No Meat Muscle: A Guide to Vegan Weight Training
The world’s strongest animals are vegan: elephants, buffaloes, gorillas and Barny du Plessis.
A bodybuilding champion, former Mr Universe, and face of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Barny du Plessis shares that he removed meat, fish, eggs and dairy products from his diet since 2015. And he hasn’t felt stronger since.
Even with a plant-based diet, du Plessis has maintained an imposing physique. This is an example of his 4500kcals a day meal plan, showing how a balanced, nutrient dense Vegan diet can be achieved.
While premium protein vitamins and supplements can help supplement this type of diet, is vegan weight training really enough to maintain an Olympian build?
The Rise of Vegan Bodybuilding
What started as a niche vegan community quickly spread because of food-focused documentaries, such as “Super-Size Me,” “Food Inc,” and “Forks Over Knives.”
Eventually, veganism made its way into bodybuilding, traditionally seen by many as super strong men and women who lived on meat and artificial enhancements. Early entrants into the vegan bodybuilding scene had various reasons behind practicing veganism.
For some, it was an attempt to improve their diet. Others shared that it was part of their animal and environmental advocacies. And the rebels of the lot regarded veganism as a form of rebellion against steroid culture.
Regardless of their intentions, however, the vegan bodybuilders were proving that it was possible to put on no-meat muscle, and succeed.
Is Vegan Bodybuilding the New Normal?
Sticking to veganism has worked so far for bodybuilders like du Plessis.
His diet is mostly composed of fresh organic vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach and kale. The bodybuilder starts the day with coffee, coconut oil and a beetroot shot. For lunch, he stuffs himself with brown rice, mixed lentils and large helpings of veggies. His dinner consists of oats and seeds. In addition to the fresh vegetables, he gets his share of protein from beans, seeds, nuts oats, legumes and more.
He shares that since the body does not discriminate between animal- and plant-based food, it’s easy to build muscle even on a strictly vegan diet.
And he isn’t the only one.
Weightlifter and Germany’s strongest man, Patrik Baboumian, also swears off meat and dairy products. Then there are other vegan athletes, like tennis champion Serena Williams and former NFL lineman David Carter.
Vegan Diets and Athlete Performance
But even with all the vegan strongmen, some ask whether those who engage in sports or other high-performance activities can get the required protein and nutrients from plants alone.
Nutritionist Steve Grant shares how vegan athletes tend to be iron, zinc and B12 deficient. These vitamins and minerals are essential to performance, however, and affect a person’s ability to produce energy. On top of that, a strictly vegan diet can also limit the body’s absorption of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Grant clarifies that there is no disadvantage to ditching meat. He recommends that vegan sportspeople augment their diet with vegan-based protein supplements.
On that note, competitive vegan athletes should be disciplined enough to consume more food. After all, the ratio between protein and the amount of food can vary. And some meats and dairy food contain more protein than nuts and beans. So vegan athletes who want to achieve the same results as their carnivorous counterparts may need to eat more.
Low Intensity and Slow Duration Workouts
Muscle magazines urge high-performance athletes to train vigorously. But the lifestyle and nutrition programs that vegans follow may lack the proper recovery when engaging in high-intensity training.
For the best results, vegan bodybuilders participate in low intensity and slow duration workouts. It’s best to have a vegan-friendly protein shake at hand, to energise during a cardio workout.
The general guidelines for weightlifting include:
- Keep workouts below 45 minutes
- Lift heavy weights and follow low reps
- Make sure each body part gets exercised every week
- Take four to six reps for core lifts and six to ten reps for all other lifts
- Perform two to three exercises for small muscle groups and three to four exercise for large muscle groups
Splitting the workout is an effective tactic; it pays to focus on one body part in the morning, then another muscle group in the evening to maximise results. A general workout schedule would look like this:
Monday (chest and triceps)
- Incline dumbbell press: 3 sets, 6 reps
- Barbell bench press (medium grip) – 4 sets, 6 reps
- Cable crossover – 2 sets, 10 reps
- Lying triceps press – 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Tuesday (back and biceps)
- Barbell curl – 3 sets, 6-10 reps
- Barbell deadlift – 4 sets, 10 reps
- Bent over two-dumbbell row – 4 sets, 8 reps
- Chin up – 1 set, 50 reps
Thursday (legs and abs)
- Barbell lunge – 3 sets, 6 reps
- Barbell squat – 4 sets, 4-6 reps
- Standing leg curl – 3 sets, 6-8 reps
- Cable crunch – 3 sets, 10 reps
Friday (shoulders and traps)
- Barbell shrug – 2 sets, 8 reps
- Push press – 4 sets, 4-6 reps
- Side lateral raise – 3 sets, 10 reps
- Machine shoulder (military) press – 1 set, 10 reps
Gaining weight and putting on muscle mass is something that all athletes strive for. Even though some of the necessary proteins and minerals occur naturally in meat and other dairy products, bulking up is still possible.
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