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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  • 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!

  • Sam: January 06, 2016

    Awww thanks so much, Moneca!! Sincerely appreciate the feedback (and ego boost.) :)

  • Moneca: January 06, 2016

    Great article Sam. So many women talk about striving to be skinny and they become skinny fat. Skinny to me is a negative, slim and lean is what I strive for and as you know and described in your article, it comes down to the food we eat, how much and when. Love your blog, keep up the great work and being that great role model for vegans, women and athletes. Keeping open dialogue and sharing info is what it’s all about.

  • Sam: November 21, 2016

    Hi Krissy! Aww sorry to hear you’ve had such a rough time! A lot of people do report gaining weight when switching to a vegan diet but that’s because they have the mentality of “it’s vegan so it’s healthy” and load up on everything from nuts and nut butter to fruits galore. Whether sedentary or active, I typically recommend a bodybuilder-style food plan that’s still high in protein and low in fat and I’d probably give you a moderate amount of carbs but smaller amounts and coming from good complex carb sources like yams, quinoa, rice and oats. And moderate amounts of fruit too. Just make sure to keep portion sizes small, carbs and fruit earlier in the day when you’re better able to burn them off (even if you aren’t training) and fats low. Hope this helps! And good luck with everything!

  • Krissy: November 21, 2016

    Hi Sam, great article! I’m fairly new to the vegan lifestyle and have a main concern. Is this type of diet not suitable/recommended for someone who is sedentary? I used to workout a lot but my Crohn’s disease became worse which caused difficulties with physical activity and I had to be hospitalized. I read up on a plant based diet being very friendly for Crohn’s sufferers which is why I decided to recently make the switch. At the same time, I’m worried about potentially gaining weight on a plant based diet because of the higher carbs lower activity. It feels like a catch-22 because I don’t want to eat animal products again. They were making my flare-ups even worse. What’s your input?

  • Lily: October 28, 2016

    Hi Sam!! Lily here—I recently found out about you because I very recently started eating a vegan diet… I’m not really a fan of meat and have many digestive issues so transitioning was fairly easy.. I actually thought getting rid of cheese would be the hardest but I don’t actually crave it lol (thank God! haha). Like you, I am a meathead hahah i love lifting weights and training hard! My first worry about switching to vegan was the amount of carbs I would be eating… I’m also worried of gaining weight. I used to count macros but I don’t now with this new diet, and I honestly feel really weird… but I feel like I will stress a lot if I do since it’s a completely new diet. I guess my question is… what would a day of eating look like for you? I can’t find anyone to relate to.. I don’t like tofu/tempeh… I enjoy my grains and beans, love healthy fats (but learning to limit).. I just don’t know how to eat without eating too many carbs and not enough protein.. to stay lean and fit :(

  • Sam: July 10, 2017

    Hi Laurie! I get asked this question A LOT which is why I include a sample meal plan in my eBook. You can check it out here: https://gumroad.com/l/Jacked :)

  • Laurie Bailey: July 10, 2017

    Hi, I am curious what a typical day of food looks like for you.

  • Sam: August 10, 2017

    I can definitely agree with you on this, Malcolm! And I love your brutally honest & candid comment. I am definitely guilty of preaching bro science sometimes but I do think my advice in this post is valid for a lot of people. Too many overweight people turn vegan thinking that the weight will instantly come off. But you’re right. It’s all about calories in vs. calories out and when you’re stuffing yourself with nuts and carbs galore and not exercising like a crazy person, that theory just ain’t happening :)

  • Malcolm Flex: August 07, 2017

    not really. this is sad that we incorperated bro-science into this… all that needs to be done is eat less calories. that’s it, plain and simple. in america, we have an issue where are stomachs are larger than they need to be. people should train their stomachs with self-discipline and lift HEAVY weights (low reps) to put on muscle. if it doesn’t work, you’re eating too much

  • Sam: October 10, 2017

    Hi Rae! Haha love the honest feedback. And truthfully, I refer to myself as “fat jacked” in the off-season and take no offense to it whatsoever and even make claims that I’m attracted to men who are “fat jacked.” But then I’ve said that to a few guys and they’ve gotten pretty insulted by it. The only reason I reference “skinny fat” is because I get a LOT of vegans reaching out to me who call themselves that. And I think it describes a certain look very well. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it or that we shouldn’t want to look that way or be content with it if we do look that way. Some women would hate to have my body type or the amount of muscle that I have. I can appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of all shapes and sizes. What’s most important is health, right? But I wrote this post for all of those who do want to build muscle on their “skinny fat” frame and I by no means, meant to insult anyone with the term :)

  • Rae: October 03, 2017

    I guess…priorities? I’m good with being at a healthy weight, enjoying the activity that I engage in and focusing on a whole food diet. I don’t need to be “ripped” to feel happy about my physique. I understand lifting weights is a very serious hobby for some, and that’s great. But calling it “skinny fat” is a little silly. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I don’t call muscular men who look pregnant juicehead-preggo. Or ask him when he’s registered for the joyous birth.

  • Sam: September 29, 2017

    Hi Wolf! Thanks for the feedback. But that is the correct amount of protein I recommend to any of my vegan clients who are looking to build muscle or compete. I am a high protein vegan for sure and as a 150 lb. vegan bodybuilding woman, I would definitely try to consume a good 100 g – 150 g of protein per day. But of course it depends on your goals and individual situation. But I like following a higher protein diet as it keeps me feeling full, keeps carb and fat cravings under control and helps to create that hard, defined look I like.

  • W0LF: September 28, 2017

    Hello, Like the blog. However, I wanted to point out that the “rule of thumb” you posted in your first point about protein is inaccurate. It is not 0.8 per lb but 0.8 per kg (huge difference). If you want to calculate things in pounds you would need 0.36 grams per lb.

  • Amie: December 04, 2017

    Great post. In my opinion, protein is the king of all macronutrients no matter what your dietary preferences are. Cheers!

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