Friday, March 29, 2013

Operation "Feed Me" : Gaining Muscle on a Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet - Part 3

This is the final part of a 3 part series on how a super-busy, skinny guy like me was able to gain weight and lean muscle mass on a gluten-free, vegan diet.  I'm sharing it in response to several requests.  The title is an homage to one of my favorite musicals, "Little Shop of Horrors," and the mantra of the alien plant in its quest to grow bigger.

Well, here we are, finally at Part 3 where I will share with you my diet, not only the things that I ate, but also why I ate them, throwing in a little nerdy biology/chemistry, a dash of wisdom, and a few more photos charting my progress.  So back to it.

According to my diet tracker app, I needed to consume at least 2740 calories a day to gain at least 1 pound of muscle mass a week, which was my goal.  But always the overachiever, after the first two weeks, I was averaging 3250 calories per day, with more structure and only minor adjustments to my diet.  At the outset, my body certainly seemed confused.  "Are you sure you want to eat this much?"  But after the first full week of working out and eating more, it began to feel right - like it had been something I was missing all along.  And when I thought about it, it was something I was missing.  I am super active, working full time, teaching three classes a week, and rehearsing during the evening five to six days a week.  So was it any wonder that I was prone to moodiness in the direction of resentment and frustration with a desire to do simply nothing but stand or sit still and not use my brain?  I wasn't feeding my body enough fuel to sustain the demands I was placing on it, and in many cases, it was continuing forward in spite of itself.

So, speaking of fuel, what does a gluten-free vegan eat to get that many calories in a day?  Here is an assortment of photos via my Instagram feed to give you an idea of my typical meals.




Beans, vegetables, coconut, sprouted nuts, seeds, and tofu, fruit, and fat:  That's what I already eat on a daily basis.  I just ate more, with an emphasis on variety and diversity of nutrition.  I ate copious amounts of organic salad and raw or sauteed dark, leafy greens, often with hummus, nuts, and stacked high with local vegetables.   Coconut oil, dried coconut, and coconut milk were thematic in my cooking and eating.  I adopted the practice of soaking beans nearly every night to be prepped the next day, making them easier to cook, making their nutrition more bioavailable, and justifying me cackling like a mad scientist in his laboratory.  I had at least one protein shake a day of either sprouted brown rice protein, hemp, and/or pea protein, if not two on a workout day.  And I began to consider changing my address to the local smoothie shop, as I was often there post-gym or post-work, pre-rehearsal for a pick-me-up on the go.  To keep up with my metabolism and to avoid dips in blood sugar and the inevitable 'hangriness' that would ensue, I carried raw, sprouted energy bars with me wherever I went.  And in terms of grain-derived carbohydrates, I ate rice and corn on occasion, but I mostly ate seeds and grass-fruit like quinoa, millet, and buckwheat - good sources of fiber, protein, and other nutrients.

Soaking lentils & mung beans for soup, millet & pepitas for breakfast.

Understanding how to pack nutrients and calories on given what may seem like small changes was extremely interesting.  For example, boosting any meal with healthy fats by adding nuts, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, hemp oil, or coconut oil, avocado, or a sprinkle of seeds.  And speaking of healthy fats, learning how crucial they can be for anabolic muscle development as well as overall wellbeing, particularly essential fatty acids (EFAs) and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).

[dons 'nerd' glasses]

EFAs have a wide range of health benefits, including the promotion of tissue and joint recovery after strenuous activity, hormone production, vitamin absorption, bolstering the immune system, and cardiovascular health.  EFAs, as the name implies, are essential for the body to function optimally, but they cannot be produced by the body, so they must be sourced from our diet. My favorite sources include flax, chia, and hemp seeds, olive oil, and tree nuts.   MCTs can be beneficial both pre and post-workout, as they are easily metabolized and become a readily available source of energy for exercise but can also serve to inhibit muscle protein breakdown as a result of exercise. MCTs have also been shown to help boost metabolism, cardiovascular, and immune function.  Coconut is an amazing source for MCTs.  And while coconut oil is technically a saturated fat, saturated fats can increase testosterone levels, which then can promote muscle gain.  So despite what you may have heard, fat is most definitely not a bad thing.  Moderation and mindfulness are key, and understanding when the body needs it and when it may not.

Paying attention to these variables made a huge difference in my results.  It also made it fun for me, figuring out my diet, and ultimately the transformation of my body, like a choose-your-own-adventure puzzle.  And seeing how it wasn't necessarily the source of the calories that mattered, but the quality of them and their intended purpose - that was awesome for me to affirm in myself and also awesome for me to show my trainer and those around me who had trouble conceiving that a gluten-free vegan diet could be so nutritionally comprehensive.  I used to think that I needed animal protein in order to be an athlete and get results from the gym - now I know differently.

