Becoming a Vegan Bodybuilder

Published 7 March 2023

And what she eats to grow plant-based muscle.

Caitlin Adler is a vegan Accredited Sports Nutritionist, Strength & Conditioning coach and bodybuilder at Plant Forged Physique. Her passion is helping vegans achieve their health and fitness goals with evidence-based guidance and expertise.

When you think about bodybuilding, meals like chicken and broccoli, or drinking loads of whey protein shakes might come to mind.

But for plant-based Sports Nutritionist and IFBB Bikini bodybuilder Caitlin Adler, she is on a mission to change minds about what it means to be a bodybuilding athlete, and that vegans can be just as competitive as their meat-eating peers.

“I still get some funny looks when people find out I’m vegan and a bodybuilder,” Caitlin said.

Caitlin, 28, who has lived in Sydney, Australia all her life, became an ethical vegan 8 years ago after meeting other vegans at university and also watching documentaries like Forks Over Knives, The Cove, Food Inc, Blackfish, and Rotten. Before this, she spent much of her adolescence eating a vegetarian diet and was also a competitive swimmer and gymnast.

“It was ironic, because people think you can’t build muscle on a plant-based diet, and I was usually the most muscular person on my team. Even from early on I was proof you can.”

Caitlin said she was always a fan of working out in the gym and building muscle but was first introduced to competitive bodybuilding by a friend.

“I mainly went to the show to watch and support him. But when I saw the female categories I was so impressed and thought ‘wow, I want to do that’. Watching those women awakened a passion in me that day.”

At this point, Caitlin had already been vegan for years. And though bodybuilding has a reputation for requiring a high amount of protein and eating meat, Caitlin said she never felt the need to ever give up her vegan lifestyle.

“It was never a question for me. Being vegan is part of who I am, and I knew I didn’t need to eat animals or animal products to put on muscle and be competitive at a high level.”

Her diet involves a lot of plant diversity and protein

Caitlin’s go-to protein sources include tofu, tempeh, plant-based protein powder, and some fortified plant-based meats. She also eats lots of fresh produce, like fresh greens, legumes, salads, and fruits, plus whole grains like rice, oats, and rye bread.

In the months leading up to her shows she follows a structured nutrition plan and tracks macronutrients closely. But during her seasons between shows, she eats with more flexibility and loosely tracks her macronutrients.

“I eat a generally well-rounded, nutritionally dense diet throughout the year, whether I’m in prep or not. But in my off season I like to include some extra treats, foods I enjoy, and also dine out a bit more.”

Time and persistence are important to muscle building

Her top advice for building muscle: be patient and don’t be afraid to eat.

“As a natural bodybuilder, muscle building is slow and takes time. You need to eat enough, train hard and get enough protein, but time is one of the most important factors too.”

Whether you’re vegan or not, Caitlin says one of the biggest mistakes she sees is people underestimating how long they need to make significant changes, stating that bodybuilders often take 1 to 3 years of “improvement seasons” between shows in order to build muscle and make notable improvements.

“With your average gym-goer, they try to build muscle then get nervous about increasing their calorie intake or get impatient and focus on losing body fat. The end result is that they don’t make any notable improvements.”

Her plans for the future: focus on her clients, and her next competition

In her most recent season, Caitlin walked away with multiple second and third placings at both a state and national level at the IFBB Pro League Australia, in what would be considered a very stacked and competitive line up of athletes.

“I was very happy with my placings. While I didn’t get the gold this time, I’m not worried about it. This is really only the beginning for me and I know next time I step on stage I’ll be even better.”

She’s currently building muscle and working towards her next competitions which will be in the latter half of 2024. Right now, her biggest priority is her team of vegan athletes, bodybuilders and lifestyle clients.

“While bodybuilding is a huge part of my life, helping others achieve their goals and changing the face of veganism in sport is my true passion.”

Building Muscle: A typical day of eating for a vegan bodybuilder


Protein Oats

  • 60-80g rolled oats
  • 30-40g of plant protein powder
  • 150-250g of fruit
  • 150-200ml of calcium-fortified soy milk

Then depending on preferences – toppings such as 30g of nuts & seeds, or 20g of nut butter


Vegan ‘Chicken’ Salad with rice, veggies, lentils

  • 125g of microwave rice
  • 150-200g of plant-based chicken – such as Sunfed Chicken Free Chicken, Meet Plant Based Tenders, Vegie Delights Chicken Style Fillets
  • 200-250g of mixed lettuce leaves
  • 75-150g of canned legumes or beans
  • 150-200g of vegetables like tomato, capsicum, carrot, mushrooms, or cucumber

Then depending on preferences – toppings such as 60-80g avocado, 20-30ml light salad dressing, 50g of pickled vegetables


Photo: @veganbyeden

Tofu Stir-fry with rice or noodles

  • 150-200g of firm tofu
  • 200-300g of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 20-30g of soy sauce
  • 100g of microwave rice or Singapore noodles


Soy yoghurt with fruit

  • 200-250g of fruit
  • 200-250g of soy yoghurt

Then depending on preferences – toppings 20-30g of nuts & seeds, or 20-40g of soy protein crisps


Click to read 2 comments


  • Caitlin Adler
    8 March 2023

    Love the article! Thank you so much for the support ❤️

    • VeganEasy
      9 March 2023

      Thanks so much for sharing your vegan bodybuilding insights and for being such an inspiration! ?

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