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How to Go Vegan Without Losing All Your Hard-Earned Muscle Mass

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Getting jacked without chicken breasts or whey powder isn’t hard—as long as you know what to do next.

Perhaps you decided to go vegan after learning of Benedict Cumberbatch’s plant-based transformation for the latest Avengers movie. Perhaps you wanted to make weeknight meal-planning with your vegan significant other a little easier. Perhaps a recent trip to Superiority Burger—purveyors of a vegan burger we once declared to be the world’s best—made you a believer. Whatever the case, this choice means it is time to bid farewell to all the chicken salads, hard-boiled eggs, and steak dinners you used to consume on the regular.

One thing we can guarantee you won’t say goodbye to, though? Your prized gym gains—as long as you know what to do next.

“It’s a really big misconception that going vegan means you’re immediately going to gain weight or lose all your muscle,” says registered dietitian Emily Wood. “Meat isn’t the only way to get protein, and tons of protein isn’t the only way to keep your muscles strong.” Plus, going vegan brings a host of other health benefits, from better glucose control to reduced risk of heart disease, in addition to the lower carbon footprint it entails.

Still, getting all your nutrients on a vegan diet does require some expert planning—but that’s where we come in. Follow the expert-approved tips below to make sure you stay swole, even after you trade in your turkey for tempeh for good.

1. It is somewhat about the protein…

While Wood says that reducing your protein intake by a small amount won’t cause you to waste away, she does stress the benefits of making sure you’re having the correct number of grams of protein per day, based on your level of physical activity. Scientists recommend consuming one gram of protein per 2.75 pounds of body weight per day, but it’s important to note that those figures are meant to prevent protein deficiencies. In other words, they won’t necessarily help you bulk up. In fact, studies have shown that most young men require far more protein than they expect—which means that if you have specific goals in mind, you need to aim higher.

“Whether we’re talking vitamin or protein quantities, the numbers are very different for optimizing health and achieving fitness goals,” says Lauren Slayton, MS, RD. “If you insist on grams, I think you can go up to 1 gram per pound, but I prefer percentages. It’s less tedious and easier to say 25 to 30 percent protein, which you can eyeball on a plate.” The rest of your plate should be filled with tons of vegetables, moderate amounts of healthy fats, and some carbs.

2. …but protein comes in many forms

Once you’ve figured out the amount of non-vegan protein you consumed during your non-vegan life, make sure each meal during your new vegan life contains a similar amount of vegan protein. “The best ones come in the forms of tofu, tempeh, legumes, quinoa, and nuts,” says Wood. For instance, a cup of tempeh contains around 30 grams, while a cup of chicken breast has around 44 grams. So yes, there is a difference, but it’s nothing you can’t plan around. ”I promise, as long as it’s organic tofu or tempeh, soy products aren’t going to wreak any havoc on your hormones if you have them three to four times a week,” says Wood.

You also might have heard that vegan diets are deficient in what is known as “complete” proteins—the ones that have all nine amino acids your body cannot produce on its own. This is true in the sense that aside from soy, there isn’t any vegan protein source that contains all of them together. But if you pair complementary foods like chickpeas and brown rice, for instance, the combination will yield those elusive essential amino acids.

“It just requires some thought and planning,” says Miranda Hammer, RD, who stresses that you don’t need to have the complementary proteins in the same meal, either. As long as a whole day of meals contains a variety of essential amino acids, you’re fine.

3. Don’t fall into the carb trap

According to Hammer, a lot of people fall into an “unhealthy vegan” trap: Basically, they think that because they’ve cut out animal products, they can eat whatever they want. Sorry to break it to you, but…you can’t. “Quality over quantity is definitely key, and selecting clean sources of plant-based protein such as quinoa, nuts, seeds, and legumes over faux meat products or processed, soy-based powders is essential,” says Hammer.

