Illustration of vegan bodybuilder bulking up

How to Build Muscle on a Vegan, Plant-Based Diet

Bulking on a plant-based diet can work very well, with vegans building just as much muscle as anyone else. In fact, vegans already tend to be one step ahead of the general population when it comes to their health, especially if they eat a proper plant-based diet, and especially if they exercise (study). Vegan diets can lend themselves quite well to building muscle, too, given that the best bodybuilding diets are made up mostly of plants: fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes (study). 

So bulking on a plant-based diet can absolutely be done, it doesn’t need to be difficult, and you won’t necessarily be at any disadvantage whatsoever. However, it still really helps to know what you’re doing.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The general principles of building muscle as a vegan.
  • Considerations for pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans.
  • What does a fully plant-based bodybuilding diet look like?
  • What muscle-building supplements should vegans take?
  • How to gain weight more easily on a plant-based diet.
Illustration of a skinny ectomorph building muscle and becoming muscular.

Yes, Plant-Based Diets Are Associated with Weight Loss

Before we dive deep into plant-based bulking, we should address the mouse in the room: plant-based diets are associated with weight loss (study). This is the same problem that we see with intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets. People tend to lose weight when they restrict food groups. And obviously, as skinny guys who are trying to bulk up, that’s horrifying.

However, unlike with intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets, I think vegans can get around this problem quite easily. All of the best bulking foods, such as nuts, dried fruits, and protein powder, are still on the table. Just to make sure you don’t have a problem gaining weight, though, we’ll teach you how to eat more calories at the end of the article.

No, Plant-Based Diets Aren’t Bad for Bulking

Even when it comes to professional sports, vegans do perfectly well (study, study, study). The only catch is that a haphazard vegan diet won’t cut it. Mind you, the same can be said for everyone. If you want a great body, you have to eat a good diet.

Walter's before and after photos from bulking on a plant-based diet

The challenge with bulking on a plant-based diet is that if you do it carelessly, first of all, you might not consume enough protein. You probably already knew that. That’s the common low-effort criticism that people throw at vegans. Even so, insufficient protein intake is the reason why so many bulking studies show vegetarians struggling to gain muscle mass (study).  It’s obvious but it’s important, so we’ll cover all the details of plant-based protein intake later in the article.

However, it’s not as simple as protein. Even when protein is matched, people eating a plant-based diet will often still gain less muscle because they’re accidentally restricting nutrients that help with testosterone production and muscle growth. To be clear, though, that’s not because plant-based diets are bad for bulking, it’s just because the study participants didn’t know how to eat a proper vegan bulking diet.

To quote one of the leading bodybuilding researchers, Eric Helms, PhD:

There’s no reason a well-designed vegan/vegetarian diet can’t be just as effective [for bodybuilding] as a diet that includes meat.—Eric Helms, PhD

That lines up with our experience as well. We’ve been helping skinny guys bulk up for eight years now, and our vegan members have always done just as well as everyone else.

So, let’s talk about what a well-designed vegan bulking diet looks like.

How to Bulk on a Plant-Based Diet

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

To build muscle on a plant-based diet, all the foundational principles of bulking still apply. Here’s a quick summary of how to bulk, along with some specific bulking recommendations for vegans:

