Before we get into the specifics of achieving your health and fitness goals, I think it’s important we address a few issues plaguing the human race. This way we can better understand the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices, which I always like to say can not only make us look and feel damn good, It can quite literally save the world.
With disease rates on the rise, and rising health care costs, along with scientific studies showing the connection between unhealthy diet and lifestyle and disease, many people are looking for a healthier way of eating. The leading causes of death in many countries, including the USA, are diseases such as, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and osteoporosis.
The risks for all of these diseases can be significantly decreased by adopting a plant based diet. In other words, millions of lives can be saved by simply changing the way we eat. Now you may think I’m being dramatic, but let’s look at some numbers. As they say, numbers don’t lie. In 2001, chronic diseases accounted for approximately 60 percent of deaths worldwide.
Almost half of these deaths are attributed to cardiovascular disease. In the 2011 HBO documentary The Weight of The Nation, it was noted that if you go with the flow in the USA, you will eventually become obese. According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, The rate of obesity in adults age 20 and over was 37.9 percent in 2014.
If you add in the percentage of adults of the same age group who are overweight but not obese, that number goes up to 70.7 percent. This number is rising by as much as five percent a year in some areas. Much of this is due to an increasingly high fat diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. Now with obesity rates going through the roof, many people are looking for healthier ways of eating.
As is being understood more and more, a plant based diet is incredibly beneficial to one’s health, and with this knowledge becoming more widespread, it’s becoming increasingly easy to adopt. For instance, pretty much every grocery store now offers plant based options to beef, chicken, fish, and pork.
It’s all relatively simple to make, and cooks more quickly than it’s meat counter parts due to it not being as dense and not being a breeding ground for bacteria the way dead flesh is. There are many reputable doctors recommending a plant based diet such as, Dr. Neal Bernard, Dr. Michael Greger, and Dr. John McDougall just to name a few.
If you want to learn from someone much more knowledgeable than I am, check out their research. Oh, and let’s not forget the environmental benefits. Check the studies done by Professor of Ecology G. David Tilman and Michael Clark. They highlight how eating meat contributes to the rise in greenhouse gases which is expected to go up 80 percent by 2050.
The study also shows that as cities grow and incomes rise around the world, more and more people are leaving gardens and traditional diets behind in favor of refined sugars, refined fats, oil and resource and land intense agricultural products like beef.
This is unhealthy for people and the planet. Something clearly has to be done, on a personal level, to improve our health and the health of our planet. With that, being said, though this is about being fit and or having a great body on a plant based diet, the most important thing should always be our health.
Through the years, I’ve seen many people with great bodies that just aren’t healthy. In fact, I was one of those people. When I was at my biggest, weighing over 250 pounds, was when I felt the worst.
My aim with this guide is to show you that you can look great, and achieve your health and fitness, or athletic goals, no matter what they are, while putting your health first and following a whole food plant based diet. Whether you’re male or female, 15 or 100 years old, an athlete or a businessman/woman, a plant based diet can improve your health, and help you reach your goals.
I’m aware that there are a lot people out there who think one can’t build as much muscle or strength on the vegan diet, but that’s just not true. This will be your Bible for achieving and or maintaining your goals. Plus you’ll save some animals and other shit like that along the way.
First, let’s get a few things out in the open. Being vegan, or plant based, or whatever term you prefer you picky bastards, will not automatically make you healthy. It will not automatically make you lose weight. It will not automatically make you a good person.
Most importantly though, it will not make you superior to anyone else. Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let me share with you how I came to be not only a bodybuilder, but a bodybuilder who puts health before vanity. If you know any bodybuilders personally you’ll know how rare that is. In order to make sense of it all, I have to take you way back.
All the way to the moment I was born. It all started on August 5th, 1986 I was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and after almost dying from jaundice, and getting a blood transfusion, I managed to pull through. I’ve always been a fighter.
Let’s skip forward a few years to when I began eating solid foods. I ate a pretty typical American diet, but lots of good ole Cajun food as well. If you’re not familiar with Cajun food what the hell are you doing with your life? No but seriously, it’s so good it’s ridiculous.
I’m talking gumbo, crawfish boils, etoufee, boudin, blackened catfish, po boys, and jambalaya just to name a few. Now just to give you an idea, some of those dishes have four different kinds of meat! So as you can see I was quite the carnivore.
When I was eleven, my mom went to the doctor to have a purple vein on her eyeball checked out. It turns out it was malignant melanoma. Now if you have no idea what that means, basically it’s a very aggressive form of cancer.
