Why Are So Many Vegans Skinny Fat?

Why Are So Many Vegans Skinny Fat?

It’s about time I get around to writing this post! Why? Because FAR too often I hear from plant-based brethren seeking nutrition advice to help combat their “skinny fat” vegan woes.

Yes, being skinny fat is apparently a cross that many vegans have to bear. The good news is that I know why. And in fact, this was actually a main topic of my “vegan fitness presentation” at this year’s Veg Expo.

I have a few theories as to why so many vegans are cursed with the “skinny fat” syndrome. And today on the blog, I’m going to share some tips and solutions to help turn that soft & cuddly plant-built bod of yours into a svelte and shredddddddded one. So let’s get to it!

let's get ripped

First, allow me to “paint the picture” for anyone still wondering if they are, in fact, a “skinny fat” vegan.

Most people (or NON vegans I should say) love to assume that ALL vegans are skinny and that it’s basically impossible for us to be fat. I really do wish this theory were true (it would no doubt convert a LOT more meat eaters.) But as we seasoned veegs already know, it’s just as easy to be an overweight vegan as it is to be a skinny vegan. Oreos and fries are ALSO VEGAN, people!!!

skinny fat vegan

Let it be known, however, that the root cause of a “skinny fat” physique goes far beyond a junk food addiction. And this, brings me to my next point: most vegans DO eat healthy AND exercise regularly. So why then, are we not all walking around, sporting six-pack abs 24/7?!

Well, here are my theories based on PERSONAL experience…

 

1) Not enough protein consumed

Not to go down the annoying, “where do vegans get their protein from” path, but vegan or not, I cannot stress the importance of getting enough protein in your diet enough. Truth is, if your body doesn’t get enough protein to sustain itself, guess where it takes it from? Not from your fat stores but your MUSCLES!! And did you know that if you don’t give your body enough protein, it will even eventually cannibalize its own tissue to get what it needs?! Eek!

As any meat head or fitness guru will tell you, protein is what increases muscle tone (and definition) to create that “hard look” we all strive for. It also helps you to feel full so you end up craving less carbs and fat.

As a huge meat head myself, I’m also a huge advocate for protein at every meal. My go-tos are lean sources like beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan and Jacked on the Beanstalk Vegan Protein Powder . I also eat a TON of leafy green veggies because they contain the most protein of all the vegetables.

Rule of thumb: consume 0.8 – 1.2g of protein per 1 lb. of body weight. That means, as a bare minimum, most vegans should aim to get around 100g of protein per day.

And no, eating copious amounts of nuts and nut butter do NOT count. But it does bring me to “Skinny Fat Theory #2.” 🙂

2) Fats must be consumed in very little amounts

Oh how I wish I could eat an entire tub of peanut butter every night and not get fat. But at a whopping 90 calories per tablespoon, there is NO WAY IN HELL I can justify this gluttony unless I’m going through a break-up or just stepped off stage from a long-ass competition prep.

Yes, there is SOME protein in nuts, seeds and nut butter. And yes, they’re good for the heart AND brain AND are very nutritious! BUT they’re also super high in calories, and a caloric surplus = fat storage. So consume them sparingly unless you want a layer of flab covering your hard-earned, plant-built muscles. 🙂

My advice? Assess how many fats you’re actually consuming everyday. Do you really need oil in that skillet? Or chia seeds AND flax seeds AND walnuts on your oatmeal? I see your instagram posts! Dust off the pumpkin seeds and keep it light, aiiight?

Rule of thumb: consume 0.35g of fat per lb. of body weight.

3) Too many carbs and sugary fruits consumed

Just because you’re vegan doesn’t mean you can eat as much fruit as you want, either. Sorry raw vegans. I really tried to get on board with “30 Bananas a Day” but it just ain’t my shtick.

Fruits are still carbs, which get used as your body’s main source of fuel, and yes, they are essential for providing energy and mental clarity.

But all carbs get broken down into glucose (sugar) and is either used immediately for energy, stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles (for easy access), or turned into fat for longer-term storage. Eating too much fruit (like any carb source) will overload your system with energy it cannot use, and in turn, make you fat.

My advice? Consume your fruit earlier in the day or before your workouts to ensure you’re able to burn off the sugars. Post-workout is a good time for fruit too. That way you can replace the lost glycogen stores.

And there you have it! I hope these tips can help you to reach your vegan health & fitness goals so that we may finally put an end to this “skinny fat” vegan epidemic once and for all. Besides, being JACKED ON THE BEANSTALK sounds soooooo much cooler, no? 😉

Happy shredding, vegan fit crew!