  • Follow a good bulking workout routine: The more muscle growth your workouts can stimulate, the more quickly and leanly you’ll be able to build muscle. This becomes increasingly important as you gain more lifting experience. Here’s our article about the best kind of lifting to do while bulking
  • Make sure you’re gaining weight: Other than lifting weights, the best thing you can do to build muscle is to eat enough calories to gain weight. Aiming to gain around a pound per week is good for a skinny beginner, which means about 500 extra calories per day. (That’s probably going to be around 18–22 x your body weight in pounds, but you’ll need to weigh yourself every week and adjust accordingly.)
  • Eat enough protein: Aim for around 0.9–1 gram of protein per pound body weight per day (study). You can get plenty of protein from peanuts, peas, edamame, tofu, seeds, whole grains, and a variety of other plant-based foods, which is often enough to hit that target. However, it’s nice to have some plant-based protein powder on hand, too. Your bulking diet will be much easier if you can fix a protein shortage with a quick protein shake. 
  • Eat protein often enough: Aside from hitting your daily protein target, it also helps to have at least 20 grams of protein per meal, and to have 3–5 meals per day. That’s going to have you stimulating a little bit of extra muscle growth with every meal. The muscle growth that protein-rich meals stimulate pales in comparison to what a good workout can do, but when you combine both effects together, it’s going to help you build muscle a little bit more quickly.
  • Get your macros right: the best bulking diets tend to be high in carbs, moderate in protein, low in fat. Plants are a rich and varied source of carbohydrates, so vegan diets tend to be great for this. For fats, you can eat plenty of nuts/trail mix, blend avocados into your smoothies, and drizzle olive oil on your veggies. There’s also peanut butter, which is rich in protein, fat, and calories.
  • Sleep like a Beast: try to get at least 7.5 hours of high-quality sleep every night. I understand if you can’t, but getting plenty of sleep will help you build muscle more quickly and leanly.
  • Eat a good plant-based bulking diet: let’s go deep on this one.

How to Eat a Good Plant-Based Bulking Diet

In this section, I want to cover the fundamentals of a good vegan bulking diet. If you’re already following a good vegan diet, you’ll already know most of this stuff. For example, you might already take a multivitamin that includes vitamin B-12. I’m going to go over some stuff that only applies to bulking, though, so I’d still give this section at least a skim.

We’ll quickly go over pescatarian and vegetarian bulking diets, and then we’ll go into greater detail on fully vegan diets.

Disclaimer: although Marco is certified to give diet advice, this goes beyond his area of expertise, so this section is based on the recommendations of Eric Helms, PhD. However, even then, you should still check with a physician or registered dietician before making any drastic changes to your diet.

Pescatarian Bulking

Bulking as a pescatarian is just like bulking as a non-pescatarian. Although you’re restricting some types of meat, you’re still eating seafood and dairy, so your diet will still include all of the regular nutrients. You may want to supplement with protein powder and creatine, and you might run into a vitamin D deficiency during the winter, but that stuff applies to everyone who’s bulking up.

Vegetarian Bulking (Lacto-Ovo)

For lacto-ovo vegetarians, what’s being restricted is meat, so we need to consider the nutrients that are mainly found in meat:

  • Vitamin B-12 (the most common deficiency among vegetarians)
  • Creatine (which helps with building muscle mass)
  • Iron (mainly an issue for women)
  • Beta-alanine, taurine, carnitine
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Creatine

Vitamin B-12: it’s extremely common for vegetarians to gradually develop a vitamin B-12 deficiency (study, study) which can have severe consequences if left unaddressed. In addition to Dr Helms’ recommendation, we can also quote the Mayo Clinic:

Vitamin B-12 is necessary to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, so it can be difficult to get enough B-12 on a vegan diet. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may go undetected in people who eat a vegan diet. This is because the vegan diet is rich in a vitamin called folate, which may mask deficiency in vitamin B-12 until severe problems occur. For this reason, it’s important for vegans to consider vitamin supplements, vitamin-enriched cereals and fortified soy products.

You may or may not be deficient in any of the other nutrients, but these are the ones to watch out for. Most experts recommend getting your blood work done and then adjusting your diet and supplements accordingly.

Protein quality doesn’t tend to be an issue for vegetarians. That’s because vegetarians still have access to dairy and eggs, which are complete sources of protein. That means that all of the classic bodybuilding protein sources are still available:

  • Whey protein
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Milk

What’s interesting is that dairy tends to be a higher-quality source of protein than meat due to its higher leucine content. According to Dr Helms, this means that vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy actually need to consume a little bit less protein than people who eat meat. This would be a situation where a target of 0.8 grams per pound body weight per day might work well for bulking.

