10 Tips on How to Gain Weight On a Vegan Diet

10 Tips on How to Gain Weight On a Vegan Diet

It’s not always that you hear about people wanting to gain weight. Heck, the overwhelming majority of us are trying to lose it. That’s precisely why a lot of people go on a vegan diet.

But whether it’s a vegan, carnivore, or a keto diet, it doesn’t matter. If you want to put on weight (preferably in the form of muscle), the only way is to eat more than you’re used to.

In this article, I’m going to share with you some tips on how you can gain weight on a completely plant-based diet. First, let’s identify why most people have trouble gaining weight.

Why Most Vegans Can’t Gain Weight

There are a few fundamentals problems that skinny people (in general) have when trying to gain weight. They think they have what’s called a fast metabolism that keeps them from gaining weight.

Others think they’re suffering from issues like irritable bowel disease and stress, or have something in their digestive tract that won’t properly metabolize food.

Here is the gist of it. It doesn’t matter what types of foods you eat. If you eat a very limited number of calories daily, it’s impossible to gain weight. That’s why you’re skinny.

A Vegan Diet Is Actually Good To Lose Weight

One thing to consider also is the fact that a vegan diet is pretty good to lose weight. I’m not referring to a junk food vegan diet but a whole food plant-based diet with an emphasis on leafy green vegetables, legumes, and fruits is an awesome way to lose weight.

These, most of the time, are foods that contain a lot of fiber, promoting satiety. And they’re not calorie-dense, which is perfect for anyone wanting to shed off weight.

Track Your Current Calorie Intake

Track your current calories. Spend the next week or two logging everything you eat in a smartphone app like the myfitnesspal. You’ll learn that you’re not eating that many calories and that is the main reason why you’re not gaining weight. Someone skinny always overestimates what they eat, which is completely normal.

Metabolism plays a big role in weight gain and weight loss, and there are people with a fast metabolism. Genetically-speaking, there are three body types.

Ectomorphs, Mesomorphs, and Endomorphs.

different body types

Ectomorphs and endomorphs sit at the extreme ends of the scale. Ectomorphs have a lot of trouble putting on weight. They have a smaller frame and are not designed to be big and strong. Endomorphs have a bigger frame and they have it easy when it comes to putting on both muscle and fat. Mesomorphs sit in the middle and are blessed with the best of both worlds.

That doesn’t mean mesomorphs can’t get either very skinny or very fat. However, they have less difficulty when it comes to losing fat and gaining muscle.

But regardless of your body type, there is only one thing you can do to gain weight. You have to eat a lot more, or way more than your average person. Don’t let your metabolism decide what type of body you should have. If you’re skinny and want to have a more muscular body, you can do so and that is totally dependent on your lifestyle and diet choices.

10 Tips On How To Gain Weight on a Vegan Diet

1. Eat More Calories Than Your Body Burns

To gain weight you need more calories than your body burns.

To be honest, it doesn’t matter if you think you eat a lot. If your average calorie intake is smaller than the calories you spend, it’s impossible to gain weight. To gain more weight, to grow bigger, you must generate a caloric surplus, and even if you think you’re eating enough to gain weight, that’s not something you can precisely predict.

Going by feel is an easy way to overestimate the number of calories you eat. Start tracking everything you eat. Find out how many calories you need to optimally gain weight and then consistently eat more calories.

calorie counter

Calorie calculators suggest about 16kcal per pound of body-weight to maintain current weight.

For someone that weighs 135lb/60kg, that’s roughly 2115 calories per day. Even if the number is not accurate, it should at least provide you with a good starting point. Adapt your food intake based on how much you weigh and start stacking those calories.

For example, if to maintain your current weight you have to consume 2115 calories per day, add more 500 calories to reach the so-called caloric surplus, which would be 2615 calories. Don’t worry, you can round this number down to 2600 calories. One thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t exaggerate on that increase, otherwise you’ll be gaining a lot of belly fat. Starting with a small increase of 500 calories allows your body to better adapt to these incremental changes.

