Top 10 Vegan Foods to Help You Gain Weight

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Evidence Based. References sourced from PubMed.
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Top 10 Vegan Foods to Help You Gain Weight

Vegan or plant-based diets are gaining in popularity as there are many health benefits associated with this way of eating. A plant-based diet reduces your risk of many of the common diseases of today, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and various types of cancer (1,2,3).

When trying to gain weight on a vegan diet, there are a couple of factors to consider. Firstly, it is necessary to increase your calorie intake, so that you consume more energy than you burn. Secondly, ensuring you are eating adequate protein, in combination with some form of resistance exercise will help you to build muscle mass.

As a general rule, around an extra 500 calories per day is a good "benchmark" and when you exercise, you can increase this a little more. It is important to obtain the extra calories from across the range of food groups; protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Resistance exercise is any type of exercise that causes muscles to contract against a force or resistance; this can be free weights, weight machines or your own body weight. For example, weight lifting, squats, lunges, push-ups and even yoga. Resistance exercise builds and tones muscles and makes muscles stronger, it also increases bone strength. For general health, it is also recommended to include 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week, but keep this light when trying to gain weight.

Many bodybuilders and gym-goers are convinced that you need animal protein to build muscle. There are however many successful vegan bodybuilders and athletes. There is also a new school of thought that the inflammation caused by animal proteins might actually hinder athletic performance.

If you are following a plant-based diet and want to gain weight, this article may be useful for you. It includes high-calorie vegan foods, along with high-protein vegan foods for supporting muscle building.

Foods for Vegan Weight Gain

A bowl granola1 Homemade Granola
Calories per CupCalories per 100g
597 calories489 calories
Granola is a high-energy food that can be very healthy if you choose shop-bought products carefully or make your own. Granola makes a great high-energy snack as well as breakfast. Make or choose products made from oats, to supply energy, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. Also add plenty of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and shredded coconut for extra energy and nutrients. Avoid products with added refined sugars, refined grains, or unhealthy oils.
A block of tofu2 Firm Tofu
Calories per CupCalories per 100g
363 calories144 calories
Tofu is a top vegetarian source of protein. All types of protein supply the body with the amino acid building blocks required to form new muscle, but some foods contain a better profile of amino acids than others. Tofu is one of the only plant foods containing all nine essential amino acids, which must be obtained through diet, as the body cannot manufacture them (4).
Half an avocado3 Healthy Fats (Avocados)
Calories per AvocadoCalories per 100g
322 calories160 calories
When trying to gain weight and increase your calorie intake, it is important to include plenty of healthy fats in your diet. Gram for gram, fats have a higher calorie content than protein and carbohydrates (9 calories per gram of fat versus 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate). Top vegan sources of healthy fats include avocados, hummus, coconut products, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
A glass of berry smoothie4 Smoothies
Calories in 1 SmoothieCalories per 100g
0 calories129 calories
Homemade smoothies are an excellent way to get more healthy calories, fats, and protein into your diet. They make a great snack between meals. You can add many of the aforementioned foods, such as nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocados, along with vegan protein powders, fruits, vegetables etc. Avoid shop-bought, packaged smoothies though which are not the same and are often highly processed and high in sugar.
Lentils5 Pulses (Lentils)
Calories per CupCalories per 100g
230 calories116 calories
Pulses including beans, lentils, and chickpeas provide a healthy dose of plant-based protein for muscle building. Pulses are also a great energy food, as they contain slow-releasing carbohydrates and fiber, which help keep blood sugar levels balanced. Combining brown rice or other wholegrains with pulses helps provide a wide range of amino acids.
A bowl of quinoa6 Quinoa
Calories per CupCalories per 100g
222 calories120 calories
Quinoa is botanically a seed but eaten as a grain. It is packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, plus all the amino acids needed for muscle growth. In fact, quinoa is the ideal grain for anyone looking to build muscle, as it is higher in protein than most other grains with a good amino acid profile(5). It is also an excellent high-energy food, containing slow-releasing carbohydrates and the minerals magnesium and iron, which are required for maintaining energy levels.
Peanut Butter7 Peanut Butter
Calories 2 TblspCalories per 100g
188 calories589 calories
Peanuts are not technically nuts, but legumes (from the same family as beans and lentils), which accounts for their higher protein content compared with other nuts. Peanuts and peanut butter contain around 24g protein per 100g. In one study, elderly patients were given peanut protein in combination with resistance training for 6 weeks and it significantly increased both muscle growth and strength (6).
Dark chocolate squares8 Dark Chocolate (85% Cocoa)
Calories per 1oz SquareCalories per 100g
170 calories598 calories
Good quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is actually a very nutritious food and makes a great vegan, high-energy snack. It is a top dietary source of antioxidants, in particular, a type of antioxidant called flavonols, associated with various health benefits including lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow through vessels, and improving blood sugar and fat processing (7).
Squash and Pumpkin Seeds9 Nuts and Seeds (Squash Seeds)
Calories per 1oz HandfulCalories per 100g
163 calories574 calories
Nuts and Seeds make a great portable snack and can be sprinkled on top of many dishes, including oatmeal, salads, soups etc. They are a nutrient and energy-dense food, containing vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and a decent dose of plant protein. Almonds have the highest protein content of all nuts (except peanuts); a handful contains around 7g of protein. Eating nuts is associated with many health benefits including lowering cholesterol levels and risk of many diseases (8).
Green Peas10 Green Peas
Calories per Cup CookedCalories per 100g
134 calories84 calories
A cup of cooked peas contains nearly 9 grams of protein. Pea protein powder is gaining popularity as a vegan protein source. One study found that pea protein in combination with resistance training promoted a greater increase in muscle thickness after 12 weeks, compared with just training alone. The results were particularly pronounced in people starting or returning to training after a break and were comparable to a third group who took whey protein (9). See more high-protein vegetables.