The doctor’s told her they’d have to remove her eye and replace it with a glass one or else she’d be dead within a few months. She wasn’t sure what to do, then one day she met a guy we’ll call Mr. Brown. He claimed to be a Christian and somehow convinced her that God had said if she married him, she’d be healed.
Now before you judge my mother and call her gullible, just remember that when you’ve been given a death sentence, it changes you, and you’ll likely do anything just for the chance of survival. I mean hell, marrying a guy you don’t love beats having a glass eye any day.
Now obviously this guy was full of shit, and my mother was not majestically healed. So anyway, over the next few years, my younger brother, older sister, and I, watched our mother get more and more sick. The tumor grew bigger and bigger, until you couldn’t see her eye anymore, just a massive black mass.
The cancer spread, all over her body, to her liver, stomach, lungs, and brain. She became dissociated from reality. She verbally abused me quite a bit, you see, when cancer spreads to your brain, it can affect your personality. Not to mention being in constant, and chronic pain for years.
My family didn’t offer much help, so it was just my mom, my older sis, my little bro, and I. When my mother got too ill to perform the daily tasks necessary to care for us, my older sister filled that void as best as she could, considering she was still a child at the time.
During this time, I remember walking by my mother’s room, and seeing her holding a wad of tissue under her eye, as it spewed black blood. She’d be crying, and I’d freeze for a few seconds, then I’d walk away. I didn’t know what to do or say. When I was 16, my mother finally passed on at the age of 40.
Witnessing my mother deteriorate for years, suffering immeasurably, planted seeds that would eventually blossom into me being very health conscious. I had begun working out for football at the age of 15 and instantly fell in love with it. My workouts became the one thing I had total control over and that’s what hooked me.
No matter what happened in life, I could go in the gym and do the workout that I put together and change my body at will. After my mom passed on, I began to get more serious about bodybuilding, setting goals, and achieving them. Learning how to eat to build muscle, and training harder than I ever had. That year I put on 25 pounds of muscle in a summer.
Ah, newbie gains. They come so quickly. By the time I was 17 I had gone from 175 pounds to 216 pounds in two years. I was getting pretty big and decided I wanted to be a pro bodybuilder. So I began learning everything I possibly could about bodybuilding.
I spent hundreds of hours reading muscle magazines, on bodybuilding forums which in hindsight is home to probably some of the most ignorant people I’ve ever come into contact with, but nonetheless I gained a ton of knowledge.
I started eating about three times as much as I had been (I have a very high metabolism) and started using supplements. As a result, over the course of the next year I put on ten more pounds, which put me at 18 years old and 6’4” weighing a shredded 226 pounds.
As you can probably imagine, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I figured I should pay it forward and pass on my knowledge, so I did what any young buff know it all would do, I became a certified personal trainer baby!
Not that I didn’t intend to help people, because I totally did. It’s just that I wasn’t really concerned with health at all, my only concern was making gains! Though we didn’t call it that back then. It amazes me how much the term “gains” has blown up in the past few years, but I’ve digressed.
So back to my clients. I helped them to lose fat and build muscle, even correct muscle imbalances. I thought I was doing a great job, but after a while, I began to feel like a robot, standing there purely for accountability purposes.
I knew I wanted to help my clients in a deeper way, but I had not the slightest clue about how to do so. Now let’s skip to a few years later. On January 1, 2010 I had what I can only describe as a spiritual awakening. As cliché as that sounds, it’s the only way I can describe it.
I could go into it now, but for the sake of this book not being as big as an encyclopedia, I’ll save the details for another time. Now you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with my diet, which is a legit concern, and here’s where it all starts to connect.
I began learning as much as I could about spirituality. I hardly slept for months, no drugs were involved fyi. I took up meditation, prayer, a gratitude practice, and with the increased awareness I experienced, deep rooted issues began to surface. I’m talking issues dating all the way back to my childhood.
It seemed like every day I was crying, and I had no idea why. But it felt great. I felt rejuvenated mentally and emotionally. Now that may seem like no big deal to some but keep in mind I hadn’t cried since my childhood.
I later realized I was releasing deeply rooted pain. I began to feel lighter in mind, body, and soul. As a byproduct I began to feel a warm love for myself that I hadn’t felt since I was very young. A peace in my heart and mind.
Then, the damnedest thing happened. There was a bug in my apartment, and I couldn’t kill it. It was as much alive to me as a person. It was like I could feel this little bug’s soul. Some of you reading this know what I’m talking about, while others have no clue.
