Written by Donat a/k/a The Vegan Hubby
When one thinks about weightlifting, perhaps a vegan diet is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, I can attest that it can certainly, and successfully, be done!
If I were to talk about diet with my weightlifting friends or with a random person at the gym, I would hear a lot about whey protein shakes, chicken breast, fish, etc. The common theme is always protein, protein, protein! It’s the weightlifting version of Marsha from the Brady Bunch, and just as dramatic too. Protein is the holy grail of the common weightlifter, the elixir of life. All must bow before the almighty protein! That said, they generally don’t know much else about nutrition or how it works, so the concept of not eating meat while weightlifting is as farfetched an idea as Wile E. Coyote catching the Roadrunner.
One thing to remember is that most weightlifters are paradoxically not very concerned with health. Most of them either just want to “be big” or “bench 3 plates” (sometimes, but far from always, both). I personally started working out way back when because I wanted to look and FEEL good. Feeling good, to me at least, was synonymous with being healthy since that’s probably the best way to feel good. I too went through the protein to the max stage, but for me it was only a stage and a foundation to learn more and more about nutrition. Back in my copious meat eating days, I would eat approximately 200 grams of protein or more each day. Did I notice any major increase in strength or size? Honestly no I did not. I also tried drinking various whey protein shakes. With the protein shakes, I noticed one thing immediately; they made my stomach feel like a rebel conflict just broke out in it. Anything that makes my stomach feel like that is just not something I am interested in- no matter how much protein it contains. I stopped drinking those, and “shockingly” I didn’t notice the slightest difference in either my appearance or how much weight I could lift. My stomach did feel a lot better though. The bloated weightlifter is just not the look I was going for.
As I gradually learned more about nutrition and turned increasingly toward a vegan diet, I continued weight lifting. This was a gradual shift: first I stopped drinking milk, then eating red meat and then eating more and more of a vegan diet, which I have been eating for about the past 2 years. Full disclosure: I am not a “strict vegan”, I do still have some seafood maybe once a month or so and when eating out on rare occasions, I don’t necessarily exclude a dish because it has a dairy product in it (I will discuss this in greater detail in a later post). Basically 99.5% or more of my calories come from vegan sources. During my shift to this vegan diet, I still kept track of how much I lifted and I found the results rather interesting. I did lose some weight, but my lift strength did not go down. I noticed myself getting leaner and more “cut” but that was fine by me since that’s what I wanted to begin with. I never liked the puffy look that a lot of weightlifters have. I find it so amusing when I can do more weight than someone who jumps in with me and has arms that are twice my size. What the point of having bulk without the benefit? Another thing is that I am now more flexible than ever. I can put my palms on the ground with my legs straight while most of the guys I’ve seen can’t even touch their toes. Flexibility is extremely important to long-term health and mobility. I’ve seen way too many guys who are at the gym in their 40’s who can no longer do half of the exercises because their joints are all destroyed and their spine can be featured in a medical journal for disaster cases.
In part 2, I will talk about the all important PROTEIN and why it can be overrated. I will also discuss why the vegan diet is just as viable as the conventional diet in terms of protein consumption. It’s not only a great diet for weightlifting but it will also keep you much healthier and able to continue weightlifting for many years to come. Try Googling “Vegan MMA fighters”. If those guys can do it and be some of the top fighters, then a vegan diet can just as easily work for you.
Do you have any experience weightlifting or working out on a vegan diet? How do you feel about it?