To build muscle, lose weight, and burn calories in the gym, many people believe that you need to eat animal protein or use protein supplements to see results. Meghann Reich, who’s a health coach and plant-based bodybuilder, proves that you can build lean, strong muscle mass on a purely plant-based diet.
The Beet talked to Reich and found out everything you need to know about natural bodybuilding, and gaining muscle on a plant-based diet, and here is her best advice to anyone who doesn’t know where to start.
Her Top 4 Tips for Building Muscle Naturally on a Plant-Based Diet Are:
1. Be consistent. Workout 6 days a week and eat 4 times a day, high-protein meals or snacks
2. Eat a small protein-centric snack before your workout and a protein bar or meal right after
3. Get rid of all added sugars from your house, and don’t use oil, even in cooking
4. Take a vitamin B12 regularly and find the protein powder you like best. I have my favorite.
Rech shares her vegan bodybuilding tips and her story:
Before she went vegan seven years ago, Reich was always fit and in shape but had a difficult time accomplishing her one goal: To have a six-pack. “I was working out like crazy but I never could get a six-pack,” she says.
When she switched her diet to vegetarian and then fully plant-based, she lost weight, built lean muscle, and achieved her goal of strong six-pack abs. She was never a bodybuilder back then, but she worked at a gym and as she got in better and better shape the idea dawned on her that she could enter a competition. She showed up at her first Qualified Bikini Athlete competition and won her age group, and even though at 5’1” she had gone from 98 pounds to 110 pounds, it was all pure muscle. Since then she has entered shows and competitions every year, and finished first in her age group several times and actually won Top 5 several times. Along the way, everyone asked her how she got so ripped and Reich started her own health and fitness coaching company called Fitness Queen, where she helps others achieve their goals on a plant-based diet.
Since giving up meat and dairy seven years ago, Riech now has a smaller waist, stronger muscles, more energy, and less bloat–in fact, she looks like she has zero body fat. She has become something of a guru for others who want to achieve even a fraction of her fit body goals. “It is absolutely possible to build muscle and be healthy without the consumption of animal products,” Reich says. “There are so many wonderful benefits, and I always encourage others to eat more of a plant-based diet.”
The Beet: Why did you go vegan?
MR: “Eating plant-based foods made me feel better. At first, I started consuming less meat and became a vegetarian. It wasn’t hard to give up meat, especially when I noticed that after having chicken noodle soup, I didn’t feel well. So that was it. My body felt better when I didn’t eat animal products so I decided to get rid of meat and dairy entirely and became vegan seven years go. I have more energy at the gym, I’m less bloated, my athletic performance improves, and my physique looks a lot better.”
“It was cool to see the difference a plant-based diet had on my body with compassion to when I was eating meat. My body looks better, I built muscle, I look more natural and ‘crisp.’ I was always in shape before, but I really wanted to have abs someday, and I finally got a six-pack after going vegan. I’m a beast in the gym now. My energy levels are through the roof. I feel better and I don’t get sick often, so I stick with it.”
The Beet: How do you get enough protein?
MR: “My favorite protein powders are pea-based by Liv Body and Elevate Nutrition Vanilla milkshakes. For a snack, I eat No Cow bars, and my favorite flavor is chocolate chip cookie dough. I stay away from soy-based products since soy tends to make me feel bloated and pea protein feels better on my stomach. I mix a cup of pea protein into my cereal after lifting and I’ll have a protein bar with it because it’s easy to digest and tastes clean.”
“Although I generally avoid soy, sometimes I will eat tofu but I prefer to stick with pea protein and of course eat nuts, grains, vegetables, and chickpea pasta.”
The Beet: How many meals and calories do you eat in a day?
MR: “I eat 3 to 4 meals a day, depending on how I feel. I’m more flexible with the number of calories I consume in the non-competitive season. If I’m training for a show, I track my macros and pay more attention to the food I eat. If I’m not preparing for a show, I don’t track calories–I’m flexible but mindful.”
The Beet: What did you eat for breakfast today?
MR: “Before I went to lift, I had toast with avocado. Sometimes I will have rice cakes with peanut butter. My prework snack always has plant-based protein.”
The Beet: How often do you workout?
MR: “I lift 6 days a week. I will take one rest or light day, but I still stay active. I usually spend one to two hours in the gym, depending on the exercise. If I’m training my lower body, I will spend the full two hours in the gym because that muscle group is the biggest to train. If I have a lighter lift day then it’s a bit less than two hours.”
The Beet: Do you take any vitamins?
MR: “I do. I take Live Body vegan multi-vitamin, as well as Garden of Life Elderberry immune gummy (these are delicious) to stay healthy, especially right now, and I take Mega Foods Cranberry B12 gummy twice a day.”
The Beet: When you cook, do you consider the ratio of protein to fat or carbs?
MR: “I make sure I am 100 percent consistent. I keep in mind protein intake. I eat about 100- 110 grams of protein a day. The amount of carbohydrates I eat depends on the day and how intense my training is (so a harder workout will mean I eat slightly more carbs). It’s important to be intuitive. I don’t think about hitting exact numbers every day. Listen to your body.”
The Beet: How does someone start a vegan diet if they want to build muscle?
MR: “You need to have a slow and steady transition. I suggest cutting back on meat and dairy at first, but not try to achieve it all at once. Substitute things you love with vegan options: Veggie burgers, lentils, and legumes, even your protein powders should be plant-based. I believe in flexibility so make your diet enjoyable and every now and then throw in a treat, like a cookie, but don’t have too many or you will not reach your goals. One diet can’t work for everyone so you have to have a trial and error system that will allow you to feel your best.”
The Beet: How do you kick your sweet cravings?
MR: “I plan ahead and I make sure to have all sweet food out of sight. I literally get all sweets out of the house, or I find an option that doesn’t have much sugar or contains small amounts of sugar and allow myself that treat instead. I eat foods that keep me full longer, and that way I don’t have cravings. Plant-based foods are high in fiber and help me not even crave sugar. To avoid binge eating, I food prep 2-3 times a week and I store the meals in the fridge. That way when I need a meal it’s already made and I don’t reach for the wrong thing.”
The Beet: What are your favorite type of oils to cook with?
MR: “I eat my vegetables raw, so I actually don’t use much oil. When I want a pancake I use olive oil spray from Whole Foods.”
The Beet: What advice do you give people who want to build muscle and be plant-based?
MR: “If you want to start exploring a plant-based diet, first switch up your normal supplements and replace them with plant-based ones. Then, be patient because it takes some time to build muscle. Monitor how you feel, keep training and you will get results.”
“Just because you made the switch to a vegan diet doesn’t mean you can’t train hard. I promise you will feel the benefits of this diet sooner than later. You will have more energy and your body will look cut. There are a lot of people who are vegan bodybuilders, so there’s proof it can be done.”
“One tip that I have told all my clients to do is to supplement with B12 for energy and support. I take two gummies a day of 24 MCG. A serving is two gummies, so that works for me.”
The Beet: Do you have a mantra or words that you live by?
MR: “Yes, I have a lot. The one that sticks with me right now is: ‘Change your mind, change your life.’ This mantra can be applied to so many different things. The mind is so powerful and we take it for granted. We are more capable of doing better and having a better attitude if we set our minds to it.”
“We need to believe in ourselves and train our minds to be healthier and happier, just as you would train to accomplish anything else.”