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Improving Body Composition: Leaning Out versus Building Muscle with Nutrient Dense, Plant-Based Foods

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Improving Body Composition: Leaning Out versus Building Muscle with Nutrient Dense, Plant-Based Foods

The desire to improve your body composition is a very personal experience. Everyone has a different definition of “optimal”, and so rather than hold yourself to someone else’s standard, we encourage really evaluating what your goal means to you. You may be building strength for sport performance, leaning out to achieve your racing weight prior to an endurance event, or simply looking to feel your best.

Leaning Out

If you’re seeking your “racing weight”, improving your strength-to-weight ratio (lean muscle mass in comparison to body fat), or simply looking to improve your body composition by leaning out (whether inches, pounds, or your preferred measurements), these tips are for you.

Nutrient Density Is More Important Than Calorie Deprivation

We ultimately need to consume fewer calories than we expend if we hope to lose weight. It’s easy to consume more nutrients, and fewer calories with nutrient dense plant-based foods, and not feel like we’re constantly going hungry.

Use Fruit Functionally

Fruit contains vitamins and minerals important for overall health, so you absolutely want to keep consuming in a nutrient dense diet, however when you’re leaning out, try a serving of fruit as part of a pre- or post-workout snack, when the (natural) sugar intake will be used functionally.

Protein Is Your Friend

Protein is important because it helps to support muscles, which ultimately burns more calories at rest than body fat. A simple way to add protein to your day is with a protein powder, either on its own with water or as a part of a smoothie.

Dietary Fats Are Important Too

Good dietary fats can be beneficial to have in the diet because, among other things, dietary fat helps with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, vitamin A,D, E and K.1

Foods with this type of fat include olive oil, sesame oil, avocado, peanut butter and many nuts and seeds. Omega-3 ALA cannot be made in the body, therefore you must get it from your diet. Omega-3 ALA can convert into different types of fatty acids once in your body (DHA and EPA). Plant based sources of ALA include walnuts, flax, algae, chia or hemp seeds.2

Building Mass and Strength Gains

If you’re looking to build more muscle, improve your overall strength, or put on additional body mass (for sport performance), these tips are for you:

Know Your (Protein Intake) Numbers

Strength athletes can consume upwards of 1.4 to 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight1 (to find your weight in kilograms divide your weight in pounds by 2.2). This intake range needs to be recalculated as you gain body mass and build your strength. Reach this intake goal by consuming 20 to 40 grams of quality protein with each main meal or snack through the day.

Stay Fueled to Avoid Muscle Breakdown

Muscle breakdown naturally occurs through intense or challenging training (rebuild a stronger muscle post workout through nutrient dense foods). Muscle breakdown can also occur if you go hungry, train too long without re-fueling, or don’t re-fuel properly post workout. Your body starts to breakdown muscle tissue to free up stored amino acids, which the body can use for short-term energy.

Plan Ahead

Start your day by taking into consideration the activities, workouts, and plans you have and ensure you have the foods you need ready to roll so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re hungry.

Endurance training? Aim to refuel with a snack (such as a Vega Sport® Protein Bar) if you plan to work out for longer than 60-90 minutes.

Refuel post-workout with a smoothie, or Vega Sport® Recovery.

For easy meals in a time crunch, toss one food from each category below together with a quality oil (such as flax, or hemp) and herbs/spices:

  1. A whole grain (for example quinoa, rice or barley). These can be pre-cooked to have on hand in your fridge. Prep a new batch weekly.
  2. A high protein legume or seed (for example lentils, black beans or hemp seeds)
  3. A whole fat (for example avocado, olives, almonds)

Whether you’re looking to lean out, bulk up, or maintain your body composition, power your story with nutrient dense foods as the foundation.


  1. Dawson-Hughes, B. (2014) Dietary fat increases vitamin D-3 absorption. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 115(2):225-30
  2. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2016-2020 http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-6/#o



No matter what better means to you, Vega shares the knowledge, nutrition, and inspiration to support your quest to thrive.

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