vegan-weight-gain
  • Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Feb 27, 2024

How to gain weight as a vegan?

Are you a vegan looking to gain some healthy weight? Well, gaining weight on a vegan diet is absolutely possible. 

Plant-based registered dietitians (RDs) provide practical guidance for vegans who are looking to increase their body weight and maintain good health. Moreover, RDs can help you achieve your weight gain goals while adhering to a plant-based lifestyle.

Why Gain Weight?

Before we dive into the how, let’s briefly discuss the why. Gaining healthy weight can have various benefits. It can help you:

  • Attain a healthier body weight to support your overall health
  • Boost your energy 
  • Fuel your growth if at a growing age
  • Enhance your athletic performance if looking to gain muscle as well
  • Build your confidence

Why is it hard to gain weight on a vegan diet?

It may be hard to gain weight on a vegan diet for several reasons:

  1. A lower caloric density in plant-based foods: Plant-based foods, like fruits and vegetables, tend to be less calorie-dense than animal-based foods. Therefore, some people may need to eat larger volumes of food to meet their calorie needs for weight gain.
  1. The fiber content in plant-based foods: Vegan diets are typically high in fiber, which is great for digestive health. However, a high fiber content in your diet can make you feel full faster and for longer. This may potentially limit your calorie intake, if you’re eating less due to satiety or not feeling hungry for longer.
  2. The protein content in plant-based foods: While there are plenty of vegan protein sources, plant-based protein often has less protein per serving if compared to animal products. Hence, some people may need to eat larger volumes of food to meet their protein needs for weight gain.
  3. A lack of animal fats in vegan diets: Animal fats are calorie-dense and can easily contribute to healthy weight gain. Hence, vegans, who don’t consume these sources of calories, may find it harder to consume enough calories for weight gain.

To successfully gain weight on a vegan diet, it’s essential to focus on calorie-dense foods, include plenty of protein-rich options, and make thoughtful food choices. 

Disclaimer: It’s important to acknowledge that gaining weight doesn’t mean you can or should eat empty calories. On the contrary, you should still be aiming to nourish your body with nutrient-rich foods.

Hence, planning your meals and snacks to meet your calorie and nutrient needs can help you achieve your weight gain goals while maintaining a well-rounded, vegan diet. This is where an RD could come in handy. Book a free discovery call with a plant-based registered dietitian.

Is it harder for vegans to gain muscle?

Gaining muscle is not any harder when on a vegan diet. However, it does require careful attention to nutrition. On that note, vegans need to ensure they get enough protein, which is essential for muscle growth. Moreover, to gain muscle you need to gain weight, which also requires a caloric surplus within your diet.

Additionally, incorporating resistance or strength training exercises into one’s routine is essential for successful muscle gain on a vegan diet.

Where do vegans get protein?

Vegans can obtain protein from various plant-based sources, including:

  1. Legumes: Black beans, kidney beans, green peas, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
  2. Soy-based products: Tofu and tempeh.
  3. Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, etc.
  4. Whole Grains: Quinoa, brown rice, oats, etc.
  5. Seitan: Made from wheat gluten.
  6. Vegan Dairy Alternatives: Soy milk, almond milk, vegan yogurt, etc.
  7. Vegan Protein Powders: Pea, hemp, and rice protein powders.
  8. Meat Substitutes: Commercially produced vegan burgers, sausages, etc.

By including a variety of these protein sources into their diet, vegans can easily meet their protein needs.

How can I gain weight while plant-based?

You can gain weight while on a plant based diet by following these steps:

  1. Increase your caloric intake to consume more calories than what your body burns to create a caloric surplus.
  2. Focus on attaining an adequate protein intake for muscle growth.
  3. Include healthy calorie-dense foods, such as healthy fats (i.e. avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds) to help you achieve a caloric surplus.
  4. Frequently eat meals and snacks to help you consume more calories throughout your day.
  5. Consult a plant-based registered dietitian to receive a personalized plan ensuring you gain weight healthily.

Remember, gradual weight gain is the healthiest way to go when gaining weight. Therefore, be patient and stay consistent with your personalized eating approach.

What are calories?

Calories are a unit of measurement for energy that is consumed from foods or drinks, basically anything we eat. Moreover, the amount of calories we eat represents the amount of energy our body has consumed from nutrients and needs to metabolize.

  • For weight maintenance: our daily calorie intake should be equal to the energy we expend in a day.
  • For healthy weight gain: our daily calorie intake should exceed our energy expenditure in a day.

How many calories do I need to eat to gain weight?

Caloric needs vary amongst individuals. Therefore, gaining weight on a plant-based diet requires a personalized approach and it will be different from person to person. To determine your calorie requirements to gain weight use a weight gain calculator or follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Use the Harris-Benedict equation: The Harris-Benedict equation helps us figure out how many calories our bodies need to stay alive, called our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Think of your BMR as the number of calories your body uses just to breathe, pump blood, and do basic stuff when you’re resting.
  • For males: Calories = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)
  • For females: Calories = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)
  1. Determine the calories you need for your activity level:To take into account the activity you do in a day, multiply the number corresponding to your activity level to your BMR (the number you got from the Harris-Benedict equation).
  • Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (light exercise or sports 1-3 days a week): BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise or sports 3-5 days a week): BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (hard exercise or sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
  • Super active (very hard exercise and a physical job): BMR x 1.9
  1. Determine the caloric surplus you need to achieve your goal weight: Typically, a surplus of 250 to 500 calories per day is safe for gradual weight gain. This equates to about 0.5 to 1 lbs of weight gain per week. Hence, if you want to gain 5 lbs, this will take you a minimum of 5-10 weeks to achieve.

