The Skinny Vegan’s Guide to Gaining Weight
You hear a lot about how to lose weight on a plant-based diet. Not so many of us are trying to gain it.
This article would be so much cooler if it had a headline like, “How I Gained 20 Pounds of Muscle in 30 Days (On a Vegan Diet).” And if it included dazzling before and after photos, it would probably do a lot to show people it’s possible.
That’s what I had in mind when, earlier this summer, I took a look at myself in the mirror, realized I had gotten too thin, and decided it was time to hit the gym and build some muscle.
Actually, even for a small guy like me (I was all the way down to 132 lbs when I decided it was time to start putting weight back on) a goal like 20 pounds in 30 days wasn’t as crazy as it sounds.
Twice in my life, once in college and once shortly after, I’ve gone from 140 to 160 pounds very quickly, drastically increasing my strength and staying fairly lean at the same time. The only difference now, being a plant-based athlete, would be the absence of chicken breasts and milk — two foods I absolutely relied on during any rapid muscle gain diets I did the past.
I’m fond of pointing out that getting enough protein on a plant-based diet isn’t the issue most people think it is. But for bulking up? I wasn’t so sure.
I also knew that adding weight wouldn’t be any help to me as a runner, but I was okay with that. I needed a break and a change of pace, and I didn’t like being so skinny. And if in the process I could show a bunch of people that it is possible to put on a ton of muscle really quickly on a vegan diet, then all the better.
How it really turned out
I didn’t gain 20 pounds in 30 days.
I did, however, gain 17 pounds in about 6 weeks, topping out at 149. Not exactly a strike-fear-in-the-hearts-of-enemies number, I know, but it’s a lot more than 132, and a total weight increase of almost 13%. And although the point wasn’t to gain strength but to gain mass, I got a lot stronger too, increasing my chest press from 130 to 195 pounds for a 7-rep set.
But my results could have been a lot better if not for two interruptions to my regimen:
- I traveled a lot and was not able to maintain the volume of eating I could do at home. This killed my momentum on three separate weekends. I suppose I could have been more disciplined with my eating, but a large portion of my calories came from a “fat shake” that I just couldn’t make on the road (more on the fat shake later).
- I got injured when I made a careless mistake in the gym. Six weeks after I had started, I tore a disc in my back when I inadvertently loaded more weight on one side of the barbell than the other for a deadlift and tried to lift the unbalanced load. When I learned this would keep me out for three weeks, I decided I was done with muscle gain.
Still, 17 pounds is nothing to shake a carrot at, especially for a skinny guy who has always found it harder to gain weight than to lose it. So here’s what I did, the vegan-adapted version of what I found success with the other two times I’ve succeeded at quickly putting on a bunch of muscle.
If you can’t gain weight, you’re probably making this mistake
Shortly after I got interested in fitness in college, I wanted desperately to get bigger. I drank all these Myoplex shakes, ate six meals a day, and lifted like crazy. And yet I just couldn’t get past 140 pounds.
After every trip to the gym, I’d eagerly weigh in, feeling all puffed up from my lift and sure I’d tip the scales. And every time, I’d see 140. F’ing 140.
So I did some research, and came across Anthony Ellis, a guy who went from 135 to 180, and finally discovered what was wrong:
Trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time is completely counterproductive.
Prior to learning this, I thought the road to muscle gain was more lean protein along with more lifting, and of course some cardio to keep the fat off. Wrong.
I made three big changes as a result, and experienced drastic, immediate muscle gain.
- I stopped running and all other forms of cardio.
- I started lifting fewer times each week, training each muscle group only once per week.
- I started eating more fat. Way more fat. Like, getting up in the middle of the night to make a peanut butter sandwich.
And I gained weight. I went from 140 to 160 pretty quickly. I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but I figure it was about six weeks.
My approach this time
Really, putting on weight is about only two things. Lifting, which is important. And eating, which is more important. I’ll explain what I did for each, started with the food.
As I wrote before: The major difference between this time and previous ones was my diet. I wasn’t vegan then, or even vegetarian. When I wanted to bulk up in the past, I just ate tons of cheese, milk, steak, and chicken breasts, and it was pretty easy.
Not that I doubted it was possible for people to get big on a vegan diet. These days, there are plenty of plant-based bodybuilders. But for me, a guy whose equilibrium size is more sapling than mature oak, I wasn’t so sure.
In looking at my diet, it was pretty clear that it was lower in both protein and fat than what had worked for me in the past. So I focused on adding those two nutrients to my current diet, without reducing carbohydrates, hence increasing total calories. (In other words, this wasn’t a vegan paleo diet.)
I also tried to eat larger portion sizes in general, and found that after just a few days this became comfortable. I did eat fewer salads and raw vegetables, since they take up a lot of room without providing many calories. (That’s just one reason why I would never stick with diet like the one described here long-term, nor recommend it for all-around health.)
Looking back at the journal I kept of my meals, I see that the protein and fat increases came primarily from protein powder, almond butter, flax and coconut oil.
Here’s what a typical day looked like (I don’t have calorie counts, because I just hate counting calories, even with mass-gaining):
- Smoothie, with an extra scoop of protein powder (11 additional grams protein) and an extra 2 tablespoons of almond butter
- 12 ounces coffee
- 1 cup brown rice with 1.5 cups yellow lentils and zucchini
- Whole wheat bagel with almond butter
- Apple juice immediately after workout
- Vegan Fat Shake (see recipe below)
- Handful of snacks, like Mary’s Gone Crackers sticks
- 2 servings of millet with kidney beans, carrots, and collard greens
- Glass of red wine
- Clif Mojo Bar, peanut butter pretzel flavor
Not a crazy amount of food, really. But way more than I usually eat, and definitely higher in fat, thanks to the “fat shake.”
Plants, by nature, are often not calorically dense foods, so it’s important to choose calorically dense options. That’s why I made this cheat sheet to help you out.
The vegan mass gainer fat shake
The fat shake is something else I got from The 4 Hour Body. Tim’s version is about as far from vegan as a shake could be, with raw milk and raw eggs as key ingredients. My version of a vegan weight-gainer was obviously lacking in the raw animal protein category, but I found it did a nice job of providing a lot of protein and fat among its roughly 1000 calories. I drank it about two hours after each workout, and also the first day after each workout.
