Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
With obesity an ever-present concern in the modern world, weight loss strategies make up the bulk of weight-related advice online. In fact, it can be hard to move for all the weight-loss tips out there. And although the vegan diet can be a great way to lose weight, this doesn’t mean it can’t also be used as an effective weight gainer. It is full of healthy foods that are rich in good fats, protein and carbohydrates that can all be used to meet those weight-gain goals.
In other words, veganism is not only healthy and delicious, it is also versatile, and with these tips, can be used as an effective and enjoyable weight-gain strategy.
Why Do You Need to Gain Weight?
The most common motivation for weight gain is to build muscle mass, usually to improve physique or performance in a sport. The vegan diet has been shown by many top athletes to be optimal for this purpose and if you need convincing, The Game Changers movie is enough to make anyone reach for the black beans instead of the beef for their post workout meal.
It could also be that you are underweight and are looking to gain weight for your health. Whilst these tips will be useful, if this is the case, it is recommended that you follow medical advice for healthy weight gain, to make sure you are getting everything you need.
Whatever your reason, gaining weight as a vegan is often branded as difficult, but in fact with the right approach, it can be very effective.
What Is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet is a part of the vegan philosophy that seeks to exclude the use of all animal products and avoid any exploitation of animals. So, when it comes to diet, this means no meat, fish or dairy but leaves a bounty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains and much more to choose from. Not bad eh?
This healthy selection is often frustratingly seen as a negative for gaining weight, as traditional gym-goers often prefer protein-dense foods like meat and dairy. But these foods, whilst dense in protein, lack other key nutrients like fiber, vitamin c and more. The vegan diet can provide plenty of protein and healthy fats for your weight gain, whilst also nourishing other aspects of your health.
Why Can’t Some Vegans Gain Weight?
Negative caloric deficit is the most common reason for difficulty gaining weight. As many healthy plant-based foods are high in fiber and water content, we may feel full before we have taken in the required calories to gain weight. If our solution is to just eat more of these foods, this can leave us feeling sick, bloated and still behind on the calories we need.
Fear not, there is a simple solution. The answer is caloric density. This may sound scary but it is merely understanding which food groups provide us with the most calories per 100g, and then eating as much of them as we need!
Read on for a breakdown of the most calorically dense vegan foods out there.
How to Gain Weight on a Vegan Diet
There is no real one-size-fits-all solution. Everybody is different and it’s important to understand our current and expected calorie intake, metabolism and body type before deciding on how we go about gaining weight.
The following tips outline the best ways in which we can maximize our weight gain on a vegan diet.
Know Your Current Calorie Intake, Metabolism and Body Type
The first step to gaining weight is simply figuring out your current calorie intake. Calorie King provides a free and easy calculator to find out how many calories are in our meals – a good approach is to track the ingredients you eat in a normal week, then use the calculator and calculate a total. Alternatively, there are many calorie tracking apps that will do this for you. Simple!
Then we should calculate our metabolism or Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Put simply, this is how many calories we need to sustain ourselves whilst resting.
If we want to gain weight, we want to take in enough calories to account for our BMR, plus the calories we burn during exercise, and more! This will result in a positive caloric balance and healthy weight gain. Active.com has a simple and easy to use BMR & Caloric Needs calculator to do the sums for us.
Body type also plays a part in our approach, but it is not the unchangeable life sentence it is sometimes made out to be. Our body type is somewhat decided by genes, but is largely adaptable to our diet and exercise choices. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) provides an excellent overview of body type and how we can adapt what we have into what we want.
Get Enough Calories
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the key to gaining weight is calories, calories and more calories. A simple rule is making sure we take on more calories than we burn and we can utilize both exercise and diet to do this.
Knowing which food groups are calorically dense is key! Eating large portions of only salad or veg, whilst healthy, won’t give us the calories we need to gain weight. We should of course continue to eat these nutritious foods, but they must be supplemented with more calorically dense options.
