It’s possible to bulk up and get built as a vegan bodybuilder—and some of the industry’s top vegan bodybuilders can prove it.
Veggies and bodybuilding aren’t mutually exclusive, but mixing the two can require some extra work. For those pursuing a lean, green-based fitness lifestyle, following in famed footsteps is the way to go. Studies show that omnivores tend to have higher muscle density counts than vegans, but this isn’t universal.
By acknowledging some dietary restrictions, taking care of meal prep, and staying dedicated to the gym, a vegan can build muscle, lose fat, and get incredibly strong all the same. We’ll take a look at some of the world’s top vegan bodybuilders the world has ever seen—but, first, let’s cover the cornerstones of vegan lifting in general.
In doing so, we can better understand the right approaches to take to bulk up, slim down, and achieve stellar athleticism.
Protein is Protein
Naysayers to vegan bodybuilding normally consider protein intake, primarily. When it comes to nurturing muscle growth, we have decades of scientific evidence to guide us. The muscle machine’s core components don’t cater to a caloric deficit, and they thrive on progressive overload.
They explode in growth when introduced to compound exercises, and—at their core—they’re fueled by plenty of protein.
A good few studies show that protein intake is necessary for fat loss, too. Remember: Bodybuilding isn’t just about bulking up. It’s also about slimming down, shaping density proportions, and three-dimensional appearances.
As studies also suggest, this is why vegan lifters often struggle on the bodybuilding path. Professional bodybuilding just has a lot of dietary restrictions as it is, because fine-tuned bodies aren’t possible without fine-tuned diets.
The optimal protein intake for bodybuilding is about one gram per pound of bodyweight. For bodybuilders, this increases to 1.2 pounds. In terms of muscle fuel, there isn’t much macro nutritional difference between plant-based and animal-based protein. Protein is protein—and more protein means more muscle.
Despite this, some challenges do indeed arise when consuming only plant-based proteins.
Vegans might miss out on some of the important nutrients which animal-based protein sources provide—such as the omega fatty acids packed in eggs.
The biggest challenge, though, is simply keeping up the pace with omnivorous protein-centric diets. Life isn’t a race, but self-challenge can become considerably more difficult when restrictive diets become even more specific.
While vegan dishes pack an abundance of healthy vitamins, minerals, and even protein, their consumption can result in protein deficiency if one isn’t careful.
Reduced digestion of adequate-protein, and essential amino acids, can create health issues over time. For this reason, those pursuing careers as pro lifters need to be extra diligent about their daily meal routines.
Below are some of the most nutrient-rich veggies around: They’re primary vegan ingredients, but they’re also lacking in the protein department:
- One cup of green peas contains eight grams of protein.
- One pound of broccoli contains 13 grams of protein.
- One pound of brussels sprouts contains 15 grams of protein.
Due to digestive capacities and the amount of time we have to eat, every day, reaching optimal protein levels can be difficult. Additionally, some protein-rich plants also lack some ingredients essential to building muscle.
Amino acids come into play, here, as the body requires 21 elements to survive. Of these, nine are obtained through food. These essential amino acids power the protein synthesis process, which makes leucine a vital ingredient—leucine, itself, being a particularly tough amino acid to pin down.
On the Flip Side: Sizing Up Vegan Bodybuilders
So there are some bodybuilding barriers when it comes to veganism. And they can be tough to hop, too. It’s important, though, to check out some of the world’s top bodybuilders who’ve tones in their diets to masterful levels.
Even though they’re pro dieters, vegan bodybuilding diets are still accessible to intermediate and novice bodybuilders alike.
Below are the world’s top leafy lifters—each with their brand of bodybuilding:
Karl Bruder won the 2016 WABBA Grand Prix, also landing sixth place in the Mr. Universe contest. As a fourth-place winner in the PCA Physical Culture, Bruder remains one of the most inspiring vegan bodybuilders of all time.
Naturally, an animal-lover, Bruder’s dedication to vegan lifting reportedly spawned from viewing the documentary, “The Game Changer”.
His training involves a six-day-per-week split, plenty of lentils, an abundance of beans, and nut-based carbohydrates. When not lifting, Bruder takes care of rescue horses.
Our next vegan bodybuilder is Jehina Malik, who’s competed in bodybuilding competitions since age 19. In 2013, Malik achieved first place in the NPC Eastern USA Bodybuilding Championship. The next year, she was awarded a Team Universe Pro Card—soon becoming a well-known vegan bodybuilder, internationally.
Malik didn’t become vegan, either: She’s been vegan her entire life. Her dietary choices, as a whole, have taken a great departure from many vegan bodybuilders. Every week is one filled with fresh soybeans and tofu—as well as lentils and nuts.
