Vegan Bodybuilding and Weight Training

Build Muscle Without Animal Protein

Vegan Bodybuilding

Getty Images / DjordjiDjurdjevic

In general, the vision of a bodybuilder is an aura of big men (and women) eating huge volumes of protein in the shape of chicken breasts, whey milkshakes, and a dozen egg whites. But now, things are changing. Vegan bodybuilders are making themselves known and having moderate success.

Vegans do not eat any animal protein at all—no meat, no chicken, fish, eggs, or dairy products. This distinguishes them from 'vegetarians' or lacto-vegetarians who may eat milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt, etc.

Important Macro and Micro-Vitamins

Vegans choose to eat their way for reasons of health, or the ethics of killing animals, or even because they believe that eating vegan protects the environment in certain ways.

Whatever the reason, this is a challenging dietary regimen. Vegans need to ensure they get sufficient important nutrients such as vitamin B12, which is not widely available in vegetarian foods, except for supplemented foods.

Other important nutrients that may be lacking in a vegan diet are the omega-3 fats, zinc, and iron.

Even so, with a little care, most vegans seem to have no trouble eating a healthy diet. Several world champion athletes have been vegans at the time of competition, including Carl Lewis (sprinter) and Dave Scott (triathlon). Scott Jurek is an ultra-marathoner who follows a vegan diet, and even Mike Tyson, former world heavyweight boxing champion, seems to be a vegan these days.

The idea that you need lots of meat to be big, strong or powerful is clearly refuted.

Sources of Protein

Even so, it's one thing to be a vegan athlete, but quite another to be a vegan bodybuilder. Robert Cheeke is one of the best-known vegan bodybuilders, but there are plenty of others.

Getting sufficient high-quality protein is not an issue for vegan bodybuilders. In the recent article about protein powder supplements, you will see that soy protein contains all the essential amino acids.

However, creatine, a naturally occurring protein in animal meats, may be lacking in a vegan diet, and supplementation may be useful for vegan bodybuilders. Creatine is a bulk and muscle builder, and although not an essential nutrient, it may help build muscle when taken as a supplement by vegans and non-vegans.

Vegans have to ensure they eat sufficient total calories to fuel muscle growth and recovery from training. Because plant foods are high in fiber, which can be satiating (inhibit appetite), they may need protein and carbohydrate powder supplements.

Don't do "raw" vegan. You will find it almost impossible to get the energy and anabolic effect from such a diet. The vegan diet should be somewhere above 20% fat by calories.

Consider Supplements

Monitor intake of B12, zinc, iron, and omega-3. These nutrients are essential for health and may be lacking in poorly constructed vegan diets. Make sure you get sufficient amounts. Check food labels, consider a supplement if necessary.

Consider a creatine supplement. Creatine is generally regarded as safe and is not a banned supplement. Creatine might even produce better results in vegans than non-vegans.

Even though soy is a complete protein, try non-soy protein foods and supplements for variety. Although there is little evidence that soy foods have any adverse effects, getting protein variety is always a good idea. Look for rice or nut proteins or any other useful source.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rizzo G, Laganà AS, Rapisarda AM, et al. Vitamin B12 among Vegetarians: Status, Assessment and SupplementationNutrients. 2016;8(12):767. doi:10.3390/nu8120767

  2. Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisersJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:36. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9

  3. Kaviani M, Shaw K, Chilibeck PD. Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for Vegetarians Compared to Omnivorous Athletes: A Systematic ReviewInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(9):3041. doi:10.3390/ijerph17093041

  4. Mariotti F, Gardner CD. Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets-A ReviewNutrients. 2019;11(11):2661. doi:10.3390/nu11112661

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.