Relatedly, if you decide to switch your body over from, say, keto to vegan and are now suddenly consuming tons of potatoes instead of steaks, please be aware that your body will have something to say about it. A lot of people experience things like bloating and a lack of energy when they first go vegan, which is why you need to do it slowly. “Make sure to drink enough water, pace yourself while eating, include probiotics, and cook foods instead of having them raw—these are all ways to help reduce gas and bloating,” advises Hammer.

4. Learn the new rules of supplements

Most nutritionists agree that as long as you’re consuming a wide variety of plant-based proteins, fats, and carbs, you’ll be fine meeting your daily nutrition requirements. There are, however, some occasions when you might need to supplement with a protein powder. The good news is that plenty of good plant-based varieties exist these days. Just make sure you stay away from anything containing whey protein, which consists of the proteins isolated during cheese production. (Remember: You promised to give up milk.)

“If you’re super athletic, plant-based protein powders will really help your diet,” says Wood. “I would pick from ones that are ideally made with a whole food, like hemp or sprouted quinoa, because there are many overly processed powders that will definitely do more harm than good.” She also suggests supplementing with omega-3s, B12, and vitamin D to promote both energy and also protein metabolism.

5. Ask for help

If you’re not sure about the amounts of different nutrients you need to stay on track with your goals—whether that’s building muscle, losing weight, or some combination of the two—you might want to consider getting professional help. Veganism is hard! It shouldn’t be a surprise that embracing a new diet will require some fine-tuning of everything else in your life, too.

Whether that’s a registered dietician who will develop a food plan for you or a personal trainer who’ll slowly increase your weights and reps, having somebody help you at the beginning of this transition will ensure you get the results you want, and without taking any steps back. Besides, if you’ve been lifting the same weights since the first time you set foot in a gym, you probably need your fitness routine re-evaluated anyway.

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Use Time to Create More Tension With This Arm Workout

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If you want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your arm day workout, just slow down.

While you’ll build plenty of size and strength by progressively ramping up the weight you use when you work out, you can also adjust the speed of your movements to create more time under tension to challenge your muscles. This is a smart method to ratchet up the difficulty and effectiveness of your routines if you’re stuck traveling without a full gym, or you only have one set of small dumbbells at home.

Trainer Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S. uses tempo to give her clients an extra challenge—and to make them think a little more about their workouts to keep them from just going through the motions.

“Before you go getting crazy and implementing workouts, you find off Instagram, try this small change: time,” Atkins says. “By changing the tempo of your exercises, you’re effectively changing the amount of time under tension. You can vary your time in workouts by moving slower in the eccentric or ‘lowering’ phases or merely holding an exercise isometrically for a few breaths before releasing the position.”

Whatever you decide to do, the trainer believes the best workouts are the most simple, like this straightforward dumbbell routine that gives your biceps, back, and shoulders some work. All you need is a set of weights to take on the workout—check out this adjustable set from Bowflex if you want to do it at home.

Perform each exercise for 6 to 12 reps. Progress through each movement slowly, and pause for a count at the sticking point of each rep.

  • Bent-Over Row
  • Biceps Curl
  • Half-Kneeling Overhead Press
  • Bent-Over Triceps Kickback

Run through the circuit 3 times to complete the workout. Remember, timing is key here—you lose out if you try to rush. Want to learn more moves from Atkins? Check out our series full of her workout tips, Try Her Move.

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America’s Hottest Gyms You Should Know About

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Today’s best new gyms are about more than just weight loss and muscle. They build community, mental strength, and athleticism, and they push you into workouts that often barely feel like workouts. The wisdom they share can still transform your body, but it may transform you in other ways, too. 


ELIMINATE ANY EXCUSES

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Quadruple amputee Tony Lampkin, a USA Paralympics hopeful, lifts weights using a special Active Hands strap.COURTESY ADAPTIVE TRAINING FOUNDATION/ DIANNE M WEBSTERADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

Adaptive Training Foundation

Carrollton, Texas

A workout at the Adaptive Training Foundation’s 20,000-square-foot gym doesn’t start with your traditional full-body warmup. Instead it starts with 15 minutes in something that founder David Vobora calls a “recharge room,” a small space where clients release frustrations about any recent struggles.