-Sam Shorkey

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34 comments

  • Dmitri: August 04, 2022

    Diet alone won’t get rid of skinny fat, you also need exercise. Most exercise the wrong way for their body type. You need to do more body weight training. I found this blog where a skinny fat guy explains it: http://skinny-fat-fitness.blogspot.com/

  • Greg: March 04, 2022

    Counter: Why are so many meat-eaters just straight-up fat?

  • Rachael: November 21, 2021

    Your recommendations do not work for my body- I lose my period and feel awful. I need larger amounts of healthy fats, moderate protein and moderate carbs to be my best self.

  • Glen: May 30, 2021

    Good article! Also Eric in the comments is 100% correct as well. Veganism kind of lends itself to keto because of all the fats so that’s a good strategy. Fat high, protein high, carbs low. Use a vegan protein powder.

  • Patrick Cel: May 22, 2021

    Diet and “exercise”. I always hear people about dieting but never about their exercise routine.

  • clarissa: September 30, 2020

    Eric is an idiot. Fat gets stored when you are eating a surplus of calories lol, and you won’t lose any fat when you are eating the daily requirement of calories. Its amazing that he claims to be a coach and doesn’t know this. lmao

  • Lori is wrong about Peanut butter: February 03, 2020

    Peanut butter isn’t “soy”. Peanut is a legume. Some peanut butter has palm or soy oil but peanut butter is not considered soy by any means.

  • Lori: October 26, 2019

    First of all, fries aren’t vegan if you get them from most fast food places. Fries at McDonald’s contain both milk and beef stock. They are then fried in the oil that came from frying hamburgers. And peanut butter isn’t a nut. It is soy.

  • Eric: July 07, 2019

    These comments are stunning and show how vegan religion over rules science. I guess if you are going to start with a conclusion, and look for facts to try and support, you can convince yourself of anything.

    Carbs are precisely what get stored as body fat. Its counter intuitive, but as a coach who has taken many a vegetarian and got them lean, its to stupidly simply, its amazing people still dont know the secret.

    Get your fat way up. Way up. I put people on 70%+ fat diets. Get their protein up to moderate. Get their carbs down to 75 grams a day. They get lean, real lean. With all the constant insulin spikes vegans must suffer due to their terrible diets, of course they are skinny fat. The obvious answer is eat meat. But without that, the next answer is get your fat super high and your protein up a bit. Get your carbs as low as possible.

    Improves your heart disease risk too. Cut a recent vegetarians heart risk in just 4 weeks with a high fat diet. Cut their triglycerides in half and raised their HDL by loading up on saturated fat form coconut oil. Its simply. It works. It gets them lean and lowers their heart disease risk according to every medical calculator out there.

    Sorry, but without tons of steroids, vegans will always look skinny fat compared to athletic meat eaters.

    Oh, look, now I see the warning about comments being checked prior to publishing. I guess I wasted my time. Vegans are so close minded and have religion so bad, they will certainly censor me. Enjoy your weak flabby bodies and increased heart disease risk.

  • Mel: June 21, 2019

    Hi Tara,

    I disagree with your interpretation of The China Study. Yes Campbell did find a link between consuming high amounts of protein and cancers BUT he was referring to ANIMAL protein. I believe what he said was high amounts of animal protein was linked to cancers but he didn’t find the same link between plant based protein.
    So I believe a vegan could eat tons of legumes without ill effects ( except perhaps contributing to greenhouse gases ;))

  • Tara O'Gorman: February 04, 2019

    This article is devoid of any references and reflects a lack of knowledge about nutrition backed by scientific research. For example, in the China Study, the largest and longest nutritional trial to date, Doctor Campbell demonstrates that excess protein consumption of more than 10% of daily caloric intake(men and women) fosters the growth of many kinds of cancer—more specifically, animal proteins. (Campell, The China Study, Benbella Books: Dallas, 2006, page 48-58). Americans and Westerners in general suffer excessive rates of colon and rectal cancer, and women have higher rates of breast cancer. Not even athletes need to consume copious amounts of protein.

    Your analysis of fruit is also oversimplified. While its true that fruits should be eaten in moderation(three serving a day), the presence of fiber and nutrients in collaboration with fruit sugars makes fruit a healthy choice: the presence of fiber allows for slow metabolizing of sugar, as intended. Moreover, all carbohydrates are broken down into sugars. It is the presence of fiber and nutrients which differentiates between healthy and unhealthy(refined) carbs.

