Cropped shot of woman holding falafel with tortillas

Following a vegan diet is not only beneficial for the environment and animal welfare but can also provide numerous health benefits. However, some people may be concerned about getting enough calories on a vegan diet.

With a little planning and knowledge, it is entirely possible to meet your caloric needs as a vegan. In fact, vegan diets can be quite filling due to the high fiber content of plant-based foods.

Benefits of a vegan diet

A vegan diet has been associated with several health benefits, including:

  • Lower risk of heart disease: Vegan diets are typically low in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can lower the risk of heart disease and improve heart health.
  • Weight management: Vegan diets can be helpful for weight loss or weight management due to their high fiber content and lower calorie density.
  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases: Consuming a variety of plant-based foods can provide essential nutrients and antioxidants that may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and high blood pressure.
  • Improved digestion: The high fiber content of a vegan diet can promote healthy digestion, prevent constipation, and support a healthy gut microbiome.

Misconceptions about veganism

Several misconceptions about veganism may lead people to believe that it is difficult to get enough calories on a vegan diet. Some common misconceptions include:

  • Lack of protein: Plant-based foods such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, and seitan are excellent sources of protein, providing all the essential amino acids.
  • Limited food options: Vegan diets can be diverse and include a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and plant-based protein sources, providing ample choices for meals and snacks.
  • Expensive: While some vegan specialty products may be more expensive, a well-planned vegan diet can be affordable, especially when focusing on whole, unprocessed foods.

By focusing on nutrient-dense, calorie-rich, plant-based foods and ensuring adequate portions, it is possible to meet your caloric needs on a vegan diet while enjoying a variety of delicious and satisfying meals.

Understanding Calorie Intake on a Vegan Diet

Vegan food pyramid vector illustration

Importance of Calorie Intake for Muscle Gain

When it comes to building muscle on a vegan diet, understanding calorie intake is crucial. Calories provide the energy your body needs to fuel muscle growth. Consuming enough calories ensures that your body has the resources it needs to repair and build muscle tissue. Without a sufficient calorie intake, it can be challenging to make progress in gaining muscle mass.

Recommended Caloric Range for Vegans

The recommended caloric range for vegans looking to build muscle is similar to that of non-vegans. However, due to the typically higher fiber content of a vegan diet and the need for more plant-based calories to meet nutritional needs, it may be necessary to consume slightly more calories.

To determine the optimal caloric range for muscle gain as a vegan, it’s essential to consider factors such as gender, age, activity level, and individual metabolism.

  • On average, most adult women require around 1800-2200 calories per day to maintain their weight, while adult men require around 2200-2800 calories per day.
  • To build muscle effectively, it is recommended to consume a slight calorie surplus of 350-450 calories per day. This surplus provides the extra energy and nutrients needed for muscle growth.

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and individual calorie needs may vary. It is best to consult with a registered dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in vegan nutrition to determine your specific caloric needs and create a personalized meal plan that supports muscle gain on a vegan diet.

Vegan Foods High in Calories

Legumes, nuts, and seeds

Legumes, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of plant-based protein, healthy fats, and calories. They are a great addition to a vegan diet for increasing calorie intake. Here are some examples of high-calorie legumes, nuts, and seeds:

  • Chickpeas: 1 cup of cooked chickpeas contains around 269 calories.
  • Almonds: A 1-ounce serving of almonds provides about 164 calories.
  • Chia seeds: 1 ounce of chia seeds contains approximately 138 calories.
  • Lentils: 1 cup of cooked lentils provides around 230 calories.
  • Cashews: A 1-ounce serving of cashews has about 157 calories.

Including these foods in your meals and snacks can help you meet your calorie needs as a vegan.

Grains and plant-based dairy substitutes

Whole grains and plant-based dairy substitutes can also be high in calories and provide essential nutrients. Some high-calorie options include:

  • Quinoa: 1 cup of cooked quinoa contains about 222 calories.
  • Oats: A 1-cup serving of cooked oats has approximately 147 calories.
  • Coconut milk: 1 cup of canned coconut milk provides around 445 calories.
  • Soy milk: 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk contains about 80 calories.
  • Vegan cheeses: Some plant-based cheese alternatives can be high in calories. Check the labels for the specific calorie content.

These foods can be incorporated into your meals and recipes to increase your calorie intake.

High-calorie vegan products

There are also some high-calorie vegan products available in the market, which can be convenient options when you need extra calories. Some examples include:

  • Vegan protein bars: These bars are often fortified with plant-based proteins and other nutrients, providing a high-calorie snack.
  • Nut butters: Different varieties of nut butters, such as almond butter or peanut butter, can be high in calories and can be spread on toast or added to smoothies.
  • Vegan protein shakes: These shakes are often formulated with plant-based proteins and can provide a concentrated source of calories and nutrients.

These products can be useful for individuals who struggle to meet their calorie needs through whole foods alone. However, it’s important to choose products that are made from whole, natural ingredients and are free from excessive added sugars and artificial additives.

Remember to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized advice on meeting your calorie needs as a vegan. 

Incorporating Calorie-Dense Foods into Meals

Calorie density. Horizontal poster

Getting enough calories as a vegan can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to gain weight or maintain a healthy weight. Here are some tips to help you incorporate calorie-dense foods into your meals:

Meal planning and calorie-counting apps

Using meal planning and calorie counting apps can be helpful in ensuring you are consuming enough calories. These apps allow you to track your food intake and provide insights into the calorie content of different foods.