Printable One Page Sheet

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A printable list of vegan foods for weight gain including granola, tofu, smoothies, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, and peas.

Tips For Vegan Weight Gain

  • Eating many little snacks throughout the day is key for encouraging a higher food intake. This means breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2-3 snacks each day. Also aim for a slight increase in portion sizes of about 25-30%.
  • Regular meal times are also important for regulating appetite. Eating within a 2-hour window whenever possible is advisable, for example breakfast 8-10am, lunch 1-3pm etc. as the body gets used to these times and eventually you will feel hungry at these times, even if you don’t at first. Irregular eating patterns can disrupt appetite control and lead to over/under-eating.
  • When not possible to stick to a mealtime, make sure you have a substantial snack and then eat as soon as you can.
  • Caffeine can suppress appetite, so is best either avoided or drunk only after meals and limited to 1-2 coffees or teas per day.
  • As mentioned above, include resistance exercise 2-4 times per week for muscle building. You might find it beneficial to consult a personal trainer who can create a program for you to follow.

About the Data

Data for the curated food lists comes from the USDA Food Data Central Repository.

You can check our data against the USDA by clicking the (Source) link at the bottom of each food listing.

Note: When checking data please be sure the serving sizes are the same. In the rare case you find any difference, please contact us and we will fix it right away.

About Nutrient Targets

Setting targets can provide a guide to healthy eating.

Some of the most popular targets include:
  • Daily Value (%DV) - The daily value (%DV) is a general guideline for consumption that will prevent deficiency of a particular nutrient in most people. The %DV refers to the percentage of an amount that's found in a single serving of a food. It also accounts for absorption factors. It is set by the U.S. FDA.
  • Recommended Dietary Allowance (%RDA) - The RDA sets an average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97.5%) healthy individuals. It's more specific than the daily value, and varies by age and gender. The RDA is set by the US National Instutites of Health.
  • Reference Dietary Intake (%RDI) -The reference dietary intake is similar to the recommended daily allowance, but is specific to age and gender. The RDI for amino acids is set by the U.N. World Health Organization.
  • Adequate Intake (%AI) - This value is primarily used in reference to omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The Adequate Intake is set by the U.S. Institute of Medicine. Because there is less evidence to determine the ideal targets for consumption of these nutrients, the specific amount is considered to be less reliable. Using the term Adequate Intake, rather than one of the other terms, helps to emphasize that the ideal intake of that particular nutrient has not yet been scientifically determined.

See the Guide to Recommended Daily Intakes for more information.

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Use the ranking tool links below to select foods and create your own food list to share or print.

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Data Sources and References

  1. Ros E. Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health Trends Cardiovasc Med. 2018 Oct;28(7):442-444. doi: 10.1016/j.tcm.2018.04.008. Epub 2018 May 9. 29793834
  2. Olfert MD, Wattick RA. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes Curr Diab Rep. 2018 Sep 18;18(11):101. doi: 10.1007/s11892-018-1070-9. 30229314
  3. Thomas TL. Nutritional Status and Diet in Cancer Prevention Semin Oncol Nurs. 2016 Aug;32(3):273-80. doi: 10.1016/j.soncn.2016.05.007. Epub 2016 Jul 29. 27539281
  4. Gilani GS. Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS) for soy protein isolates and concentrate: criteria for evaluation Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 2:S168-82. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512002383. 23107528
  5. Proll J, Petzke KJ, Ezeagu IE, Metges CC. Nutritional quality of the protein in quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, Willd) seeds J Nutr. 1998 Nov;128(11):2014-22. doi: 10.1093/jn/128.11.2014. 9808658
  6. Hulmi JJ, Laakso M, Mero AA, Häkkinen K, Ahtiainen JP, Peltonen H. The effects of resistance training with or without peanut protein supplementation on skeletal muscle and strength adaptations in older individuals J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Dec 16;12:48. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0109-4. eCollection 2015. 26677350
  7. Davison K, Howe PR. The Impact of Cocoa Flavanols on Cardiovascular Health Phytother Res. 2017 Jan;31(1):165-166. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5729. Epub 2016 Oct 9. 27723148
  8. Ros E. Health benefits of nut consumption Br J Nutr. 2015 Apr;113 Suppl 2:S111-20. doi: 10.1017/S0007114514003924. 26148914
  9. Duarte NM, Cruz AL, Silva DC, Cruz GM. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2020 Jan;60(1):75-84. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.19.09741-X. Epub 2019 Sep 23. 31565912
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