Only after this period do they step onto the training floor and touch weights. This, says Vobora, is the best way for his gym to help its clientele, wounded and disabled military veterans and others living with physical disabilities who are looking to redefine their lives. “After war,” he says, “these people need more mental training than anything.” Clients of the nonprofit gym, which is free for anyone with a physical impairment, get both mental and physical training that’s designed for their situation. Vobora built his gym specifically for the physically disabled, so anything that can aid their fitness is here. Those who can’t grip a bar because of injury are outfitted with an Active Hands strap, a specialized device that attaches to the wrist and closes around weights or handles. The wheelchair-bound routinely have weight sleds attached to their chairs, and anyone who can’t stand up to use a machine is given a resistance-band chest support to lean against.

This is the gym the country needs, Vobora says. “America doesn’t need more gyms,” but more than 40 million Americans are physically disabled, he adds, so “we need more gyms to open their doors to those who have been left out of fitness.” So far, 160 veterans have completed the Adaptive Training Foundation’s initial three-month program.

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Kris Briggs, an Army sergeant who was hit by an IED 12 years ago, trains at the Adaptive Training Foundation gym in Carrollton, Texas.COURTESY ADAPTIVE TRAINING FOUNDATION/ DIANNE M WEBSTERADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

TRY THIS MOVE: Get in plank position on the floor, a towel under your toes. Drag your knees in until they’re below your hips. Return to the start. Do 10 reps.

EARN YOUR MEMBERSHIP

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The Maximus Gym

Murray, Utah

This isn’t your average gym hustling for members.
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Owned by tough-guy trainer Bobby Maximus, best- selling author of Maximus Body, Maximus Gym lets anyone work out once, but only focused people are invited to become members. If Maximus regulars notice you’re not training hard, you won’t be invited back. Intimidating? Sure. But it breeds what Maximus calls a “championship culture.” “You’re going to be exposed to more than sets and reps here,” he says. “You’re learning what truly makes champions and causes change.”

TRY THIS MOVE: Pick an exercise for the end of every workout—say, pushups. Do a few reps the first time. Add one rep every workout. “Microgoals are attainable,” says Maximus.


TRY A BASIC BODY SHOP

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The Kitchen

Beverly Hills

All you really need to get in shape? A garage. Need proof? Check out where Justin Timberlake, Kate Upton, and Bradley Beal train. They drive up a small hill to a 16-foot-by-12-foot garage that houses the tiniest elite gym you’ve ever seen. The Kitchen is at the forefront of a different brand of personal training. Rather than working out his clients on a crowded gym floor, MHadvisor Ben Bruno, C.F.S.C., does it in this secluded space. You control every bit of your experience, from the music (hate metal? ditch it) to the selection of equipment. Create the gym you need.

TRY THIS MOVE: Hold dumbbells at your sides. Walk uphill. Hinge forward after each step, then straighten up. Do 10 reps.


BUILD MORE THAN MUSCLE

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Detroit Body Garage

Detroit

AT DETROIT Body Garage, power cleans help raise money for charity. Community workouts—group fitness sessions open to all comers—are part of owner Terra Castro’s quest to aid her neighborhood. Profits from these sessions go to local organizations like the Michigan Humane Society. Gym members also regularly turn out en masse to, say, clean up area trash. Castro hatched these projects shortly after Detroit was named America’s most unhealthy city in 2017. “I’m doing my part to change that statistic,” she says.

TRY THIS MOVE: Stand in athletic stance, a resistance band around your ankles. Keeping it tense, step to the right with your right foot; follow with your left. Take 10 paces in each direction.


ROW YOURSELF INTO SHAPE

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CityRow

Portland, Oregon

Ever since CrossFit popularized the Concept2 rower, group rowing classes have been on the rise. But no gym handles things like CityRow, which uses the quieter, custom-built WaterRower. You alternate between intervals on the rower and dumbbell strength work. The blend is so popular that CityRow, which debuted in Manhattan in 2014, will open new locations in Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, and Boca Raton this year. “We’re offering a low-impact workout that’ll build strength without breaking you down,” says Hollis Tuttle, director of instructors, New York City.