Calculations: 

  • with 250 extra calories per day: 5 lbs ÷ 0.5 lbs/week = 10 weeks
  • with 500 extra calories per day: 5 lbs ÷ 1 lbs/week = 5 weeks

Note: To determine the total amount of calories to eat in a day for your desired weight gain, the caloric surplus is to be added to the caloric number you calculated for your level of activity.

  1. Consult a plant-based registered dietitian/nutritionist for more guidance on how to eat your caloric surplus, an adequate protein intake to support growth, and ensure you’re eating a well-balanced plant-based diet. RDs can create a personalized plan tailored to your specific needs, ensuring you gain your goal weight in a healthy and sustainable manner. 

How to gain 10 pounds on a vegan diet?

Gaining 1 lbs (pound) usually means eating about 3,500 extra calories more than you burn in one week OR 500 extra calories per day. Therefore, to gain 10 pounds, you’d need around 35,000 extra calories (10 pounds x 3,500 calories per pound = 35,000 calories). 

This total surplus of calories (35,000) can be divided by the number of days you want to take to gain weight to determine how many extra calories you should be consuming per day.

Disclaimer: Gaining all those extra calories at once isn’t healthy or safe. Instead, spread it out over a period, like a few months. As previously mentioned, a surplus of 250 to 500 calories per day is safe for gradual weight gain.

Remember, it’s always a good idea to talk to a vegan registered dietitian & nutritionist before trying to gain or lose weight. Plant based RDs provide personalized guidance to make sure you do it in a healthy and balanced way.

How to gain 30 pounds on a vegan diet?

Gaining one pound of body weight generally requires consuming about 3,500 extra calories per week. To gain 30 pounds, you’d need around 105,000 extra calories (3,500 calories x 30 pounds = 105, 000 calories).

This total surplus of calories (105,000) can be divided by the number of days you want to take to gain weight to determine how many extra calories you should be consuming per day.

Disclaimer: Gaining all those extra calories at once isn’t healthy or safe. Instead, spread it out over a period, like a few months. As previously mentioned, a surplus of 250 to 500 calories per day is safe for gradual weight gain.

How can a vegan bulk up?

To differentiate between gaining weight and bulking up:

  • Gaining weight is to increase your body mass, which can involve both muscle and fat. Moreover, gaining weight doesn’t necessarily imply an intentional effort to build muscle.
  • Bulking up is to intentionally increase muscle mass and gain weight, while minimizing fat gain. Moreover, it typically involves an intentional effort to build muscle, such as through strength training, and nutrition strategies to promote muscle growth.

Diet wise, a vegan can bulk up by consuming a caloric surplus, an adequate amount of protein, staying hydrated, and maintaining a balanced diet.

For more personalized guidance on nutrition for bulking contact a vegan bodybuilding registered dietitian

Why are some vegans so skinny?

Vegans may look skinny for a wide range of reasons. In terms of nutrition, it could be due to a lower overall calorie intake in vegans. Additionally, some vegans may not consume enough protein contributing to a skinny appearance. 

Nonetheless, it’s important to note that veganism itself doesn’t dictate body size. Being vegan doesn’t necessarily equate to being skinny or underweight. Many vegans maintain healthy body weights through balanced diets that meet their calorie and nutrient needs. 

How can a vegan gain lean weight?

To gain lean weight as a vegan:

  1. Prioritize consuming protein-rich plant-based foods like tofu, tempeh, legumes, and quinoa to support muscle growth. 
  2. Engage in regular strength training exercises to stimulate muscle development and maintain a balanced physique. 
  3. Consume a slight calorie surplus to provide the energy needed for muscle gain while avoiding excessive fat accumulation. 
  4. Ensure you maintain a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables for essential vitamins and minerals while building lean, healthy muscle mass.
vegan-weight-gain-nutrition

Is it possible to body build as a vegan?

Yes, of course! Many successful vegan bodybuilders have demonstrated it is possible with proper nutrition, effective training, and adequate protein intake. The key is careful planning and a well-structured approach to nutrition and exercise.

How do vegan bodybuilders do it?

Vegan bodybuilders achieve their goals by prioritizing plant-based protein sources into their diet (i.e. legumes, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, etc.). Moreover, many vegan bodybuilders also generally plan well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals to support muscle growth and overall health. In addition, consistent strength training and careful attention to their dietary needs help them build and maintain their bodybuilding goals while adhering to a vegan lifestyle.

What does a weight gaining meal plan look like?

A weight gaining meal plan is designed to help individuals increase their calorie intake in a healthy and balanced manner. It typically includes nutrient-dense foods that provide the necessary calories for gradual weight gain. This plan aims to support muscle growth, overall well-being, and sustained energy levels.

Example for a 2500 to 3000 caloric need per day (taking into account a caloric surplus of 500 kcal):

Day 1: 3104 kcals & 113.5g protein

Day 2: 2743 kcals, 135.3g protein

Day 3: 2975 kcals, 121.5g protein

Day 4: 2859 kcals, 119.3g protein

Day 5: 3087 kcals, 103.1g protein

For more information on the process and fees of consulting with a plant-based registered dietitians & nutritionists, visit our website.

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