I feel you both, as I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Anyway, let’s get back to the story. I didn’t know what was happening, but it continued. I suddenly found myself unable to harm any living being. Meanwhile I gave up red meat.
I hadn’t eaten pork in years after learning about what pigs eat I was repulsed. I had never heard of veganism or plant based eating before, but I was familiar with vegetarianism, though it never interested me.
My first time hearing about veganism was through some youtubers such as, FullyrawKristina, and Freelee. My initial thoughts on veganism were that it looked great, and the girls following a vegan diet looked to be glowing and very fit.
They were eating all this beautiful fruit and other healthy but delicious looking stuff, and I just had this deep feeling of “that’s how I’m supposed to eat”. I knew in my gut that I’d go vegan eventually, but having a bodybuilder’s mind set meant that protein was “God” for me.
You see, all the male vegans I was seeing were very slim, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it didn’t coincide with my goals as a bodybuilder. And so I was faced with a dilemma.
I didn’t want to give up meat and lose the muscles that I loved and worked for so long to sculpt, but I wanted to take up this new plant based diet. So I did what any logical bodybuilder would do in that situation, I found a happy median.
I began eating more fruits and veggies, which was a vast increase from my former diet which consisted of basically no fruits or veggies. Not because I didn’t like them, but I had learned through years of trial and error, what to eat specifically for muscle growth and minimal body fat.
Fruits and veggies weren’t necessary for that (in my meathead mind). So I began to eat a serving or two of fruits and veggies a day. I was never one of those people who hate fruits and veggies so I enjoyed the new additions to my diet.
After a few months of eating this way, and doing a bit more research on vegan eating, I felt like it was time for me to give veganism a try. There was only one problem. Where the fuck was I going to get my protein from?
I really, and I mean really didn’t want to lose my gains. I told myself I’d go vegan down the road, when I could figure out how to keep my gains. I continued this way for years, but every so often I’d be eating meat, and just get grossed out at the idea of ingesting a dead body.
I’m a strong willed guy, so I’d push those feelings back down and continue eating the way I was. One day years later, I looked up vegan bodybuilders on the web, and found 1 or 2 that were decent sized, but still pretty small by my standards.
What changed my opinion was when I found a couple of jacked vegan bodybuilders, such as Nimai Delgado who’s an IFBB pro men’s physique competitor, pic below.
Torre Washington who’s won several amateur competitions, pic below.
and Samantha Shorkey, who’s a pro bikini competitor. Pic below.
They all looked great, and were even winning competitions. After I had seen them, I knew I could build muscle as a vegan, and that sold me. Plus I watched earthlings.
That was a game changer for me. So there was no turning back now, I threw away my meat, and went to the store to buy, for lack of a better term, vegan shit. I had a list, and stocked up.
I noticed that felt this warm feeling in my heart. You know that feeling when you’re doing something good for the world, or someone? It was a great feeling. Where it gets interesting is that I was determined to figure out a way to keep my muscle mass, and was in completely uncharted territory.
This started my journey of learning to effectively build the maximum amount of muscle while gaining the least possible body fat, and learning to lose body fat while losing the minimal amount of muscle, all while vegan.
I began experimenting with a lower protein, higher carb diet, a higher fat diet, high protein, mostly fruit, etc. You name it, I tried it, as long as it was vegan.
I had every bit of faith that the same amount of muscle that can be built on a meat rich diet could be built on a vegan diet. So I started tried it all, and after some trial and error, I discovered an effective way to build muscle as a vegan.
You can be fit, or even jacked. Now when you consider the fact that I’d already been lifting weights for well over ten years, it becomes even more impressive, as it’s much harder to build muscle when you’ve been training for so long.
That pretty much brings us to today, I’m on a mission to let the world know that you can be strong, fit, jacked, shredded, or any combination of the above as a vegan.
In the following chapters, I’ll show you how to be a successful plant based athlete, whether your goals include getting stronger, building muscle, losing body fat while maintaining muscle, or just being a more fit, vibrant you.
The adjustment period can be challenging at times, but given some time, you’ll be crushing your fitness goals, healthier than ever, and benefitting the planet simultaneously. Sounds like a win-win right? Well let’s get started.
Now, I’d like to touch on why most people lose their gains on a plant based diet, and how to stop that shit dead in it’s tracks. Many people want to switch to a plant based diet, but don’t because they feel that it’s too hard.
Or believe that it’s more challenging to get enough calories. Or even that they’ll lose their hard earned gains. Well the good news for you is that that’s all horse shit, or bull shit if you prefer. I’ll also show you why.