TRY THIS MOVE: Do this circuit: Row 200 meters. Do 10 deadlifts, 10 dumbell rows, and 10 pushups. Do 3 rounds.


PAY YOURSELF TO TRAIN

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Reebok HQ Fitness

Boston

Taking up two floors and 30,000 square feet of an eight- story renovated Army storehouse, Reebok’s in-house gym leaves the company’s 750 employees no excuses. They pay $75 a month but get a $7.50 credit every time they take a class or just work out on their own. (The gym is also open to the public for $300 a month.)

New 15-minute, 20- minute, and 30-minute workouts are posted daily, so lack of time can’t be your excuse, either.

TRY THIS MOVE: Short on time? Squeeze in this workout. Go hard for 2 minutes on a rower, spin bike, or treadmill; do 1 minute of burpees; do a 1-minute plank. Rest 1 minute. Do 4 rounds.


LIFT YOUR OWN WEIGHT

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The Gravity Vault

Radnor, Pennsylvania

What if a workout was just plain fun? It’s an idea that’s increasingly the focus at the new wave of climbing, parkour, and American Ninja Warrior–style gyms.

At the Gravity Vault, you’re not lifting weights (although you can do that in a corner of the gym). You’re scaling massive, textured rock walls 40 feet high, firing up your core and forearms in ways even bodybuilders don’t expect. That was the vision that owner Zach Barber always had for a gym. You make friends, too. It’s not uncommon to be ten feet up, unsure of how to progress, and have somebody use a laser pointer to show you a hold you missed. It takes a village to take on the Gravity Vault’s toughest routes. That’s half the fun.

TRY THIS MOVE: Start in a high plank. Shift to a side plank, then an opposite-side plank. Hold each for 30 seconds; do 3 sets.


CREATE MUSCLE WITH VR

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Mayweather Boxing + Fitness los angeles

Los Angeles

Floyd Mayweather’s days as the world’s finest pound-for-pound boxer are over, but he’s still putting all that ring knowledge to use in his latest project: kicking your ass into shape. At the boxing legend’s new gym, when you want to spar, you don’t always need a partner. Instead you can put on an HTC Vive VR headset, a weighted vest, and weighted gloves with resistance bands attached and step into the ring to begin a 12-week virtual- boxing program, with a digitized Mayweather as your trainer. (You can also skip the gloves and vest to get started.)

“There’s mitt work, bag work, and full sparring once you’re up to that level,” says programming coordinator Reid Silverman. Virtual Floyd pushes you through zero-impact drills, so you break a sweat without battering your joints. Not that you’re stuck doing only VR training. A 60-minute group fitness class called Championship Boxing lets you go at a real bag for 12 rounds, again borrowing from the ideas that Money himself used.

TRY THIS MOVE: Learn the Mayweather situp: Do a situp. Lean forward, press up through your heels, and stand. Throw a right jab. Squat and return to situp position. Repeat, throwing a left jab. Do 15 total reps.


SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP

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The Movement

Minneapolis

Mastering your body includes knowing when you aren’t moving properly—and correcting the issue. Walk into the Movement and you’ll see the office where the on-site physical therapist works with all members. (The first PT visit is free.) A coach may notice you laboring in a deadlift and, if needed, send you to the PT to see if there’s a problem. “That communication keeps you healthy,” says founder David Dellanave.

TRY THIS MOVE It’s called the Jefferson deadlift. Stand over a barbell, right foot in front of it, left behind it, knees bent. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, torso at a 45 degree angle, core tight. Straighten your legs, lifting the barbell. That’s 1 rep; do 4 sets of 5 to 8 per side.