Here’s the recipe:
- 12 ounces raw, homemade almond milk
- 2-3 tablespoons raw, homemade almond butter
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon flax seed oil
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 scoops soy-free vegan protein powder (about 22 grams of protein)
- 1 teaspoon maca powder
- 1 banana
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon wheat grass powder, just to be a granola-crunching hippie badass
Blend all ingredients together in a blender.
A healthier vegan mass gainer smoothie
While the vegan fat shake certainly does the job, it’s not exactly the type of stuff I’d want to be putting into my body every day if I were doing this long-term.
My son happens to be a talented soccer player (and a vegan, of course), and like a lot of kids, he just doesn’t eat all that much — too much else he’d rather be doing. But it’s important that he keep some weight on, so my wife and I came up with this higher-calorie (than most vegan smoothies) smoothie recipe to help him get a lot of calories, quickly, from healthier ingredients than those in the fat shake above (no oil here, for example).
- 2 brazil nuts
- 1/2 cup silken tofu, organic non-GMO
- 3 pitted dates, soaked
- 1 tablespoon cacao powder
- 1 tablespoon cacao nibs
- 1 tablespoon flax seeds
- 2 tablespoons Complement Protein Powder
- 1/8 cup peanut butter
- 1 large, very ripe frozen banana
- 3/4 cup ice
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
Combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Makes 28 ounces.
I also added a few supplements, other than protein powder, in addition to the multivitamin I usually take. Each day, I added to one of my smoothies:
- 5 grams creatine
- 5 grams glutamine
- 1000 IU tablet of vegan Vitamin D3
And right before I got hurt, I realized that I was missing one thing from my earlier mass-gaining days, which was a proper post-workout carbohydrate drink. I had been using apple juice, but in hindsight I wish I would have used something that was designed to deliver quick, post-workout carbs.
For the lifting, I decided to try out Tim Ferriss’ methods from The 4-Hour Body, specifically the chapter “Occam’s Protocol I: A Minimalist Approach to Mass.”
Here, Tim proposes a lifting regimen that requires less than half an hour a week of gym time per week: just two sets of exercise each session (one each of two different lifts), performed at extremely slow cadence (5 seconds up, 5 seconds down), until utter and painful failure is reached.
And not just “I can’t get this next rep, so I’ll quit” failure, but really putting every bit of effort you have into pushing that last rep up, and then lowering it as slowly as possible. (Tim quotes a funny line from Arthur Jones: “If you’ve never vomited from doing a set of barbell curls, then you’ve never experienced outright hard work.”)
There are way more details you should know about Tim’s plan before you try it, especially about how frequently to work out and how to increase the weights.
I must admit, this was fun. An unexpected benefit was what knowing that my gym time was precious helped me get amped up for it –knowing, for example, that this one set of 7 or 8 reps is my only chance all week to do chest press certainly made it easy, almost fun, to keep going until I reached that point of true failure.
And it worked. I followed Tim’s plan to the letter for about three weeks, gaining 3-4 pounds per week, until I decided I wanted to alter the plan to include some lifts I really liked, like squats and deadlifts (in hindsight, not my best idea). But I followed the same cadence, rep scheme, and frequency of workouts, and kept getting results.
As it turns out, Tim’s approach isn’t all that different from what I had done to put on weight before. Infrequent workouts, heavy weight, and sets to all-out failure. So I knew going in it would work.
It worked. Maybe with not staggering results, although if I didn’t have any experience with gaining muscle from the past, then perhaps I would have found a 17-pound gain to be staggering. I did start to gain some fat towards the end: my overall body fat increased by 1-2% throughout the process (that’s as accurate as I can get with my cheap body fat scale), so I probably would have stopped within a few more weeks anyway had I not gotten injured.
Just to restate, I wouldn’t recommend a diet like this long-term. I’m sure consuming that many calories (and that much fat) isn’t healthy. If you’re looking to gain weight on a vegan diet, then sure, you can look at my experience as one example, but I highly recommend checking out The Plant-Based Strength and Muscle Formula, and Tim Ferris’ book 4-Hour Body for the details of the lifting regimen (which I have nothing but good things to say about, with the results I got in so little gym time).
And now, three weeks after my injury, I’m happy to say that the torn disc in my back is healed. I probably won’t do deadlifts for a little while, and I’m done with weight gain for the foreseeable future. But I’ve got lots more planned, and I’m excited about what’s next.
Thanks Matt! This is exactly what I needed! I’ve had trouble keeping weight on and had to temporarily hang up my running shoes. This will be very helpful in getting back on track!
Thanks for posting this. I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass simultaneously and it isn’t really doing anything for me. Sure, I’m having some significant strength gains but I don’t see much of a physical change. It’s good to know you can biuld muscle on a vegan diet but really, I am more interested in cutting fat on a vegan/vegetarian diet. I’ve already decided after my next race (2 weeks!), it’ll be my last for the season so I’d really like to spend some time focusing on reducing body fat. Any tips in that department?
I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years (transitioning 100% to vegan over winter), professional timbersport competitor for 9 years, weight lifter for 18 months and become a more dedicated runner the last year or so.
Speaking from experience (I’m by no means a professional at this stuff), the only way I’ve been able to reduce my body fat is through cardio and clean eating. I have to change my cardio up from steady state (on treadmill, fast walk on a high inclince) to high intensity interval training and regular paced runs (on treadmill or outside). My body will plateau if I don’t change it up. I don’t know many who can gain muscle mass and lose fat at the same time. For most it seems virtually impossible. However, I have been able to maintain my strength/muscle mass by sticking to my lifting regimen/schedule and cut body fat through cardio (at most 6x week) and clean diet (5 meals per day w/ little to no cheats; good fuel is going to make you feel better overall anyway, right? 😉 ). There is a lot of literature out there and everybody is different. It was trial and error to find a plan that works for me. I have found that cardio is the most effective means for me to lose body fat (some days double cardio – AM & PM).
Researching fat burning methods and holding yourself accountable to your goals will help you prevail! Good luck, Leah.
I could write an entire post on this. Some quick tips:
-Continue to strength train! A lot of times people think they need to lose body fat when really they just don’t have muscle tone.