Where I started January 1st, 2013.
Weeks 2-3

Weeks 3-4

Weeks 4-5

Side-by-side comparison of Weeks 2 & 5 with a net gain of nearly 8 pounds.
The case to my phone isn't the only thing that changed.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with a few general tips that can help set you up for success when it comes to healthy weight gain and increasing lean muscle mass, regardless if you're gluten-free and/or vegan:

  • Get your Zzzz.  Your body does most of its repair and recovery when you're sleeping.  So if you're increasing the exertion of the body in the gym, not only should you be upping your calories, but you should be upping your sleep hours as well.
  • Digestive assistance, please.  Whenever you're increasing your caloric intake, especially if it's by more than 600 calories, help your body help itself by also increasing your fiber intake or introducing probiotic and/or digestive enzyme supplements.  I used psyllium, chia seeds, coconut kefir, and a supplement of both papain and bromelain.  This helps everything to stay in 'working order' and can also maximize the benefit of all that you're consuming.
  • Slowly and surely.  Skipping ahead in your fitness goals won't get you there faster.  If you want lasting results, do your best to make decisions, in terms of both diet and exercise, that you can maintain.  Of course you want to challenge the body, but you also want each step up to be gradual enough that your body can adjust and adapt accordingly.  Overtraining and bingeing are no bueno.

And there you have it.  I remember asking my trainer if he wanted to see pictures of me at my target weight, so he would know what my goal 'looked' like.  But he declined, saying that it was far more important to gauge it by how I 'feel' more than anything.  And he was so right.  At the end of last year I was considering buying new wardrobe basics to accommodate the slimmer me.  But now everything fits again, I no longer feel self-conscious being hugged or how my face looks when I smile, and I'm filling out the arms and chest of my shirts and backside of my pants better than I ever did. [cue cat call]  I also have more consistent energy, less feelings of being spread too thin (even when that's exactly what's happening), and an awesome feeling of being stronger, more present, more confident, and dare I say, more alive. 

I feel more like myself - more than I ever knew I could feel.  And having the opportunity to share that much more of me now is a true gift.  Priceless and cherished.

As a disclaimer, this is what worked for me.  I have a unique perspective, coming from both a background of nutrition as well as fitness, which undoubtedly played into my quick success.  And while I may have that background, I am not speaking as a professional nor as an authority recommending any type of diet in particular for managing weight.  I learned that a high-fat and high-protein diet worked best for me in this situation - it may be different for someone else.    Additionally, I was never at any time asked to promote for weight management purposes.  All opinions expressed in this post are my own and volunteered by me.  This was simply my experience. 

If you have any questions or would like further information on the specifics of my workout routines or my diet, please feel free to email me.  I would love to hear from you!


  1. hi bud, thank you for sharing. I Lost about 10kg (22lbs) since last year when i changed my diet to vegan, and about 2 months ago, I started to go gluten free, but my metabolism is kinda fast and because I stopped gym I lost a lot of muscle. I'll read your other posts and will keep up with your tipps. tnx a lot!!!

    1. My metabolism is also super fast, so keeping weight on is definitely a challenge. But it is a challenge I embrace - to balance my diet, my time in the gym, the activity and pace of my waking/working hours, and my time to rest/recharge. As we approach the end of the year, I am again seeking to up my weight and mass. A new post about that, and all the things I've learned since writing this post, is somewhere in the near future. :) Thanks for reading!

  2. Just stumbled across this post and wanted to express my gratitude for your encouragement and example! :) In the past year I've transition to what is effectively a gluten-free vegan diet, and for me there is no going back! Removing meat from my diet is a very recent change, and I'm realizing the need to take my dietary changes far more seriously in order to keep my caloric and nutritional intake at healthy levels. My goal is also to gain about 8-10 lbs and hopefully put on some muscle, so that running a full marathon and taking up skiing again in the next year or two will be possible.

    If you'd be willing to share any additional information that might be helpful for someone just starting out, and doing so on a budget, I'd be very grateful! At the moment, I don't own any cookbooks specifically oriented to this diet, so any title names would be helpful. Also, adding more whole grains and beans into my diet is something I've put off for a few months after reading about phytic acid. Do you soak your nuts, seeds and grains?

    Thank you for any help you're able to provide in advance! If not, thank you again for your post! :-)

    1. Thanks for this amazing comment! I definitely soak all grains and beans that I will be consuming. I even do so with nuts and sometimes, even seeds. It makes a big difference. Also in terms of tips for being gluten-free and vegan and putting on weight, I've pretty much covered most of it in this 3-post series, but above all, listening to your body is the most important and helpful thing you can do for yourself. No matter the physical results you may see, if your body needs a break from training or needs to stop eating so much of one particular thing, do your best to respond to those needs.

      All the very best as you pursue your fitness and health goals!!!

  3. Great piece of writing about the muscle building program, I really liked the way you highlighted some really important and significant points. Thanks so much, I appreciate your work.


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