Are you transitioning to veganism while trying to lose weight? Or are you a seasoned vegan and are struggling to shed some pounds? Maybe you are considering going vegan and wondering if it is even possible to lose weight on a plant-based diet?
You are in the right place! While the carb-phobic culture has made inconceivable the idea of losing weight with anything other than chicken and salad, studies show individuals who follow a vegan diet for approximately 18 weeks shed, on average, four pounds more than those who follow animal-based diets.
It is certainly possible and healthy to lose weight on a vegan diet, but that doesn’t mean not a vegan diet is always synonymous with weight-loss
. You can be vegan and still eat junk food or eat a diet that doesn’t support your goals.
So let’s take a look at how to achieve optimum vegan weight loss.
- How Does Weight Loss Happen?
- Creating a Caloric Deficit on a Vegan Diet
- Weight Loss Vs. Fat Loss
- What about supplements?
1. How Does Vegan Weight Loss Happen?
Before doing into the details of veganism and weight loss, it is important to understand that weight loss requires the same principle no matter what type of diet you follow: a caloric deficit.
To put it simply, weight loss occurs when you consistently burn more calories than you consume or you -consistently- consume fewer calories than you burn, however you want to put it.
Under this principle, you can lose weight with any diet as long as you create a caloric deficit. This is especially important since there are lots of diets out there marketing to be the solution to weight loss but all they do is reduce calories through a certain method.
- Paleo: caloric deficit
- Intermittent fasting: caloric deficit
- Keto: caloric deficit
- Low carb: caloric deficit
- Atkins: caloric deficit
- Weight Watchers: caloric deficit
In conclusion: Fat loss is created by a caloric deficit not an especific diet. Remember it next time you hear about a new fad diet.
To go a little further into the details, one pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Therefore, decreasing caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day should result in approximately one to two pounds of weight loss per week.
Want to learn an interesting fact? Through the process of weight loss, the byproducts of fat metabolism leave your body: As water, through your skin (when you sweat) and your kidneys (when you urinate). As carbon dioxide, through your lungs (when you breathe out).
2. Creating a Caloric Deficit on a Vegan Diet
As we have explained, creating a caloric deficit is the key to achieving weight loss. Some people are afraid of the concept of calorie counting since it might sound a bit complex or limiting. However, once you get familiarized with it, it becomes quite easy, intuitive and can actually give you a lot of freedom around your meals.
Furthermore, creating a caloric deficit on a vegan diet happens naturally when consuming a whole-foods diet prioritizing greens, vegetables, and grains.
If we take a look at the Vegan Pyramid, for example, we can notice that its foundation is greens and vegetables followed by fruit and whole grains. Calorie dense foods like nuts, seeds, and specially processed food are kept at the top which can help you maintain a caloric deficit.
3. Vegan Weight Loss Vs. Fat Loss
When people mention they want to lose weight, what they are really wanting is to lose fat. Losing fat is what creates the ‘toned’, fit look that most people are going for.
On the other hand, if you try to lose weight without proper planning and excessive dieting you can end up losing muscle is bad for your body composition, your health, and your fitness goals since it and can make it more difficult to lose fat in the future.
There are two key factors to maintaining muscle mass while losing fat: Diet Composition (Macronutrients) and Exercise (Weight Lifting)
a. Diet Composition: Vegan Macronutrients
If you are familiar with macronutrients, you can skip this section. If not, stay with me.
Macronutrients are, as the name suggests, different types of nutrients that our bodies need and they each have specific roles and functions. Macronutrients or ‘macros are divided int Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats.
While they all supply us with calories or energy, not all calories are the same. Two foods may have similar calorie contents, but completely different macros.
500 calories of simple carbs and fats, such as chocolate cake, will absorb quickly and store as fat. While 500 calories of an evener balance of carbs, fats, and protein, such as lentils with vegetables will help you maintain muscle, act as fuel for an active body and keep you satiated longer
Paying attention to macros will allow you to achieve your fat loss goals and help your body to perform at its optimal level. Let’s take a look at the different macronutrients and its functions:
Carbohydrates on a plant-based diet
Carbs can have a bad reputation in the ‘weight loss’ world but they are literally essential for your body and brain to work at optimal levels. They are also your body’s and brain’s preferred source of energy which explains why people on low-carb diets feel so exhausted and even get brain-fog.