-Make sure you’re not eating fat-free or low fat products. Especially since vegans don’t get fats from animal products, healthy fats are key to feeling full and keeping the body healthy.
-Calorie count! Even healthy foods have calories and it is possible to have too much.
-Watch the carbs. Carbs are not the enemy. But they can’t become the corner stone of a vegan diet. They are very easy to prepare and taste good so it’s easy to rely on them too much.
-Vegan junk food is still junk food. Don’t let vegan food get a “health halo”. Just because no animal were harmed in the making of your cookies does not mean the calories were taken out as well.
-The dreaded protein talk. Protein is important because it makes you feel full. Also, just from experience, I found when I wasn’t eating enough protein, I just snacked and snacked and snacked trying to fill some nutritional void.
-Measure things out. Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 200 calories and is probably a lot less than you think. If you want to have more peanut butter that’s not a huge deal-as long as you realize you’re eating 400 calories, not 200.
These are just a few tips but the truth is there is one way to lose weight-
Burn more calories than you consume!
Did you read the post? This is about weight gain not loss.
They reply was in response to someone who wanted tips on weight loss instead of buidling muscle mass. The comment was in keeping with the other commenter’s request. Thanks!
So helpful and informative! Thanks
Nice work. The “Vegan Fat Shake” sounds like it would put me in a coma.
I’m interested in buying the book, but want to know first — is it something that is recommended for women? I just don’t want to buy it to find out it’s totally guy-centric.
Also, when you build muscle, aren’t you automatically burning more fat?
i wish i had the problem of needing to gain weight! when i went vegan (for health and running reasons) i thought i would shed a few pounds….nope. i second Leah’s question! =)
I’m 140 lb sopping wet, I eat more daily calories than any 3 people in my family, and yet I still can’t gain weight. Fast for 12 hours, though, and I lose lots. So I enjoyed the post.
Here’s my weight gainer shake. I hope you like it. I think it’s something like 1,200 calories depending on how you do it.
– 4 bananas
– 1 avocado
– 1T coconut oil
– 1 T Cod liver oil (not vegan, but super-healthy; sub flax oil here for vegans)
– 1/4 cup OJ (don’t measure, it’s more fun that way)
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 peach or 1 full plum
– 2 T wheatgrass juice powder
– 500 mg vitamin C (mineral ascorbate form)
Thank you!! My 16 year old son is going throught his phase where he doesn’t like his body. because most if not all of his friends are bulkier, taller than he is. He’s about 5.5 or 5.6 and 108lbs, he has always eaten ealthy and always listened to his body cry for “full” (I never made him finish his plate, opposite of what my mom did with me).
Your post gives me a starting point in trying to help him gaining confiddence and possibly weight and muscle!!
Firstly, I’m not a vegetarian or a runner, for that matter, but I like your blog for it’s humour and anger free style, and it’s taught me a lot. Good post again. I’m fascinated as to whether you’ve kept the muscle/weight on, having gone back to your old regime. Oh, and I think you’ll find that there are people who would take all sorts of chemicals if they thought they could gain 17lbs in muscle/weight in 6 weeks. Good effort. Keep the experiments coming.
Very cool post! and great to hear your results! I am currently Injured and off running so this might be a great idea to try. However I am a workout at home kind of guy so I might have to tweak the plan. Will be fun to see though!
I’ve been looking into Dr. Grahams diet more and more since you posted the 900 bananas in 30 days post and the 80/10/10 diet is pretty amazing! He posts a video about how we actually don’t best utilize protein for building muscle, but carbs. Something to think about!
I am just slightly concerned about about increasing protein in my diet as isn’t more protein linked to cancer? Please advise. Thanks.
Higher amounts of animal protein, not vegetable protein, have shown to promote cancer. There are explanations at nutritionfacts.org.
All this from a guy who has no real noticeable muscle development.
I herniated 2 lower back discs when I was 15 (from sneezing nonetheless!) and have had on/off again back issues since when I’m not careful. A couple of months ago, I threw mine out doing deadlifts too. I’ve come the conclusion deadlifts are just not a great exercise when you have back problems 🙂
Just curious- How did the vegan fat shake actually taste?
Congratulations on the mass gain. None for me thanks, I would rather be skinny and fast, and that “fat shake” has me queasy. But I’m confused about your post workout carbs. Apple juice is virtually all carbohydrate, and in liquid form with no fiber just about the quickest thing out there. Did you just not drink enough?
Can we see a before and after picture? 🙂
Thanks for the info! I am a skinny vegan too. Is it absolutely necessary to give up the cardio? I don’t want to stop running for 6 weeks, but I have been stuck at the same weight. Maybe I just need to eat more.
Cheeke’s book is great! Gotta get into that getting big mindset and own it if that’s your goal 😉
Great post! It’s hard to find anything on gaining weight and your ideas were very helpful. I have to say, I feel full just reading about that shake, though! I’d have to modify it somewhat.
I read 4 hour body and soaked in every word, loved it! I learned a lot about efficiency through it which I still carry on even though I don’t follow his exact prescribed plan. Although I still do the abs- love that routine. What an awesome post, it was interesting to see everything you consumed in a day, wow!
I strongly do not suggest using protien powder. Eat beans or avocados but when the powder is consumed it goes straight to your muscles and fills space. On your rest day if you do not consume enough and do any recovery workout all that protien will go to waste. Over years of using protien I gained some weight but lost it all when i stopped using it. Do not become dependent on processed nutrition, stick to food.
This is a great post! Thanks for sharing your journey. I’ve been trying to gain weight and body fat for years but realized I was doing it all wrong when I wasn’t incorporating the right kind of fats. It’s definitely a slow process if you do it right (just like loosing weight is) but it’s worth it to do it right.
Hey MAtt! Love the blog…very inspirational as a new runner/old veg 🙂 Since you’ve gone vegan just wanted to point out that vitamin D3 comes from an animal source, lanolin from sheep’s wool, sometimes cod liver oil. Vitamin D2 is the “vegan safe” form, comes from fungus, however its bioavailability is poop…we are able to synthesize D3 much better b/c its the same as the D3 we produce from the sun. D2 does not react the same in our bodies. So its a catch 22…
I went through the weight loss after I went vegan (coincidentally the same day as your post announcing you had made the switch) and spent this season training for 4 trail 1/2M+ races. It’s become a bit frustrating to keep hearing I’ve lost weight. I feel great and the lean muscle mass is still there. I’d still like to ensure I don’t loose any more so I would love to hear your everyday/race season approach to calorie intake versus what you burn in any given run. Perhaps a follow up post??