YOUR ULTIMATE HOTEL GYM

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The Aria

Las Vegas

The Aria, Las VegasYou won’t find a more tech-ed out hotel gym than the one in the halls of the Aria. Driven by brand new Technogym gear, every single weight machine can connect to your iPhone and track your workout, calculating everything from reps to calories burned to the rhythm and pace of your reps. It’s a game-changer for OCD trainers who want to know everything about their traveling clients’ workouts. Not into weights? The Aria’s Technogym-powered cardio equipment is just as nuanced, with treadmills and ellipticals that also connect to your iPhone and track performance. And rowing fans will love the Technogym Skillrow machine, which is sturdy enough to survive the most powerful of rowing strokes but smooth enough that you’ll still feel like you’re on the water. Expect other hotel gyms to follow the Aria’s lead and eventually deliver more connected experiences.


PUMP UP YOUR PILATES

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SCULPTHOUSE

Nashville

Katherine Mason knows exactly how the bench-pressing crowd views Pilates. “Men usually think it’s for women,” she says. Her solution: Blend the Pilates Megaformer with a vicious CrossFit mainstay, the nonmotorized treadmill. “Guys think our combination of machines is interesting,” she says. The mix gets guys sweating like crazy first, then zeroes in on their abs when they’re fatigued, a challenging formula you can’t help loving.TRY THIS MOVE: Struggling to focus? Find five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste. Your focus will return.

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This Guy Lost 35 Pounds and Got Ripped Thanks to a Simplified Diet

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After unhealthy eating habits led to weight gain, William Underwood set a goal of losing roughly 30 pounds.
• He started by counting calories and committing to a strict vegetarian diet of mostly plants and eggs, all while running and lifting up to five days a week.
• As a result, Underwood underwent a dramatic 35-pound weight loss transformation and hit his goal weight.

William Underwood had taken a radical move: The 27-year-old from London, England, had picked up with his girlfriend and moved to Paris, France, where he later began working for an English school. “I fell out of healthy habits and started to put on a few extra pounds,” he says. Even with a vegetarian diet, he was eating too much for someone spending so much time at a desk. Flipping through his phone, he saw some old pictures of himself; realizing just how much weight he’d gained, he promised himself a change.

That was in February 2019. Underwood weighed 196 pounds, and declared that by September he’d be down to 168. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d slimmed down; entering university as a teenager, he weighed 270 pounds—by the time he finished, he was at 154. “I thought if I had made so much progress 4 years earlier,” he says, “why not try to do it again? I saw it as a challenge for myself.”

Underwood started by calculating his maintenance calories to establish the caloric deficit he needed to his hit goal weight. He broke it down: 30 percent of his calories from carbs, 30 percent from fat, and 30 percent from protein. He tracked it all with MyFitnessPal; as a vegetarian, his diet was mostly plants and eggs.

He didn’t use a trainer—being new in Paris, he didn’t have any gym buddies, either, so it was up to him to stay motivated. (One trick: taking pictures of himself every Monday after the gym, so he could see his progress.) He upped his workout time to five weight sessions a week, with cardio two to three times. He’d hit the weights for about an hour in the morning before work, with 30 minutes of cardio after work. The schedule fit his daily routine, making it that much easier to implement—and to stick with.

It wasn’t always easy, Underwood says. His diet meant burning fat reserves; he also had to give up butter, a personal favorite. “I think another challenge you face when doing something like this is to not become over-obsessed,” he says. He wanted to enjoy himself despite the challenge, not torture himself with a strict regimen. “Luckily I also had my girlfriend there to keep things in perspective,” he says.

In about eight months, he lost 35 pounds, exceeding his goal. Most of his friends back home in England didn’t know what he’d been up to. But he did send his mother a before-and-after photo so she could see his accomplishment. “As any good mum would,” he says, “she said she was worried I was wasting away and prescribed some more food!”

Looking back, he’s proud of his results. “I improved my organizational skills, which helped with things out of the gym in my personal life and work,” he says. “I also feel I learned a lot more about self discipline and delayed gratification.” And ultimately, he enjoyed himself—something he emphasizes for anyone looking to follow in his footsteps: “Make sure you have fun doing it. If it makes you miserable to do it, what is the point?”

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