Of course, if you’re trying to minimize the animal products in your diet, you by no means have to get your protein from eggs and dairy. In fact, the research on pea protein powder shows that it might even have some advantages over whey protein (due to an even higher leucine content).

Vegan Bulking (Fully Plant-Based)

If you’re restricting all animal products, we’ve got to account for the nutrients that are found in animal products, including those in meat:

  • Vitamin B-12 (the most common deficiency among vegans)
  • Creatine (which helps with building muscle mass)
  • Iron (which isn’t as much of a concern for men)
  • Beta-alanine, taurine, carnitine
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Creatine

As well as those found in eggs and dairy:

  • Complete proteins
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Iodine
  • Zinc

Vitamin B-12: As with vegetarians, B-12 is the most common deficiency (study, study). As covered above, most experts recommend that vegans take b–12 vitamins. 

Creatine: the more creatine you have in your muscles, the more quickly you’ll be able to build muscle (meta-analysis). Since creatine is naturally occurring in meat, vegans tend to consume much less of it (study, study), and thus have more to gain by supplementing with it (study). The side effects of creatine tend to be positive in vegans, too, with research showing that it may improve mood and cognitive function (study). All creatine supplements are 100% plant-based, too, so there’s no worry there.

Calcium and zinc: Many plants contain calcium and zinc, but those same plants often contain phytates and oxalates as well, which reduces nutrient absorption (studystudy). It’s not that plant-based diets aren’t rich in these nutrients, it’s just that vegans need to eat more of them. Mind you, bulking means eating an abundance of food and calories, so this won’t necessarily be a problem.

Vitamin D: you can get plenty of vitamin D from the sun, but the sun won’t help you if you live like a vampire. This isn’t a problem unique to vegans, though. Most people are deficient in vitamin D, especially during the winter (study). Vitamin D is notable for vegans, though, because they don’t eat dairy that’s fortified with it (study, study). That means that they may need to supplement with it directly. When doing so, keep in mind that D3 is the most effective form of Vitamin D and that only lichen-based D3 supplements are plant-based.

Beta-alanine: beta-alanine is a mediocre bulking supplement overall, causing unremarkable increases in muscle mass in most people (study). However, since plant-based diets are lower in carnosine (study), and since beta-alanine increases muscle carnosine content, this might be a more worthwhile supplement for vegans (study).

You could say the same about carnitine (study) and taurine (study), which are common ingredients in pre-workout supplements, but that’s going pretty far down the supplement rabbit hole, and might very well be overkill for you.

Omega-3 fatty acids: vegan diets are lower in omega-3 fatty acids (study), and there’s preliminary evidence that getting enough omega-3s might improve body composition (study). It’s also a good idea to have omega-3s in your diet just from a general health perspective. To quote the Mayo Clinic:

Because conversion of plant-based omega-3 to the types used by humans is inefficient, you may want to consider fortified products or supplements or both.

Iodine: Most people get their iodine from iodized salt (and all standard salt is iodized), so chances are that you’re just fine. However, if you aren’t eating iodized salt, in that case, vegans have a higher incidence of iodine deficiency (study). This probably won’t be an issue unless you’re getting your salt from atypical sources, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Complete proteins: the final thing to keep in mind is that plant-based protein is considered “incomplete” because it contains only some of the essential amino acids. Different plants have different amino acid profiles, though, so by eating a wide variety of plant-based protein sources, you can get complete protein intake overall. Protein is quite important while bulking, though, so let’s dive one level deeper, going in-depth on plant-based proteins sources.

Overall Best Practices

Your diet may not be low anything other than vitamin B-12 and creatine, but it’s still a good idea to keep these nutrients in mind. As with vegetarians, the best approach is to get a blood test and then adjust your diet and supplements accordingly.

As a general rule of thumb, you may want to get some extra sunlight to take care of your vitamin D levels, you may wish to intentionally include calcium-rich plants in your diet, and you may want to take a DHA supplement that’s sourced from algae. Combine that with a standard 5-gram dose of creatine every day, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good vegan bulking diet.