    Carbohydrates: your body cannot easily convert carbohydrates into fat. It is quite a difficult process. Rather, carbohydrates get burned off as body heat in a healthy individual. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5794245/ In regards to elevated blood sugars, studies show that, when cells are full of fats, insulin resistance occurs and thus does not allow sugar to enter the cells—thus it remains in the blood(Campell, The China Study, Benbella Books: Dallas, 2006, page 146).

    Most importantly, many of your dietary explanations aren’t related to the topic, which is being vegan and skinny fat. Being “skinny-fat” is a result of the same eating behaviors as those of overweight and obese people—the results simply haven’t fully emerged. These eating behaviors have very little to do with being vegan.

  • Emma: December 12, 2018

    Too much protein (over 20% of calories) strains the kidneys and in large excess can cause diabetes.

    Whole food carbs are good – ALWAYS.

    Fat isn’t necessary over 10% of calories.

  • mary: October 01, 2018

    But how will I feel full without my nut butter??? I struggle with feeling hungry all the time on a vegan diet (6years) – I lost 30 pounds in the first year and kept it off. Now my weight is starting to creep back up. I am active too – running and cycling 6 days a week, plus strength work 3x/week. Struggling with the last bit of excess body fat to lose…

  • Cy: October 01, 2018

    Hi. I believe it’s because the food they eat, whole grains, fiber, plants are anti nutritional. They take nutrients out of the body so the person has to keep eating more. So they put on weight.

  • Sam: November 28, 2015

    Hi Taylor! Thanks for the comment and I greatly appreciate you voicing your honest opinion. More than anything, the tips & theories in this blog post come from personal experience. And yes, I did just finish 10 days on a raw vegan diet and there were many things I loved about it and many things that I was not so fond of. I can definitely see how a high fruit/high carb diet would benefit endurance athletes as I did feel “lighter” eating that way and had great energy for my morning runs. But in all honestly, as a bodybuilder, I definitely felt a lack of protein and in the end, it did effect my lifts and did not align with my “physique” goals. I’m all for ANY kind of vegan diet and different methods work for different people. I do wish that I would’ve read the China Study in its entirety before diving into the raw diet as I did find that certain food combos really messed with my energy and digestion. But honestly, being back on a high protein, low fat/low carb bodybuilder diet, I feel so much better and know that this is the right diet for me. :) Then again, I’m also a huge meat head ;)

  • Taylor: November 28, 2015

    I appreciate the intention of this post, but I’m curious as to where you’re pulling your information from? I saw on your social media accounts that you’re experimenting with a raw vegan diet, but did you research before you started? I recommend books like The 80/10/10 Diet, The China Study, and Whole. These books actually counter your argument of avoiding fruit sugar and aiming for high protein levels, mostly for long-term health effects, but also for vitality, and a lean physique. Just offering you more insight than to what society marks as a “healthy” vegan diet. There must be a reason why fruit is named the “magic” food for Olympic athletes. Nonetheless, I love all that you do to advocate for veganism. Cheers!

  • Sam: November 27, 2015

    HAHAHA that’s EXACTLY what I was just thinking!! Thankfully Canadian Thanksgiving was last month so I’m feeling quite superior ;)

  • Alina @VeganRunnerEats: November 27, 2015

    I love the timing of this post – the day after Thanksgiving (in the US), when even the most shredded people feel like whales :)

  • Sam: January 15, 2016

    Hahaha hi Alessandra! You’re too sweet, thanks for the kind words. Honestly, I credit my knowledge to many, MANY years of trial and error. I live and breathe this stuff and I may or may not go to bed every night, phone in hand, researching and googling all things meathead :) And remember, it’s been 26 years since I’ve eaten meat and over a decade of bodybuilding so I’ve learned a thing or two. Many people (vegans especially) would disagree with a lot of my theories on protein consumption. All I know is what seems to work well for me and my clients. And yes, there are definitely plant-based nutrition certifications you can take! I’d love to do one myself someday. The most common (and highly regarded one) that I’ve come across is offered online through eCornell and the Colin T. Campbell Center. Hope this helps and GOOD LUCK!! Keep spreading the good vegan word, girl :)

  • Alessandra: January 15, 2016

    Hi Sam! I know this is not the appropriate post where to write my comment but I was wondering something about your health education! I read that you are an ACE certified PT, but do you have any certification for nutrition, or vegan nutrition? I’m asking this because I’m planning on getting a PT certification in a few years (after university) and I would also love to find a vegan nutrition cert, but I don’t even know if they exist! So except from your own experience…where did you get all this knowledge about food and health in order to give to clients costumized meal plans? :) By the way, I love your blog!

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