Thanks for continuing to subject yourself to experiments for our collective benefit!
The only vitamin D3 that’s vegan comes in spray form:
Update: vegan D3 (by Vitashine) is now available in capsules.
Good post I’m going to be bulking up too.went back to being vegan so I’m gonna to be writing a bulking food plan.will let you know how it goes.
Ok guys let’s get drop fat and gain a lot of mass at the same time idea out.its one or the other unless your a lucky person that your body can.
When massing you can do cardio but you want to be 2-3 times out the week and 20-30 min range.doing a lot of cardio will burn up the muscle your trying to gain.muscle is burned up for energy by the body faster than fat.
Protien ,healthy fats,hard work and PATIENCE will get you to your goals.if anyone needs help or motivation hit me up on twitter @bigtymer32 let’s get fit,healthy and show what veg power is all about.
Great timing to see your article. I read 4HB recently and have been considering building mass, too (I am 5′ 10″/130lbs). As I am training for Honolulu marathon now, it will be a while before I can give up cardio. I was curious though, how do you make the raw almond milk in your “fat shake”?
Love the shake recipe. I might try it next season on a carb up day!
Not likely. Protein utilization for exercise is at most about 10% of calories, and it doesn’t occur until after you’ve been at it for a couple of hours. The body shifts in order to preserve carbohydrate for the brain. Low intensity cardio and sedentary life still burn fat very efficiently. The body does not burn muscle faster than fat. Ever. But when mass building it does make sense to limit it in order to focus the energybon what does build mass.
Matt: You are my doppelganger. I was 120lb in high school, worked hard to bulk up and got to 160lb during my PhD on a weight lifting, non-vegan diet, took up running again in my 30s and shrank down to 135lb. Now that I’m in my early 40’s, a university professor, and have a family (of 5), I don’t really care about my weight or being thin and have settled on a mix of moderate weight lifting and 1,000 miles of running per year that keeps me happy. Plus the new research connecting high fat diet induced cardiovascular problems to brain impairment is enough to keep me going lean and mean. I will check out the Ferris book, however. Keep up the great work.
Matt, can you mention some brands and types of vegan protein powder you’ve found to be decent? Thanks!
Great article. I’d love to see some before and after pics. I lost 50lbs after going plant-based and finally stopped losing weight at 151 lbs. At 5’10 I was looking pretty thin. So I started doing P90X to add muscle to my new skinny frame. After 9 months, I’ve gotten pretty good results, but I think after reading your article Im going to cut out any cardio workout for the next 2 months before P90X2 comes out and see if I can get better results. Im not going to consume any extra protein powders because I believe they are not health promoting which is the whole point of being plant-based for me. I’ll keep you posted how this works. If you want to see my before and after pics, just go to my website. Chris
This was the best article I’ve ever read about building muscle and being a vegan. I am not my self a vegan, but I had one of my readers ask me about this the other day and I have been doing a lot of research. I shared your post with her, and I am sure it will help her a lot. Thank you
I’m really not a meat lover (apart from chili) so this is such good info for me. I am always battling myself as to what to eat to build a little metabolism boosting muscle!!
I’m an MD looking at going a Vegan/more whole foods, vegetable based diet. I already generally do stick to non-processed foods, fruits and veggies, but I still have a lot of meat in my diet.
My main concern is that I’m athletic, 6’2″ 200lbs or so, worked hard to get this size, and would like to keep it that way or make gains. This article is helpful in proving that one can gain weight in the short term, but as you pointed out, it isn’t intended for maintenance.
Are there any plans/articles out there for “Clydesdale” people like me to make the leap from mostly animal proteins?
I am a vegan trying to gain weight (won’t go into why and any more detail about it). Question about the fat shake: can you break down how it’s 1000 calories? The ingredients don’t seem to add up to that to me but I’m also not too fond of counting calories. Hope you still check this! Thanks.
I just put the exact “fat shake” recipe into myfitnesspal.com and according to it, the nutritional info is:
62 grams of carbs
75 grams of fat
56 grams of protein
Hope that’s helpful 🙂
Thanks! That’s a great help =) Appreciate it.
I wish I could be vegan and build muscle, but I can’t afford many of those things. And I can only eat so many servings of beans before I turn back to old habits. Any tips?
creatine isnt vegan, sir.
Hi Matt, my name is Mari and I’m vegetarian for 7 years now and vegan for about 8 months. It’s been about an year I started running, and now that I’ve achieved my weight goal, I would like to gain some muscles, because I didn’t really like the way I turned out to be (skinny and tiny). I bought some soy protein powder (I’m from Brazil, so it’s a nacional label) and I drank it for 3 days, 1 scoop (something like 30g of protein) with water. I got so SO swollen and it destroyed my stomach (it hurt for days), so I stopped drinking it. I haven’t bought another type of protein yet (rice or pea), but I was wondering if you have/had the same problem with soy protein as well. Just to make it clear that I’m not allergic to soy, ’cause I eat looots of soy products and I’ve never felt this bad before. I really wanted to drink some powder after my workout, but I don’t know what to do! Do you have any tips? Thank you so much!
Thank You very much for the article. I have been consuming fat shakes and I think I’m finally gaining some weight. (Have not ever passed 130lbs before)
However, I’m still a bit worried about coconut oil sticking to my arteries. After all, it is solid at room temperature. Do you know if there is research regarding its consumption?
Also, great advice recommending 4hb book, I borrowed it from my bf and the slow reps are killing me. 🙂
I think I’m having trouble consuming protein and don’t want soy powder/tofu to be the only significant protein source. Know of pea protein?