If you wanted to fully cover your bases, though, Dr Helms recommends the following supplements for vegan bodybuilders:

  • Multivitamin for vegans (including vitamin b-12)
  • Pea protein powder (usually blended with rice protein)
  • DHA (sourced from algae)
  • Vitamin D3 (sourced from lichen)
  • Creatine (perhaps with beta-alanine, carnitine, and taurine)

The Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

Most research shows that having at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound per day is ideal. However, given the varying protein quality of plant-based proteins, vegans tend to do get better bulking results when they eat at least 0.9 grams/lb/day. For a 150-pound person, that means eating 135 grams of protein per day.

Do with this what you will, but I think there are even benefits to aiming slightly higher still:

  • As naturally thin people, we tend to underestimate how much we eat. If we make this same mistake with our protein intake, eating 0.7 grams instead of 0.9 grams, that’s going to mean less muscle gain and more fat gain, which can be discouraging (and confusing).
  • Foods often have less protein than advertised. For example, when testing protein powders, the researchers found that most of them had around 20% less protein than was listed on the label. This would cause people aiming for the bare minimum to fall short of their protein goals, whereas people aiming for a higher protein intake would be unaffected.
  • Things don’t always go according to plan. Maybe you need to eat a different meal than you’d planned, you’re too full to finish your dinner, or my wife steals one of your pieces of tempeh. (I’m not sure if that’s an issue for you, but she’s always stealing mine.) If you’re aiming at the bare minimum, this is a problem. If you’re aiming a little high, no worries.

This is why, if you’re able, we recommend trying to get a full gram of protein per pound body weight per day. This makes your diet resilient enough to withstand the mistakes we all make (some of which aren’t really under our control, such as incorrect information on nutrition labels).

Anyway, this is where protein powder comes in. If you buy some plant-based protein powder, all of these protein problems disappear. Protein powder even has the advantage of being easy on your appetite, making it easier to gain weight.

Toss a scoop of protein powder into your breakfast smoothie, have a scoop alongside any meals that have less than 20 grams of protein in them, and have a couple of scoops after lifting weights. Simple and easy.

Which protein powder should you get? Blends of different plant-based protein sources tend to be best (such as pea + rice protein). Soy protein powders are fine, too, so long as you consume a moderate amount. If your diet is already high in soy products, though, it’s probably wise to vary your protein intake by getting a pea-based protein powder.

Let’s go over the research on both options as it relates to bulking:

Is Soy Protein Good for Bulking?

Until recently, soy protein was touted as being the best plant-based protein source. There’s a good reason for that, too: it has a wonderfully balanced amino acid profile, making it great for building muscle. As a result, many bodybuilders have built strong physiques out of soy.

Illustration of a tub of weight gainer supplement powder.

However, there’s been some controversy, too. Some studies found that it lowered testosterone in men, causing bodybuilders to turn away from it. However, the most comprehensive meta-analysis found that soy doesn’t appear to reduce testosterone production after all. It seems to have been a false alarm. Kind of.

Then alarms went off connecting soy protein to sperm count. Some studies show that it can reduce our sperm count, whereas others show no effect. Again, it’s hard to tell what’s going on here.

We don’t have any conclusive answers yet, but one hypothesis for why soy only affects some guys some of the time has to do with varying gut bacteria. The idea is that having different gut bacteria causes us to digest soy differently, leading to about ⅓ of men having a negative reaction when they consume high quantities of it.

Speaking of high quantities, the final thing we need to consider is the dose. There haven’t been any negative effects detected with lower doses of soy protein. It’s only when soy is consumed in fairly large quantities that it might impact your hormones.

I’ll keep this section updated as new research comes out, but in the meantime, Dr Helms recommends limiting yourself to one serving of soy per day, just to play it completely safe. At such a low intake, he’s confident that you’ll get the benefits of the extra protein without risking any hormonal effect.

Key takeaway: feel free to have up to a serving of soy per day.

