No Meat, Tons of Muscle: Interview with a Vegan Bodybuilder

How can you build muscle and not eat meat? 

This is a question that I have gotten several times over the past year. I have no idea about vegetarian or vegan bodybuilding. I eat enough chicken to warrant researching the feasibility of starting a small chicken farm on the balcony of my condo.

Do you think the neighbors would mind?

Luckily, I met Jessica from working with Team K and Perfect Peaking – best team ever!

She’s an expert in this area because she is in fact a vegan competitor and rather fabulous.

Meet Jessica!

Jessica

I think I am about to embrace the Popeye Philosophy. You with me?

Why are you vegan? Did you make this choice before or after you started bodybuilding?

I transitioned first to a vegetarian diet back when I was about 14 years old.  About a year after that, I began to follow a vegan diet.  I wanted to explore the affects on my body, be more mindful of the animal community, and learn more about the methods and medicine used produce food from animals.

When I decided to enter my first figure competition last year, I followed a relatively traditional contest nutrition plan, which included chicken, fish, whey protein and some dairy.  It was an emotional and physical challenge for me to eat that much animal protein on a daily basis.  So after my competition, I transitioned back to my vegan diet.

I am now training and preparing to compete this fall and have been following a vegan diet since the start.  I feel strong, energetic, and getting lean and mean! 

Do you eat more protein than a meat eater since some of the veg’s protein isn’t as “strong”?

No…during my prep I am consuming anywhere from 115 – 125 g of protein per day.  Generally, proteins derived from animal foods (meat, fish, dairy, and eggs) are complete, containing an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids.  Proteins derived from plant foods (legumes, grains, and vegetables) tend to be limited in essential amino acids.  However, with a variety of plant proteins in your diet, you can meet your protein needs rather easily.

Do you consume protein shakes? If so, what kind?

Yes I do!  My favorite protein supplement is Sun Warrior protein powder.  This is a brown rice protein which tastes great, mixes well, and is a staple in my daily diet.

Is muscle much slower to put on for you compared to meat eaters?

No.  But you have to be vigilant about your choices.  It’s like any other balanced nutritional plan, except you are choosing plant-based foods instead of animal-based ones.  

Jessica

Gorgeous!

Are there standard equivalencies for protein exchange?  For example, what and how much high quality veg protein do you use for 3 oz of chicken?

The protein in a meal will come from a few different sources, so there isn’t an exact equal exchange between one animal protein and a plant protein.  In a vegan meal plan, the focus is on combining foods from a variety of sources to meet your protein requirements. 

When trying to drop body fat are beans and legumes limited since they are also carbs?

While these foods do contain carbs there is no need to limit them in a weight loss plan.  Not only do beans and legumes provide an excellent source of protein they are also a super source of dietary fiber. 

What does a standard day of eating look like for you while building muscle? 

Here is an example of a typical vegan contest prep meal plan for me:

Meal One

  • oats
  • almond butter
  • protein powder

Meal Two

  • veggie burger
  • apple

Meal Three

  • seitan (vital wheat gluten)
  • spinach
  • non-fat tomato sauce
  • vegan parmesan cheese

Meal Four

  • sweet potato
  • tahini
  • protein powder 

Meal Five

  • large mixed green salad with cucumbers, onions, mushrooms, celery, peppers
  • veggie “beef” strips

Meal Six

  • protein shake

 On a higher carb day I will add in more fruit, my protein “brownies” and “cookies”, whole grain waffles, and rice protein pudding. 

Meal One

  • Protein pancakes
  • Fresh fruit such as apples, oranges, or berries 

Meal Two

  • Protein “brownie”  or “cookie” 

Meal Three

  • Seitan (vital wheat gluten) 
  • Roasted veggies such as eggplant, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, and peppers 

Meal Four

  • Whole-grain waffles
  • Peanut butter

Meal Five

  • Protein Rice Pudding

Meal Six

  • Large salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms
  • Vegan “beef” strips

Meal Seven

  • Protein Shake 

Do you take extra natural nutritional supplements other than vitamins?

I take Maca Root for energy and endocrine system health.

What is the hardest thing about being a vegan bodybuilder? What is the best?

In this sport, now having been on both sides of the nutritional fence, it really doesn’t matter whether you are a vegan or not.  You need to be disciplined, prepared and mindful about what you eat and how your train to reach your goals.  Being a vegan doesn’t make this harder for me, it’s a challenge any way you look at it!

The best part about being a vegan bodybuilder is that I have chosen to follow a path that best serves me emotionally and physically.  I find strength in my commitment to veganism and hope to encourage others to incorporate more plant-based foods in their diets.  I’m looking forward to stepping on stage this fall and proudly representing all the vegan athletes out there.

Jessica

Represent indeed!

Discipline, commitment, and expertise lead to success every time.