Hey Matt, I’m a 17years old asian. I hope to be like a fitness model, but i cant gain any muscle even i ate food that with alot protein like body builder’s poder, soya, all kind of meat, eggs … but i just cant get any fats… And now i get a problem with me, i’m very unhealthy with no blood color skin tone and doenst look fresh, so now i prefer vegetarain, and what should i do to success of growing muscles?
i think we have similar body types and ethnic backgrounds. i say cut out the white rice and eat for nutrition. go with brown rice and quinoa. avocados should be your best friend. add coconut oil to your foods. try starting there.
So this definitely very interesting. I’ve never really considered how you gain weight as a vegan. I’ve been considering cutting out more of meat as my source of protein and I’m really not into soy. Though I’m on trying to gain weight, the idea of being able to build muscle without so much animal protein is an attractive one. Is there a half-way/meet in the middle approach? Does anyone know of one that works?
Aja, I recommend the site veganbodybuilding.com if you haven’t already checked it out tons of good info there.
How do you gain weight as a vegan? It’s so simple people often get too confused over this. It doesn’t matter where your essential amino acids are coming from, as long as you are bringing in enough calories and complete protein by combining foods like beans and grains, or nuts and grains, that combine to form a complete protein, you will build muscle. People gain muscle as vegans by eating upwards of 4000 to 6000 calories a day, a calorie is a calorie. Stuff your face with high quality foods and train like a vegan warbeast, it’s that simple.
Some great plant proteins (complete) are HealthForce Warrior Food and Garden of Life Beyond Organic. Highly recommend either one of these protein powders to supplement your muscle building efforts.
Oh yes, and I find it crucial to take herbs like fo-ti, rhodiola, schizandra, and shilajit to maintain the highest levels of athletic ability and strength being a vegan, You cannot just begin training all out as a vegan without knowing everything about nutrition like flax seed is necessary for omega-3’s, crucial for building muscle and maintaing sanity, and taking a multi-vitamin.
Sorry for rambling but what I just listed are the secrets to gaining muscle fast as a vegan. But in the end each individual needs to find what works for them, i’m not giving advice just sharing what works for me.
My secret vegan muscle building weapons: Goji berries (complete protein), Quinoa (complete protein), fo-ti (increases testosterone in males when combined with TCM ideologies), rhodiola (used in secret research by the Soviets on athletes google it), schizandra (like fo-ti, gives you energy to keep training and stay stress-free and beautiful!), shilajit (make sure it’s high quality and real) increases cardiovascular capacity and does wonders for your overall health also increases the effects of other herbs.
Good luck on your quest to the body of your dreams my fellow vegans~
I will admit it is too easy to fall into the idea of stopping any forms of cardio in order to gain mass, however i have found that muscle can be gained even if you refuse to succumb to this slug like philosophy of quitting cardio, as long as u r rdy to brace yourself for the pain, and train insane. Yes insane. As long as the calories coming in are downright huge, you can train cardio everyday and still gain like a monster. How do I do it? Well the amount of strength training i do would make most people puke, but the key is variety and consistency. If you are getting stuck it simply means you are not eating enough or training hard enough. Sure you could blame your cardio, or you could accept the fact that you need to change up your workout to something more brutal and simply eat more. Many pro athletes train like this, a perfect example is Cristiano Ronaldo. There is no way a pro soccer player can afford to cut down cardio, but Cristiano was able to build very solid muscle and bulk up even with rediculous amounts of b/c he was dedicated beyond all else to making gains whatever the cost and had the support he needed to not get stuck like you mentioned happened to you in your article. If you dig down deep enough you will find your inner rage beast and reach any level of growth you can imagine no matter how much cardio is on the table.
btw i’ve been a vegan for 9 years, and fallen into the no cardio method in the past, found it to be an easy man’s way out and is detrimental to overall athletic ability for those hardcore athletes out there. Honestly until I said fuck it, and started training and eating like a damn warbeast gladiator i struggled making gains too. Did you know gladiators in ancient Rome were mostly vegetarians and ate insane amounts of barley? Brawn comes thru daily hard work, don’t give up, and one day you will arrive if u set your mind to it and just do it.
Thanks so much for writing this article! Im trying to gain weight because i have gone down a cup size or two after not eating chicken breasts with hormones in it for a few years! Its hard being vegan sometimes because I feel like my body has gone from gaining weight to not being able to gain weight. I enjoy being vegan abit more than the way I look so when you can have both its great! 🙂 🙂
Great to see how other people train on a Vegan diet.
Have to disagree with stopping cardio. If you want to do cardio and lift at the same time all you have to do is increase your caloric intake. simple. Also, I recommend making sure you have adequate rest and days off. Recovery is where your muscle is built, not the gym. I do understand the fear of burning all your calories off on your run…. but what is more important in the long run…a strong heart or a strong bicep? no one ever died from a weak bicep. Also, I feel like consuming extra fat to bulk up is a 80’s pumping iron myth. It kinda goes along with the idea that you need to give your body something to burn so your muscles don’t become lean…. again, it’s just how many calories you consume. I remember reading magazines like FLEX 10-15 years ago that recommended eating bags of potato chips to bulk up. Terrible advice. you should be eating quality calories in the amount you need to sustain your daily routine. Also I recently quit coffee ( and any other caffeine). You’re body doesn’t need fake energy, it needs fuel. PLANT FUEL! haha. Just my input….. stay lean, stay strong, stay hungry, stay VEGAN!
thanks for an awesome site…
i think no one is really mentioning how the creatine is really the secret giving you the boost of weight gain, unless it was already part of your normal supplement routine. i found this page looking for more vegetarian type meals to prepare to gain weight. can you recommend some?
I agree. When I saw “creatine” on the list, I lost a hope. Personally I wouldn’t choose to eat creatine because it doesn’t sound to be healthier than using protein from milk. I would be happy to hear some alternatives.
I am personally not a big fan of creatine either, but only from a digestion standpoint… I can’t really handle it in my system. There’s no denying its effectiveness for gaining weight, but I wouldn’t exactly call it the ‘secret ingredient’ or anything. I think that the ‘Fat Shake’ is probably one of the best things mentioned in this article. As a vegetarian I tend to focus obsessively on protein, but getting good, healthy fats in my diet is a struggle.