Some popular apps include Lifesum, MyFitnessPal, and Lose It! These apps can help you achieve your calorie goals by allowing you to plan your meals in advance and make adjustments as needed.

Adding protein-rich ingredients to meals

Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps to build and repair tissues in the body. Incorporating protein-rich ingredients into your meals can help increase the calorie content. Some examples of protein-rich vegan foods include tofu, tempeh, seitan, lentils, and chickpeas. These can be added to stir-fries, salads, or soups to boost both the protein and calorie content of your meal.

Cooking with healthy fats and oils

Healthy fats and oils are a calorie-dense food group that can be easily incorporated into vegan meals. Cooking with oils like olive oil or coconut oil can add extra calories to your dishes. You can also include high-fat plant-based foods such as avocados, nuts, and seeds in your meals to increase the calorie content. These can be added to salads, smoothies or enjoyed as snacks.

By incorporating meal planning and tracking, protein-rich ingredients, and healthy fats into your meals, you can ensure that you are getting enough calories as a vegan. Don’t forget to listen to your body’s cues and adjust your intake as needed. Remember, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized advice.

Avoiding Processed and Junk Foods

When following a vegan diet, it’s important to pay attention to the quality of your calorie intake. Relying on whole, nutrient-dense foods is key to ensuring you get enough calories while still maintaining a healthy diet. Here are some tips for avoiding processed and junk foods on a vegan diet:

Relying on whole, nutrient-dense foods

  • Focus on whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and oats, which provide complex carbohydrates and essential nutrients.
  • Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your meals, as they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Get your protein from plant-based sources such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, and seitan.
  • Incorporate healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, and seeds.

The importance of avoiding processed vegan foods

While there are many processed foods available that are labeled as vegan, they may not always be the healthiest options. These foods are often high in added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats. It’s important to read labels and avoid products that are heavily processed and contain chemical additives.

Some popular vegan processed foods to be wary of include:

  • Vegan meat substitutes, which can often be high in sodium and contain artificial ingredients.
  • Vegan snacks like chips and cookies, which may be high in added sugars and unhealthy fats.
  • Vegan desserts are often loaded with refined sugars and unhealthy oils.

Healthy alternatives for high-calorie meals

If you’re looking to increase your calorie intake, there are plenty of healthy alternatives to processed and junk foods. Some options include:

  • Making your own plant-based protein shakes with whole ingredients like fruits, vegetables, and plant-based protein powders.
  • Snacking on nuts and seeds, which are calorie-dense and packed with healthy fats.
  • Include healthy spreads like nut butter or avocado in your meals to add extra flavor and calories.
  • Trying nutrient-dense vegan recipes that incorporate whole grains, legumes, and plenty of vegetables.

Remember, it’s not just about getting enough calories but also about getting them from nutrient-dense sources that promote overall health and well-being. By focusing on whole, unprocessed foods, you can ensure that your vegan diet provides you with the necessary calories and nutrients to thrive. [23][25]

Meal Frequency and Tracking

Spreading out calorie intake throughout the day

To ensure you are getting enough calories as a vegan, it can be helpful to spread out your calorie intake throughout the day. This can prevent you from feeling overly full during meals and help maintain a steady energy level. Here are some tips:

  • Aim for three main meals and two to three snacks in between. This will help you consume a sufficient amount of calories without overwhelming your digestive system.
  • Include calorie-dense foods in each meal and snack. Nut butter, avocados, nuts, and seeds are excellent options that can easily boost your calorie intake.
  • Make sure to incorporate a variety of whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables in your meals, as they provide essential nutrients and fiber while still contributing to your calorie goals.

Keeping track of food consumption and making adjustments

Tracking your food consumption can be a useful tool in ensuring you are meeting your calorie needs as a vegan. Here’s how to do it effectively:

  • Use a food diary or a mobile app to log your meals and snacks. This can help you see your calorie intake and identify any areas where you may be lacking.
  • Pay attention to portion sizes. While plant-based foods may be lower in calorie density, it’s important to consume enough to meet your needs. Be mindful of serving sizes to ensure you’re getting enough calories.
  • Monitor your energy levels and overall well-being. If you consistently feel fatigued or notice changes in your weight, it may be a sign that you need to adjust your calorie intake.

Remember, every individual has unique calorie needs, so it may take some trial and error to find the right balance for your body. Consulting with a registered dietitian or nutritionist can also provide personalized guidance to help you meet your calorie goals. 


Recap of key points

In this article, we explored the challenges of getting enough calories on a vegan diet, especially for individuals who are looking to gain weight or build muscle. We discussed the importance of increasing protein and fat intake, choosing calorically dense foods, and incorporating nutrient-rich options into meals. Some key points to remember include:

  • Prioritize protein sources such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, and seitan to meet daily protein needs.
  • Include healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and plant oils for added calories and satiety.
  • Opt for whole grains, starchy vegetables, and dried fruits to increase carbohydrate intake and provide energy.
  • Experiment with vegan weight-gainer shakes and smoothies to boost calorie intake in a convenient way.

Encouragement to find a variety of calorie-rich, nutritious meals on a vegan diet

While it may require some effort and planning, it is entirely possible to get enough calories on a vegan diet. With an abundance of plant-based foods to choose from, the options for creating delicious and nutritious meals are endless. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes, flavors, and cooking techniques to make your meals more enjoyable and satisfying.

Remember, a well-rounded vegan diet can provide all the necessary nutrients and fuel your body needs, whether your goal is to maintain a healthy weight or gain muscle mass. Stay committed, be creative, and embrace the many health benefits that come with being a vegan. [31]

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