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Flexing Stereotypes: The Vegan Bodybuilder’s Guide to Growing Muscle

Meet Caitlin Arnold – CEO and Founder of Plant Forged Physique – as well as the plant-powered powerhouse shaking up the world of bodybuilding in Australia. 

Forget the cliché chicken and broccoli—Caitlin’s all about smashing stereotypes with her vegan gains. As a Sports Nutritionist and IFBB Bikini bodybuilder, she’s on a mission to show that vegans can flex just as hard as their meat-eating counterparts.

“People still raise an eyebrow when they learn I’m vegan and a bodybuilder,” Caitlin chuckles.

Hailing from sunny Sydney, Australia, Caitlin embraced veganism over 8 years ago after connecting with fellow vegans at university and diving into eye-opening documentaries like Forks Over Knives, The Cove, Food Inc, Blackfish, and Rotten. This ethical shift came after years of vegetarianism and a childhood filled with competitive swimming and gymnastics.

“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 TVP, soy protein crisps, tofu, tempeh, plant-based protein powder, and some 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, the foods I enjoy, and also dine out a bit more. I’m a fan of a glass of wine – or three – as much as anyone.”

Time and persistence are important to muscle-building

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

“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. It’s one thing you can’t cheat”

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 off seasons 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.”

Building Muscle: A typical day of eating for Caitlin’s vegan bodybuilder diet in her improvement season 


Protein Oats

Morning Snack

Soy yoghurt with fruit

  • 150g of fruit
  • 200-250g of soy yoghurt
  • 20-30g of protein powder (VPA’s Salted Caramel Plant Protein stirred into it with a bit of milk/water for consistency) or 20-40g soy protein crisps
  • Toppings: Then depending on preferences – toppings 20g of nuts & seeds or nut butter

Grain & Legume Chick’n Salad 

  • 120-150g of microwave rice, quinoa, couscous or another grain
  • 150-200g of plant-based chicken – such as Meet Plant Based Tenders, Vegie Delights Chicken Style Fillets, Birds Eye Chicken Style Strips, or Get Plant’d Roast Chicken
  • 150-200g 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
Pre-workout snack

Carby-snack & Supplements

  • 2 slices of bread – or 2 crumpets, or 4-6 rice cakes
  • 20-30g of jam
  • 1 scoop of Venom pre-workout
  • 1 scoop of Creatine
  • 1 scoop of Leucine

Tofu Stir Fry with rice or noodles

  • 150-200g of firm tofu or tempeh
  • 200-250 of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 20-30g of soy or tamari sauce
  • 120-150g of microwave rice or Singapore noodles
  • Toppings: Then depending on preferences – toppings and seasonings such as sesame seeds, ginger, chilli, chives, spring onion


  • 3-4 pieces of black liquorice
  • 2-3 squares of dark chocolate

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