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21 Reasons You Are Not Gaining Muscle Mass On a Plant-Based Diet.

Posted on December 28 2020

21 Reasons You Are Not Gaining Muscle Mass On a Plant-Based Diet. | Roshni Sanghvi


Can vegan's get buff? What do Italian bodybuilding champion Massimo Brunaccioni and international bodybuilder Nimai Delgado have in common? They are prime examples of vegan athletes who show that an animal diet is not at all necessary to be at the top of your game! If the question on your mind is 'Can i get ripped on a vegan diet', keep reading.

For the individuals who are simply hoping to tighten up and look after muscle building, a vegan diet can aid you perfectly as well. This article covers the top 21 reasons why you are not gaining muscles on a vegan diet.
Let's dive right in!!


1. Not Eating Enough Calories.

Gaining muscle mass is theoretically simple- challenge your muscles fibers through activities and eat enough calories. If you are a dedicated trainer but do not pay attention to the food or calories that you consume, you probably won't get as strong as you desire to be. This applies to meat-eaters and vegans as well.
However, on a plant- based diet, you could be calculating your calories wrong and eating under the daily requirements.
Now we all know that carbs and proteins and four calories per gram and fat is nine calories per gram. But 'carbs' is a very broad term and contains multiple sub- groups such as fibre and starches. Fibre (most important nutrient) is 2-3 calories for every gram and starches (such as potatoes/ rice and corn) are 1 calorie for every gram! So you could be calculating more than you are actually eating.
You want to add 10- 20% calories to your existing calories to start with, and monitor closely if you are gaining weight on a weekly basis. Focus on consuming more calorically dense foods like beans, tofu and tempeh, nuts and nut butter, seeds, avocados, dried fruit, etc., in addition to fruits and vegetables.

2. Not Consuming Enough Protein.

This again is not a 'vegan' problem, but a problem in general for people not aware of their protein intake. Plant- based proteins are not as acidic as animal proteins and much easier to digest, making it a fabulous addition to your diet. Muscle's are made of proteins.
So this obviously means that you need to consume more protein for the synthesis of muscle. The plant kingdom is a very efficient source of proteins. One only needs to dedicatedly consume it. Some plant-based protein sources are - beans, peas, lentils, tofu, seitan, wheat gluten, tempeh, nutritional yeast etc. Watch this video for clarity:
While you only need to eat about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg) per day for good health, research shows that for gaining muscle and strength, more protein consumption is required. Around 1.2- 1.5g/kg is the optimum amount of protein consumption for effective muscle mass building. Anything more is too toxic for the system.

3. Not consistent with the right training regimen.

Time and consistency are key to getting those pumping gains. This includes following a well-rounded regimen on resistance training, cardiovascular training and nutrition program. Cardio helps boost the metabolism, burns fat easily and helps build the stamina required for lifting weights. Incorporate running/swimming/walking in your training regimen. Pick the right resistance training plan for yourself and let this comprise 80% of your overall training routine.
Now incorporating all the above exercises I have mentioned above without dedicating enough time and being inconsistent will get you nothing but disappointment and demotivate you. This must become your way of life! An interesting way to keep yourself motivated is by making workouts fun. Or one could make a dedicated music playlist just for workouts.
Take the effort to make it enjoyable and you WILL see the results. Once you are in your flow and this becomes a daily routine, working out will become as simple as breathing to you. You will be on auto-pilot and a step closer to getting those massive gains.

4. Not Training Correctly.

The training required for building muscle mass is different from the ones that are targeted for weight loss and maintanance. The act of subjecting of muscles to resistance training and weights that intentionally causes the muscles to tear and build stronger is called muscle hypertrophy. Here, the muscles are continually exposed to progressively increasing weights.
Progressive overloading results in increasing the muscle fibre length both, in diameter as well as in length. Include training sessions that work multiple joints (compound movements). This is proven to be more effective in muscle mass building. Squats, deadlifts, pullups, and bench presses work for multiple muscle groups at the same time. Include them in your training regimen. Here is a video where I have put together a muscle gain plan for you to follow:


5. Not Eating Adequate Amounts of Healthy Fat.

By increasing your intake of healthy fats, you are not only increasing the number of calories consumed but also helping your body build muscle mass. This is because fats help with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, which inturn support protein synthesis (process of proteins being take up by the muscles to grow).
Here are 11 high-calorie vegan foods that are filled with healthy fats-
  1. Nuts and nut butter
  2. Avocado
  3. Quinoa
  4. Olive Oil
  5. Tahini
  6. Dried fruit
  7. Legumes
  8. Sweet potatoes
  9. Smoothies
  10. Rice
  11. Coconut Oil

How much should you be consuming? Aim for 15- 20 grams of nuts/ seeds three times a day. This will differ for fat loss. Follow each of the points mentioned and building muscle mass on a vegan diet or even gaining muscle on a vegetarian diet will become easy.