Carbs have 4kcal per gram and can be of two different types depending on how quickly it is digested and absorbed
- Simple carbs such as sugar, syrups, fruits and processed flours are like quick-burning fuels. They break down fast into sugar in your system. You want to eat less of this type.
- And complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans and potatoes are usually a better choice since it takes your body longer to break them down and will provide the major source of energy to fuel everyday activities.
Fats on a plant-based diet
Although fats have received a bad reputation in relation to heart disease and weight gain, some fat in the diet is essential for health and wellbeing. Healthy fats help with vitamin absorption and supply the body with essential fatty acids it doesn’t make by itself.
If your diet isn’t rich in healthy fats, many of the vitamins and minerals you’re eating in will pass right through your system.
Dietary fats have 9kcal per gram and are of 3 main types:
- Saturated fat – found in foods like meat, butter and cream (animal sources).
- Unsaturated fat – found in foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts and canola oil (plant sources)
- Trans fats – found in commercially produced baked goods, snack foods, fast foods and some kinds of margarine.
As you can see, not all fats are equal. It’s better to replace as much saturated fat and trans fat with healthier plant-based unsaturated fats.
Proteins on a plant-based diet
Protein and veganism have a controversial relationship. People have misconceived notions about how much protein they need and have been lead to believe protein exists only in animal products.
To sum it up, yes you can get enough protein from plants and it is essential since it helps repair tissues like bone, muscle, and skin. A high-protein intake can also boost metabolism, reduce appetite and change several weight-regulating hormones (1, 2, 3).
Like carbs, proteins have 4kcal per gram.
When the carbohydrate and fat storage in the body has been depleted, protein is used as an energy source by the body. This is why it is important to keep a moderate caloric deficit and a high protein diet to avoid losing muscle mass.
If you are still unsure about where do vegans get their protein from, check out this article with lots of vegan high-protein sources. And if you want to have a laugh about it please do not skip on listening to this song.
How to know your ideal macronutrient split on a plant-based diet?
Luckily you don’t need to learn any formula or be good at math to figure out your macros. There are lots of calculators out there where you can input your height, weight, activity level, and goals and receive your personalized macros.
I like the one at Macros Inc since you can choose between a lower carb/higher fat split or vice-versa. As a vegan, most of your food sources are high in the carb percentage so I recommend choosing the higher carb/lower carb option.
Tracking Your Macronutrients on a plant-based diet
After you find out your ideal macros for weight loss, you can use an app or website tool to track your meals and adjust them to your goals. It can be a bit tedious at the beginning but after a few weeks you will be familiar with the type of foods and serving sizes you need to eat and it will become a more intuitive process.
You can find a lots of tracking apps out there if you just google ‘Track macros’, I personally like to use Cronometer, it is super easy to use, has a huge database with all food in the world and it allows you to save your own recipes so you can just repeat them next time.
Check out these videos of two vegan athletes showing how they track their macros.
Note: It is not necessary to track your macros for weight loss or even fat loss. As we mentioned before all required to lose weight is a caloric deficit but getting a sense of what your macronutrients are for your fitness goals can definitely help you achieve them more efficiently.
b. Exercise for Weight Loss: Weights, Cardio or Both?
While you can technically lose weight but simple limiting your calories, research shows that combining a caloric deficit with regular exercise leads to better weight loss results than restriction alone.
Weight Training for Weight Loss
Continuing or starting a weight training plan is essential to maintain muscle mass during a caloric deficit
. You want to let your body know you really need those muscle so it doesn’t see them as a good source of energy.
As a general rule, you need a calorie surplus to build muscle and a calorie deficit to lose fat. So if you want to hold on to your muscles while taking in less energy than you’re burning, you need to keep them busy. Muscle mass is pretty much a ‘use it or lose it’ deal.
Maintaining your muscle mass during weight loss also increases your resting metabolic rate — meaning, you are burning more calories in a resting state making it easier to lose weight. On the other side, studies have found that a loss of muscle can lead to a drop in your basal metabolic rate, which makes it harder to keep the weight off.