Vegan Whey: Pea + Rice Protein

The amino acid that’s most responsible for stimulating muscle growth is leucine, which is relevant to vegans because plant-based protein sources tend to be lower in it. However, soy is fairly high in leucine, rice protein has even more of it, and pea protein has a ton of it—more than whey protein.

In fact, because of that extra leucine, one 12-week bulking study found that pea protein was trending to produce more muscle growth than whey: 

Pea protein may stimulate slightly more muscle growth than whey protein

Now, to be clear, the difference wasn’t statistically significant, so we can’t use this as evidence that pea protein is better than whey (yet). Still, if you look at the muscle growth shown above, you’ll see that pea protein certainly make for a killer protein powder.

However, although pea protein is a great source of leucine, it’s low in two other amino acids: methionine and cysteine. That doesn’t seem to affect muscle growth, but just for general health, it’s wise to have a balanced intake of amino acids.

That’s where rice protein comes in. It has plenty of methionine and cysteine, it just doesn’t have as much leucine. So if we use pea protein as a base and then mix in a little rice protein, we get a completely balanced protein source with a great mix of all the amino acids. This blend isn’t associated with any hormonal effects, either. Beauty.

As a result, pea + rice protein blends tend to be the best protein powders for building muscle.

Key takeaway: pea + rice blends are the best plant-based protein powders for building muscle.

How to Gain Weight on a Plant-Based Diet

Alright, we’ve talked about the fundamentals of bulking, how to eat a good vegan diet, and how to get enough protein. Now let’s talk about the most important factor of all: how to eat enough calories to gain weight. After all, unless you can get yourself into a small but consistent calorie surplus (of about 500 calories per day), you won’t be able to steadily build muscle over the coming months. All of this will be for naught.

This brings us full circle back to the fundamentals of bulking. You need to lift weights, you need to eat enough protein, and you need to eat enough calories. For naturally skinny guys, ectomorphs, and hardgainers, this can be difficult. If you’re eating a plant-based diet, this can be even more difficult. Fortunately, this happens to be our specialty.

We have a full guide on how to eat more calories here, but to get you started, I want to give you four strategies that work especially well with vegan diets.

Build on Top of What You Already Eat

A common mistake is to completely overhaul your diet as you start bulking. That’s a mistake for a variety of reasons:

  • Your body won’t be used to digesting all the new foods.
  • Eating a brand new diet requires a ton of effort and willpower.
  • You’ll need to rebuild your habits from the ground up.
  • You might run into intolerances and allergies.
  • You might not like it.

A much better approach is to quickly audit your current diet, patch up any nutrient holes, and then simply add in some extra calories and protein. If you start your day off with a fruit smoothie, that might mean adding another scoop of pea + rice protein to it. To get your extra calories, you might want to have some trail mix as a snack, bump up your serving sizes, or drizzle extra olive oil on your veggies.

As we’re giving tips, remember not to change the aspects of your diet that are already working for you. Simply add in the extra nutrients that you need in order to build muscle.

Plant-Based Bulking Smoothies

Blending foods into a smoothie essentially pre-digests them, allowing them to pass through your digestive system much more quickly. A huge bulking breakfast can leave you feeling stuffed full for several hours, whereas a huge smoothie will often leave you with enough of an appetite to squeeze in a snack (such as trail mix) before lunch.

So long as you aren’t having more than a glass or two, smoothies will tend to sit pretty light in your stomach, giving you good energy to start your day with. That’s going to make bulking much more pleasant.

Smoothies can be made entirely out of whole foods, allowing you to knock out an entire day’s worth of fruit and veggie servings in just your first meal alone.

