Body Fat Update: Building Muscles on High Raw

Body Fat Update: Building Muscles on High Raw

Since I returned from my 2 1/2 month North American road trip this summer, I’ve been working to shed some of the body fat I gained and build my muscle back up. After 40 days of working on getting my body back, here are my results. And it’s not what you’d expect at all.

Before sharing further,

I want to make a point that my first and foremost goal is to be fit and healthy so I get the most out of life. I share these details with you not because I think we should all stress about exactly what our body fat is, but because this type of real-life post gives you perspective on your own progress.

Now that we are all on the same page, let’s get to it.

Since I returned, my weight crept up (rather fast) from 119 to 127 lbs. I was starting to feel out of control because the scale kept going up even though I was exercising consistently and tracking everything I ate on My Fitness Pal.

My current body fat analysis

Luckily, I had my previous measurements and body fat analysis to compare to. So, I went and got them taken again. And guess what?

I gained 8 pounds of muscle in 40 days. Really? Yes.

Christy Morgan from Wellness Reboot pointed out that gaining that much muscle that fast is a little crazy. Well, I was gaining back muscle I previously had so perhaps my body has “muscle memory”?


I lost 1.6% body fat without losing any actual fat on my body.

Hard to wrap your head around but basically since I put on all muscle and no fat, a lower percent of my body mass is now made up of fat.

This is a prime example of why the scale is a mind trip and a crappy indicator if you want to be fit not skinny.

I kept seeing the number on the scale creep up and I was really freaked out. At the same time, my clothes are only slightly tighter and I’m firmer and way stronger.

Lesson #1: Measure body fat NOT weight

Get yourself a regular professional body fat analysis (with skin fold calipers) if you want to get a true feel for what’s really happening to your body. At the very least, get an electronic bathroom scale that measures body fat and muscle mass. The results probably won’t be that accurate in the real world, but if you compare measurements a month later to those taken from the same scale, you’ll be able to see if you are going up or down.

Lesson #2: To shed fat, you really do need to run a calorie deficit

I must be eating maintenance calories because I didn’t shed any of that extra fat I built up. My measurements are all slightly bigger than they were before because even muscle does take up extra room. I’m not too worried – I’ve got all winter to tweak this and share my results with you.

My high raw muscle-building routine:

Let’s get this straight. I’m just an amateur doing this to feel healthy and strong. I’m not entering fitness competitions any time soon, and I’m not a personal trainer. I just want to share with you what I’m doing and the results on a normal, average person.

That being said, if you are a trainer and want to chime up in the comments, be my guest! I’d love advice, and your fellow readers would benefit, too.

So here are my actions last month that led up to this.

How I ate:

  • I tracked my daily calories

    On average 1600 daily which is what this calculator gave me as a target for weight loss. I didn’t eat the extra calories I “earned” from exercise, but once every couple of weeks, I did naturally have a higher calorie intake day (maybe 1800-2000 calories). Obviously I’m a super efficient calorie-saving machine because 1600 calories ended up being beyond what my body needed. Thus no weight loss and enough calories to build muscle.

  • I increased my protein slightly

    I drink a protein shake with a scoop of Sunwarrior Raw Vegan Protein after lifting weights. I’ve also started eating a cup of beans, lentils, or split peas with my evening meal. Occasionally, I’ll alternate in half a package of tempeh instead.

    I adjusted my target macronutrient ratio from 80/10/10 to about 70% carbs/15% protein /15% fat. I didn’t usually get this high in the protein and fat departments – on average it ended up being 74/14/12. This translates to around 60 grams protein. I know some recommend getting a gram per pound body weight, but…

  • I ate high raw whole foods vegan

    I typically have a green smoothie for breakfast (fruit, 1 Tbsp flaxseed, 2 cups greens). Then lunch is mostly raw, possibly a salad. For dinner, I’ve been having macro bowls layered with legumes, cooked veggies, and some fresh salad greens and sauerkraut on top.

    To be honest, it’s hard to increase your protein too much without also increasing calories and fat when you plan to be mostly raw until dinner, don’t eat wheat gluten (seitan), and limit soy consumption. But that’s okay with me because, like I said, health is my most important result, not muscles. So if eating high raw makes me feel great, then I’ll find a happy medium.

    That being said, my formerly skinny husband is getting cut up like a beast by lifting regularly and drinking fruit smoothies of bananas, mango, kale, and orange juice until dinner. Of course, he consumes 4000 calories a day so easily hits over 100 grams protein without trying.

How I worked out:

  • 3 days/week weight lifting – BodyPump, 1 hour full body
  • 2-4 x/wk yoga, indoor climbing, or High Intensity Interval Training

Not too crazy. In fact, aside from being consistent with weight training, my other workouts changed a lot week to week because my work schedule has been up in the air and unstable.

Conclusion: aka what’s next?

I just got a Bodybugg – that arm band you wear 24/7 that measures your calorie expenditure. I’ve always thought, based on results, that the average calorie intake online calculators give me is too high.

Now, I’m going to find out what I really burn in a typical day. Then I can use this info to match my intake since I’m already tracking food anyways.

The nerd in me is totally excited.

I know that if I want to lose the weight and really drop body fat, I can reduce my calorie intake to 1400 and that would probably do it. But I don’t want to lose muscle and I’m in no rush. So, I’ll see what happens if I keep up what I’m doing.

The trainer at the gym said that eventually the muscle you put on will burn enough extra calories that you’ll naturally run a bit of a deficit, helping to lose body fat without reducing calorie intake.

My original goal was 18% body fat by the end of January. Since I’m currently at 20.3%, I’m not sure if I’ll make that without calorie restricting. But I want to go another month as-is and see what happens, give my body a chance. Then I’ll reassess.

Now your turn. Have you built muscle on a high raw vegan diet? Give us the details!

P.S. If you’re a professional, wanna coach me with some good advice for “cutting” and dropping body fat without losing muscle and strength?

4 Responses to Body Fat Update: Building Muscles on High Raw

  1. I would like to hear about your take on the BodyBug. Is it really accurate? I’ve read tons on it and just don’t know. I’ve been wondering how to up protein too. I eat seitan but want to give it a rest for IBS reasons among others. We do tofu once a week. Other than that I eat a lot of beans. (Thanks Dr McDougall)

    • Paula, I’m planning to do a post on whether the BodyBugg is worth it once I’ve used it a little longer. So far, I think it has been accurate for the most part – not having anything to compare it too, of course. But it has helped me understand how my body burns calories and my base burn for the day… I steer away from seitan and soy for the most part (maybe tempeh once a week or something at a veg restaurant occasionally). I’ve started to eat at least a cup of legumes every day. Lentils are a great source of protein that is also easier to digest. Of the beans, adzuki beans are easiest to digest and cause the least gas and digestive issues. I’ll probably be doing a post on increasing protein without wheat gluten and soy at some point in the future.

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