Name: Ryan Wilson
Weight: Currently 265, occasionally going up to 285
Birthplace: Brookfield, Wisconsin
Current Residence: Waukesha
Sports: Strongman competition, general strength training
Why did you become vegan?
I became vegan because, oddly enough, I started helping my wife with VeganEssentials in my pre-vegan days and my exposure to veganism helped me see that going vegan myself was the logical progression. I’d always felt pretty hypocritical about saying that I loved animals while still eating them, and the more I began to find out about veganism and what it really means, the more I wanted to change in that direction. So, after a few months of helping from the sidelines with some of the website work and marketing, I first went vegetarian, then shortly afterward I went vegan and have never looked back (and never felt better, for that matter!) The majority of my decision was based on ethics, but I realized after a while just how unhealthy my diet had been, being purely meat and junk food, anything green and healthy was out of the question. I’ve gotten sick far less and had a LOT more energy after going vegan, so I can definitely say that I experienced the health benefits first-hand once I made the change over.
When and why did you become interested in fitness?
I first became interested in fitness around 1995 when my friend John inspired me to start weight training. He’d always said that with my body type I’d be suited to be pretty big and strong, but for years I held the assumption that lifting was just for “dumb jocks” and wasn’t meant for a guy who had been a skateboarder for a decade up to that point. I gave it a chance – I did the challenge that the EAS supplement company put on every year, the Body For Life contest. I quit my bad habits, stopped eating junk food, ceased to drink anything but water, ate only what I considered healthy at the time (this was a few years before going vegan when I still ate meat and dairy), and managed to lose around 25 lbs. in 3 months, going from the 230s down to a little over 200 lbs. I was pretty happy with the results – I felt that I wasn’t excessively overweight for the first time in my life (I usually carried 30-60 lbs. of extra fat around on me) and decided to stay with training. I jumped around a bit, for a while trying to get as lean as possible and got under 200 lbs. for the first time since 5th grade (I was always a big kid) but it didn’t look right on me. I started to get my weight back up to the 220s for a while and it hovered there for a few years, and then I went vegan in late 2001. I spent a year or two just keeping generally fit, but didn’t feel like I had a purpose. Eventually I decided I wanted to pursue being strong and wanted to see how easy it would be go get big while being vegan. I found out quickly, it wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as most people think. Along the way, I entered my first powerlifting competition in late 2004, but decided that I wasn’t really too excited about that type of lifting, at least competitively. In 2005 I entered my first strongman competition and was instantly hooked, despite getting injured on the first event from lack of warming up. I’ve batted some injuries this past few years, but plan on resuming competition in summer or fall of 2008 after having the next few months to get back to my best and beyond.
How would you describe your nutrition program?
My nutrition has been greatly cleaned up this past few months – I was recently diagnosed with a fairly rare eye disorder that has affected my vision a bit, and once that came about I decided that the days of being a convenience-food vegan had to come to a close. I cleaned things up a great deal and started to move away from the convenience foods and focus more in whole grain breads and pastas, nuts, fruits, greens, and some freshly-cooked meat substitutes rather than the pre-packaged things I’d depended on for a few years while bulking up. I find that I just feel way better when I steer clear of the processed foods and go with fresh ones instead, and I do credit making the change with helping keep my vision from getting worse.
Despite weighing quite a bit, I don’t really need to eat much to maintain or gain – I can keep my weight up on around 2600 calories/day and gain weight easily if I go above 3200 calories/day. That’s just my family genetics – I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters, and all of us turned out to gain weight easily and quickly. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it isn’t, but as long as I keep my diet clean everything seems to work out well enough.
How would you describe your training program?
My training program right now is a combination of strength and conditioning, changing every month or two. I need to improve my overall conditioning for strongman events while simultaneously getting stronger, so I use both higher-repetition endurance lifting and lower-repetition heavy weight training together to get the best of both worlds. I used to train very much just with low reps and heavier weights, and while it made me a lot larger and stronger, I’d get tired after climbing a few flights of stairs. That’s not good for strongman or day-to-day living, so I decided that really needed to change. So, as of now I train with weights 3-4 times per week and try to get a few good long walks in between on my non-lifting days. For weight training, I normally break my sessions into 3 main workouts – legs/shoulders, upper back, and lower back/chest. I try to keep my sessions in the gym between 40 and 60 minutes on average – that isn’t including warming up, which I usually do with weights for 5-10 minutes before I dive into the heavy stuff. I typically focus on compound movements done with free weights – my goals don’t require and isolation movements, and it isn’t often that machines have a purpose for me either, except as a bit of assistance exercise after the barbell/dumbbell training is complete. Everything revolves around squats, deadlifts, barbell or dumbbell rows, and overhead presses and the base for workouts – things like chest and arm work fall back for the occasional workout, but they’re never a main focus, definitely secondary. I’m terrible at the bench press and it has little practical application to strongman competition, so I do it only a few months out of the year at most. Arm work is the same – I’m not a bodybuilder, and my arms are indirectly worked pretty well by the main exercises I do, so I rarely train them on their own. Soon I’ll be starting back up again with strongman event training, which involves lifting concrete stones onto platforms, lifting heavy steel logs overhead, pulling trucks and other unusual strength events. It’s not always easy to find a place to train events during the colder months, but there are a few dedicated people in my area that have equipment and places to train year-round, so that’s what I’ll be devoting at least 1 day per week to in the near future.