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Getting Started


What to eat...

Other Nutrients...

Other foods...


When to eat...

An after exercise drink...

Other factors that affect growth...


Types of Training...

Jim Morris...


First things first. If you believe that you are going to look like one of the people in the muscle magazines forget it! There is only one way to look like that and that's steroids! To get an idea of what's possible look at the old time weight trainers. Remember though that even these people are genetic marvels and the chances are you aren't going to get close to these physiques let alone the steroid boys and girls.

That over with what can you expect? Well much depends on your original build. If you are built like a marathon runner then don't expect to look like a power lifter after a few years training, it might happen, but probably not. More likely is that you will end up looking athletic rather than massive. That said you can build an impressive physique by most peoples standards, this page is not about which type of training to use, but only what foods are available for the weight training vegan, so if you're still interested read on.

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What to eat?

Protein: - now there's a word you hear occasionally in the bodybuilding world! There are 3 main types of protein sources for a vegan this is usually called the protein pyramid:

Protein Pyramid

In the old days it was assumed that all vegans needed to have complimentary proteins with every meal. That is to mix a combination of two of the three protein sources above in any meal (i.e. Beans on toast - beans are a legume and toast is a cereal) as the amino acids in vegetable proteins are not balanced, they usually contain one (or more) amino acid in a low quantity and the human body can only absorb amino acids in proportion to each other so you lose a lot of goodness, this was found to be not true in studies of vegans. However no studies have ever (to my knowledge) been done on vegan bodybuilders so perhaps as a precaution you should try to eat from two or more groups with every meal or at minimum daily.

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For cheapness there is always dry TVP (sometimes called TSP) which is dry processed soya that can be used as chunks or minced. Wholemeal bread is not only quite high in protein but contains fibre and vitamin E. Also nuts and nut butters go well as snacks and sandwiches, and don't forget soya milk for mixing those after exercise drinks.

Another good source of protein is yeast that you can buy as a spread or flakes. Natex make a reduced salt version of yeast spread that is a good alternate to Marmite or vegemite, and Marigold make some yeast flakes called Engevita that you can sprinkle onto food and of course there is always brewers yeast in both pill and powder form. All forms should be available from your local health food store.

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Other nutrients: - Some other nutrients that often come up are calcium (used in the contraction of muscles and making bones and teeth amongst other things), vitamin B12 and iodine:

Calcium: - Although calcium intake in adult vegans is often lower than in omnivores, there appears to be an increase in the absorption of the mineral in the intestine that offsets the difference as no difference in blood levels of the mineral have been found nor have there ever been any reported cases of deficiency in vegan adults.

Vitamin B12(cobalamins): - It is not necessary to eat B12 every day as the liver can store 3-6 years worth of the vitamin also the body can to a great extent recycle the stores of the vitamin and increase absorption when supplies are low. Although many people show no signs of deficiency after years, this does not mean that the body has adequate levels of B12 & you could be suffering from elevated homocysteine levels.Of course, you can't 'see'
homocysteine levels, but they are a sign of deficiency nonetheless and may
do significant harm to vegans . I recommend that everyone eat fortified foods or take a supplement to insure adequate levels of B12. My views on B12 have changed recently due to new research. I used to believe that B12 could be obtained from yeast products, edible seaweed, tempeh, miso, but now I have doubts, as research points towards these products not having B12 in them, but analogues, that appear to the body as B12, but infact do not function as B12 & actually block B12 receptors (for an excellent discussion on the B12 issue go HERE & download the PDF article)

Iodine: - Edible seaweed is the most reliable source of iodine. There is also iodine in vegetables and grains (the amount depends on where the crop was grown). On this note the reason that most meat and dairy products have iodine in them is the fact that they supplement the animals so you could say that you are eating iodine pills one step removed.

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Other foods: - You must remember to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit everyday to get all your trace element to allow growth. Of special significance here is vitamin C due to the form of iron that vegans consume when compared to meat eaters. Meat eaters get a source of iron called heme iron from meat. This form of iron is much easier to absorb than the non-heme iron found in vegetables. Eating a diet that is high in vitamin C increases the absorption of non-heme iron, as does citric acid and other fruit acids.

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Supplements: -You may consider supplements at some time (as we all have). I found creatine (there is some debate about whether some of the cheaper types of creatine are vegan. For more details click here) worked for making my muscles larger and increasing my strength, but do you really want to take a powder ALL YOUR LIFE when its long term effects are unknown, and if you stop you shrink (some research now appears to indicate that long term cycling of creatine [click here to see Robbie Hazeley's guide to dosage & cycling of creatine] is safe & that all the gains made are not just water gain, but lean muscle mass. Although for about a third of the population creatine appears to have no effect). Remember you can get just as big without powders or potions if you are patient (with the exception of steroids - but who wants those things flowing around in them.). Eat a sensible diet and you will find you will grow bigger than you thought possible. (Click here for the new page on supplements - this is a new page & I expect it to expand very quickly we begin to receive replies from more supplement manufacturers)

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When to eat?

This is pretty much standard fare for the bodybuilding world 6-8 meals (that's 3 or 4 big meals and 3 or 4 snacks) a day at 2 hour intervals (or there abouts) will be more than enough. Being sure to eat nutritious food, not junk. Always think the day before or that morning "Do I need to make anything to take with me". One thing I read was when you are preparing food always make a big pot full and freeze some in individual portions for later. When you haven't got time to cook this can be a lifesaver!

One important point is to eat (or drink a shake) within 60-90 minutes after exercise as your body needs nutrients at that time and will grow much better if it is fed at that time.