I’ve been following a diet similar to this and the 4-Hour Body weight gain diet for a few weeks now. One thing I’ve noticed is that my bowel movements are much softer and higher in frequency. Where I was going at most one a day, now it’s at least, and most times more than, once a day. Is this to be expected from the extra calories and/or shake consumption or is all that extra food just going into the toilet?
Thank you for this great piece. I am vegan and have struggled to put on muscles as there aren’t many vegan sources except legumes and soya. The blog post and the comments section have give tons of new ideas. Thanks everyone.
Im 13 days from my 2nd marathon (hopefully crack a sub 4hrs= <3hr:59mins:59sec!) this year and will be doing my own 6mth vegan bulk up. So the point above is true yes some of the weight gained was water retention and cell volume filling (can be at least 3kg sometimes). The key in the end is enough fat and protein calories and if not always eating mega high carb from GRAINS you wont get too bloated. Im 85kg atm and will try and bulk to 110kg for a bit of vegan bulking fun + i also want be 90kg max next august for a pb marathon 🙂
I just started trying this last week. I haven’t gotten and real noticable results, but I definitely feel different now. My goal is to keep going for 6-8 weeks, but like you said, the diet involved isn’t the best for long-term. Any suggestions on how to best maintain the muscle even after you return to your normal eating habits?
Any suggestions to a person trying to gain fat/mass but forced to do cardio? My job requires 10 hours of constant walking with light-medium lifting three times a week. I can get beyond 150 no matter the amount of food I cram down.
I gained 10 kgs in 3 months. I’m a vegan. occassionally and unknowingly if I consume milk then that’s that, otherwise I’m a vegan. I ate day in and day out, only healthy food (very less oil, high carbs and high protein). My diet contains Sofit (flavoured soy milk) and peanut butter apart from other routine vegeterian items. I’m 5′ 5″. 3 months back my weight was 57 kgs. Yesterday I weighed in, it was 67. I also gym. 1 hour 20 minutes everyday with the max weight I can, but with less repetitions. Key is not to overtrain. overtraining/ cardio will make you lose weight. I would like to bulk up, just on natural diet (without suppliments or steroids, I’m not sure about soy milk and peanut butter). I’m lovin the wrestler, bodybuilder kind of look my physique is getting. Only problem is, I’ve developed a belly. But it looks ok when combined with my other physique.
I’m confused. At one point, it seems like you suggest one should drink apple juice immediately after the workout followed by the vegan fat shake 30 to 60 minutes later, but at another point you appear to say that apple juice alone is insufficient immediately after a workout.
If one ought to drink immediately after the workout, but before the vegan fat shake, what should one use instead of apple juice?
Can solid food that is healthy and high in sugars like bananas, dates or raisins be eaten immediately after a workout, followed by the vegan fat shake 30 to 60 minutes later?
Finally, is it even necessary for weight gain to drink or eat immediately after the workout if one plans to wait 30 to 60 minutes and consume the vegan fat shake?
Just curious about how you kept on weight afterwards. Did you have to keep your calories up, and/or keep up some weight training?
I realize this is an old article, but I remembered seeing it on here a few months ago and looked it back up after I looked in the mirror last week and had the same realization. I had planned on just upping my overall calorie (focusing on protein and fats) intake daily, but I think I’ll take a tip from you and cut down on my running for a few weeks as well. Having a hard time gaining weight is a sensitive topic to bring up to people or discuss. As a girl, I stay away from the scale and mirrors mostly because I know how easy it is to get involved in a mind game. But I’d like to gain a little muscle to complement the leanness I have from running and a vegan diet. Thanks for the article!!!
Not questioning the honesty of your claims, but I’m having a hard time swallowing the 30 min workout from The 4-Hour Body to gain 17 lbs of mass! At first felt excited, but checking out reviews on Amazon, the first page was all 1 star reviews, half of which were guys claiming there was no way to gain muscle with that amount of lifting. I’ve also injured myself in the past (as you did) when I was aggressively increasing weight and pushing myself in the way you describe. So assuming that’s not going to work for me, what workout would you recommend/what did you do in the past?
I’ve been working out about 6 months, typically do three days a week with pullups and 3 or more upper body exercises (mostly bench and overhead press). I try to do squats (w/out weight) or leg presses too but my knees start to hurt from stress injury pretty easily. I’m painfully aware that everybody who’s anybody does weighted squats, but it’s not a great idea for me. I switched to a paleo diet in that time as well, which has been awesome for my health (asthma, skin, etc) but my weight has remained at 140 (… for the last 10 years), with a visible increase in muscle mass and decrease in fat. So I’m incorporating your fat shake and some carbs like sweet potatoes (I eat meat, but I can’t tolerate dairy/whey and don’t want to throw even MORE animal protein into the mix.) Shooting for 2800 calories/day now (and want to vomit.) Just still wondering about the workout piece. Thanks in advance for your help! And thanks for blogging!!!
Very happy to find this article. Lack of fat intake has definitely been my problem since going vegan. Have now loaded up with almond butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, and working on my version of the super shake. Thanks for the tips! 🙂
Thanks Matt. I just started my 100 Days Weight Challenge with my colleagues. They are losing weight, and I am the only person who needs to gain weight. Thanks for all the tips, I shall try them out!
I’ve just looked at your sire for the first time – fascinating 🙂
I gave up meat, dairy and saturated fats 6 months ago after being diagnosed with MS (see http://www.OvercomingMultipleSclerosis.org), so I’m a vegan who eats fish and seafood. Otherwise my regime consists of Vit D, FlaxSeed oil as a source of Omega 3 and 6, Extra Virgin Olive Oil for cooking and then meditation, rest and exercise. My weekly exercise routine is 1 hr on a surfski 3 or 4 times a week, plus a game of tennis and a round of golf – and I’ve prided myself on not going into a gym since I moved to Australia! I’m 53, and my weight has dropped from 78 to 70kg (172 to 151 lbs). I feel its time to regain some weight, in the form of muscle.
What would you do?
Hi Matt. Great post.
I’m a very naturally skinny veggie guy so I’ve referred to this blog many a time for quick muscle building tips. My question is, how do you get on without counting calories? I started using MFP to track my intake to make sure I eat enough, but it’s become somewhat obsessive and takes over a lot of my time in terms of planning, macro counting, weighing etc. I absolutely adore your relaxed approach to calories and only wish I could be the same and not worry so much about whether I’m hitting my macros, or how many grams of carrots or kale I will put in my salad! Any advice would be a huge help and I’d really appreciate it.