Vegan bulking smoothie recipe (3 servings, 630 calories each)

  • 1.5 cups of oats (910 calories) 
  • 0.5 cups of walnuts (262 calories) 
  • 2 bananas (210 calories)
  • 2 handfuls of spinach (14 calories)
  • 1 cup frozen berries (70 calories)
  • 3 servings of pea protein powder (450 calories)
  • 3 servings green tea leaves
  • 1–2 glasses of water

This makes three servings of 630 calories, each with 40 grams of protein. To make things easier on myself, I make three servings at a time. That way I only need to get the blender out every third morning. To fit it better into my morning routine, I add green tea for the caffeine content. That allows me to get my morning caffeine fix from my smoothie.

Starting off with a smoothie like this puts us ahead on calories, ahead on our servings of fruits and veggies, and sets us up to be able to handle a bigger lunch and dinner (as well as snacks).

Trail Mix: The King of Bulking Snacks

You can find weird trail mixes with chips and crackers mixed in, but the best trail mix for bulking is the classic kind that’s made from nuts and dried fruits. 

Mixed nuts are one of the highest calorie foods on the planet, they’re full of healthy fats, and they’re also a rich source of minerals that are important for building muscle, such as zinc and magnesium. This makes them absolutely awesome for bulking up.

Dried fruits contain just as many nutrients as regular fruits, allowing you to get far more calories, vitamins, and phytonutrients without filling up your stomach. They’re also rich in vitamin C, which is important for keeping your immune system strong as you bulk up.

Bulking trail mix recipe (4 servings of 630 calories)

  • 1 cup of peanuts (828 calories)
  • 1 cup of dried cranberries (560 calories)
  • 1 cup of almonds (656 calories)
  • 1 cup of raisins (494 calories)

Each serving is just a single handful, and each handful contains 630 calories. This means that if you simply add a serving of trail mix to your diet, that should already be enough to bring you into the calorie surplus required for bulking. And you’d be doing it by adding in 100% nutritious whole foods. (It’s not that we’re against having dessert or anything, we’re just trying to give you bulking foods that still leave you free to have whatever dessert you want.)

This might sound like a weird tip, but I’d also recommend “drinking” your trail mix. Instead of pinching small handfuls of it, put it in a glass and toss it back mouthful by mouthful. I know it sounds silly, but when I started serving myself trail mix in a glass, I found that it became much easier to eat.

Keep your fibre intake moderate

Plant-based diets are naturally quite high in fibre, which is great. However, when you start adding in all these extra bulking calories, that means even more fibre, which can start to get excessive. Not only is fibre extremely filling, but it’s also hard to digest in large quantities, which can leave you feeling bloated, gassy, and stuffed to the gills.

Once you recognize the problem, the solution to this is pretty simple: eat less fibre. You can lower the fibre content in your diet by snacking on bananas instead of celery, eating peas instead of broccoli. So long as you’re still eating mostly whole foods, your diet will stay nutritious, but it will also get easier on your digestive system.

This is oddly controversial, but you may even find that drinking fruit juice helps. Assuming that you’re eating plenty of minimally processed whole foods throughout the day, having some fruit juice along with your meals (or while lifting weights) tends to be an effective way to boost your calorie intake without driving your fibre intake too high. Cranberry juice, apple juice, and orange juice are all pretty standard choices for bulking up, with my favourite being cranberry juice.

Update: Study Comparing Vegan vs Omnivorous Diets

A 2021 study by Hevia-Larraín et al. pitted vegan and omnivorous diets against one another, seeing if there were any differences in muscle growth or strength gains after twelve weeks of bulking.

Both groups were instructed to eat at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day. For someone weighing 150 pounds, that’s at least 105 grams of protein per day. That might be a little low for ideal results, but it’s certainly enough protein to build muscle out of.

Graph showing that vegan and omnivorous diets both result in the same amount of muscle growth.
Both vegan and omnivorous diets build muscle equally well.

When comparing gains in lean mass, gains in strength, and increases in muscle size, both diets were found to produce the same results. As you can see in the graph above, if we look at the differences in muscle growth in the legs, there’s a tiny, slight bit of extra muscle growth from the vegan diet, but we’re talking about a small fraction of a percentage point, and it wasn’t anywhere close to reaching statistical significance.