One important thing to keep in mind is everything is about consistency. If you eat 2600 calories one day but the next day you go down to 1500, that’s not really going to work out in the end. You have to eat the stipulated amount every day to achieve your goals. It can be difficult to get used to at first, but your stomach will adapt as you eat more food, and typically within two weeks, you will find that it’s not that difficult to get to your daily mark.

2. Eat Very Often (Every Two/Three Hours)

When I started in the gym intending to build muscle, I didn’t know how to start. I only knew I had to push myself and commit to the exercises bodybuilders did. In other words, I had to beat down muscle fibers with external weight to stimulate muscle growth. Easy, right?

eating frequently

I learned that I had to eat way more than I was eating at the time. But as someone who ate 2-3 times a day, that wasn’t a walk in the park. The most basic advice I received was to increase my feeding frequency, which guaranteed I was actually consuming more calories than the ones I was burning. Instead of thinking in terms of how many meals I ate in the day, I just made sure I was eating every 2-3 hours, which seemed simpler than counting calories and meals.

That worked out for me in the end, but the first week I struggled with the increase in food intake. It got better within 2-3 weeks, and the results were easily noticeable in the following months.

For People With Busy Schedules, It Might Be Difficult

I didn’t have any time constraints nor a busy schedule, so my training or feeding times were never compromised. However, I do understand that you may not have sufficient liberty to feed every 2 or 3 hours. If you have that kind of time in your hands, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Either you always have a meal replacement shake in your bag to drink as you work, and drink it every few hours as you would with water;
  2. Or limit the number of meals you have in a day but go BIG on the calories.

If you choose to do the latter, then the following tip will help you out.

3. Emphasize Calorie-Dense Foods

What does caloric density even mean? Well, It’s really not that difficult, since it’s essentially the result of dividing calories by weight.

caloric density

In other words, if you take a look at the image above, you can see the representation of 500 calories for different foods. For example, to eat 500 calories of veggies, you would have to eat an incredible amount of them. Conversely, if you eat unhealthy foods like sweets or candies, you don’t need to eat that many to reach 500 calories. This means veggies are not as calorie-dense as sweets and candies, even if you ate both in the same amount. 

We’ve learned that to gain weight, we need to eat more calories, but if you stick to eating veggies and completely ignore calorie-dense foods, that task becomes more difficult. What’s more, even though you’re not eating that many calories with veggies, the food volume will stretch your stomach walls and send signals to your brain to make you feel satiated. One can also say that the amount of fiber in vegetables (and fruits) is also responsible for that.

Anyway, if you want to gain weight, then you have to consume more of the following:

(Not All) Carbohydrates

carbs

Whether it’s in the West or the East, carbohydrates are staples in almost every diet and it’s an essential macronutrient the body needs to run smoothly. Not all carbs are created equal, however.

You have what’s called simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates include monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides are often referred to as simple sugars and are the building blocks from which more complex carbohydrates can be made. Sugars like glucose and fructose are examples of simple sugars, and the same can be said for disaccharides, which consists of two chemically joined molecules called sucrose, a combination of glucose and fructose.

Sucrose is found in many foods, and it’s what provides them with natural sweetness. Processed foods, for instance, often contain refined sugars that are extracted from plants like sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn. These simple carbs/sugars are digested faster than complex carbs and are associated with weight gain, but certainly not for good reasons.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are naturally occurring in whole foods and take longer to digest. They have more than two sugar molecules and can be split into two categories: oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.

Oligosaccharides are short carbohydrate chains with between 3 and 10 sugar molecules, whereas polysaccharides are long-chain carbohydrates which may contain hundreds, sometimes thousands of carbohydrate/sugar molecules. These complex structures make them more nutritionally complete but also make them harder to digest which limits the amount of hunger you feel throughout the day. Not an ideal sensation if you wish to gain weight.

Still, they’re way healthier than simple carbs (or simple sugars) and should be implemented in any diet, including a weight gaining diet. Here are calorie-dense complex carbs I believe you should include in your diet:

  • regular potatoes
  • bananas
  • chickpeas
  • pasta
  • rice
  • buckwheat
  • beans
  • dried fruits
  • jams
  • figs

In essence, stick to ingredients that are both nutritionally rich and higher in calories. If you simply invest in a diet that will help you gain weight but is void of nutritional variety, there’s a likelihood that you may run into health problems down the line.

