Vegan Gains: Top Three Tips for Maximising Muscle Growth
In order to build muscle, the first priority is to consume the right number of calories to support muscle growth. It is possible to lose weight and build muscle at the same time, however the likelihood is if you want to build muscle and build it fast, then you want to be in a slight calorie surplus.
There are some other principles you need to apply if you are looking for maximum results in minimum time, vegan or not. The issue for vegans is that it can take a little bit more thought to apply some of these principles and this is mainly related to optimising protein intake.
1: How to Optimise Vegan Protein Intake
When it comes to building muscle, there are three main considerations with protein intake and in order of importance these are…
1.) Consuming enough protein
Although muscle growth is a slow process and only a few grams of muscle might be laid down each week, protein still needs to be high because when we exercise as not only does muscle tissue need to repair and grow, the body also uses amino acids in greater amounts for other processes that are involved, such as energy metabolism.
Recommended intakes for muscle growth are in the region of 2g per kg of lean mass, however if you have no interest in getting your body fat measured accurately then aiming for 1.6g per kg of scale weight will put you on the right path.
2.) Ensuring your meals contain all the essential amino acids
This is where the real challenge for vegan muscle builders can occur as many plant protein sources contain only a few of the key essential amino acids. However, this is actually quite an easy fix and we have a few options to make sure this base is well covered.
Firstly, you can combine different plant proteins in a single meal; rice and peas/beans, chick peas and pitta bread, peanut butter on wholemeal toast all work well together as examples of combining foods to make complete proteins.
Secondly, there are several complete plant protein sources. These include soy/tofu, seitan, Quorn products and quinoa. However, these are often low in an important ‘branch chain’ amino acid called leucine, which is an important nutritional ‘trigger’. Leucine signals the muscles to build muscle; there is a theoretical advantage to using an amino acid supplement that contains leucine with each meal to ‘top up’ your leucine levels.
Thirdly, supplements such as our ‘Soy Protein Isolate’, ‘Vegan Protein Powder’ and ‘Vegan Mass Gainer’ (for those who need the extra calories!) are designed to have all the essential amino acids the body needs to support muscle growth!
3.) Splitting your protein evenly and eating every 3-6 hours
This means you want to aim for around 4-5 meals per day. Evenly splitting your protein throughout the day maximises ‘muscle protein synthesis’, this is the process that builds muscle which is triggered by leucine. In an ideal world you want to hit around 3g of leucine in each meal… unfortunately eating more frequently than this will not increase your gains, the body needs to ‘reset’ after each protein feeding in order to trigger protein synthesis maximally again.
It won’t do any harm to eat more frequently if you need to squeeze meals into a busy schedule, total protein still rules at the end of the day.
2: Train Progressively
In order to build muscle, you need to stress the body through resistance training in order for it to adapt… the adaptation we are after is muscle growth. As we become more adapted to each training session then we need to increase the stress we place on the body.
Training stress is related to our training volume, the amount of work we do in each session, and this (for each exercise) is equivalent to the reps × sets × load. So, if we did 3 sets of 10 reps at 50kg this would be 1500kg of volume for that exercise… total training volume would then simply be adding up the volume for each exercise.
This means that to increase our volume, we can add more weight at the same number of reps, do more reps at the same weight or do more sets and even add in things like drop sets to build volume. So even if you can’t get stronger, you can still build more volume!
Remember though to use small progressions in volume, this will allow for sufficient recovery before your next training session. Going too far past our previous volume without sufficient recovery will reduce our potential for adaptation.
Everyone is individual in this regard but adding around 5% more volume each week per exercise should be manageable… even if you start light building volume in this way will become challenging pretty quickly!
In the above example, that would be a volume of an extra 75kg (1500kg × 0.05) which is an extra 2.5kg of weight on the bar (75kg÷30reps).
We can help improve performance and recovery in the gym with supplements like creatine, which is found in food mainly in red meat and known to be an effective performance boosting supplement. To cover these bases, we have developed our ‘Vegan All-In-One’, which is specifically designed for vegans to enhance recovery and performance.
3: Minimise life stress, maximise training stress
There can be a summative effect between lifestyle stress and training stress. This means the bigger our lifestyle stressors, the less potential we have to get the most out of our training.
Although managing all stress can be difficult and often unavoidable, there are some simple things we can do to help. Starting with getting enough quality sleep… aim for at least 7 hours per night and get into good sleeping habits (no phones in bed!).
Take time each day, or at least a few days a week, to have some ‘you time’; it could be reading a book, listening to relaxing music or going for a stroll. The important thing is to give you time to wind down and deal with daily stress.
Also, try and have some life balance, training is great and we all want to be #dedicated but we are social creatures and interaction with other people (well the ones we like!) can be important for stress management.
The rules for maximising muscle growth are exactly the same for everyone, however for vegans, the most important difference is that they need to focus on selecting protein sources that provide all the essential amino acids and ‘top-up’ their leucine with either the use of supplements or increased amounts of plant-based protein sources that contain leucine to make sure they hit their 3g leucine threshold in each meal.
Make sure not to neglect training progressively, getting enough rest, managing lifestyle stress and eating lots of nutrient dense foods, as this is going to keep the body healthy and primed for maximising training adaptations that result in muscle growth.