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Vegan Bodybuilding is NOT an Oxymoron

by Robert Cheeke, Vegan Bodybuilder, January 7th, 2007

If there is a question vegans hear more than any other, it is, How do you get your protein? I often respond by asking the individual if they know anyone with a protein deficiency. Protein is found in nearly all foods and they are abundant in seeds, nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods.

In North America, we are taught from a young age to believe that the only good sources of protein come from animals. This is simply not true. In fact, it is proven by scores of scientific studies that plant-based sources of protein are easier for the human body to digest and absorb. Plus plant-based foods do not come with many of the negative health implications associated with a diet rich in animal protein such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Another advantage of plant-based foods is that they help promote an alkaline environment in our body. All animal protein is acid-forming whereas most plant protein is alkaline forming. Essentially, an alkaline diet is the exact opposite of the high protein, high fat, low carb diets that have recently been in vogue. Because our body's ideal pH is slightly alkaline, our diet should reflect this and also be slightly alkaline. A diet high in acidic foods such as animal protein, sugar, caffeine, and processed foods tends to deplete our body of alkaline minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, making us more susceptible to chronic and degenerative disease.

Though a vegan diet is often a topic of concern when it comes to athletic performance, those concerns are unwarranted. As a vegan bodybuilder, I compete in a sport dominated by meat eaters, most of whom scoff at the idea that one could get sufficient protein from plants to be competitive. I do not consume any animal products whatsoever, not even dairy or eggs. Instead, I focus on eating a wide variety of plant-based whole foods. My protein comes primarily from hemp, tofu, tempeh, beans, nuts, seeds, grains, rice, fruits and vegetables. By getting my protein from a wide variety of sources, I am ensuring my body receives a balance of essential amino acids.

Though I try to get as much protein as possible from whole foods, I often supplement with plant-based protein powders to help me meet my target of 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight for building muscle mass. My favorite protein powder source is hemp. In addition to being rich in complete protein, it is also a great source of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre and chlorophyll.

Hemp protein is a quality source of arginine, histidine, methionine and cysteine and also contains all the branched-chain amino acids crucial for repair and growth of lean body mass. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of hemp protein is comprised of edestin, a protein found only in hemp and the form of protein most similar to that of the human body. Hemp protein is also very easily digested and assimilated, making it one of the finest sources of protein in the plant kingdom.

Other great commonly available plant-based protein powders include yellow pea, brown rice and soy. Though soy protein has been a staple in my diet for years, I have recently reduced my consumption of it because I am concerned about developing food sensitivities and/or allergies. Too much of a good thing can be detrimental to overall health and my feeling is that soy is becoming overly pervasive in vegan and vegetarian diets. There are so many good alternatives such as hemp, pea, rice and flax that I feel I dont need to rely on just soy protein powder anymore.

When I am on the run and dont have time to prepare a meal, I take a complete plant-based whole food meal replacement called Vega. Formulated by Brendan Brazier, a professional Ironman triathlete and fellow vegan, Vega is a quick and easy way for me to get quality nutrition. It contains many of my favorite foods, including hemp, pea, flax, rice, chlorella and maca and I especially like the fact that it contains five sources of quality protein, ensuring a balanced array of essential amino acids. I also snack on Vega raw energy bars before and after workouts for an extra boost.

Keep in mind that a high protein diet can be taxing on the liver and kidneys so it is important to drink a lot of water (I personally drink over a gallon a day) to help the bodys organs process the large amounts of protein. The great thing about plant protein is that it is much easier to digest and assimilate than animal protein, making the bodys job easier and providing a greater nutritional yield. I also recommend eating smaller meals more frequently to ensure your muscles will always be fueled and nourished, providing the best opportunity for recovery, growth and achieving your desired results.

As a vegan bodybuilder, I want to show others that it is possible to gain significant muscle and strength on a vegan diet and I want to inspire others to follow this lifestyle. I love being vegan and knowing that I am having a positive impact on our society. I believe that a plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for your health, and the well-being of our environment.

Robert Cheeke is a competitive bodybuilder and the 2005 INBA Northwestern USA Natural Bodybuilding Overall Novice Champion. He is also President and founder of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, an organization dedicated to supporting natural vegan bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts (www.veganbodybuilding.com).