6. Setting Unrealistic Goals.

If you are frustrated with your progress, it is probably time to revisit your training journal (I am assuming you maintain one). Expecting to gain 30 lbs muscle mass in 60 days is unrealistic. Expecting to advance from 16 inches to 18-inch arms of solid mass in 2 weeks is also unrealistic. By setting these types of goals, you are not only demotivating yourself but also fast approaching frustration and ultimately failure.
The trick to reverse this is simple. Analyze the goals you have failed in and set new, achievable goals. Do this every time you think you aren't achieving your set target. This not only motivates you but also helps you in setting more achievable goals. You will know your own capacity and start pushing yourself accordingly. Building muscle mass is much harder than losing fat, so aim for no more than 2-3 pounds of lean muscle gain every 30- 45 days.


7. Not tracking calories consumed.

There are two ways to achieve this:
  1. Pay an expert to do it for you.
  2. Do your own research and use app's like MyFitnessPal.
But make sure you keep a food journal similar to the way you keep a training journal. This helps track the number of calories that you are consuming. It also helps in prepping your meals. You could include recipes, diet plans and meal prepping essentials. Also, you know exactly what you ate when and how many calories you ended up consuming. Meal prepping can be especially beneficial if you have a busy week coming up ahead! Not only that, but you also need to daily record the amount of protein you have consumed. This will give you a fair idea of how much more you need to consume.

8. Not Consuming Healthy Calories.

Consuming the right kind of food is as important as consuming the right number of calories. When ignored, the body starts shedding your muscle mass and this can prove disastrous to your goals.
Nut butter like peanut butter and almond butter are healthy snacks and go well in plant-based milk smoothies as well. Soy milk tends to be the bulkiest in protein. You can also opt to munch on high-protein vegan bars now and then. Healthy proteins such as nuts and quinoa, as well as fruits, like raisins and bananas, can also be included in your meal plan.

9. Not consuming enough Omega-3.

This is a common mistake in vegetarians and vegans. Polyunsaturated fatty acids aka Omega 3 is very essential for bodybuilders. This is because they help avoid injuries and boosts recovery. Walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, brussel sprouts, wild rice etc are great sources, but I also would consider adding an algae based supplement for the same.

10. Not keeping a food journal.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. If you aren't maintaining a food journal, it is safe to say you are like a non-swimmer diving into the deep end without a life jacket. Food journaling helps you keep track of the number of calories consumed. This is essential for bodybuilders as you cannot afford to be a deficit in calories consumed. Also, one can hardly keep so many numbers in their memory. Writing down will help you become creative in your meal prepping and diet plans. One is more sure of following diet plans when it is written down.

11. Excessive Consumption of Alcohol.

Alcohol is nothing but empty calories. What's more, it is responsible for multiple cardiovascular and liver diseases. Both females and males alike suffer a decrease in muscle protein synthesis (MPS) due to consumption of alcohol. Not only this, alcohol boosts the production of the female sex hormone estrogen, which is counter productive to muscle gain. What's more, increased oestrogen levels can contribute to gynacomastitis (breast like formation in men), unwanted and erectile dysfunction. So say goodbye to manly pecks and good sex together.

12. Excessive Smoking.

Notice how smokers are often lean? The bodies natural weight loss mechanism is through a process called AMPK. A boost in the AMPK activity in the body is often associated with excess weight loss. Smoking boosts AMPK activity in the body. Not only this, but smoking also increases another compound called AGE's in the body, leading to excessive inflammation and oxidation. This will slow down your recovery and progress.

13. Excess Stress.

Excess of stress causes your cortisol levels to shoot up. Now cortisol is a hormone in your body that is fat-loving and muscle-hating. Stress can be psychological or physical. When you lift weights, make sure that you incorporate progressive overloading so that your muscles are used to that kind of stress. Jumping to 50kgs on the first day will only cause an increase in cortisol in your body. Eventually, this hormone will destroy your muscle tissues, bone density and promote the growth of the infamous abdominal fat. It feeds on protein and accumulates fat.
To lower cortisol levels in your body make sure you get enough sleep, practice mindfullness techniques, take a break, read a book and practice breathing exercises. These help you reduce stress - both psychological and physical. Also, make sure you don't overdo it in the gym. I also insist you checkout the below blogs:


14. Not getting enough rest/recovery.

Rest is very important to recover from the stress induced by exercise. Apart from the increase in cortisol levels, exercise tends to deplete the glycogen levels in your body. If unreplenished, the muscles start experiencing further soreness and fatigue. Also, your muscles need glycogen to function. Letting the glycogen levels refill will prep your muscles for future workout sessions.
Regular rest also aids in faster recovery and better performance. The increased adrenaline rush that is associated with working out is just an imbalance of the hormone. Sufficient rest helps in restoring this imbalance and promotes overall well-being in the system. Aim for 7 hours of undisturbed sleep, but more importantly, aim to seel as per the bodies natural circadian cycle. That is, aim to hit the bed no longer than 11pm and wake up no longer than 7am.

