While most of us focus on losing and maintaining a healthy weight, underweight people can struggle with the opposite. Gaining weight as a vegan doesn't have to be complicated - try out these weight-gain tips and build a bulk-up diet full of calorie-dense vegan foods.
Most of our bodies have a natural weight setpoint that they like to sit at when diet and activity levels are relatively stable. Some of us gain weight quickly when eating a few more calories than our bodies want, yet others can't seem to gain weight, no matter what they do or eat.
Underweight people that cannot gain weight tend to have a high fat-burning metabolism or a lack of nutrients in their diet, but genetics often play a significant role, too.
While we cannot control our genetics, we can control our diet to help our bodies to gain weight. This process is a little more complicated for a vegan. Many calorie-dense foods come from animal sources, but don't get it twisted - vegan bulking is possible with a few smart diet changes and plates piled with high-calorie vegan meals.
Follow our tips below to build a vegan or vegetarian diet for weight gain, and incorporate some of the high-fat vegan foods from our list in every meal.
#1: Calculate your caloric needs
Before you can start eating vegan bulk meals to gain weight, you need to determine how many calories your body requires to function.
You can use a simple online BMI calculator to input your weight, height, age, activity level, and gender, and it will give you a good indication of how many base calories your body needs.
To gain weight slowly, add 300 to 500 extra calories to your diet each day. This should result in a gain of 1lb per week on average.
If you'd like to gain weight more quickly, add 700 to 1000 calories to your daily diet, and double your rate.
It's essential to consider any extra exercise in your calculations. If you burned 450 calories during a workout, you'd have to add another 450 calories onto your total, on top of the extra calories. Otherwise, you'll slow or stop progress altogether.
Now that you have a more clear idea of your daily calorie goals to gain weight start keeping a food journal. Free food-tracking apps are a fantastic resource because they often have the caloric information listed for each food you input, giving you a pretty accurate view of how many calories you're eating each day.
You don't need to keep journaling indefinitely, but keep up the habit for a few months as you start incorporating calorie-rich foods until you have a good grasp of estimating your daily calorie intake.
#2: Eat more food
Building on the calories discussed above, it's easy to get more calories into your diet by upping your portion sizes at every meal.
Be picky about what portions you increase - there aren't any high-calorie vegetables that will up your calorie intake. Instead, vegetarian bulking works best by increasing your intake of the most calorie-dense items on your plate, namely the grains, proteins, and fats.
If you typically eat 1 cup of pasta with dinner, increase it to 1.5 or 2 cups instead. Add extra peanut butter to your toast; sprinkle seeds on top of everything; little increases here and there will help you increase portions without increasing volume significantly.
#3: Eat 6 meals per day
Even eating three massive meals each day can make it challenging to fit the number of calories required to see some weight gain.
Instead, try to break up your food more evenly throughout the day, and eat six moderately-sized meals to increase your calorie total.
This is an incredibly effective method for people that tend to get full quickly and can't stomach a big meal in one sitting.
Begin eating as soon as you wake up in the morning, and eat your last meal close to bedtime in the evening to maximize your daily total calorie intake.
#4: Choose dense foods
As we mentioned, there are no vegetables high in calories that will give you any results. If anything, fruits and vegetables have a low-calorie density, as they mostly contain water, fiber, and a small number of carbs, so they contain low calories per volume.
Low-energy dense foods are the absolute worst ones to choose if your goal is weight gain. Instead, you want to be eating high calorie-dense foods, which give you the most bang for your buck.
What are calorie-dense foods?
The opposite of vegetables, calorie-dense food is high in calories per volume. They're excellent for weight gain, as you can eat less of them to ingest more calories without eating massive volumes of food.
Some calorie-dense foods from vegan fat sources are healthy, like olive oil, avocado, and nuts, while others are void of nutrition and can contribute to poor health and body function.
To gain weight healthily, incorporate nutrient-rich high-calorie foods, and minimize "junk" food. You can still enjoy snacks and treats in moderation, but they shouldn't make up the majority of your diet, as they can throw your entire system off.
#5: Even out your macros
Whether you follow a vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian, pescetarian, or omnivore diet, you're regularly consuming macronutrients, the building blocks of every food on earth.
The three main macronutrients in any diet are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Your body needs all three to survive; you cannot completely cut one of these nutrients out of your diet.
Despite the importance of all three macros, many dieters try to eat specialized ratios in their diet to lose weight, build muscle, or any number of other health-related reasons. The low-fat diet was a prime example in the 1980s and 1990s, and carbs have been the most recent macro-dieters' enemy.
