Building muscle on a plant based diet: Part two – Carbohydrates

By far a vegan bodybuilders best friend is the humble carbohydrate. They provide us with flavour, texture, variety and of course energy! The human body’s preferred energy source is carbohydrates as they are easily broken down into glucose which can be absorbed into the wall of the small intestine, a quick trip through the liver and then into our blood stream so it can be utilised for energy.

But enough about how our body uses carbs, how much do we need and where can we get it from? Well that first question ‘how much do we need?’ is a hard question to answer, this is dependent on a number of factors. The number comes down to the individual and things to consider are lifestyle, level of activity, goals, genetics and more. But lets keep it simple and I’ll use myself as an example.

Since going vegan I’ve actually increased the amount of carbs I intake daily, this is because I dropped my overall protein intake (you can read about that here) and I needed to add in extra carbs to keep my daily calories the same. So now around 50% of my daily calories (350g) come from carbohydrates. But how did I get that number? Well it’s quite simple I like to work off of macro ratios. Here is an example below for a 3000 calorie a day diet:

Protein  – 25% | 187g | (748 calories)
Fats         – 25% | 83g |  (747 calories)
Carbs     – 50% | 375g | (1500 calories)

Calories – 3000

Personally when in either a bulk or a cut I’ll like to keep my protein consistent at around 25% of my total daily calories (but I may drop it as low as 20%) and I’ll play around with my fats and carbs depending on my goals at the times. When cutting I’ll drop my carbs and compensate with a little more fat and vice versa for bulking season. But the above ratio of 25/25/50 seems to a nice happy medium where I can easily maintain/add muscle mass and still stay relatively lean.

Okay, now that we have a rough idea how to calculate how many carbs we should be having lets start to talk about where you can get your carbs from. Being vegan you have a massive array of carbohydrate sources to choose from. The below list includes some of the best vegan/bodybuilding friendly carb sources:

  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Fruit (Bananas, apples, melon, pineapple, kiwis, berries)
  • Potatoes / Sweet Potato
  • Pasta
  • Bread (wholegrain, tortillas)
  • Legumes(black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Vegetables (carrot, pumpkin, broccoli, kale, zucchini)
  • Carbohydrate powders (dextrose)

Basically when you are vegan it’s very hard not to eat a high carb diet because the majority of vegan friendly foods are prominently carbohydrate heavy or at least contain them. I know carbs can sometimes get a bad rap and people are often scared to eat too many carbs. I know I was a little hesitant to up my carb intake when I first went vegan, I thought I would gain extra body fat and look fluffier from the extra water (for each gram of carb you eat your body retains 4 grams of water) my body would hold onto. Well I don’t think I gained an extra body fat but I’m not going to lie, I did look fluffier for a couple of weeks. But now that my body is used to eating more carbs and less protein my body has evened back out and is now used to extra carbs.

So what are the benefits to a high carb diet?
Well the first thing I noticed was the increase in energy. My body responded well to the influx of extra carbs and all that extra energy has helped me make strength gains in the gym, given me back a fantastic pump while working out and kept me from falling asleep at work! Also as I’ve increased my fruit and vegetable intake I’ve also benefited from getting more micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and additional fibre (I’ll have a post on that in the future). One major thing I’ve noticed is my satiety levels have increased after each mean, this is due to the larger volume of food I’m ingesting daily. When I was eating meat some of my meals were so meager and wouldn’t keep me full and I’d always been looking at the clock anticipating my next meal. The last benefit I can think of is the reduction in my overall food cost. Carbs are the cheapest foods available – rice, pasta, beans and vegetables are so cheap when compared to animal protein sources like chicken, beef, eggs and fish.

So if you’re reading this and aren’t vegan already, what have you got to lose? If you understand nutrition and want to give your body an extra boost to help you make some gains then give it a go, make the switch to that high carb vegan diet. There are plenty of people out there are willing to help you and even more sources of information on this topic so get out there and do your research and then apply it in real life, it will be the best thing you ever do.



10 thoughts on “Building muscle on a plant based diet: Part two – Carbohydrates

  1. I’m all for the higher carb diet… I think it’s easier on the body and forces you to increase your intake of nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables. I also dropped to 10% body fat with very little effort. I know 10 is low for a female non-bodybuilder but I am maintaining the muscle mass I do have. And I feel like I can eat more volume of food because the food is both lower in calories and higher in nutrition. A win win situation! I think every one needs to experiment and find out what works best with them to easily maintain a reasonable nutritional lifestyle.


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