You may automatically assume that following a vegan diet while powerlifting may be detrimental to your gains. To build strength and muscle mass, you need plenty of calories, especially from protein. With typical sources of protein being animal-based, this can make a powerlifting diet slightly tricky. However, with a few tweaks to your eating plan, along with several other considerations, it's perfectly possible to succeed in powerlifting on a vegan diet.
Training for vegans doesn't need to differ at all from a standard powerlifting program. The training system you use is entirely up to you and there are plenty of tried and tested routines out there -- such as Sheiko, Smolov, 5/3/1 and the Westside Method. The key is to periodize your training to have phases of low, moderate, high and very high intensities. Most systems use block periodization, which involves four weeks of light accumulation training, four weeks of lower volume, heavier work and two weeks of very high intensity training where you aim to set new personal bests. Each three-phase cycle is followed by one to two weeks of rest.
During the off-season, powerlifters consume a high number of calories to support muscle growth and strength gains. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that active men and women respectively consume between 2,400 to 3,000 and 2,000 to 2,400 calories daily to maintain weight, but if you're training hard, you may need 300 to 600 extra per day to optimize your gains. Many vegan foods such as fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients but low in calories, so you'll need plenty of higher calorie choices in your diet. Vegan strength coach Mike Mahler advises bumping up your calorie intake with healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, nut butters, coconut and flax seed oil.
Protein is one area of the diet where many powerlifters can struggle. To recover from training and build muscle, you should eat 0.7 to 1g of protein per pound of lean body-weight, says Mahler. Vegan protein sources include beans, pulses and legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans and butter beans. Many whole-grains, such as quinoa, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, also have higher protein content than refined white carbs. Vegan-based protein supplements such as hemp, soy and brown rice powder are also good choices.
Provided you consume enough calories and enough protein and stick to your training plan, there's no reason you shouldn't progress just as well as a meat-eating powerlifter. According to sports nutritionist Dr. John Berardi, following a vegan diet does take a little more planning and preparation and it may be difficult to lose weight on a vegan plan due to the lack of low-carb and low-fat protein sources, but for building strength and muscle, it works very well. One final consideration is equipment -- buy a vegan weightlifting belt, not a leather one.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.