How to Achieve Your Fitness Goals on a Vegan Diet
You can achieve any fitness, weight or strength goal on a vegan diet. Here’s how you do it.
As with many aspects of veganism, there is a great misconception when it comes to exercise and athletic performance. It’s often believed that we don’t get the right nutrients, we lack energy or struggle to build muscle. This is all nonsense.
This article will break it down and simplify all the information you need to know to thrive as a vegan getting in shape.
Mission with a Vision
First, you have to be clear on what it you are setting out to achieve. This is usually one of the following:
- Lose weight
- Build muscle
“when the mind is controlled and spirit aligned with purpose, the body is capable of so much more than we realize.”Rich Roll – Ultra-endurance Athlete
It’s important to choose one because your diet is greatly affected by the choice. For example:
- Build muscle = High protein, low to moderate fat & carbs
- Lose weight = Balanced macros & light meals
Make sure you decide on what your vision is. Everyone wants to ‘lose weight’, have ‘a six-pack’ and ‘big muscles’. This vague form of thinking fails most people that set out on those goals. Get specific.
Write down your specific goals. What weight do you want to be? How many kg’s do you want to bench? What fat percentage are you after? How far do you want to be able to run?
The more specific your goals, the more motivated you will be and the more likelihood of you achieving them. Stick them up on the wall and look at them every day.
Mindset & Habit
Before you set out on your mission to achieve your optimum weight, fitness or strength goals you have to evaluate your mindset. The internet is clogged full of ’30 day programmes’, ’90 day programmes’ or ‘4 weeks to your perfect beach body’.
It’s all complete rubbish. There is no quick fix to losing weight, getting fit and building muscle. You need hard work, consistency and the right mindset.
“It’s always about hard work. It’s always about the diet. It’s always about sacrifice and effort.”Nimai Delgado – How Eating Plants changed My Life
When you go workout you shouldn’t think ‘I HAVE to do this’. Instead, you should think ‘this is what I do now’ and it becomes a habit. You do it every day like clockwork. After 30 days you may not notice any change. Even at 90 days, some change. Slowly but surely those results will come in.
You’ve now established a new habit and mindset for physical activity. Something you cannot get from any 30-day programme.
That’s the reality behind those guys you see on the beach ripped with six-packs and big chests. They’ve been working out consistently for years. Not just 30 days before they jumped on the plane.
People always worry about energy levels on a vegan diet. You can maintain any energy level on any diet. I would even argue that the plant-based diet is THE best diet for energy levels and some research would agree.
Calorie underconsumption can be an issue for people training on a vegan diet. Veggies, fruits and grains are all typically low in calories. If you’re training hard you need to increase the calories in your diet. Eating enough calories will allow your body to recover faster and come back stronger.
Foods high in calories are avocados, nuts, nut butters, quinoa, olive oil, dried fruits, sweet potatoes, rice and smoothies.
Unlike popular belief, vegans eat enough protein as long as they are eating a varied diet. However when training you’re going to need a boost. The best foods to focus on are beans, chickpeas, hummus, tempeh, oats, and lentils. You can find my full guide to protein here.
“I eat a lot of beans and bean-based foods like tempeh, tofu, Japanese sweet potato, beanitos, grapefruit, apples, blueberries, strawberries, oatmeal, all greens.”Torre Washington – Professional Bodybuilder
Another great way to boost your protein is through a plant-based protein powder. The choice available has jumped significantly in just the last year with plenty of great options now available. Try to buy one without added sugar. Instead, opt for a brand that uses Stevia (sugar alternative).
When it comes to carbs you want to incorporate complex carbs and remove simple (refined) carbs. Complex carbs are essential for fueling your workout and recovering your muscles.
Complex carbs include sweet potato, chickpeas, oats, butternut squash, black beans, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, lentils and green peas.
Simple (refined) carbs include soda drinks, baked treats, cookies, white rice, french fries, concentrate fruit juice and breakfast cereals. Full information on why you should skip simple carbs can be found here.
Fats help our body’s hormonal processes and help maintain brain health. It’s a lot easier to get good fats on a plant-based diet than some people believe. Try including the following into your diet: coconut oil, nut butters, nuts, olive oil and avocados.