First of all, the hardest part of switching to a plant based diet is the beginning, much like any lifestyle change. This is because of the steep learning curve. Fear not however, because it doesn’t last long.
Within a few weeks, you’ll have made enough plant based meals to have a feel for it, and probably even create some of your own. I remember when I started eating plant based, I knew how to make about four different plant based meals.
This was fine at first, but after a few weeks I was like if I ever eat tofu, falafel, or lentils again it’ll be too damn soon. Now I have a bodybuilders mind set when it comes to eating, meaning that I eat to fuel the body, not satisfy the taste buds, but the truth is, you don’t have to choose one or the other.
It takes some time and effort, but it is most definitely possible. I believe that it’s much easier to sustain any lifestyle changes, if you can make them enjoyable.
Ok, let’s move on to some good plant based protein sources. But first a quick note about the typical plant based diet. It quite low in protein, especially for anyone looking to build muscle.
It’s because of this, that a lot of people associate vegans with being skinny, but the truth is, you can get just as much protein on a plant based diet, as on a meat based one. However, for most people looking to build muscle, lose fat, or maintain muscle that’s been built through weight training or athletics, the typical vegan diet just isn’t optimal.
It’s typically high in carbs, low in fat, and low to moderate in protein. Now some people will tell you that proteins overrated, and that you don’t need as much as you think you do to build muscle.
For anyone looking to build a good amount of muscle though, that is also, complete horse shit. If you want to be skinny with abs that may work for you, but if you really want to put on some mass, you’re going to need a solid gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
That’s on the more conservative side, and you can get closer to one and a half grams per pound of bodyweight. Here’s what I want you to do. Take your daily protein requirement and divide it by six.
That number is how much protein you need in each meal assuming you eat six times a day. For me that means getting around 40 grams of protein per meal as I usually weigh in the neighborhood of 230 pounds.
Now for most people, six meals is a lot. This is where a plant based protein powder comes in. There are countless options here. A few examples are hemp, pea, and rice protein.
They’re all good for getting your protein intake a bit higher and are super convenient, but they’re not necessary and if you prefer to get all your protein from whole foods, then by all means, do it.
I just love the convenience and not having to chew my food so often. I personally have two protein shakes a day, with a plant based milk and some fruit added in, and possibly peanut butter.
Now some people prefer to eat only whole foods, and while I respect that, it’s not always convenient. Now let’s move on to the plant based sources of protein you Greek Gods and Goddesses will be consuming on a regular basis. Some whole food examples are beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, and greens, tempeh, tofu, and seitan.
Also, if you enjoy them, meat substitutes are delicious and an excellent source of protein. You can use them just like meat. I personally love the beyond meat products, but there are many great mock meats out there.
Just a few examples include vegan beef, vegan grilled chicken, vegan fried chicken, vegan pork, vegan sausages, vegan hot dogs, vegan turkey, vegan lunch meat, and many, many more. New ones are being created every day.
So as you can see there are vegan many options for replacing your meat and still getting all the protein you need. Most of them are quickly and simply made as well, and have cooking instructions on the package. I suggest trying them all out, and seeing which ones you prefer.
The next reason most people lose their gains on a plant based diet is because they simply don’t get enough calories. If you want to make gains you have to eat a sufficient amount of calories. A lot of plant based foods are not as calorically dense as non plant based options, but not to worry.
There are many options here. If you find it difficult to eat a sufficient amount of food to build muscle and are getting adequate protein, then you may consider adding some calorically dense plant based foods into your life. Foods such as nuts, nut butters, avocadoes, oils such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and grapeseed oil, and of course, plant based junk food.
Examples are: Ice Cream made with plant milks, dark chocolate, and vegan cookies just to name a very few. All of the above are great options to add once a day or a few times a week for putting on muscle if you have a high metabolism.
If you have an average metabolism I wouldn’t indulge in high calorie foods more than two or three times a week, and if you have a slow metabolism I wouldn’t recommend it more than once a week. Keep in mind those are just guidelines.
Everyone’s body is different, and everyone has different goals. Try different things until you find something that works for you. One person reading this may want to be eight percent body fat, while another may want to be twelve percent.
One person may want to build muscle and another may want to lose body fat. If you’re naturally lean, or not trying to lose body fat you’ll eat differently from someone with a slow metabolism who’s looking to shed body fat. I should mention that if you have heart disease, you should avoid fatty foods such as oils.
