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How to Build Muscle on a Vegan Diet

By Lydia Stephens

Vegan strength trainers face a different set of challenges than those athletes who consume meat and dairy products in their diets. While a vegan diet offers benefits such as lower cholesterol, improved digestive function and a lower risk of certain types of cancers, vegan athletes are at risk of protein and iron deficiencies, says the American Council on Exercise, or ACE. By carefully planning out your nutrition and exercise program with your dietary considerations in mind, you can build a healthy physique.

Nutrition

Eat an additional 500 calories each day once you begin weightlifting to add 1 lb. of muscle weight each week. If you're not eating enough calories, your body won't be able to build new muscle.

Document everything you eat in a food journal for one to two weeks. By analyzing your eating habits, you can identify any nutrient deficits you many have as a vegan.

Aim to eat 1.2 to 1.6 g of protein per kilogram of body weight each day, recommends Health Services at Columbia University. Tofu, chickpeas, legumes, peanut butter, nuts and quinoa all contain muscle-building protein.

Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and protein sources. While animal proteins contain a complete set of the essential amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle cells, vegetable proteins are incomplete. If you're consuming a range of foods, you can still get all the essential amino acids your body needs.

Supplement your protein intake with a soy-based protein powder before and after your workouts if you don't get enough from dietary sources. Giving your body a dose of fast-absorbing protein just before exercising limits the amount of muscle degeneration.

Exercise

Lift weights in short but intense sessions. The vegan diet may prevent your body from recovering as quickly as meat-eating athletes. Limit weight sessions to 45 minutes.

Lift heavy weights with low repetitions for maximum muscle growth. You'll know you're lifting enough when your muscles are fatigued in six to eight repetitions.

Exercise each muscle group once per week with two or three exercises for smaller muscles and three or four exercises for larger muscles.

Tips

Talk to a registered dietitian for expert advice on planning out a balanced diet.

Warnings

Always consult your doctor before beginning a new diet or exercise plan.

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