Thanks, and keep up the excellent content!
Hi Matt, I am just curious about how you kept on gaining weight afterwards. Did you have to keep your calories up or keep up some weight training?
Your initial situation with your weight sounds like mine, and what I’m doing now to increase my weight also sounds like what you did!
I’m capped at 133 lbs right now. I made the mistake of going on a fat-free diet a while back, which dropped me from 145 to 133, and I can’t gain back! So now that I’m out of school, I actually have more time to exercise and eat more. As of two weeks ago, I started adding a second breakfast in the mornings, a fat, protein and calorie packed shake:
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 cup soymilk
4 tbps hemp protein powder
(any suggestions for variations? I’m getting sick of having the same smoothie every day already!)
This gives me about 750 calories more each day that I wasn’t eating before. I also started doing intense 10 minute exercises 3 times a week from hasfit.com, which will increase as I get better over time. Ideally I’d like to pack on about 30 lbs more. I’ll see where my diet and exercise takes me, as it’s still in the early stages, still trying to figure things about as I go.
Im recovering from cancer that I picked up I Vietnam 50 yrs ago . I have gained 5 lbs on a mostly vegetarian diet .The vega nutritional shake works well for me plus I eat a lot of shelled hempseeds and almond butter .My doctor advised me to eat a mostly vegetarian diet and there is a lot of good info on this website.
And here I thought I was the only person in the world having trouble keeping my weight on. Nice to know I’m not alone anymore…
I’m training for Ironman Maryland 2015. I’m Vegan, 46, 5’10” and I like to be around 150 lbs. I’m 20 weeks into a 30 week training plan. When I weighed myself this morning I was 144! It’s frustrating because I eat all the time. I’m afraid I’m starting to lose performance and burning muscle.
Thanks for the recent Podcast and talking about this Blog. I can’t stop doing cardio obviously, but I will be trying out some of your other suggestions.
I did not read all 103 comments, but I wanted to report I put on 24 lbs in 6 weeks using the suggest methods above. I added 2 inches on my biceps, 2 inches on my thighs and 3 inches on my chest, this is all a pretty big deal for a 6′ 2″ 155 (now 174, I dropped 5 on my 30 day break).
I am not a vegan and I did have some pork and chicken, usually one portion each day, but I am about 85% vegan 😉
I love how well the vegan shakes work out, taste, feel, etc.
I had amazing gains in strength too. Almost doubling in many of the exercises over the 6 weeks. I did over do it on my last session and tweaked my neck, but it only required a trip to the massage therapist and I was better. If you really want to prevent injury, get a massage every week, or every other, while you are training. I saved a whole training season once by spending the dough, worth every penny IMO.
A couple of notes:
Around day 20-30 it is really hard to eat and I wanted to skip shakes, usually spreading one of the two shakes over 2 days. I just didn’t want to consume any more.
The fat shake: I have had to quadruple the amount of liquid so that I could even begin to drink it. Did I miss something? I am even using a protein powder that is only one scoop for 22g of protein.
It is just soooo thick?
Buy a Vitamix. Don’t mess around, don’t fool yourself. I suffered through my first round of this with the most powerful Ninja. What a joke. I chewed all of my shakes, it was really difficult to get some stuff down at times. Vitamix obliterates all. Chia seeds, poof, berry seeds, gone, apple, no problem, Vitamix don’t care, Vitamix don’t give a S&$%! They have a deal, if you buy a refurbished with a 5 year warranted, you can make 5 payments, no interest, no qualification. Just do it. Not a commercial, just sayin’ this thing will change your life (not unlike Fast and the Furious 7)
Happy to share my experience in full detail if anyone is interested.
I used your marathon roadmap to great success and now this will be my next target! Thanks for both Matt, invaluable in helping me improve my health and my life!
big thumbs up to the no calorie counting! i did the same but to lose weight….my theory was if i don’t know how many i’m eating, i’ll only eat when i’m hungry and eat what i crave. totally worked. i don’t think this would work for everyone though, as my diet was mostly healthy …just perhaps a few too many dates and raisins when i was bored 😛
I’ve been vegan for 8months didn’t know I was a vegan until about 2 months in. I basically learned through studying animal sciences, that human’s are herbivorous organisms. End of story. The transition for me was virtually overnight, never looked back and never will.
In the animal kingdom, Carnivorous and omnivorous creatures can’t disobey laws of nature thereby they do not die of clogged arteries. Only the double thinking herbivorous monkey dies of heart disease and colorectal cancers. Metabolic disturbances are the only reason 98% of disease exists.
One of the best articles I’ve read. Working out with compound movements, eating a calorie surplus and sleeping for 8-10 hours would be the the basics of gaining weight.
don’t bother with most supplements just ingest raw fruit and veg (for quick digestion instant goodness) smoothies of all different combinations(organic!). you want as much nutrition(nutrient filled calories) and plant fiber as you can get you will be using the plant fibre to feed the bacteria in your gut(allot of critical nutrients will come from those bacteria in your gut, AVOID antibiotics!!!, avoid drugs! Avoid animal proteins! and avoid processed junk even the vegan processed rubbish! if something has synthetic in its name avoid it!
You want your body to be a machine and function correctly not partially. the Human body is a amazing organic machine but only if given compatible food types.
20lbs of muscle in 30 days and you would have to be on roids lol. Regardless of what you’re eating or training looks like. I believe 2 lbs of muscle a month is the most you can gain as a natural in 4 weeks.
Vitamin D3 supplement is not vegan!! I love this article though, I will definitely be trying the fat shake!
I’m trying to turn vegan and also one of my main problems is to keep and increase my weight, definitely need to try your weight gain home made supplement, sounds good! Thanks
Thanks. It’s great to see the increasing support for a plant based diet. I gave up meat, put on 3kg of muscle and have never felt better. It can be done. Keep up the amazing work mate.
I was vegan, but i didn’t want to take suplements, so i choose, to eat raw eggs.
Here is my vegetarian shake to gain weight and muscle.
