Most people who ask about my dietary choices stare at me blankly and just ask how I manage. The rest can’t compute and ignore. Interspersed in there are a sub-section of people that I am keen to reach out to – those that approach me, or whom I haven’t yet reached, about how to convert to veganism, and how to put on muscle and proportion while doing so.
I’m very glad to be writing this article with my best friend and business partner, Mikey Minuzzo (yes, we’re both called Mikey). We have eaten and trained and learned together for 2 years now, and while he was already massive (on a meat-eating diet) when I met him and I was skinnier than you would believe, we quickly both committed to getting big on a vegan diet. Two years later, I rest around 8% body fat and other Mikey has won a natural fitness modelling competition (at a DEXAscan reading of 4.2% body fat at 86kg of muscle) and travelled interstate with it. In the first instance, to dispel any myths that vegan’s are skinny or that the diet is unhealthy, below is a picture of myself from two weeks ago (Mike preferred not to have any pictures of himself online as he is a corporate-type and thought it better not to – but imagine me but about double the size and just as lean 😛 )
Now having established that it’s entirely possible, let’s get to work on the How.
To note, neither of us are health professionals – we’re just two guys that made it work and want to lend a helping hand to those that want to do the same.
Mike and I have identified 6 main elements that are key to building the body of your dream, in terms of your figure and lean muscle, vitality, and aesthetics. We wont be addressing a comparison of carnivorous diets and vegans diets here – if you want to learn more about why someone would go vegan and the ethicals and nutritional benefits of doing so you can see my video on this topic here: Youtube | Mikey Sunderland | “Why Vegan”. Here we are strictly addressing how to get the body of your dreams on a vegan diet. So, the 6 key elements are as follows:
- Vitamins and Minerals
- Training Plan
A final consideration before we go on and get to the meat of it (lol) is that we all have different body types yo. There are 3 main body types: ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs. Here’s a picture so you know it’s legit and so I don’t have to type at you so much.
Mike and I are ectomorphs, tall and skinny. We, traditionally, find it harder to put on muscle and easier to lose weight. We, therefore, rarely do any cardio and focus more on a bulking diet and heavier weight. Over time your body can change, too. Mike has become more mesomorphic as he has trained and now has begun to incorporate cardio into his regime. There is something important to that – listening to your body and responding in kind. Onwards.
Vitamins and Minerals
It’s important to get a wide range of nutrients in your diet in order to supplement a rigorous training routine and also to have your body feel and perform the best it can during daily activities, such as work. A really easy way to think of your nutrient intake it to eat a small amount of lots of different food groups, or try to get in lots of different colours. Nuts, grains, fruit, vegies, legumes etc all have their own attributes and nutritional profiles so eating from a broad range of these groups ensures that you are getting plenty of the good stuff in. In order to illustrate what an example vegan, (mostly gluten free) and almost entirely sugar-free diet looks like, Mikey Minuzzo kindly prepared a meal plan that he eats every day with a table illustrating it’s macro-nutrient break down in addition to it’s vitamin and mineral breakdown against the daily recommended intakes to show that he is hitting all his targets for the day. This meal plan and chart will be attached at the bottom of the page. To note, we cycle between cutting and bulking cycles for gym, and the attached table is a cutting (or leaning) diet. Most of the year we would be bulking, that is, eating lots more, and also a lot less restrictively in order to have our bodies in an anabolic (growth-conducive) environment, allowing us to grow muscle more productively.
Sleep is one of the most important factors to a healthy life and a successful training regime. Now to be completely authentic about this – for the first year of training Mike and I didn’t sleep much at all. He was going to uni 5 days a week to complete his Masters, and 6 days a week at work (sometimes 7) while keeping a regimented gym schedule 6 days per week, and I was at uni and working too. Most nights, Mike wouldn’t sleep more than 4-5 hours. Between us, if we hadn’t been to the gym by 2am he would pick me up and we would go. No days off. We pushed through with hard work. That said, his general disposition at the time was introverted and tired, and I was depressed. So we don’t recommend it. The first 4 hours of sleep regenerate the body and muscle tissue. The next 4 hours go to work at restoring chemicals in the brain to normal levels, including Dopamine and Serotonin. Not enough sleep and too much stress leads to cortisol imbalance and impinges on muscle growth and training effectiveness. Basically, if you’re cutting out on sleep you’re cutting out normal functioning of brain chemistry while can lead to increased anxiety or depression. Not good. Everyone is different but we find it most effective when we rise around 5am or 6am to train and then sleep by 10pm. It can also help to have 5mg of melatonin 10hrs before sleep. If you don’t wake up feeling refreshed, up it to 10mg and so on until you wake up feeling refreshed.