While we are on the subject WATER. Water is so important that it can't be over stressed. Drink a lot (I mean A LOT!) of it. We all do it. We go out and get thirsty half way to somewhere. Take some water where ever you go. If you want an idea of how much I mean then I would recommend a MINIMUM of 8 pints (preferably 12). You cannot (under normal circumstances) drink too much.

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An after exercise drink: - Here's something I concocted a while back that can be used as an after exercise drink or a meal replacement:

1 banana

1 dessert spoon of plain soya yoghurt (Yofu or similar)

1 or 2 dessert spoons of soya (or pea) protein (you could use powdered skimmed soya milk)

1 teaspoon of peanut butter

1 teaspoon of Engevita yeast flakes

Soya milk (low fat or regular) to make it up to a pint

Simply throw it all in a blender and whiz for a high protein drink. You can also add strawberries, pineapple, papaya (both pineapple and papaya have enzymes that aid the digestion of protein) or whatever takes your fancy. Play around with it until you find something you like.

For a more detailed look at calculating your nutritional needs you can download our nutrition guide here (You'll need either MS Word or acrobat reader to view these files)

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Other factors that can affect growth

There are many factors that combine to create a large, muscular body. In the section below I'll run through some of the factors that I feel are most important. You may have other factors, such as illness, or a disability that are not covered, but I've tried to keep the list to things that are relevant to ALL trainers: -

Basically there are two types of factors to be taken into account when determining your overall maximum size.

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Type 1 are things over which you have no control these are things like your...

Genetics (if you're not born to look like a power lifter then there isn't much you can do about it, however much you may crave to).

Recovery rate (how long you need to rest between training sessions).

Metabolic rate (how many calories you burn off can be modified, but not how much food your body can process in a given time).

Environmental (this can be all sorts of things that happen in your life over which you have no control(e.g.. bereavement, unavoidable stress, illness, family commitments etc.).

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Type 2 are things you can, with some dedication, usually control; they include...

Food & water (if your training seems to be going well and you are fully rested between workouts then THIS could be the bit that needs sorting out).

Sleep (probably the most under rated aspect of training. Proper sleep is vital for growth-try to aim for 10 hours a night when at full-bore).

Environmental (this can be late nights, unnecessary stress, junk food, smoking, alcohol, drugs, and lack of training consistently)

There is one problem that will almost certainly affect you at some time and sits squarely in both of the above categories and that is...

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Injury. Whether you were hit by a bus, or doing sloppy benching, injury will stop all progress. With training (which ever form you use) the key to success is consistency without which success just isn't possible. You must at all costs try to avoid injury. If you are not sure about form then find someone that knows what they're doing, or get a book ('the insiders tell all handbook on weight training technique' by Stuart McRobert is pretty good-although he himself is no fan of the vegan diet). Remember to listen to your body, just because the latest Mr wonderful bod says you must do something, if it hurts you (& I mean injury hurt, not just hard or lactic acid burn) then DON'T DO IT! Everyones body is unique so you may not be designed to do every exercise under the sun. Learn to feel what your body can and can't do and when you do listen to it.

Some exercises that can cause problems include: -

Press behind the head (always lower the bar in FRONT of the head),

Chin or pulldown behind the neck (again it is usually safer to pull the bar in FRONT of the head).

Very close or very wide grip bench pressing, rowing, chinning or pulldowns (use a medium grip, if you want to, go SLIGHTLY closer or wider grip, but try not to use extremes).

French Press or Tricep extensions (dips or pressing are a better alternative for most as they are better for the elbow joint).

Leg extension (can be bad for the knee, squats or leg press are better alternatives).

Any exercise that causes YOU pain (if any exercise makes you feel that you are moving unnaturally, or over stretching then use another exercise that works the same region).

The above list does not imply that these exercises are bad for everybody, but for the average person these may not be the best choice of exercises from a safety point of view.

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If you follow the advice above you should be able to grow to your maximum size at the fastest speed your body can cope with (this again varies greatly), but now we come to probably the most contentious subject...

Types of training

I get more E-mails about this than anything. Many people have many views, and I don't doubt any of them when they all claim that theirs works FOR THEM. I believe that is the truth of the matter, some people pump nearly every day and grow like mad others train once a week and sprout as well. Others try every which way & only grow a bit, if at all.

Now, I'm gonna stick my neck out here and suggest a starting point for the total beginner, I'd like to stress again there will be great variations between people, for some this will be too much & for others it may not be enough as I said earlier listen to your body.

Start with a full body routine 2 times a week do at least 2 warm up sets. 50-60% of the working set you will be using for the first set, then 70-80% for the second. Some people find doing 90% for several reps for a third warm up helps, others don't. When you are warmed up do no more than 2 working sets per exercise. Start at about 10 reps per set, but again some people like higher reps and some like lower, depends on your design.

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Day 1



Dip or bench press

Pulldown, row or chin

Standing, seated or donkey calf raise

Back extension


Some form of grip work

cool down

Day 2


Stiff leg deadlift

Overhead military (in FRONT of head) press


Side bend (weighted)

Neck exercise


cool down

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This should be okay for a beginner who is just starting, but after a while the overlap in exercises may cause trouble with recovery. By then you should have some idea about whether you can tolerate more, whether that was too much, whether some of the exercises aren't for you etc. If you are interested in looking at other types of training for those past the beginners stage then E-mail me and maybe we can put some things on the page let people know the relative merits of the various systems out there.

Jim Morris

Jim Morris, Mr Olympia Grand Master [over 60] said he's never felt better in his life after being vegan for 10 years "I don't experience the joint pain that many other iron athletes my age constantly complain about." He says.

So don't be frightened to give it a go.

If you've got any thoughts, questions or suggestions then please feel free to E-mail them to us as we be glad to answer anything we can on the subject on vegan bodybuilding, training, or any related subject.

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