While you may have eliminated all animal products from your diet now that you've gone vegan, that doesn't mean you can't gain weight. Whether your weight gain is desired or not, it all comes down to total calories. Eating more calories than your body burns, no matter where those calories come from, leads to weight gain.
It’s All About Those Calories
Whether you're trying to lose weight or gain weight, it all comes down to your personal calorie equation. For vegan weight gain, you want to eat more calories than your body burns. For vegan weight loss, you want to eat fewer calories than your body burns.
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In either case, first determine how many calories you currently need to maintain your weight. Your individual calorie needs are dependent on many factors, including your age, gender, health and activity level.
- Adult women need: 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day
- Adult men need: 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day
If you're not sure exactly where you fall, use an online calorie calculator to provide an estimate, such as that offered by Baylor College of Medicine, which also provides your body mass index — a tool that assesses body composition many health care professionals use to assess health.
Calories and Vegan Weight Gain
If you're trying to pack on the pounds on your vegan diet, you need to add more calories to your maintenance calorie needs. In general, you should be able to gain weight by increasing your daily calorie needs by 250 to 500 calories. Of course, everyone is different and you may need to make adjustments. Track your weight every week and increase or decrease your calorie intake based on your weight gain goals.
Increasing your daily intake by 250 to 500 calories may help you gain 1/2 to 1 pound a week. To reduce your risk of getting fat on your vegan diet, be sure to also include a weight-training program so that those extra calories are used to make muscle and not turn into fat.
Healthy Vegan Weight Gain
It may sound like a dream when someone tells you that you need to eat more calories because you need to gain weight. But those extra calories shouldn't come from just any source. When you need to add extra pounds to your frame following a vegan weight gain diet, you want those extra calories to come from nutritious sources, not junk.
Your healthy vegan weight gain diet should be filled with the healthy foods found on any good diet plan and should include foods from all your vegan food groups.
- Fruits: berries, apples, oranges, bananas, dried fruit and 100 percent fruit juice
- Vegetables: broccoli, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, salad greens, corn, peas and potatoes
- Grains: whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain crackers and pasta
- Proteins: tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds and vegan cheese
- Calcium: leafy greens, soy yogurt, and fortified plant milk and juice
While it's possible to get all the good nutrition you need when following a vegan diet, you may need to spend a little more time planning out your meals and food choices to ensure your body is getting all the essentials. If you're struggling to create healthy, balanced meals on your vegan weight gain diet, consult with a registered dietitian for help.
You may be able to add the extra calories you need to gain weight by adding a few more snacks to your meal plan. For example, a bowl of whole-grain cereal with plant-based milk, nuts and dried fruit mix or whole-grain toast with nut butter and jelly.
Read more: Health Vegan Diet Plan
High-Calorie Vegan Foods
While you shouldn't find it too hard to add those extra calories to help you gain weight, if you struggle with weight gain or have a poor appetite, you may want to include a few high-calorie vegan foods to maximize every bite.
Examples of some healthy high-calorie vegan foods include:
- Walnuts: 200 calories per ounce
- Almonds, cashews or peanuts: 160 to 170 calories per ounce
- Nut or seed butter: 100 calories per tablespoon
- Avocados: 300 calories per fruit
- Tofu: 360 calories per cup
- Chickpeas: 270 calories per cup
- Peas: 65 calories per cup
- Hummus: 25 calories per tablespoon
- Canned coconut milk: 25 calories per tablespoon
- Brown rice: 250 calories per cup, cooked
- Quinoa: 220 calories per cup, cooked
Vegetable oils are also a high-calorie vegan food, with 40 calories per teaspoon, and can be used to add calories and flavor to your salads, grains, legumes or veggies.
Read more: Vegan Diet for Bulking
Vegan Weight Loss Diet
Are you getting fat on your vegan diet? It's possible to gain weight when you don't want to following any type of diet, even a vegan diet. Maybe you're eating more of the high-calorie vegan foods than you realize.
Like vegan weight gain, vegan weight loss comes down to calories. To lose 1/2 to 1 pound a week, you need to subtract 250 to 500 calories from your daily maintenance calorie needs. You may be able to trim a few calories from your vegan diet plan by swapping some of your high-calorie vegan foods for a few low-calorie options.
Healthy low-calorie vegan foods include:
- Popcorn: 30 calories per cup (air-popped without added fat or salt)
- Celery: 10 calories per stalk
- Salad greens: 5 to 10 calories per cup
- Cucumbers: 10 calories per cup
- Strawberries: 50 calories per cup
- Vegetable soup: 60 calories per cup
- Whole-grain bread: 70 calories per slice
- Lentils or split peas: 115 calories per 1/2 cup
A Word About Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient you must get from the food you eat. Here's the thing though — vitamin B12 is naturally found only in animal foods such as meat, eggs and dairy products, which you're not getting on your vegan diet plan.
When following a vegan diet, whether for weight gain, weight loss, or simply for good health, you need to make sure you're including sources of vitamin B12 on your diet plan. Fortified plant-milk and cereals are good sources of vitamin B12.
Adults need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day. Signs of deficiency include fatigue, weight loss and loss of appetite. Not getting enough vitamin B12 may also lead to anemia, which is a medical condition that affects the production of red blood cells.
If you have concerns about vitamin B12 on your vegan diet and think you may be deficient, consult with your doctor, who can provide recommendations regarding supplementation.
- American Academy of Family Physicians: What It Takes to Lose Weight
- Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020: Appendix 2: Calorie Needs Per Day
- Baylor College of Medicine: Adult Energy Needs and BMI Calculator
- Vegetarian Resource Group: Gaining Weight as a Vegetarian Athlete
- Vegetarian Resource Group: MyVeganPlate
- Cincinnati Children's: High-Calorie Food Choices to Encourage Weight Gain
- MyFoodData: Top 10 High Calorie Foods
- MyFoodData: Top 10 Low-Calorie Foods
- MyFoodData: Popcorn and Celery
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B12