As for her fitness routine: Malik prioritizes resistance training at every turn, following it up with light cardio in the form of swimming.
SuzAnne Llano kicked off her dedicated bodybuilding lifestyle back in 2009. In under a decade, she’s scored top ranks in over 20 competitions. As another elite accolade across several federations, she holds a Pro Card in the NFF, NGA, and ANBF.
Her pro bodybuilding career’s explosion is backed by years of fitness experience. She’s been a competitive tennis player, having won Wellington’s Miss Elite Award—as well as south Florida’s World’s Perfect Pageans Award.
As a masterful dietitian, she’s constantly following advancements in the world of healthy diets, honing in on muscle fiber growth from a variety of angles—and with a variety of vegan dishes.
Derek Tresize has been a pro bodybuilder since 2007. Leading a vegan lifestyle, he also holds a Bachelor’s in Biology. Tresize is a personal trainer at the America Council on Exercise, putting his Cornell University certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition to good use.
He became a vegan after meeting his wife, Marcella, who introduced him to the fantastic, vegan-focused works of Dr. Fuhrman and Dr. T Colin Campbell.
Having won the 2020 OCB Bodysculpt Open, Tresize’s history as a vegan pro contender is astounding. He’s also achieved third place in the 2011 NPA Championships, as well as third place in the 2011 NANBF Washington State Championships.
In the context of bodybuilding, Tresize has promoted the great benefits of veganism for slim, yet massive muscle gains. As another skilled dietitian, Tresize also takes an enthusiastic approach to vegan dishes—exploring the nutritional combinations each has to offer.
Joe ‘Monk’ Coleman is a vegan physique competitor many of today’s growing vegan bodybuilders look up to. He engaged bodybuilding competitions in this 40s, responding to years of unhealthy lifestyle places.
His nickname, ‘Monk,’ is aptly applied as well” Coleman often promotes the values of meditation as a fundamental element of bodybuilding—as well as veganism.
Coleman kicked off his pro career with his first-place award at the Naturally Fit games—wherein he squared off with competitors of all ages. Soon after, he scored second place in an NPC show’s Masters category.
As an INBF and IFBA Pro Card bodybuilder, Coleman sparked inspiration in older bodybuilders as an industry late-bloomer: He didn’t hit the pro scene until age 46.
Alongside the foundational ingredients found in most muscle-centric vegan diets, Coleman pairs his five-day fitness program split with plenty of oatmeal. Rice, too, is a regular inclusion—powering him through diverse workouts to achieve an incredibly fit physique.
To wrap things up, we take a look at Zack Belknap—the NASM Pro Cardholder, personal trainer, and bodybuilder from Oregon. Belknap has also been awarded a WNBF Pro Card following several performances across his region in 2018.
Despite being relatively new to the scene, having won his first pro show in April 2019.
Interestingly, he also grew up as a fisherman and hunter. Today, Belknap is an avid animal-lover. He’s acknowledged his initial concerns about vegan bodybuilding’s nutritional hindrances, in the past: a sentiment which has reportedly inspired his workout partners and trainees alike.
Despite this, he’s never looked back. Belknap officially turned Vegan after watching the documentaries Cowspiracy and Dominion, swearing off anything animal-based for good.
He makes the bodybuilding benefits of plant-based diets readily apparent to new trainees, so as to better inspire the most common concerns industry newcomers to have.
Belknap’s inspiring story very much stems from the sum of its parts: He pioneered his own plant-based diets, as his early bodybuilding days lacked nutritional guidance.
He was simply powered by a passion to do what he felt was right, becoming more aligned with his bodybuilding goals along the way.
Constant Grown and Green Living
At the end of the day, the intent is the fuel which supersedes the struggle vegan bodybuilders. While the green lifestyle’s titan lifters have inspired bodybuilders for ages, they too started somewhere. This is why watching the progress of today’s vegan bodybuilding newcomers is so important, as it gives us a closeup view of vegan history’s newest book entries.
As many pro-vegan bodybuilders say, it’s all about being eventful. When bodybuilding becomes a core component of life, dietary restrictions fall by the wayside.
The world’s most prestigious stages needn’t be reserved for omnivores, after all, as there’s plenty of nutritional knowledge to be gleaned along one’s own lifting journey.
Whether you’re considering veganism or have followed the anti-animal-harm lifestyle for some time, rest assured: Just like every other avenue of life, bodybuilding isn’t closed off from vegans. Every passion faces difficulties—but every passion gains more in life’s greatest gifts.
So take the charge if you’re entering the bodybuilding world as a vegan—because it’s an exciting path to take.
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