The Centre for Nutrition Studies outlines some examples (calories per 100g):
- Vegetables: 25 calories
- Fruits, potatoes and starchy vegetables: 60 to 70 calories
- Rice and grains: 125 calories
- Avocado: 167 calories
- Soy products (edamame, tempeh): 110 to 195 calories
- Nuts: 600 calories
Here are a few tips for hitting your new calorie targets:
- Utilize one of the many calorie tracking apps available to clearly visualize your calories.
- Nuts, seeds and avocados are your friends! These calorie dense foods are delicious and great for bulking out calorie-light meals. Why not try nut butter satay sauce with your next stir fry!
- Cooked grains like brown rice, quinoa and barley can be a great addition to bulk meals like stews and soups.
Increase Your Food Intake
Who doesn’t want to enjoy guilt-free large portions? When gaining weight, try and think bigger! This doesn’t mean eating three pizzas in one night, but it does mean maxing out on those healthy fats and proteins like avocados, beans, tofu and more! This can take time to adjust to, particularly if you are used to a weight-loss mindset, so go slow if you need to.
Gena Hemshaw, author of ‘The Full Helping’ suggests a 50 percent increase in meal size as a good starting point. For example, instead of one sandwich for lunch, try a sandwich and a half. This will add up over time!
Snacking is also your best friend. Snack, between each meal if you can, on calorie=dense foods. Snack bars rich in nuts, seeds and oats are a great option as well as nutrient-dense smoothies full of nut butters and fruit.
Eat On Bigger Plates
Now this may seem like a funny tip, but the size of our plates has more of an effect than we might think!
Research shows that people tend to eat all of what they serve themselves. Nobody likes the look of a half-full plate (or half empty according to our new weight-gain mindset), so increase the size of those plates, fill them up and you are much more likely to finish that larger portion.
Choose Energy Dense Foods More Often
Gaining weight is not just confined to set meal times. It is about adopting a mindset that focuses on choosing energy dense, calorie rich foods at every opportunity. So, whilst it’s key to make sure you pack your main meals full of energy dense foods, also look for them when you’re on the go. It’s amazing what foods you will start to rely on for snacking on once you have switched to a weight gain mindset.
Keep an eye out for energy bars that are rich in nuts, seeds and grains. Even keeping a jar of peanut butter in your bag to dip your fruit in is a great option for on the go snacking!
Skip Cardio Workouts
Whilst cardio is great for our health and fitness, it is an excellent calorie burner – and when gaining weight we want to maximize our calories. Of course, exercise is still key to a healthy lifestyle so, however tempting it may be, we aren’t suggesting you cut it out entirely!
If you are looking to gain muscle mass, the No Meat Athlete suggests stopping all forms of cardio in the short term and actually reducing the number of workouts you do per week. Of course for some people this isn’t realistic, so reducing the time and intensity of cardio workouts is also a good starting point.
Try this approach for 4-6 weeks and see what difference this makes to your weight gain, then reassess your goals.
6 High-Calorie Vegan Foods
So we know now how to approach our calories to gain weight. Here are six examples of calorie-dense foods you can add to your diet to maximize your weight gains. Luckily they are all versatile and delicious!
Nuts are a diverse calorie-dense food group, with plenty of options. Luckily, they also contain so many essential nutrients and vitamins.
Walnuts, for example, pack in 185 calories in a 28 gram serving and contain essential omega-3 fatty acids that are great for brain health.
Try adding a handful of chopped mixed nuts to oatmeal for a calorie-dense breakfast!
No other food has had quite the same resurgence in the 21st century as the avocado. Once seen as a millennial fad, the avo is now found in most people’s kitchens. And we are so grateful! Avocado is the perfect calorie builder. If you are someone who loves a salad for lunch but wants to gain weight, avocado is your biggest asset!
They are also full of fiber and micronutrients such as vitamin c, folate and potassium. Try adding a whole avocado, along with grains, nuts and seeds to your salad for a calorie-rich lunch.
Another famous millennial superfood, quinoa is loaded with calories at around 222 per cup (185g), as well as protein, fiber and many other essential macronutrients.