Plant-Based Fats

plant fats

Fortunately, many plant-based foods are rich in fats and high in calories. It’s a good idea to include these in your diet if you want to gain weight. Here are some examples:

  • avocados
  • dark chocolate
  • nut and nut butter
  • chia seeds
  • olive oil
  • coconuts and coconut oil
  • flaxseeds

Also keep in mind that fats, particularly the ones found in flaxseeds and chia seeds are important for healthy omega-3 levels. These two seeds are rich in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which upon consumption, can be converted into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These two long-chain fatty acids are found in marine algae, which are consumed by fish, and hence why they’re known as rich sources of EPA and DHA.

4. Start Training

Lifting weights triggers muscle growth and consequently, weight gain. Your body uses the food you eat to help the muscles recover and help build new ones. Lifting weights also increases your appetite, which will help you eat more.

weight lifting

However, if you do not invest in strength training, the excess food that you eat will be merely stored as fat, and not muscle. Unfortunately, that fat is usually stored around the belly and you can easily go from someone skinny to fat. That is not the goal here.

Assuming that you’re an ectomorph (someone with difficulty to build muscle and weight) and want to follow the advice of lifting weights, here are a few things you can do:

  • Use free weights. Using dumbells, bars, or kettlebells are more effective than using machines. These tools force you to use more stabilizer muscles to control the weight, which leads to the activation of more muscles in the process.
  • Compound exercises. These force you to work several muscles at the same time. These include squats, deadlifts, bench, press, and rows. They’re known to trigger maximum strength and provide you with optimal muscle growth.
  • Progressive overload. The logic is to lift more weight than the last time. This is a process that forces your body to build strength and muscles that can sustain that use of strength. It’s difficult to build muscle when you’re constantly stuck at the same weight.
  • Always use proper form. Muscles must be worked thoroughly, and this means performing a complete range of motion. Using proper form also helps gain more stability which will help you lift heavier and also prevent all sorts of injuries.
  • Rest is important. Muscles only grow when you’re resting. Muscles can’t grow when you’re constantly tearing them apart in the gym. You can set one day of the week for each muscle group, allowing other muscle groups to rest as you work out a muscle group individually.

You don’t need to workout 5-6 days a week. It only takes three days of extremely focused workouts for you to be able to build amazing muscles.

5. Skip Cardio Workouts

The more calories you burn, the more you have to eat to be able to gain weight.

Cardio is not a good approach because it’s an optimal way to burn calories. If you intend to gain weight, this goes against your goal. If you can, avoid doing cardio as much as possible even if it’s something you love. Perhaps your love for running (or other cardio-based workouts) is what’s keeping you from gaining weight and you need to acknowledge that.

To gain weight and stimulate muscle growth, you got to have the right building blocks. This means investing in strength-based workouts using external or free weights; and you have to be in a constant caloric surplus over the short-medium term.

Implementing any type of cardio will just make everything difficult.

6. Create or Use Weight Gainer Shakes

Food in liquid form is more digestible which allows for your body to quickly quicker breakdown its energy and nutrients. Plus, because you strip the food of its volume, there’s no longer the concern of having your stomach walls stretched and you seeing a reduction in appetite.

Creating homemade weight gainers is a quick and good way to stack a lot of calories in one meal without necessarily noticing a drop in appetite. This will allow you to hit your caloric surplus easily.

Here is a quick recipe that you can do at home:

You mix everything in your blender, and there you have it. A complete high-calorie meal filled with protein, fats, carbohydrates, and a lot of useful micronutrients. You can drink it once you get home after a mid-evening session, or you can consider it your breakfast.

The reason why I don’t suggest weight gainers right off the bat, it’s because most are often filled with cheap sugars that will make you fat and cause you to fart a lot. Though, if you’d rather use a weight gainer, this one by Naked Nutrition is the best option available in my opinion. It’s not as sugar-filled as many of the options I see on the market.

7. Don’t Drink Water Before or During Meals

If you’re someone with a normal digestive system, drinking non-caloric beverages like water, unsweetened tea, or coffee will essentially displace room in your stomach, filling you up faster so that you have less appetite.

