Let me start by saying that I don’t personally stick to a vegan diet full time. I do agree with the health benefits, ethics, and environmental reasons for only eating plant foods, but there are just too many times where I can’t resist some meat.
That being said, I often go several months without any animal products, and it has no impact on my ability to maintain and build muscle.
And yet, countless clients of mine have the false belief that as a vegan, you cannot get the same bodybuilding effects or train at the same performance levels.
But if you are a vegan and are planning a bulking phase of your training, then you have to be a lot more careful about sourcing the best vegan bodybuilding supplements.
So, I decided to put together this guide, which I researched with the help of my dietician Jenny.
How Do Vegans Gain Muscle?
Vegans gain muscle just like meat-eaters do by going on a high-calorie and high-protein diet and working hard at the gym.
The secret to success is actually very simple: eat the right amount and types of foods, and make sure you feel the burn when you’re training.
It’s a simple solution but not that easy to implement.
Now, if you’re on a plant-based diet, then you need to make sure that you focus more on high carb plant sources, as well as a good blend of different protein supplements (more on this shortly).
Is Vegan Bodybuilding Even Possible?
Yes, vegan bodybuilding is absolutely possible, and there are quite a lot of highly successful athletes that have created some seriously ripped muscles.
One of the more famous vegan muscle men is Patrik Baboumian who has won countless international bodybuilding and strongman competitions while sticking to a very strict vegan diet.
Just like with a meat diet, it all comes down to eating the right nutrition and getting a larger than normal amount of calories on a daily basis.
You can achieve a lot of your vital nutrition intake by getting some great fortified foods, or through supplements. Which leads us to the next question.
Are You Better Off Without Supplements?
It is entirely possible to gain muscle through carefully planned day-to-day diets that provide enough calories and nutrients for your goals.
However, if you really want to gain some larger amount of lean mass, then you will be a lot more successful by using some vegan bodybuilding supplements.
Taking a vegan protein powder shake after a heavy training session will beat digging into a few chicken breasts washed down with a raw egg shake.
Believe me, I have tried it!
But, the reason supplements are important is that they can trigger processes in your body that boost strength, increase blood flow through nitric oxide, and make your recovery times more effective.
So, let’s dive into the different types of supplements that vegans should consider.
The 5 Most Important Supplement Categories For Vegans
First, let me say that you absolutely don’t need to take all of these supplements as a vegan bodybuilder unless you are training for a professional competition. I have ordered these in a way that I prioritize for clients, with a bonus one at the end.
1. Vegan Protein
Far too many people decide that getting an endurance boost for their training will help them work harder and therefore build more muscle. However, that kind of puts the cart in front of the horse.
Yes, you have to work out hard at the gym, but if you don’t give your body what it needs in order to create new muscle fibers, then you can actually lose muscle mass.
So, what do you need to layer on some more muscles?
It all comes down to amino acids. And you need to source a full range of different types to make this more effective.
Unfortunately, there are very few plant-based proteins that actually offer the full range, with the exception of hemp protein. (1) The good news is that you can get hemp protein supplements which are highly efficient.
Alternatively, you can stack vegan protein powders, and I generally recommend taking a pea and rice protein. They are relatively cheap, even in organic versions, and combined, they provide all the protein you need.
If there is only one of these supplement you choose, then make sure it’s a post-workout vegan protein powder.
My second favorite supplement is a good pre-workout that can help to stimulate your mind and body. The most simple ones are creatine supplements which have been shown to work wonders for both strength and endurance.
But in recent years, there have been a lot more products that can give you a healthy boost to get the absolute most out of your time at the gym.
For example, L-Citrulline is an increasingly popular ingredient that has been shown to increase nitric oxide levels in the blood. (2) But why is that important?
Basically, with a higher level of nitric oxide, you will naturally increase your blood flow, which means that oxygen and nutrients will get to your muscles faster.
Even the intake of just 1 to 2 grams of L-Citrulline can have a significant effect on your performance at the gym, especially during high-intensity periods.
Creatine used in this manner is regarded as a high-energy phosphate, and its role in energy production cannot be overstated. Whenever the body uses energy, a molecule called ATP (an adenosine with a tail of three phosphate groups, hence its name Adenosine Tri Phosphate) is used as an energy source - as a fundamental energy donor.
- David Robson,Personal Trainer
See some of the best vegan pre-workout supplements.
3. Mass Gainers
Not everyone is a fan of mass gainers, and a lot of people will be able to consume enough food during the day not to need additional calories.
When you’re just starting out with some modest goals, then an extra 200 to 300 calories is going to be easily achieved through carb-rich greens.
However, if you’re getting a bit more serious about it, then you will need to eat a lot more food. And whether you’re a vegan or meat-eater, that can be a struggle to achieve.
Fortunately, there are products called mass gainers, which basically load you up with extra calories through a highly concentrated shake. Now, unless you’re training hard at the gym, these shakes will actually not be all that healthy because they can result in some fat being stored.
So, be careful that you work out exactly how much extra calories you need, ideally with the help of a dietitian.
