Getting Big And Strong On A Vegan Diet
by Mike Mahler, RKC
I thought that this article was a nice counterpoint to the usual nutrition-for-bodybuilding articles one reads in magazines and on the internet. While I am not a vegetarian myself it IS something that I respect and aspire towards. I have no doubt that if everyone was vegan the world would be a healthier, happier and better place.
There is no way that you can get big and strong on a vegetarian diet! I used to hear this all the time from my meat-eating friends. I say, “used to” as I never hear it anymore from people that know me or from people that have seen my photos on my website.
Yes my friends, you can in fact get bigger and stronger on a vegetarian diet. You can even do it on a vegan diet (no animal products whatsoever). Just because the pot smoking, rice dream eating hippie vegetarian in Venice Beach, CA looks like he is from Ethiopia, does not mean that every vegan does…
I have the strength and size to back up the fact that you can get strong and have a muscular body on a vegan diet. In this article I am going to discuss why I became a vegan and then go into how to plan your diet to pack on some muscle and increase strength.
When I was fifteen I read an interview with Harley Flannagan (lead singer of the legendary NYC hardcore band, the Cro-mags) in which he stated that he became a vegetarian to lead a more peaceful life and that one cannot talk about peace when they have a steak on their plate, as an animal died in agonizing pain to end up there. That really struck a cord with me and got me thinking about the thousands of animals that suffer daily on factory farms.
Next, I visited Kenya with my parents and experienced a feeling of oneness with the animals over there. I realized that I did not want to contribute to the unnecessary suffering of other beings and I knew that I needed to make some changes. Finally, I saw a movie called “The Fly II” in which a golden retriever is mutilated in an experiment gone bad. That got me thinking about how animals are abused in labs and further solidified the new direction that I was taking. In addition, to giving up meat, I decided that I would make sure to purchase products such as: toothpaste, shampoo, soap etc that were not tested on animals.
I gave up meat gradually. I stated off by giving up all meat except fish. Then I gave up fish, but continued to eat eggs and dairy. Once I realized that most eggs and dairy products came from animals that lived miserable lives on factory farms, I gave up all animal products. That was ten years ago and I have never looked back. While I am an ethical vegan, there is no doubt in mind that a vegan diet is healthy and that I can get everything that my body need for my intense lifestyle. Regardless, like any other diet, planning is required.
The number one thing that people always ask me is where do I get my protein. Many vegans that I have met make the mistake of thinking that you do not need much protein at all. I even had one guy tell me that only 5% of one’s diet should come from protein. Of course this guy looked like Don Knots and would be blown off like kite if a strong wind came by.
I had another guy tell me that I can get protein from a cucumber and that I should not even worry about it. Of course, this guy was not in shape either and was in no position to give me nutrition advice. We have to be much more sensible than that. Especially, if we expect anyone to give up meat and adopt a vegetarian diet.
Telling people that they can get all of the protein that they need from eating spinach and leafy green vegetables is impractical. Just because it works for the gorillas does not mean that it will work for us. Not getting enough protein and thinking that only 5% of your diet needs to be comprised of protein are sure-fire ways to be spindly and weak for the rest of your life.
Now I am not saying that you need two grams of protein per pound of bodyweight like the bodybuilding magazines state. That is way too much protein and a case of overkill.
For athletes, 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean muscle is optimal for increasing strength and size. For example, if you weigh 180lb and have ten percent bodyfat, then you should shoot for 150-160 grams of protein to build more muscle. If you want to maintain your size, then 100-120 will probably be sufficient.
Next, vegans like anyone else need to load up on healthy sources of fat. Without enough fat in your diet, your skin will dry up, your energy will plummet, and you will look like death. Getting 20-30% of your calories from fat is a good way to go. Load up on healthy fats such as: flaxseed oil, olive oil, almonds, walnuts, almond butter, and avocadoes. Also, vegan diets are free of all saturated fats, which is great for the most part. However, some saturated fat is required for optimal health, so get some coconut oil or coconut milk in you diet as well.
Finally, make sure that you eat a variety of food to get a full array of muscle building amino acids. Some examples of good combinations include: black beans and quinoa, lentils and brown rice, almond butter sandwich, Rice protein/soy milk shake, green peas and almonds. Have some veggie burgers and other fake meat products from time to time, but make sure that the majority of your diet comes from fresh organic food.
Here is a sample of my diet:
3 tablespoons of Rice Protein Powder (nutribiotic brand) with 8oz of almond milk and 8oz of soy milk. I add ½ cup of frozen mango or strawberries to the mix and one tablespoon of coconut oil. I also add in two teaspoons of Vitamineral Green (www.healthforce.com)
Mid afternoon snack
½ cup of almonds and ½ cup of raisins
Late afternoon snack
Two Veggie burgers with olive oil and some sprouted bread (“Ezekial” or “Man’s Bread)
Post Workout Shake
3 scoops of Rice Protein Powder with 8oz of oat or rice milk. I throw in
1 tablespoons of flaxseed oil and ½ cup of frozen fruit.
Mixed Green Salad with 1 tablespoon of olive oil or one avocado.
One cup of lentils steamed with squash, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, and some tofu. One tablespoon of olive oil is added to the mix.
One cup of quinoa
A pear or apple
Some dark chocolate for dessert and some ginger cookies
Glass of red wine
Late Night snack
Peanut butter or almond butter sandwich and a cup of berries
Okay, now that we have the diet taken care of, let me address the most important part of getting bigger and stronger which of course is training. If you do not have a solid training regimen, it does not matter what your diet looks like, you will not make any progress. Many trainees make the mistake of doing way too much volume and focusing way too much time on isolation exercises.
If strength and size is what you want, then focus on compound movements that work a lot of muscle groups such as: Deadlifts, Squats, Military Presses, Dips, Chin-ups, Bent-over rows, and Bench Presses. Here is a four-day-a-week program that you can follow to pack on some size and strength:
Monday and Friday (Upper Body Emphasis)
A-1 Incline Dumbbell Presses
A-2 One-arm Dumbbell Rows
Take a two-minute break and then do:
A-1 Seated Dumbbell Presses
A-2 Weighted Pull-ups
Do one set of A-1, wait two-minutes, then do as set of A-2, wait two-minutes, then another set of A-1 and so forth until you have completed five sets of five on each exercise. Use the same weight on all five sets. When you can do seven reps on the fifth set, increase the weight by 5-10lbs.
Wednesday and Sunday (Lower Body Emphasis)
One Legged Squats 5×5
Turkish Get-ups 5×5
Take three-minute breaks in between each set and one-minute breaks in between each exercise. Use the same weight on all five sets. When you can do seven reps on the fifth set, increase the weight by 5-10lbs.
If you have always wanted to be vegetarian or vegan, but though that you would melt away, your worries are over. Follow my guidelines and I have no doubt that you will get stronger and pack on some size. For more information on training regimens that produce results, visit my website at www.mikemahler.com
Mike Mahler is a strength coach and a certified kettlebell instructor based in Santa Monica, California. Mike has been a strength athlete for over ten years and designs strength training programs for athletes, law enforcement, and fire fighters. Mike is available for phone consultations and personal training in the Los Angeles/Washington DC area.