– 250 g of dry oats
– 2 Bananas
– 1 Tbsp of flax seed
– 1 Tbsp of chia seeds
– 1 Tbsp of coconut oil
– 3 Raw eggs
Only add the raw eggs, in the end without blending
Protein: 67,16 g
Carbs: 211,09 g
Fat: 59,65 g
If you like this, say thanks 😉
Great article! I’m trying to turn vegetarian and with that in mind, trying to change my way of supplementation as well.
Thanks for sharing.
I’m a high school athlete as well as a vegan (one month strong!) and I run about 40-50 miles per week with some heavy strength and cardio training. I’ve struggled with my weight in the past, including anorexia. However I have been recovered from that for some time.
Unfortunately I have found that recently I cannot keep my weight healthy and I’m beginning to get very scrawny. My racing performances have not been affected but my weight is still decreasing. I was wondering if you had any further advice on keeping a healthy weight as a vegan?
I would love to be a vegan forever but f I keep loosing weight I may not have a choice. Please help!
Nice post. and Yeah its tough to gain weight for skinny.
Wasn”t oils suppose to be bad for heart? And seeds do not provide as much of calories because they are to heavy to digest?
You are the only person I have heard of increasing the macro of fat to create muscle. What do you have to say to people who keep the macro of fat quite low in comparison to protein and carbs for bulking?
Is it possible to be curvy and have a flat stomach with a vegan diet? Someone told me to try the ketogenic diet!
thank you for share your experience on how to gain weight as a vegan. I am goint to try it but can I ask you to e more specific with the day by day meals ? I see your list of item you ate but, I have no idea on how to eat that, can you give examples on how was your days ?
Where is your picture ?
Thank you so much for sharing this information.
My husband is 62, works outside landscaping here in Florida. We switched to Whole Food plant-based no oil in January, not because we have any health issues but because we don’t want to have any health issues. The problem is he has been dropping too much weight. He does not have the opportunity for a ton of caloric Foods during the day. He just won’t stop to eat, so I have to rely on his smoothies in the morning and an awesome dinner for him to stay healthy. Is there a vegan protein powder that you would recommend?
Hi I became vegan my body fat was only 17% to begin with and as a woman it’s sad to see my breasts get smaller: (
I also have allergies to nuts so how can I get fatter while staying on a plant based diet without but produce?
What are all the nutritional facts for the shake? How much protein, fat, carbs, etc…?
Thanks for this article for putting on weight. 11 years ago when I was first DXed as pre diabetic I saw a Nutritionist and went from a healthy looking 124 lbs at 5’4 to a skinny 108 and from a size 6/8 to a 0/2. I’ve been skinny ever since and can’t get to 110. 112 was my target weight. I hope this lifting plan helps. I’m just switching to Vegan
LOL you wanted to gain weight and THAT’s all you were eating?
Need to gain weight on a vegan diet with no sugar. Thanks and keep sharing.
It’s good to eat healthy fats like Polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated food items along with lots of carbs
Great peace of advice, definitely something I can use. The only thing is, as for females, are there any other supplements I could use for weight gain? Do not really want to use creatine haha
Hi Matt – as a female, I recently tried to gain weight in the form of muscle mass. I definitely succeeded in putting on some pounds. Biceps looked a lot more muscular, but other than that, it seemed like the extra “weight” went to all the wrong places (aka thighs and stomach). I did not like the way that I looked, even if my thighs were more muscular. Is this more of a genetic thing and hoping for flatter abs and toned/defined thighs while gaining muscle mass is just not what my body wants to do?
This method is suitable for my husband. Perhaps I would recommend him to follow your article. Thanks you!
I’m an alpine endurance athlete, for lack of a better term.
What I mean, is that I hike 10-20 miles about twice a week, with generally anywhere from a 2,000ft-7,000ft elevation gain. 95% of the time I’m carrying a 5-10lb pack. Many of these hikes are above 7,000ft of elevation and can go up to 14,000ft.
I have a decently hard time keeping weight. I’ve always been petite (I’m 5ft 3 & the most I’ve ever weighed was 110lbs), but I’m looking to gain about 5lbs of mass. What do you think I can do in my situation? Cardio is 50-70% of my skill. On my off days I mountain bike for muscle, but I’m not seeing many results.
A Vegan diet is the way to go if you want to lose weight naturally. I remember reading this article in Consumer Health Digest about how it can even cleanse the body.
This Vegan diet made me super skinny like “skin and bones” skinny.
Last 2018 to halfway of 2019 I was 198 lbs until last year of September 2019 I started this vegan lifestyle because of my esophageal illness and liver problems. I have researched the health benefits of having a vegan lifestyle and I must say that it helps alleviate the acidity issues that I always experience and I rarely feel the heartburn.
My concern is my extreme weight loss which is haunting because I was originally a 198 lbs 6’0 guy but now I am weighing 129 lbs in less than a year of being a vegan. I have tried all sorts of vegan diet meals and worked out almost every day but I am still getting skinnier than ever.
Please give me some bulking up tips without eating foods that I am not supposed to eat (soy products, spices and citrus fruits) as a person battling GERD, esophageal, and liver issues.
Are you able to email me all of the recipes you used individually ? And possibly any meal plans you recommend! I’m trying to reach the maximum weight I’m looking to achieve. 200lbs.
Before and after pics?????
Thank you Matt.
Quick question, how do you take care of your bone, ligament and tendon health while lifting heavy? I’ve only recently started working out, and my trainer advices me to go heavy on most of the exercises. As I recall, I’ve seen bodybuilders lifting heavy during their initial days but later go through several injuries. How do I ensure I’m lifting heavy, while also taking care of my bone health?
Thanks in advance!
I just want to say thank you Matt for this essay and all of the others that I have read that you send out periodically. I am so glad a stumbled onto your book and everything that has flowed from that. By that I mean, when you refer to others that you have benefited from in some way, this leads to further exploration and knowledge of the subjects that you are (and we) are most interested in (Tim Ferriss for example). In addition, I continue to learn from your knowledge and experience and the information you are willing to share openly and honestly. Finally, I am grateful for the two products from Compliment that I use regularly.
Thanks very much for your article, I’m going to try your plan as I too have lost weight, about 14 pounds, which leaves me definitely feeling skinny.
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