Some of these will also combine some pre-workout properties, meaning they can also boost nitric oxide levels for increased blood flow, and creatine supplements for additional strength.
Typical vegan-friendly ingredients to look out for are quinoa flour, flax seeds, as well as pea and brown rice protein powder.
It’s certainly something to look into as a way of saving some money by combining two products into one.
4. Fat Burners
Whether you’re in the early stages of bulking or want to go through a cutting training phase after you’ve already built up some decent definition, fat burners can really help get you over that goal line.
Now, what I’m not referring to here are the dodgy weight loss pills you see in even dodgier social media ads.
Instead, what you want to be looking at are supplements that use natural and organic, plant-based ingredients that promote higher metabolic rates. When you combine these with hard work at the gym and a well-balanced diet, then you can trigger some additional fat burning.
Some of the vegan ingredients you want to look for are cayenne pepper, caffeine, garcinia cambogia, and conjugated linoleic acid. These are the most effective ingredients that have been proven to boost fat burning through clinical studies and trials. (3)
Here are some of our favorite vegan fat burners.
5. Vitamins And Minerals
When it comes to training and eating for a seriously toned appearance, so many people completely forget about the absolutely critical vitamins and minerals that the body needs.
And I’m not just talking about the usual vitamin b12 or natural vitamin D from some regular sun exposure.
Yes, they are important for vegans in general, but you will need a good few other things.
From a mineral perspective, you’ll need some extra magnesium. This plays a significant role in muscle contractions, as well as in the recovery and relaxation phase after you’ve hit the gym.
One really important thing that a lot of vegans can often forget is omega-3 fatty acids. Now, most supplements that contain fatty acids are not suitable for vegans.
The reason for is that they source the ingredients from fatty fish oil. This oil is then refined, and while it does contain a lot of healthy nutrients, it’s not going to be suitable if you stick to a plant-based diet.
What you would actually need to look out for is a supplement that has sourced Omega 3 from chia seeds or algae, which are actually better than fish oil.
And finally, along with the omega 3 you want to look for some alpha-linolenic acid. ALA has been shown in studies to help with forming of skeletal muscles, and it can be found in a lot more supplements these days.
What Are The Most Common Non-Vegan Ingredients To Look Out For?
So, here’s the thing. You might not always see a vegan certified label on all products. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t suitable for people on a plant-based diet.
On the flip side, you can also find product descriptions that loosely make reference to veganism, but at closer inspection, there are a few things that really aren’t that suitable.
This means you may need to do some detective work before you commit to buying vegan bodybuilding supplements.
Here are a few things to look out for:
- Gelatin derived ingredients
- Omega 3 from fish oil
- Hidden casein in protein supplements
Do Vegan Supplements Have Advantages For Meat Eaters?
Yes, I firmly believe that vegan bodybuilding supplements (and vegetarian) that are completely free of meat and dairy-related ingredients have an advantage for all athletes.
The reason for this is that even if you don’t have any significant food allergies or intolerances, digesting plant-based supplements is often a lot easier for your body. It also diversifies the sources of nutrients like protein, which can make for a more effective and healthy digestive system.
So, even if you’re not on a strict plant-based diet, try some of these supplements for yourself. You could be surprised by the results.
Can you get big on a vegan diet?
Yes, you absolutely can get big on a vegan diet, as your body will not discriminate where the vital nutrients are coming from. As long as you get the right balance of macros and calories, and stick to a tough training regime, you’ll be able to bulk up significantly.
Do vegans lose muscle mass?
No, vegans don’t lose muscle mass just because they avoid all animal products. The only way you would lose lean mass on any diet is by not training hard enough and having a calorie deficiency.
Are there any vegan bodybuilders?
Yes, there are vegan bodybuilders, and quite a few famous ones. One of my favorite plant-eating athletes is Patrik Baboumian. Just check out his physique and achievements and then tell me you wouldn’t want to trade places with him.
What proteins can vegans eat?
Vegans can eat loads of different proteins, but in most cases, they will need to blend a few different ones. With hemp being the only vegan protein that covers the full range of essential amino acids, you sometimes need to combine different sources to achieve the same.
These seeds are a complete source of protein, meaning that they provide all nine essential amino acids.
- Katherine Marengo, Registered Dietitian
Final Thoughts On Vegan Bodybuilding Supplements
Life can be complicated enough as a vegan when you’re constantly looking out for stuff you want to avoid. For your normal meal planning, this is actually a lot easier, especially if you prepare things from scratch.
But when it comes to vegan bodybuilding supplements, it can be more difficult to fully understand the ingredients.
Nevertheless, with the above information, you’ll now fully understand what types of supplements and ingredients to look out for in order to start making yourself look like Patrik Baboumian.
- Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT, Hemp Protein Powder: The Best Plant-Based Protein?, retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/hemp-protein-powder
- WebMD, L-citrulline, retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/l-citrulline-uses-and-risks#1
- Natalie Butler, RD, LD, Can Cayenne Pepper Help You Lose Weight?, retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/cayenne-pepper-for-weight-loss