Drinking during meals will also slow down the rate at which you eat, making you feel full before you’ve eaten as much as you’d have if you ate quickly.

Put simply, drinking water before and during meals will make you consume fewer calories, which is counter to the goal you’re trying to achieve.

8. Do You Smoke? Quit Smoking

According to this in-depth study on the consequence of smoking for body weight published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, smoking can be detrimental for weight gain.

That’s because smoking can potentially lead to weight loss by increasing the metabolic rate, decreasing metabolic efficiency, or decreasing caloric absorption (reduction in appetite). These are effects associated with tobacco use. That said, it’s quite common for people to gain weight when they stop smoking. Studies done on the subject suggest that on average, people gain 5 to 10 pounds (2.25 to 4.5 kilograms) in the months after they give up smoking.

Another reason aiding that fact is that people often replace bad habits with other habits. Once you quit smoking, there’s a chance you may crave high-calorie foods.

9. Use Bigger Plates For Your Meals

This is an awkward tip but it might make sense from both a rational and subconscious perspective.

Using smaller plates makes you eat fewer calories because there’s not as much space for food, which is logical as it stands. Conversely, people may likely eat more food when that food is served in a larger portion on larger plates.

In fact, in an analysis of 72 studies, scientists found exactly that. People ate more food when served on larger plates or bowls than when it was served on smaller plates or bowls. On average, the people doing so consumed 16% more calories per meal. (1)

10. Eating Your Food Quickly

It turns out that eating your meals more slowly reduces the number of calories you can potentially consume and increases your feeling of satiety.

Conversely, if you eat faster, you can increase the calories you consume. It’s seen as a bad habit because it can lead to overeating, which inevitably leads to weight gain and in the worst of scenarios — obesity.

According to a randomized controlled trial conducted in 2009 (2), researchers found out that the brain needs time to process the signals of fullness. It may take up to 20 minutes for the brain to realize that you have had enough to eat. As such, when you eat fast, it’s easier to eat a lot more food than your body needs. For anyone trying to gain weight, this is useful.

One study in children found that 60% of those who ate rapidly also overate. The fast ones were also likely to be overweight. (3)

Therefore, for someone that is attempting to gain weight, it might be that eating at a faster pace may ensure that you get more calories per meal.

Two More Recommendations

1. Besides taking your daily doses of vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, I believe taking a multivitamin is a good way to properly avoid potential nutrient deficiencies. This multivitamin by Future Kind has the nutrients that vegans are most in need of, which might be pretty useful as you try to adapt your vegan diet to your weight gaining goals. In other words, the foods that you choose for that goal may not necessarily include all of the micronutrients you need.

2. Whether you’re gaining or losing weight, there’s a lot of work to be done inside the gym and also at home, specifically with cooking. We’re human so through our lows, we may find out that our commitment to achieving our goals begins to take its toll, making us default to our lazier tendencies. That said, I believe one of the best ways to keep ourselves motivated is to never miss a meal, and by preventing that from happening, there’s no way your final goal isn’t achieved.

Fresh ‘n Lean is a meal delivery service that takes the workload out of your hands and minimizes the time you spend in the kitchen, allowing you to focus primarily on training. They offer vegan, healthy, ready to eat meals that are available in great variety. With this type of service, it’s much easier to hit your weight goals by never missing a meal.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank you for reading this blog post, and I sincerely hope that the tips I’ve laid here can be truly helpful and drive your weight up the scale. If for some reason, you found this post helpful, I’d be delighted if you shared it with someone that might find value in it.

Stay vegan, stay true and let me know if you have anything to share.


References:

  1. Hollands GJ, Shemilt I, Marteau TM, et al. Portion, package or tableware size for changing selection and consumption of food, alcohol and tobacco. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2015(9):CD011045. Published 2015 Sep 14. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011045.pub2
  2. Kokkinos A, le Roux CW, Alexiadou K, et al. Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;95(1):333-337. doi:10.1210/jc.2009-1018
  3. Kokkinos A, le Roux CW, Alexiadou K, et al. Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;95(1):333-337. doi:10.1210/jc.2009-1018
Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than three years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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