This study shows that people can build muscle equally well when following a vegan diet versus an omnivorous diet, showing that vegan diets are absolutely viable for bulking.

Summary: How to Bulk on a Vegan Diet

Illustration of a man flexing flaming biceps.

Vegans can build muscle just as quickly and leanly as anyone else. In fact, plant-based diets lend themselves quite well to bulking. Here’s a quick summary of how to do it:

  • Follow a good bulking workout program (a hypertrophy program): The better your workouts are at stimulating muscle growth, the more quickly and leanly you’ll be able to build muscle. If your program isn’t good, you’re just going to get fat.
  • Eat enough calories to gain weight (+500): If you aren’t gaining weight, you aren’t bulking. To make that easier, try keeping your fibre intake moderate, having a big smoothie for breakfast, snacking on trail mix, and consuming more liquid calories. But most of all, keep eating the foods you enjoy. Try to simply add in the nutrients you need rather than completely overhauling your diet. No need to make this hard on yourself.
  • Eat enough protein (0.9–1g/lb/day): You can do this by eating a varied diet rich in plant-based protein (peas, legumes, etc), but it usually helps to have some protein powder on hand, too. Pea + rice protein is usually best for that. Again, this just keeps things easy.
  • Eat a good plant-based bulking diet: that means eating a varied diet consisting primarily of whole foods, accounting for nutrient deficiencies (such as vitamin B-12), and probably supplementing with creatine to enhance muscle growth.
  • Get your macros right: A good bulking diet is usually 50–60% carbs, 20–30% protein, 20% fat. Plant-based diets tend to be pretty good for this.
  • Eat protein often enough (3–5 meals with at least 20g): Aside from hitting your daily protein target, it also helps to have at least 20 grams of protein per meal and to have 3–5 meals per day. This is mainly to help you hit your protein and calorie goals, but it’s also going to stimulate a bit of extra muscle growth.
  • Sleep like a Beast: lifting weights, digesting loads of food, and constructing a ton of new muscle tissue is healthy, but also hard on your body (and your immune system). Make sure to get plenty of good rest. This isn’t last because it’s least important, it’s last because I want it to linger in your mind, haunting you if you surf social media at night.

And finally, if you wanted to cover all of your bases, your supplements might look something like this:

  • Multivitamin for vegans (including vitamin b-12)
  • Pea protein powder (usually blended with rice protein)
  • DHA (sourced from algae)
  • Vitamin D3 (sourced from lichen)
  • Creatine (perhaps with beta-alanine, carnitine, and taurine)

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping over ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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  1. Walter Freiberg on August 27, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Awesome guide, Shane 🙂 Impressive work! By the way, I’m very grateful for the support I received as a vegan on the b2B forum. You guys were very accommodating, and I appreciate that a lot!

  2. Sam Hunt on August 27, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    Such a great guide. Thanks so much for spending the time putting this together Shane!

    I’ve been eating a 99% plant based diet for the past 4 weeks so far, and it has been a little challenging. I wish I’d read this before hand actually, but you’ve confirmed everything I’ve researched and given me new ideas.

    I think changing gradually can always be an option. i.e. only ONE meat meal a day for a week. Then swap your whey for vegan protein the next week. Then the next week cut out milk. Then eggs. Then cheese. Little changes each week stopped me from getting overwhelmed before starting properly 4 weeks ago.

    My favourite vegan-easy snacks/bulking foods:

    Bulk powders Apple Strudel flavour vegan protein powder is AMAZING in morning porridge. I stir in some tropical flavour creatine too for extra sweetness. You can almost drink the bowl away. Handful of almonds on the side too and some berries is great.

    Dark chocolate 85%, good morning snack as its full of caffeine, with some trail mix.

    I also find tortilla wraps stuffed with anything is great, like fajita seasoned beans/chickpeas/veggies. Delicious and so easy to eat/digest.

    Pitta with hummus is a great bulking snack.
    Apples dipped in peanut butter.
    Banana, peanut butter on toast, GREAT.

