Health and Fitness Coach Talks Vegan Strength Training


Want to know how to gain weight on a vegan diet? Looking for a female vegan bodybuilding meal plan? Seeking a general vegan workout plan? Karina Inkster, a vegan health and fitness coach, is here to help and offer her expertise.

What’s your general vegan workout plan?

I work out between 6 and 8 times per week, with one rest day per week (often I do cardio/conditioning in the mornings and weight lifting in the afternoons). I strength train 4 days per week, with 2 upper body days and 2 lower body days. Lately I’ve been approaching these sessions as skill practice instead of strict workouts. I’m working on one day being able to perform a one-arm chin-up, plus perfecting and progressing handstands, pistol squats, weighted pull-ups, deadlifts, and lots of other fun stuff.

I enjoy high-intensity conditioning activities instead of steady-state cardio. This includes rope jumping (one of my absolute favourites), sprinting, and swim workouts.

There’s nothing inherently ‘vegan’ about my workouts, other than the fact that they’re being completed by a vegan! Oh, and recently one of my fellow trainers poked my biceps and asked, “Are these really made only with plants?!”


Do you have any tips for gaining weight on a vegan diet?

Stuff. Your. Face.

For people with genetics like mine, it can be a challenge to gain weight – whether vegan or not! Regardless of diet, if you’re serious about gaining muscle, you need to eat a surplus of calories. That means you need to consume more energy than you expend. My maintenance calories – where I don’t gain or lose any weight – is about 3000 calories per day (I’m 5’6”, 125 lbs, with an active job, lots of working out, and an insane metabolism). If I wanted to focus on gaining muscle, I’d need to eat more than that – around 3500 calories on training days. That’s a full time job!

Regardless of your diet, you’re going to need to stuff your face if you’re looking to gain muscle – especially if you have a naturally slim body type. Multiple meals per day may be an easier way for you to get your calories in, as well as lots of easy-to-digest options such as smoothies.

For plant-based lifters who are looking to gain muscle, I suggest focusing on calorie-dense and protein-dense foods such as tempeh, tofu, seeds (e.g. hemp, chia, flax), nuts and nut butter, legumes, coconut, avocado, and let’s not forget dark chocolate!


You hold a women’s weightlifting class. Could you share your recommended female vegan bodybuilding meal plan?


I lead the Vancouver Women’s Weight Lifting Meetup Group, with well over 350 members. We meet about once a month for workshops on everything from the “big lifts” (like squats and deadlifts) to core training and bodyweight training.

Fitness professionals aren’t qualified to prescribe meal plans. If you see anyone other than a registered dietician providing specific meal plans, they’re operating outside their legal scope of practice!

In addition to this scope-of-practice issue, I don’t give clients prescribed meal plans for the simple reason that they don’t lead to long-term results. A diet plan is not empowering; it takes you away from your own decision-making process, which is something you need for long-term success.

What I do provide for my clients is actionable, habit-based know-how they can use to make their own decisions in a way that’ll work for their own lifestyles. So, what are some of these habit-based pieces of knowledge when it comes to a vegan bodybuilding meal plan? Well, here are a few notes:

  • Use an app like MyFitnessPal to track your food intake for a while. Make sure you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning each day.
  • Ensure you’re eating at least 20% of your calories from protein. For someone like me on 3000 calories daily, that’s 150 grams of protein per day (but I usually eat more than 20% protein). That’s a lot for someone who weighs 125 pounds, and one-and-a-half times the amount of protein recommended for male strength athletes! Someone on a 2000-calorie diet would aim to get at least 100 grams of protein per day.
  • Use smoothies as an easy calorie-booster. Try this: Mixed berries, avocado, peanut or almond butter, rolled oats, hemp seeds, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, protein powder, and your plant-based milk of choice.
  • Fuel your workouts properly.If you’re serious about gaining muscle, you’re going to need to lift some heavy-ass weights. In order to lift said weights effectively, you’re going to need appropriate fuel. This differs from person to person, but I suggest to my clients (especially women, who have been fed more destructive food-related messages) to view food as fuel for your training, not something you “deserve” or “earn” after your workouts.
  • Nutrition for muscle gain needs to become one of your main priorities. Make ahead large batches of dinner meals, carry healthy snacks with you, pack your own food when you travel and book places with kitchens, etc. These habits will differ based on your individual lifestyle, but you get the idea.


Note #1: Other than a difference in overall calorie intake, and a few small differences in vitamin and mineral content (like iron, which women need in greater quantities than men), this approach applies to all genders.


Note #2: I prefer to speak in terms of strength training instead of bodybuilding. There’s nothing inherently wrong with bodybuilding, but it implies a singular focus on aesthetics. Training for performance (i.e. badass feats of strength), I believe, is much more empowering – and fun! – than training just for aesthetics. You’re going to get aesthetic benefits by default when training for strength goals! Win-win.


Here’s a sample vegan food log of what I eat in a day:


7:00am 1/2 cup (dry) Oatmeal
9:45am 1 Grapefruit (broiled)
10:00am 1.5 cups Chai latte: homemade slow cooker tea and spice concentrate + 1/2 cup soy milk
12:00pm 1 cup Hemp/flax seed granola
1 cup Soy milk
1:45pm 1 cup Fajita filling (tofu, carrots, spices, broccoli, onion, green onion)
1/2 cup Kidney beans and black beans
1 Flax tortilla
1 cup Baby kale
3 pieces Chickpea falafel
10 pieces Roasted seaweed
2:30pm 1 cup Chai latte: homemade slow cooker tea and spice concentrate + 1/2 cup soy milk
4:40pm 1 cup Fajita filling (tofu, carrots, spices, broccoli, onion, green onion)
1 cup Baby kale
1/2 cup Kidney beans and black beans
8 Late July brand crackers
7:00pm 200ml Soy milk
8:30pm Giant Salad: Baby kale, lots of chickpeas, purple cabbage, mushrooms, hemp hearts
1 tbsp each Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
10:00pm 6 Late July brand crackers
10:45pm 1 serving Vega protein shake



Does turning vegan alter muscle mass? If so, could you explain?

There’s nothing about a vegan diet that would magically alter someone’s muscle mass. What might happen as someone converts from omnivore (or even vegetarian) to vegan is a change in overall calories, or a change in macronutrient ratios. Whole, plant-based foods are typically nutrient dense, but not calorie dense, so if your total calories drop, you might lose muscle mass.

It sometimes takes newbies a little while to figure out what works best for them when it comes to protein, since plant-based protein sources come packaged with different amounts of carbohydrates and fats compared to animal-based protein sources.

But these issues are easily addressed, especially with the support of a health and fitness professional.


What are your best tips for going vegan?

My number one tip for going vegan is to have at least one foundational “why”. It might seem obvious, but being vegan is extremely easy when you’re motivated by a desire to do the least harm possible to our planet, halt climate change, eat according to your values, or boycott the unbelievably destructive and unethical business of animal agriculture (or all four of those)! For someone who’s been vegan for as long as I have (13 years, and 18 years of being vegetarian), these “why’s” become ingrained into your daily life, making veganism a no-brainer.

For someone just starting to make the transition to a plant-based lifestyle, I also recommend focusing on a mindset of abundance instead of a mindset of deprivation. Rather than focusing on what you can’t eat, focus on eating more plant foods. Before I went vegan, I’d never even heard of some of the foods I now enjoy! Eating more plant-based foods will naturally crowd out animal-based ones.

If you need some inspiration, you can download a free grocery list with over 350 vegan items from my site:

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