Now on to carbohydrate sources for plant based eaters. To simplify things, let’s group carbs into two categories. Carbs with a high glycemic index, also known as simple carbs, and carbs with a low glycemic index, also known as complex carbs.
The main thing to know for all of us looking to create a certain ideal body is that simple carbs spike the insulin. Where as complex carbs have much less effect on insulin levels. When we eat something that spikes our insulin levels, it signals our bodies to store fat.
However, insulin is one of the most anabolic or muscle building hormones in the body. In order to take advantage of this anabolic effect we need to consume simple carbs post workout along with a protein, preferably an easily digestible one.
This is because when we workout, we deplete our muscle glycogen stores. After a workout, the body is looking to replenish these energy stores, and by purposely spiking your insulin levels, the body will send virtually all of the nutrients you consume straight to your muscles.
If you are serious about making progress, you should always take advantage of this window of opportunity. The rest of the day, you’ll want any carbs you consume to be complex.
Which reminds me, here are a few examples of simple and complex carbs. Simple Carbs: white potatoes, white rice, white bread, pasta, and most sweets as long as they are low in fat as too much fat will slow down their absorption. Complex Carbs: Yams, Japanese Sweet Potato (My Favorite), Brown or any whole grain rice, quinoa, whole grain bread (I recommend sprouted bread as it’s healthier), and oatmeal to name a few.
An ideal meal for someone looking to build muscle while getting or staying lean would be to pair a complex carb with a plant based protein during the day and pair vegetables with a plant based protein at night.
For those who are naturally lean you would want to add some fat to those night time meals and if you have an insanely high metabolism perhaps a bit of good fats during the day as well. As you can see you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be in great shape as a vegan.
Whether you want to be jacked, lean, or just generally fit, it won’t be any more difficult achieving your goals on a plant based diet than on an omnivorous one. Also, I think it is very important to get the largest variety of plant based whole foods that you possibly can.
This will ensure that you’re getting a wide variety of micronutrients on a regular basis. Lastly, I’d like to reiterate that for all you guys and gals that are trying to build muscle, you have to get plenty of calories.
This is especially true if you have a high metabolism and I speak from personal experience here. You don’t have to worry about getting fat, assuming you are training hard, and eating healthy about three quarters of the time.
If you have a high metabolism though you couldn’t get fat even if you tried. Again, I’m speaking from personal experience.
Now let’s discuss supplements, which are slightly different for plant based athletes. Studies have shown that most people are deficient in B-12 and for this reason I recommend everyone supplement it daily.
Also, in some cases, iron levels can drop below the normal range. The best thing to do is to have your levels checked every so often to find out if you have any deficiencies.
A high quality multi vitamin formulated for vegans can also be a great option, particularly if you’re unable to get a wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Now let us talk about protein. Chances are, if you work out, you’ve taken some form of protein at some point. The most common form of protein is whey protein.
Whey protein is very effective for building lean muscle due to its quick absorption and high amino acid content. However, it is a byproduct of the cheese making process and is therefore not plant based.
As plant based eaters, we have quite a few different options if we choose to take a protein powder. Protein powders such as, hemp, brown rice, pea, and soy protein provide fairly effective alternatives to whey protein.
However, one should note that these proteins are not as high in amino acid content as whey protein, and therefore, more must be consumed to get the same effect. Other than multi-vitamins, B-12 and protein, supplements are basically the same whether you are plant based or not and it’s up to you to decide which, if any, to take or not take.
There are many people who still believe following a plant based diet leads to weakness and deficiencies, and that is why as plant based eaters, we should strive to learn as much as possible about our diets so that we can be healthy and never deficient in any micronutrients.
This way we can be healthy, shining examples of the plant based diet and lifestyle. This will create a ripple effect and is already doing so. Former meatheads like myself can attest to this.
This leads us to working out. Now for the average person who just wants to be healthy and slightly toned you probably aren’t counting macronutrients, and just want to feel healthy so that you can handle whatever daily tasks you may be need to perform.
However, for the fitness enthusiasts out there, cross fitters, weightlifters, bodybuilders, athletes of any kind, and people that just love training hard, you may be under the assumption that you can’t train as hard, or be as big, on a plant based diet.
Let me tell you flat out. You absolutely can achieve any and all fitness goals on a plant based diet that you can on an omnivorous diet. There is a learning curve, but it is absolutely possible, and if you’re willing to make some changes, this is a win-win for you and the entire planet.
P.S. I’m in pretty good shape myself. You know, for a vegan:) That’s me below.