    Oumph! is an amazing soy-based substitute for meat if you’re craving that meaty chewy texture. It’s pre-chopped in meat-like chunks to add to any meal.

    Soy mince is great for replacing your mince meat meals. It’s not as chewy but the protein content is high.

    Oat-milk is my favourite plant-milk, it’s higher in calories and tastes the best with other things in my opinion!

    Have 1xtin of baked beans on 2 slices of Hovis seedy bread. 28g protein right there.
    I add tandoori powder for some curry flavour. Or paprika for BBQ smokey flavour.

    Violife do GREAT cheese alternatives (it’s all coconut based, which contains super healthy fats)

    Getting enough protein is quite easy when you’re an ectomorph, because you have to eat SO much food that you get enough from plants quite easily.

    • Shane Duquette on August 27, 2019 at 6:01 pm

      So glad you dug the guide, Sam!

      I feel ya. Changing your diet all at once not only requires a ton of willpower and effort, it also runs a higher risk of messing with your digestive system.

      Those vegan bulking meals sound awesome 🙂

      And you’re right. Bulking means adding a bunch of food into your diet, so it’s actually not that hard to hit your daily protein goals, even on a fully plant-based diet.

  3. James on August 29, 2019 at 12:14 am

    Love this article! The way you guys comprehensively summarize the recent studies on each issue is very impressive and just great, since it’s really hard to keep up with each piece of new information.

    Just had one question–why is the program 3x per week and not 5? I feel like I’ve seen more progress working out 5x per week rather than 3.

    • Shane Duquette on August 29, 2019 at 12:40 pm

      Thank you, James!

      Lifting 3–6 times per week tends to produce pretty similar results until you get to a very advanced level. We don’t default to 3 days because it’s inherently better, we default to it because it’s easier and more efficient, at least until you get closer to your genetic potential. I’ve gained around 65 pounds at this point, and I’m just now considering switching to a 4-day routine.

      However, when you’re doing fewer workouts per week, it does pay to do full-body workouts so that you’re still stimulating your muscles frequently enough, and it does help to keep your workouts pretty efficient, centred mostly around compound exercises.

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with training 5 days per week, though. Just a different way of structuring a workout routine 🙂

  4. Ectomorph Bulking Diet: How to Eat More Calories on August 29, 2019 at 11:19 am

    […] diets are associated with weight loss, too. It’s certainly possible to bulk on a vegan diet, but when most people switch over to a plant-based diet, they inadvertently lose […]

  5. […] is that restrictive diets are very very common nowadays. You’ve probably heard a lot about vegan diets (cutting out animal products), paleo diets, ketogenic diets, intermittent fasting and needing to […]

  6. […] good, it’s just because they’re only relevant for guys bulking on a plant-based diet. Our article about vegan bulking has a list of recommended […]

  7. Killerdone on August 30, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    Doing only benchpress, squats, deadlifts, military press and rows 3x a week enough for good physique or i need more exercises?

  8. onesnowman on August 31, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Shane, you mentioned about using trail mixes when bulking, but isnt there a big risk of.overshooting your fat macros? You have it down as 20% in this article. But even if the target was 25-30%, by eating trail mixes will cause one to exceed that with ease.

  9. onesnowman on August 31, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    And how is it different to adding too much milk in your diet.that you mention inyour milk article?

  10. The Male Body Types: Ectomorph, Endomorph, Mesomorph on September 17, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    […] intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet, though, many people are able to successfully bulk up on a vegan diet. If you want to emphasize weight loss, then, it becomes important to choose foods that are filling, […]

  11. […] if you don’t tolerate milk well, there’s no need to drink any. Skinny guys can even bulk up on fully vegan diets without an issue. The last thing you want to do while bulking is to introduce something into your […]

  12. Marcia on March 11, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    1. 5 cups of oats isn’t 910 kcal (not even close, did you mean 3 cups of oats?), so your smoothie is way lower in kcals with this recipe.

  13. Myles on April 7, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    Excellent write up!

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