The 4 macro-nutrients that we look at when assessing our diet to maximize lean muscle mass are Carbs, Fat, Protein and Water. We will deal with these individually.
- Carbs: There are two types of carbohydrates – simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs are sugars and whites, including white bread, pasta, fruit, or sweets and treats (which all digest quickly giving you an energy rush and essentially for the most part get stored as fat). Complex carbs are the healthy ones, which digest slowly, giving you prolonged energy, and include vegetables and legumes. Complex carbs are often high in dietry fibers which are shat out, so basically the good stuff is absorbed and the rest is gone not long after 😛
- Fats: Good fats are mono and poly-unsaturated fats. Bad fats are saturated fats and trans-fatty acids (found in large quantities in meat and animal products and which, alongside cholesterol and animal protein, contribute directly to heart disease, cancer and stroke – the 3 biggest killers in the western world). For every gram of carbs or protein there are 4 calories. For every gram of fat there are 9 calories. It is important to get healthy fats in as they contribute to good brain and joint health, however many people focus on carbs as the main go-to when trying to address weight issues whereas fat would be a more fruitful place to start. Some great vegan sources of mono and poly-unsaturated fats include nuts, olive oil and avocado. For every gram of fat we should try to get in 2 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbs. For this reason, it will be the smallest macro-nutrient that is taken in by unit weight.
- Protein: Protein doesn’t necessarily make you bigger, protein assists in the recovery of muscle tears which you make at gym (if you’re training well). It’s only necessary insofar as it’s ability to reduce muscle soreness. Yes, you definitely need enough protein, but people do go on a bit much about it – especially to vegans. To note: there is no medical term for protein-deficiency and it is impossible to build a well-balanced diet with enough calories that lacks protein – it’s in everything! In any case, the example meal plan we prepared includes 189g of protein per day which is roughly 2.5 times the recommended intake for an adult male, and all naturally. Good natural (and vegan) sources of protein that we rely on daily include beans (baked beans, kidney beans, black beans… any beans basically), tofu (though we’re not a fan – it’s highly processed and we find our libido and vitality is much higher when we abstain from processed foods), brocolli, lentils, hummus, mushrooms, nuts, grains, seeds, taro, sweet potato etc etc etc. It’s really not difficult, and I only really pay attention to it if I notice I’m more sore than usual. There is also plenty of protein (and vitamins and minerals) in soy milk. Some vegan protein powders include rice, soy, and pea (we recommend Bioflex – it has the best amino acid break down, and is cheap and doesn’t taste like plaster of paris, unlike many other brands).
- Water: Get this in yo. Nuff said.
By percentage of total intake you should aim for 20% fat, 30% protein and 50% carbs, just to give you an idea. Water should ideally sit around 3.5L (close to a gallon if you’re old school as bro). It should also be the only thing that you drink. Literally. Unless you’re bulking, soy milk or a milk of your choice works great. (That said I totally have unsweetened almond milk with my gluten-free weetbix and banana in the morning so whatevs, man, you do you.)
This is a pretty basic break down of nutrition. As discussed, we have attached an example clean cutting meal plan and vitamin and nutrient break down ’cause we’re nice and we love you. We also found our old clean bulking meal plan and our old cheap bulking meal plan. You’re very welcome. ❤
As you can see above the plan we made up has nearly 400% the necessary daily intake of iron (just from food) and where we lacked in Vitamin D and B12 we made up for it with our vitamin supplements. Interestingly, most of my family and Mike’s family are vegan and we all get flying colours on our blood tests. Food for thought for the doubters amongst you.
I hope this has been of some benefit, and stay tuned for next week’s gym post – where we explain how to apply this knowledge in the gym and use it to see massive results, real quick 😉