We read every single email we get and try our very best to answer all of them. Over the past couple years we’ve gotten several thousand questions—many of them similar to one another. Around 90% of the questions we get are about the Bony to Beastly Program, and whether or not we’re a good fit for one another. We’ve covered those questions in the last section 🙂
However, to make things a little more interesting, we’ve decided to answer the common questions we get in the member community too—questions about being a skinny guy, weightlifting, nutrition and supplements. That way this isn’t just a giant advertisement for our program (although let’s be real here, you should definitely sign up for the program).
Oh—and as per usual, this is not medical advice, or even advice at all. Always consult your doctor about any questions related to exercise, nutrition and health.
Okay, here we go:
2. Nutrition & Supplement Questions
You can absolutely bulk on a vegan diet. Many of the longest-living cultures in the world eat a mostly or fully plant-based diet. Furthermore, vegans tend to be in better health than the general population. So compared to the average man, in many ways vegans are starting off at an advantage.
In this post, let’s quickly talk about some common criticisms that vegans face when they try to bulk up.
Vegan Protein Sources
One common criticism of vegan bulking diets is that it’s hard to eat enough protein. However, most people vastly overestimate the amount of protein that’s required to build muscle. Vegans only need around 0.9 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day. For a 150-pound man, that’s around 135 grams of protein per day. That might sound like a lot, but many plant-based foods have some protein in them, and given that bulking requires eating so much food overall, protein tends to accumulate pretty quickly. Plus, you can always get a plant-based protein powder.
Another common criticism is that the protein quality of plant-based foods is poor. The idea here is that since plant-based protein sources aren’t “complete” protein sources (i.e. they don’t contain all the essential amino acids) that they won’t be as good for building muscle. However, a good vegan diet will include a variety of different foods, each of which will be bringing different amino acids to the table. So long as your diet includes a mix of grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, peas, and soy, you won’t have any problems with protein quality at all. Plus, pea protein powder is extremely rich in the amino acid leucine, which is great for stimulating muscle growth. (It has even more leucine than whey protein.)
Sometimes you’ll also hear the argument that soy protein is going to raise estrogen and lower testosterone. In large quantities, it might, and we go over that research in our vegan bulking article, but for the most part, no, soy won’t negatively impact your hormones, especially if you consume a balanced diet. (Although you may want to stick to about one serving of soy per day, just to play it totally safe.)
Getting Enough Vitamin B-12, Zinc, and Iron
Finally, there’s the criticism that vegan diets are lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. It’s true that vegan diets tend to be low in low in certain nutrients, such as vitamin B-12. It’s also harder to get enough iron and zinc, among a few others. If you aren’t getting enough of these nutrients, it won’t directly impact your ability to build muscle, but it’s going to negatively affect your health, which can indirectly affect your ability to bulk up. However, most vegans have a pretty simple solution for this: take a multivitamin designed for vegans.
The same can be said about DHA, which can be gotten from algae oil. And creatine, which most people supplement with while bulking up anyway. And protein powder, which is available in plant-based variants (such as pea + rice protein blends.)
Vegan Ectomorphs Can Bulk with the Best of Them
Overall, so long as you’re taking care to eat a balanced and healthy plant-based diet with adequate protein in it, vegans are able to bulk up just as quickly as anyone else. The basic bulking principles are the same for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to eat the exact same diet. In fact, when comparing different diets, plant-based diets lend themselves quite well to bulking up, given that they’re high in nutritious carbohydrates. (Higher-carb diets tend to be ideal for building muscle.)
As far as our bulking program goes, we practice something called “flexible dieting”, which allows people to eat in a way that best suits them while still getting optimal results. We teach you the principles of a good bulking diet, we give you some sample meal plans, we teach you some good bulking recipes, and then it’s totally up to you what foods you eat. (And yes, our program includes plant-based recipes.)
So, anyway, eating a vegan diet is great for bulking.
Effectiveness. Creatine does work, but it’s often hard to get an idea of exactly how well it works, since every study has slightly different findings. It seems like if you lift weights well and eat well, creatine can accelerate your gains. That’s important to keep in mind: it will not help you gain muscle if you aren’t already gaining muscle.
For an idea of how well it works, a 2004 study found that the group of participants taking a placebo increased bicep size by 6% over the course of six weeks, whereas the group taking creatine increased their bicep size by 10% (study). A 2010 study had similar findings—creatine increased muscular gains by about 20% (study). These studies are a dime a dozen—there are hundreds confirming the effectiveness of creatine.
It’s not just water weight or anything either—these size increases come along with significant strength increases, and these muscular gains will stick around even if you stop using creatine.
Safety. The only known side-effect of creatine is stomach cramping, which just means that you aren’t digesting it properly. Taking smaller doses and/or drinking more water usually seems to fix that. There are no long-term health issues or anything, and it’s been rigorously and critically studied for several decades now.
Health. Creatine seems to be pretty great for general health in a number of ways, although research is still limited. It’s both cardioprotective and neuroprotective. As for being good for your heart, it seems to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity in guys who exercise (study) and it may help reduce cholesterol and triglycerides (study). For your brain, it may help prevent and treat depression (study) and it’s currently being researched for prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s (study).
This research is all still preliminary though. Most of the research done into creatine has to do with muscle strength, size, power and speed.
If you want a more thorough explanation of creatine, check our article on muscle-building supplements for ectomorphs out.