There are many reasons why someone might decide to 'go vegan', or radically change the way they eat based on something they've learned or something they believe, and these tend to vary from individual to individual. Why vegan as a bodybuilder? Now that raises a whole new set of questions. Aside from the infamous 'Where do you get your protein?' being a vegan bodybuilder may cause someone to simply ask you why you do what you do. Why do you strive to build a big, muscular and powerful body on a plant-based diet when the central dogma of the sport involves eating several pounds of meat, fish, and poultry every day? While no two athletes will have the same exact answer, some critical reasons why I do this and why you reading this may as well are to prove that it can be done, to pursue the sport you love while following the healthiest possible diet, and to be a role model in supporting the rights of animals.
Every athlete loves a challenge. I have never met a successful athlete in any of the sports I've competed in who didn't thrive under pressure and love stepping up to the plate to prove what he or she was capable of. Sure there is fear involved in testing your abilities, but that is part of the thrill! Bodybuilding on a plant-based diet offers that same challenge that can be so addictive. Anyone telling you it can't be done just fuels the desire to excel in the sport. By taking your diet in an entirely new and unorthodox direction you set yourself apart from the pack, showing that you are an independent thinker capable of achieving success without following the well-beaten path of every other athlete before you.
In addition to proving you can succeed in the sport you love while eating the diet you want, plant-based bodybuilding also allows you to compete in the sport without jeopardizing your health. Although main-stream media is only beginning to make the connection between health and a whole foods plant-based diet, many top researchers and clinicians in the field of nutrition have been striving to spread the word to the public for decades. One such pioneer is Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and creator of the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. Another such individual is Dr. Caldewell Esselstyn, famous cardiologist of the Cleveland Clinic. The list goes on. These giants in their fields have demonstrated without a doubt that consuming a western diet rich in meat, dairy and processed foods is a recipe for early death at the hands of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. They have also conclusively shown that a whole foods plant based diet allows the body to spontaneously heal itself from these and countless other conditions, while optimizing health. With this kind of information in your grasp, considering eating a typical bodybuilder's extremely high-meat diet is enough to make you quit the sport for good. But you don't have to! You can get all the nutrients you need to build a competitive physique from a plant-based diet, and optimize your health all the while! This is being proven every day by the leaders of the sport and of our community, and it can be proven yet again by you!
Lastly, vegan bodybuilding can help you become a better role model if you are fighting for the rights of animals. By competing and accomplishing feats within the sport, you will garner respect and attention outside of it. Success in anything (including bodybuilding) will build your credibility, and no matter what avenues in life you pursue, having a powerful and healthy physique will influence the way people perceive you in a positive fashion. Over half of all communication is said to be non-verbal, so by having a strong physique you will send a message to those around you without ever opening your mouth. Add to this that vegan bodybuilders turn the 'skinny vegetarian' stereotype on its head, and you will do more for your message than anyone without your credentials in this sport could.
With all these reasons to follow a pant-based diet as a bodybuilder, there seems almost no reason not to! While the points I've made here are only a few of the possible answers to why someone might combine the sport of bodybuilding and a plant-based diet, they are the ones that stand out to me as very important and to at least some degree universal in the vegan athletes I've met. You may have your own reasons for combining this unlikely pair, but regardless you will clearly be achieving what I've listed here in addition to your own personal goals, making it all the more valuable.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
Cornell University Certified in Plant-Based Nutrition