It is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it the perfect ingredient for building muscle!
Oils often get a bad rep when it comes to healthy eating, but there is a reason a plant-based Mediterranean
diet is considered one of the most healthy. Olive oil packs 119 calories into a single tablespoon, making it an easy ingredient to add calories to a soup, salad or other meal
Unlike many of its vegetable oil counterparts, it is healthy, delicious and is high in antioxidants, so can reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Not only is brown rice calorie dense, with 216 per cup (195 grams cooked), it is also delicious, versatile and cost-effective!
It is also the perfect accompaniment for your protein and can be used to fill up those large plates.
The weight-loss mindset suggests that we shouldn’t drink our calories, so it goes without saying that smoothies are very much on the table for weight gain. Instagram influencers rejoice!
Smoothies are a quick and convenient way of concentrating calories into one convenient dose! Make sure your smoothies are calorie-dense by adding nut butters and milks, soy yoghurt, seeds, avocados and fruits like bananas.
Take Supplements If Necessary
Whilst nutrition is the most important factor in weight gain, supplements can play a role in assisting your progress, as well as making sure we are getting everything our body needs. Healthline provides an excellent overview of the 4 best weight gain supplements.
If your weight-gain programme means cutting out foods that you rely on for certain vitamins and minerals, supplements are an easy way to make up for this.
Meal Plan For Gaining Weight On A Vegan Diet
There are endless options when it comes to weight-gain meal plans and of course it largely depends on the individual. As long as we are hitting those calorie-dense food groups in every meal, we’re on the right track.
Try this example day as a starting point for weight gain and adapt it depending on what works best for you. We have included two options for every meal to get you started:
Option 1: A big bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup, banana, flax seeds, nuts and soy milk.
Add a protein shake if you are building muscle.
Option 2: A bowl of soy yoghurt with banana, flax & chia seeds, mixed nuts alongside 1-2 slices of toasted rye bread with guacamole.
Morning Snack 1: Handful of nuts and an apple
Morning Snack 2: Granola bites and a banana
Option 1: A large portion of white or brown rice, black beans, avocado and salsa. Pack in as much as you can eat on this one!
Option 2: Large portion of quinoa and chickpeas, chopped avocado, sunflower seeds, walnuts and olive oil dressing.
Afternoon Snack: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with wholemeal bread
Smoothie: Bananas, frozen berries, nut butter, soy milk, oatmeal, protein powder and some greens blended up
Option 1: Baked tofu or tempeh with a large bowl of lentil pasta, herbs and veggies.
Option 2: Stir fry made with almond butter satay sauce, tofu or tempeh, edamame beans and veggies. Served with wholewheat udon noodles.
Berries and vegan ice cream
Evening snack: Peanut butter and banana sandwich and some dark chocolate
This should stack up at around 3500-4000 calories, meaning you should easily end up with a positive calorie deficit! Once you know your calorie needs, play around with this kind of set-up to find what’s right for you.
If your aim is not to build muscle and you just want to gain a little weight, why not try using the excellent Million Dollar Vegan starter kit meal plan as a starting point, along with some high-calorie additions such as foods in this article!
Hopefully this has shown you that gaining weight on a vegan diet is not as challenging as it is often made out to be. There are so many calorie-rich and nutritious plant-based foods out there, that can be piled high on our newly enlarged plates, to maximize weight gain.
The key takeaway message from this is to simply to understand our current calorie needs and metabolism, then make sure that we take on more calories than we burn. We do this by:
- Prioritizing calorie-dense foods like nuts, avocados, whole grains and soy products
- Maximizing portion sizes!
- Reducing cardio
- Taking supplements if necessary
Whilst gaining weight on a vegan diet may feel challenging at times, by sticking to these tips for at least 4-6 weeks and being disciplined with our approach, the results will come. Remember to make use of all the excellent tools out there like calorie counters, tracking apps and meal plans to make sure you are as best equipped as you can be to meet your goals.
Most importantly, get creative, have fun and enjoy eating as much as you like… for a period of time, at least!Try Vegan