We all hear the myths surrounding vegans and their multitude of nutrient deficiencies. B12, iron, calcium, Omega-3, Zinc….a little bit of research and you will soon you discover that you can get all these nutrients just fine. Vegans just get their micronutrients from different sources that’s all.
B12 is essential for our bodies. It plays an essential role in the production of red blood cells and DNA. It also helps with the proper functioning of our nervous system.
B12 is only naturally found in animal foods. Therefore, as a vegan you must supplement B12. My full guide to B12 is here.
Iron is easy to come by just incorporate the following foods into your diet:
- Cashew Nuts
- Chia Seeds
- Ground Linseed
- Hemp Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Dried Apricots
- Dark Chocolate (80%)
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals
Vegans often struggle with calcium simply because most of us don’t focus on it enough. Make sure you incorporate lot’s of the following into your diet:
- Collard Greens (cooked)
- Turnip Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Bok choy
Vegans only get ALA through their plant-based foods and not EPA or DHA. DHA is the real issue as it plays a pivotal role in prevention of chronic disease and helps with brain function. Make sure you are eating enough:
- Flaxseed oil
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Pumkin Seeds
- Brussel sprouts
Zinc is especially important for men when training. It boosts testosterone, virility and helps aid with recovery and improves strength. Zinc also can help you with good sleep. It’s also a safeguard against prostate cancer so make sure you eat the following:
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Daily Calories & Macros
So now we know what our goal is, we have the right mindset and we know what to eat. We now need to know what this all looks like in terms of how much do you eat and a meal plan to support it.
First, you need to work out what calories you require. Use this calculator to help. Once you get your result it will tell you a ballpark figure for the number of calories you need per day to maintain the body you have. Click the ‘Cutting’ or ‘Bulking’ option (see picture below) to see what you need to achieve your weight loss or weight gain goals.
Ok, you should now know how many calories you need to consume plus the amount of protein, fats and carbs. To help track what you’re eating download the app My Fitness Pal and use it as a food diary to help stay on track of your daily goal.
Typical Daily Meal Plan
Ok so let’s now look at a meal plan for you by the different goals.
Build Muscle & Improve Strength
Your focus should be on protein, complex carbs and good fats.
Breakfast – Tofu scramble on sourdough bread
Lunch – Beans, sweet potato, broccoli and avocado
Pre/Post Workout Snack – Protein smoothie that includes protein powder or pea protein isolate, 2 bananas, frozen berries, ground flax seeds, chia seeds and soy milk
Dinner – Pumpkin Coconut Curry with quinoa, lentils and cashew nuts.
Total – 3100 calories, 160g protein, 75g fat, 500g carbs
Your focus should be on eating your greens, nutrient dense foods, drinking plenty of water and avoiding processed food as best as possible.
Breakfast – Green Smoothie (greens powder, chia seeds, ground flax, 1 banana and almond milk)
Mid-morning Snack – Handful of mixed nuts
Lunch – Buddha Bowl (brown rice, tofu, green peas, mushrooms, fresh salad veggies, crushed cashews, avocado with drizzle of lemon juice and flaxseed oil)
Dinner – Veggie stir fry with rice noodles
Late Snack – A spoon of cashew butter
Total – 2,263 calories, 80g protein, 60g fat, 214g carbs
Monthly Meal Plan
Daily meal plans give us a good idea of what a typical day’s worth of food looks like. The best and most organised way to take control of your diet is through a monthly meal plan. Once you have experimented with various foods and agreed on what you like and what makes you feel good you can create a monthly meal plan.
Here you will find a template you can print, write on and stick on your fridge.
“The strongest animals are plant eaters: gorillas, buffalo, elephants, and I.”Patrick Baboumian – Vegan Strongman
You can have a vision. The right mindset. The right food. The best meal plan. All the equipment and all the time in the world. It’s all completely useless unless you practice self-discipline.
Self-discipline carries an unwarranted negative connotation. People see it as restricting yourself from things you enjoy or love doing. This comes back to mindset. Self-discipline should be seen as a form of self-love, not deprivation.
There will be times that you don’t want to work out when you’re just not feeling it that day. That’s fine, just try put in 10-15 mins of activity. A walk, gentle run or even just some push ups before bed.
You may have times where you want to gorge on high carb fast food or you may go out drinking all night. It’s ok but it should be limited to rare occasions.
Remember your goals. Remember your vision. Good luck!