Throw all of the specialized macro diets out the window for weight gain. You need to eat a ton of each macro to see significant results. If you're low in any of the three nutrients, you'll negatively impact your ability to gain weight.
If you're going to count vegan macros to help you on your journey to gain weight, even them out to give your body the best chance at change.
Eat a combination of 40-50% carbs, 15-25% fat, and 25-35% protein.
#6: Skip cardio and pick up the weights
A BMI, or body mass index, is a measure of body fat based on gender, weight, and overall body weight. Doctors and other health professionals use this measure to determine if your weight falls into a range that's generally considered healthy.
If you're clinically underweight and outside of the healthy BMI range, you should not be adding any exercise into your routine until your body has reached a higher, healthier weight. Extra training before this point will put undue stress on your bones, joints, and overall systems.
Once you've reached a weight that's safe to exercise, skip the cardio, as it's a big calorie burner - and that's going to bring you further from weight gain goals, not closer.
Instead, incorporate weightlifting into your exercise routine through resistance training with weights, resistance bands, and other weight-bearing moves. This way, you'll build muscle as you gain weight, which can b ae fantastic motivation.
Best High-Calorie Vegan Foods to Gain Weight
We mentioned the importance of calorie-dense foods as one of the best healthy ways to gain weight. Eat these ingredients often and in large quantities to see big gains on the scale. Cook high-calorie vegan recipes with each of these items and watch the scale rapidly rise.
Nuts and Nut Butter
Nuts are little fat and protein bombs that are incredibly good for you and taste like heaven. The calories in a tiny handful of nuts are pretty astronomical, fortunate only to those trying to gain weight.
Snack on nuts by the generous handful, and include them in your cooking whenever possible.
Nut butter is just a different format for getting these delicious foods into your diet. Slather it thick on toast, crackers, or whatever you like for an easy few hundred extra calories.
The best high-calorie nuts to include in your diet are peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, almonds, pecans, and pine nuts.
Coconut cream is even thicker than coconut milk and incredibly calorie-dense, coming in at a whopping 240 calories in ½ cup. You can add coconut cream to sweet or savory dishes for richness, depth, and creaminess that will help you to put on some pounds.
Oils are incredibly high in calories, with extra-virgin olive oil containing 238 calories in just 2 tablespoons of oil. Give salads, quinoa, and other foods a generous drizzle, but keep heat in mind.
If you're leaving the foods raw or cooking with low heat, you can use low smoke point oils, like olive oil, walnut, and flaxseed.
You should only use certain oils with a high smoke point for medium or high heat cooking, like canola, avocado oil, and almond oil.
Rice and Quinoa
Load up on heavy carbs, like brown rice and quinoa at every meal to up your calorie intake quickly. Try to stay away from serving white rice and refined carbs, which miss many essential nutrients that will help keep your body functioning optimally.
Avocados are chock-full of heart-healthy fats that make them high in calories, too. Avocados are the best part of Mexican cooking - enjoy spicy guacamole, tacos, salads, or sliced and served fresh on the side of any meal.
One avocado contains approximately 322 calories and a load of other micronutrients.
Agave and Maple Syrup
Sugar-laden foods tend to be high in empty calories. When trying to lose weight, people tend to avoid sweet treats. But for weight gain, you can feel free to indulge in desserts, particularly those sweetened with agave and maple syrup, which are more natural than refined white sugars.
Vegan Margarine and Mayo
Like dairy versions of these foods, vegan butter, margarine, and mayo tend to be high in calories without the animal ingredients. Give your toast an ample swipe of either for an extra calorie boost.
Soy products like milk, tofu, and edamame are moderately high in calories and can all pad your calorie total for the day.
Drink a glass of soy milk or two each day for hydration with calories and throw it into a smoothie to increase the total calories. Press some tofu and add it to stir-fries and pasta to up your overall protein intake. Thiswill help you to see more significant results.
Final Notes: Vegan Weight Gain Diet
It is possible to see some weight gain, even while following a healthy, vegan diet.
To help your body gain weight while eating vegan, you can:
- Determine your base caloric needs and add 300-1000 calories to that daily total;
- Make your portion sizes a little larger at every meal;
- Eat six moderately-sized meals each day to increase calories;
- Choose calorie-dense foods whenever possible;
- Eat high levels of all three macronutrients;
- And opt for resistance exercise over cardio.
If you follow these tips and incorporate many of the foods listed above into your diet, your weight should be on a steady rise. Good luck with your weight goals!