This explains why people who have tried to lose weight in the past and have lost muscle mass in the process, find that they need to keep cutting calories lower and lower to keep off the weight they’ve lost.
Cardiovascular Exercise for Weight Loss
Losing body fat and getting into your best possible shape requires some aerobic activity. Aerobic activity requires fat to be used as a primary fuel source, with carbohydrates and protein being used to a smaller extent. Hence the need to do some cardiovascular or aerobic exercise to lose fat.
Furthermore, cardio has many benefits aside from burning calories. Take a look at some of them and you will be much more motivated to add it to your routine:
- Burns calories to help you create a caloric deficit.
- It helps reduce your risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
- It makes your heart stronger so that it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood.
- It increases your lung capacity.
- Reduce stress and tension, and increase mental well-being.
- It helps you reduces stress and sleep better.
- It improves your sex life.
- Increase the total number of red blood cells in the body, to enable greater oxygen facilitation throughout the body.
- Increase circulation throughout all areas of the body.
- Increase self-esteem.
Despite all its amazing benefits, I confess I use to dread cardio, my first experience with it was forcing myself to run 3 miles every day. This part doesn’t have a happy ending since I never really got to like it.
However, years later I educated myself in exercise and nutrition, fell in love with weight training and currently have a decent relationship with a stair master.
The point is there are lots of ways to do cardio with different benefits each and there is probably one you can enjoy. These are the ways cardiovascular exercise can be categorized:
LISS – Low Intensity Steady State Cardio
LISS or Low-Intensity Steady State Cardio, is a form of aerobic exercise. It is typically performed for 30-60 minutes at a steady pace with limited changes in speed or intensity. It is referred to as low intensity as you usually only hit 45-65% of your estimated maximum heart rate.
|Less demanding on the body, joints, tendons and ligaments||Longer workout sessions.|
|Less injury risk since you are moving at a steadier pace and are not pushing yourself too hard.||Because the sessions are longer, you may be less motivated to start in the first place.|
|It is better at fat burning initially since it uses the fat stored in your body as the primary source.||Only burn calories while you are doing the workout|
|Your body will quickly adapt to LISS workouts, so the once-great results will not last long|
HIIT – High-Intensity Interval Training
On the other hand of the spectrum is HIIT aka High-Intensity Interval Training. It consists of shorter more intense sessions of 10-60 seconds of work alternated with rest or light activity time. HIIT brings your heart rate up to 70-90% of your maximum heart rate.
|HIIT sessions are much shorter and time-efficient than LISS sessions.||More stress on the body which means an increased risk of injury|
|Keep burning calories long after your session is done, even for up to 24 hours.||Longer recovery time which make it challenging to do it every single day.|
|Better for long-term fat loss results.|| |
Can be intimidating for beginners
|Helps with muscle retention since it activates the muscles the same way strength training does.|
So Should I Choose HIIT or LISS?
The best type of cardio is the one that you will actually do, so it is important that you choose it depending on your preference and lifestyle.
A good idea, however, would be to do both on alternate days and rotate between the two so that you can reap the benefits of each.
4. What about supplements for vegan weight-loss?
To put it simply, no, you do not need any supplements to lose weight as a vegan. There is no secret to fat-loss other than exercise and a calorie deficit.
Some vegan athletes and bodybuilders use vegan protein powder to help them meet their protein goals. While it is not necessary and you can get all the protein you need from whole foods, it can be a quick and easy way to increase your protein when you are in a hurry or after a workout.
- Best Vegan Protein Powder for Weight Loss
- Do Fat Burners REALLY Work? The True, The False & The Science
You can learn more about my favorite protein powders that are not chalky and actually feel like a treat in this article. I like adding them to my morning oatmeal or my post-workout shake because they help me feel full and avoiding me from snacking during the day.
For some delicious breakfast and shake ideas check out this article
It is completely possible and healthy to lose weight on a vegan diet. The key, however, is the same as with any other diet: a caloric deficit.
You want to focus on fat loss rather than weight loss since that is what going to give you a ‘toned’, fit look and contribute to your overall health and fitness goals.
The key to fat loss with a vegan diet is to keep an eye on your macronutrients and to maintain an exercise routine that prioritizes weight training.