culminating in the photo above, on the left) to a near-optimal training and nutrition program. Then, after making a few crucial adjustments I began making continuous progress, all while relying on 100% vegan nutrition.
Sharing my Vegan Bodybuilding Meal Plan
The question I often get is, as a genetic skinny guy or ectomorph, and especially as a vegan is, “how did you eat to get those results?” So I thought it might be beneficial to a wider audience than just vegan bodybuilders to share my vegan bodybuilding meal plan.
Below you can have a look at a day’s meals, fully documented, and get a sense of where I get my protein, and how I make eating enjoyable. With that said, a lot of people sell this kind of content online and I’m making this open source. Thus, if this is interesting or helpful to you and you want to show your gratitude, even through the responsibility diffusing magic of the internet, I’d love it if you subscribed to my email list.
My real interest is not in entering the saturated space of online diet and nutrition advice, but providing an international perspective on big problems facing humanity. So when I write something thoughtful about an underrated social challenge facing the US and/or China, I’d love to be able to share it with a wider audience, which includes you. So before you read on, please subscribe.
Without further ado, here’s a look at a typical day of vegan bulking. This is the foundation of my vegan bodybuilding meal plan:
6:45 am – Toasted Everything Bagel with Avocado
8:00 am – High Protein Meal Replacement Smoothie
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup walnuts
2 Tablespoons of Flax Seed Meal (for Omega 3 Fatty Acids)
A banana OR 1/3 Cantaloupe
a few strawberries OR a peach OR a few frozen mango chunks, blueberries, blackberries etc.
1 cup Water to make it light and smooth
Optional: Half a scoop of vegan protein powder
Altogether this has about 650-720 calories and 20-32 grams of protein (with/without half scoop of protein powder), which is a full meal replacement, at ~$2 a day.
[Note: to those who want to try these: seeds and nuts have a high sticker price, but especially if you buy in bulk, per serving cost falls to somewhere between a dime and a quarter. The best deal I could find on shelled, raw (an important detail) sunflower seeds is this for 5 pounds and this for 8 lbs. The best deal I found on walnuts is this. As for vegan protein powder, this is a good chocolate or this brand for vanilla. For fewer calories, hold the walnuts. For more protein (~43 grams, like having a steak…) use a full scoop of protein.]
11:00AM – Chip and Dip Snack/Meal –
Half Can of Vegetarian Refried Beans, with a little water and microwaved
1 Cup of Salsa
1 Bowl of Tortilla Chips (~2 servings)
(~600 Calories, 16 grams of protein)
[Note: I can usually find chips made with flax seeds or other higher protein grains which brings this to about 650 calories, 22 grams of protein. If you can find these, they’re good value]
12:00pm – Workout
1:30pm – Vegan Protein Shake
(130 Calories, 22 grams of protein)
1:45pm – Main Lunch Example:
Large Bowl of Vegan Chili with Soy Chorizo (3 cups)
[Lazy Man Recipe:
1 can of kidney beans
1 can of black beans
1 can of cannellini beans
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 a link of soy chorizo vegan ground beef (usually available at walmart or whole foods)
Salt, Paprika, 1.5 tbsp chili powder, 2 tsp cumin
Combine in a pot, heat and stir for 25 minutes, cooks enough for 4-5 large meals, tastes better each time it’s reheated.]
7:00pm – Dinner: Pan-Seared Peach and Pepper Tofu on a bed of Quinoa
(This is highly variable, it’s just an example of cooking tofu from scratch)
1 Peach (wait til it’s ripe and juicy)
1 Anaheim or Bell Pepper
1 Extra Firm block of tofu
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Pinch of salt & pepper
Sprinkle of red chili pepper flakes
¼ cup of peanuts
Recommended with quinoa, but rice is fine too.
[Steps: Drain the tofu and set it vertically for moisture to run out, or pat with a towel, dry tofu will sear better on the pan.
Measure out 1.5 cups of dry quinoa, (I recommend cooking it in a rice cooker and if you don’t have one, it’ll change your life). If not, boil and stir. Start this before cooking the main course.
Then: slice peach, pepper and shallot, sweat together in a large pan using olive oil til translucent. (medium to high temperature) Add salt, pepper and a pinch of chili flakes. Cut tofu to ~1 inch cubes, or just vertically in half for two tofu steaks Make space and slap them on the pan, cook on high, turn for 8-10 minutes. Serve Tofu over a bed of quinoa, add peach, pepper and sprinkle crushed peanuts on top.
(2 servings, 600 calories, 32 grams of protein)
This is a typical day’s food for me totaling somewhere around 3200-3300 calories and 150-155 grams of protein, which is a bit on the high side, as I really only need about 130 grams of protein to make consistent muscle gains based on my current size.
[Update Note: Since writing this article I’ve increased my daily protein intake to roughly 190 grams per day on orders from my trainer and I have to admit, it’s speeding up my gains. Thus, I’m a convert to overshooting your protein targets based on the figures provided above. For a vegan I’d recommend 0.7, 1.0, and 0.5 grams per pound of body weight respectively for runners, lifters and lazy folk.]
I also switch it up with things like:
Vegan Taco Night with Beefless crumbles
Buckwheat Stir-fry with veggies, tomato and tempeh
Lentil and Chickpea Pasta with fresh tomato sauce and maybe tofu parmigiana (pictured above)
If I want a snack I’ll usually go for a fruit popsicle or a bag of popcorn or the other snacks I mentioned in my daily diet.
I find that these foods require absolutely minimal prep-time, they’re cheap, and they taste really good. They leave me feeling satisfied but never heavy and drowsy, especially my meal replacement smoothies. In fact, if there is one meal that’s had the biggest impact on my quality of life, energy levels, etc. it is the fruit/nut/seed smoothies and I think absolutely everyone would benefit from one of these as a daily meal replacement Their heart health benefits, low cost, 5 minute prep time and portability makes them the king of all morning meals in my opinion.
As for effective training, the best, most concise and science-based book that I have read is: Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger. If you skim this, you’ll encounter most everything I’ve learned about resistance training, and I’ve read Schwarzenegger’s 800 page encyclopedia of bodybuilding. But if I see demand for it, I’d be happy to share my training programs too.
So there you have it, this is my vegan bodybuilding meal plan. I approximately follow something like this everyday, while allowing for enough variance to make eating enjoyable.
I hope that you got something useful from it, and If so, I’d really appreciate your support in the form of sharing this with a couple friends who may find it beneficial and subscribing to my email list. I only send emails about twice a month and they offer interesting, well-researched perspectives on global challenges. Sounds unsexy, but if more people paid attention to issues in proportion to their human impact, we’d be in a lot better shape.
[Jaras Watts is a vegan bodybuilder and writer living in Southern China. He is fluent and literate in Mandarin and Spanish, enjoys playing ping pong and suspects he could qualify for a Guinness world record for most tofu eaten in a 1 year period. He advocates for reduced meat consumption with a focus on China and the US which are the number 1 and 2 consumers of meat on earth. He is an aspiring writer and really appreciates when people sign up for his email list and share his work.]
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