Vegan bodybuilder, two words that many think are incompatible. Our culture’s hyper-focus on animal-based protein as essential for athletics and muscle building is being challenged left and right by a wide array of vegan athletes and specifically vegan bodybuilders. Vegan bodybuilders are on the rise showing that a compassionate lifestyle is compatible with a muscular physique that can win pro cards and bodybuilding competitions.
Names like Torre Washington, Nimai Delgado, Natalie Matthews, Samantha Shorkey, and Korin Sutton are becoming well known. That’s because they are vegans making a dramatic impact in the world of bodybuilding and challenging old outdated ways of thinking. These men and women are making tremendous strides for veganism. They share that they typically are met with utter shock followed by inquisitiveness when they share their diets with curious fellow competitors. We’ve rounded up the top tips they’ve shared to help anyone who wants to pursue bodybuilding on a vegan diet.
1. Eat Mostly Whole Foods.
Most prominent vegan bodybuilders share that their diet is varied with no specific focus on carbs, fats or protein. Rather, they focus on eating mostly whole plant foods. Whole plant foods contain a wide array of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Jon Venus, a vegan bodybuilder, shares his thoughts on whole foods for vegan bodybuilding:
“I always recommend people to eat as much whole foods as possible including any fruit and vegetable, grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, wholegrain bread, quinoa, buckwheat and barley, legumes such as beans of any sort, lentils and chickpeas, nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, chia and flax seeds and organic and fermented soy such as tempeh and tofu.”interview with Unilad.
2. Don’t Fear Fruit
As a society, we have gained an unhealthy fear of fruit. We are often told it has too much sugar and will make us fat. Many vegan bodybuilders have shared they enjoy fruit in abundance such as Korin Sutton, Jon Venus and Greg Moormann. Fruit has an abundance of antioxidants, fiber, and minerals making it the ideal hydrating food. Jon Venus has shared multiple times about his love of fruit:
“FRUITS MAKE YOU FAT” is, unfortunately, a statement I hear over and over again by all sorts of ignorant people, even trainers. Yes, most fruits contain a lot of sugar, is that a bad thing? Not really… People need to realize the difference between table sugar and processed sweets and REAL food.
Fruit has a lot of fiber, antioxidants and all sorts of vitamins that will benefit you in countless ways. Fruit also has a high concentration of fructose which doesn’t cause an insulin response as they are broken down in the liver…. Fiber in fruits slow down the digestion of glucose so you won’t get the crazy insulin spikes you would with processed deserts. Fruits are also very low in fat, so getting fat from fruits ONLY is almost impossible due to the way carbs are metabolized in our bodies… If you eat a crap high fat, processed western diet, the fat combined with the extra carbs from the fruit will make you gain weight faster, but at least you will get a decent amount of nutrients.”
3. Focus on Alkaline Foods.
Alkaline foods are those that when eaten, leave an alkaline ash in the body. Simply put, this means the foods contribute to an overall alkaline state in the body. This state is thought to promote more energy, less disease and overall ideal health. Acidic foods are thought to contribute to less energy, disease and a variety of health ills. This is especially because many are also highly inflammatory. The most alkaline foods are from the plant world such as all leafy greens, sprouts, grass juices, and algae. A full list can be found here. As Brendan Brazier, Ironman triathlete explains, focusing on alkaline foods dramatically improved his training:
“Once I began paying close attention to the quality of food that I was consuming and not just the caloric intake, I made large gains. One thing that I realized about two years ago is probably the most valuable to date; it’s the pH factor of food. I used to consume a large amount of highly processed, isolated protein powder. I was having no trouble maintaining my daily protein requirement, but I was not recovering as fast as I would have liked, plus I was experiencing muscle stiffness and mild joint pain. As I discovered it was because I had been consuming too many acid-forming foods, such as denatured protein powders. Once I began eating more raw, natural, alkalizing, foods, my recovery time dramatically improved, as did the muscle and joint concerns..”
4. Enjoy Plant Based Carbs in Abundance.
Just as fruit is not to be feared, neither are carbs! Whole plant food sources of carbohydrates are full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and essential calories needed for energy. Great carbohydrate sources include fresh fruit, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, oats, quinoa, and brown rice. Nimai Delgado, a vegan bodybuilder with a pro win shares his thoughts on carbs:
“You can eat them all the time, even during your contest prep,” he says. “They’re loaded with fiber and micronutrients. You don’t have to worry about gaining weight. It’s putting high-quality fuel into your body opens a new window. You’re going to burn it.”
5. Get your protein from food sources
Whole plant foods are always the best place to source your nutrients from and protein is no exception. Whether it’s from beans, nuts, seeds, or leafy greens, you’re getting a variety of nutrients in a dense source of protein.
6. Eat leafy greens!
Leafy greens are some of the most nutrient dense, protein-rich, alkaline foods you can consume. Leafy greens contain easily used protein and are low in calories, making them an incredible way to bulk up smoothies, enjoy in salads, and even blend into sauces. Most vegan bodybuilders share that they thoroughly enjoy leafy greens in their diets. Torre Washington, a competitive all natural vegan bodybuilder with multiple pro wins including Musclemania shares in an article on Forks Over Knives his dietary philosophy and his love of leafy greens:
“Eat nutrient-dense foods, sleep a lot, and drink water. Don’t eat empty calories…..I’m not a picky eater, so if it’s healthy and vegan, then I’ll probably eat it. I could eat beans all day, and there’s not a green leaf that I don’t like. I love fruit, oatmeal, pancakes, wraps, sandwiches, and grilled tempeh with veggies. I tell my son all the time that there is someone in this country who is eating out of the trash right now. I want to teach him to be grateful for the bounty that we have; I don’t believe in wasting food. Although I might grab a power bar or a shake if I’m at the airport or on-the-go, I don’t take any bodybuilding supplements.”
7. Eat in Abundance.
Many vegan bodybuilders share that part of their diet that makes it so enjoyable is that they can eat as much as they want until satisfied and not have to worry about it. Plant-based foods tend to be lower in calories and higher in water and fiber, making it easy to eat a lot of them without worrying about excessive weight gain. So eat your whole plant foods until you’re satisfied and don’t stress about calories!
8. Enjoy Protein Smoothies.
Many bodybuilders swear by their protein smoothies, and vegan bodybuilders aren’t an exception. Smoothies are an easy way to get in easy to digest nutrients and higher levels of protein when needed. Using a high-quality vegan protein such as SunWarrior, Vega, or Nutiva along with leafy greens, berries and almond milk is an excellent way to fuel your body and get in the protein you desire.
9. Hemp is a Protein-Rich Superfood.
Hemp is often touted as a top superfood and for good reason. This small seed contains all nine essential amino acids plus omega fatty acids, making it ideal for anyone living a healthy life. Adding hemp seeds to smoothies, atop salads, on pasta or blended into sauces or dressings is an easy way to add more protein and nutrients to every meal. Hemp protein powder is a great simple, one ingredient powder for all your smoothies and has a nice, earthy flavor. Nutiva makes an excellent organic hemp protein powder that is easy to find both in stores and online.
10. Enjoy Oats.
What do Jon Venus, Natalie Matthews, Arvid Beck, and Torre Washington have in common? They all love oatmeal! When reading through interviews with vegan bodybuilders, oatmeal seems to be mentioned almost every time. Why is oatmeal such a desirable meal for bodybuilders? It’s full of energy providing complex carbs, fiber, and minerals, making it ideal for starting your day or enjoying prior to a workout. Try out this Date-Sweetened Apple Pie Oatmeal from The Minimalist Baker.