15. Not Using Kitchen Scale to Track Nutrients.

A kitchen scale is the most crucial item out of all the scales that a bodybuilder must use. This is because nutrition, in precise quantity, is the most important aspect of gaining mass. Food scales will allow you to measure the exact amount of nutrients you are consuming. It helps you to figure out what the actual size of your food looks like. I do not suggest you to obsess over every gram you eat, but use a scale to guide you at least till you learn to eyeball measurements.

16. Excessive Marijuana Intake.

Now muscle growth is not only dependent on nutrition and training regimes. Hormones in the body that are responsible for muscle growth are equally important. The hormones I'm talking about include the two biggies - Testosterone and the Growth Hormone (GH). Smoking marijuana has been known for decades to reduce the quality and quantity of one's sperm cells. Well, this is because it affects the production of testosterone in the body. Testosterone is also responsible for acting as a catalyst for muscle tissue growth. And this is not the only hormone it kills. Your growth hormone, which is responsible to build the skeletal muscle tissue, eliminate body fat and assist in body strength is also depleting. But besides this, smoking cannabis has been associated with a boost in metabolism and drop in body weight. Watch this video to learn more:

17. Hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism is the excess production of the thyroxine hormone by the thyroid glands. This can accelerate your metabolism to such an extent that you start loosing too much weight and experience irregular heartbeat. The T3 hormone is responsible for skeletal muscle development.
Irregularities in this hormone can affect the development and growth of muscles. An irregular heartbeat can also cause fatigue and get in your way for better performance at the gym. A simple thyroid test can bring some clarity to this matter.

18. Eating an Acidic Diet.

Our blood tends to become acidic as we grow older. Increase in acidity shrinks our muscles and inhibits its growth. This is one ofthe reason that people of old age drop muscle mass. Diets including animal products are in the danger of being more acidic. The load of acidity that is contributed by animal-based diets cannot be compensated by fruits or vegetables.
So the solution is to completely avoid animal-based diets. Dairy, meat and any other substance that comes from an animal is responsible for a growing rate of metabolic acidosis. This is the exact reason for the diminishing size of muscles of stunted muscle growth. On the flip side, foods that are highly alkaline in nature (fruits and vegetables) help in aiding and preserving muscle mass regeneration. So ditch that animal-based diet and shift to an alkaline based plant-based diet instead. Read the below for more information:

19. Recovering From Illness/Antibiotics.

Many antibiotics are responsible to inhibit muscle growth in the body. So if you are down with an illness, not only are your muscles worn out in the first place because of fatigue (common symptom associated with most illnesses), they are also not growing because you are eating a lot of antibiotics. The common symptom of taking antibiotics is drowsiness and tiredness as well.
So all these factors can tend to reduce your performance.
So instead of causing more inflammation to the muscles by working out when sick, take a time out and allow the body to recover. Get enough rest to regenerate the body and your weakened muscles. This is the one way you can ensure a speedy recovery. Once recovered, there will be no stopping you from getting those strong gains!

20. Diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that causes the body to attack the pancreas that produces insulin. Insulin is necessary for the growth of muscles and any hampering of the levels of insulin in the body can get in the way of building muscle mass. Without insulin, the body cannot break down glucose into glycogen for energy. This can also significantly reduce your stamina.Your kidneys also release the glucose that is accumulated in the blood as urine. And as your glucose goes, so do your calories. And maintaining a high-calorie profile is insanely important for building muscle mass.
However, the good news is, Type 2 Diabetes is reversible with a few lifestyle changes. Read the below blog for clarity:

21. Failing Mental Health.

Depression and mental illness can be a reason for lack of interest in doing things. It can also lead to unexplained fatigue and weight loss. Along with physical health, psychological well-being is also very important for committing to the lifestyle you are treading on. Combating mental illness is definitely a challenge, however, it isn't impossible. Talk to an expert and come up with a strategic plan to reach your goal.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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author-bio

Roshni Sanghvi is an Indian plant-based sports nutritionist and body transformation specialist. She is the first Indian to represent on a national bodybuilding stage being on a 100% plant-based diet. Roshni is a holistic nutritionist, graduated from the prestigious NutraPhoria college of nutrition in Canada. She is also an ACE-certified personal trainer, certified PlantFed gut coach, certified Bodyshred, and Animal flow instructor with a specialisation in disease reversal through food and lifestyle modification.

Her approach is more focused on helping you in adopting a healthy lifestyle. With her result-oriented holistic methods, she has managed to transform and reverse lifestyle diseases such as PCOS, Thyroid, Diabetes etc for 12k+ clients worldwide.

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