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Sounding off on vegan lifting. Legit frustrations?

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Vegan of several years here and infrequent lifter currently attempting starting strength (again.)


Feeling discouraged lately due to some personal setbacks in the gym (lower back pain resulting from bad deadlift form and now subsequent fear/caution of pulling anything too heavy) coupled with lurking of the Starting Strength boards and their general disapproval of vegetarian and especially vegan diets (namely the lower levels of BVs and PDCAAs in plant food vs. animal-derived foods) has left me with some serious doubts of the effectiveness of a vegan diet for strength and size gains for a majority of people.


Tired and leery of the disjointed nature of a chunk of the vegan fitness community, who, for whatever reason/s seem disproportionately vulnerable to what I'd consider 'quackery'--Everything from a tendency towards unhealthy skepticism of modern medicine/science and over reliance on homeopathic cure-alls, various 'detoxification' methods, and a multitude of unfounded and/or flat-out erroneous or dangerous beliefs like "broccoli has more protein than a steak!" or "You don't need B12 supplements, just eat lots of nutritional yeast!" Heck, there was a thread on these very boards in which some of us wanted to follow each other's myfitnesspal log's in which another user replied that they no longer trusted the app because the macros on it were "set by carnivores," whatever that means (I suppose by that logic none of all of us vegans should trust any nutritional labels either unless we know that they were written up and printed by vegans using only soy-based inks too.)


Can we acknowledge that veganism isn't a cure-all, one-size-fits-all answer to everything? Can we admit to its strengths and also its short comings? Can we stop pointing to athletes like vegan strongman Patrik Baboumian, who's only been vegan for a few years, who built their bodies and accomplishments on mounds of meat and dairy products as some sort of "proof" that veganism works? Isn't it a little disingenuous?


Granted I know that very few of the population is vegan, even less of those people interested in fitness, but these vegan fitness communities are a mess compared to the ones at places like bodybuilding.com, for example. How many truly impressive transformation pictures are there here? While the aforementioned site has dozens of examples of people who ate and lifted and have great results to show for it, here in the vegan fitness communities is a lot of talk. Bad cell phones "progress" pics, extremely skinny people that never get anywhere, people who seem far more concerned with their own vanity showing off their asses in booty shorts (and they're nice asses, but progress pics they are not,) people posting pictures with whatsoever NO explanations about their routines or even diets, an unending slew of posters who post once or twice to never to return. Lots of back-slapping and encouragement over nearly identical "progress" pics, again in which little to no specifics or clue about what the person is doing all the while most of the guys who have posted any kind of solid progress here are all but long gone (Chewybaws, Jamesxvx come to mind)


I don't mean to attack anyone, really. I've been just as misguided and lazy in my own weightlifting journey though I do feel like resources are slim. I can think of a handful of people who have made really impressive gains, completely vegan, people like Nick Diener, Robert Cheek, or Ed Bauer, but they are far and few between. I'm back to training and eating big but it's hard not to feel a little demotivated sometimes. Anyone else?

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  • 2 weeks later...

The meat eating bodybuilders are probably consuming lots of protein powders and some will be taking anabolic steroids.


As you rightly said, few people are vegan and few vegans are strength training. There will be few vegans who build impressive muscles. There are more meat eaters who strength train and who belong to forums - which means there are more who will have impressive gains. And lots who don't but who, obviously, don't post their pictures.


Not many champions of anything come from Luxemburg but there are many from the USA. This is not due to any superiority of Americans but to their larger population. A Luxemburger, with the right genes, commitment, opportunities, and luck, could become a champion but some American is more likely to have all those qualities.


As for Patrik Baboumian, hasn't he been vegan for over two years? Most of the cells in his body are built from vegan food now.


We should all take a B12 supplement or eat fortified foods - and that includes meat eaters, especially those aged over 50.

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  • 3 months later...

Yes, this is my concern as well. I went vegan about nine months ago, began lifting about six months ago, and began Starting Strength about five ago. I really appreciate the heavy, compound lifts and the linear program. I stalled once early on, but fixed that by eating more. Now in the past couple months I have regressed considerably due to inadequate sleep, which I am trying to address. I also stopped eating vegan a couple months ago because of frustration while chewing cups of lentils and the convenience of whole milk. But I am not ready to give up on veganism yet; I want to experience for myself a well-conducted linear progression on a vegan diet, and I've been puzzling over how to design that diet.


It's certain that very fast novice gains are reality; given proper recovery conditions, it's not uncommon for a young guy to put 200lbs on his squat linearly, without drugs. Or else everyone in the SS world is colluding. So that's my picture of what should happen. When I started reading about Starting Strength, I was impressed by the no-nonsense attitude and the amount of detail and consideration that had been applied to explaining and justifying the lifts and the program. I have to admit this makes it hard to believe that there's one part it's dead wrong about, which is meat eating. Not to say that there aren't cranks who trot out some puerile bullshit on the forums.


I read Brendan Brazier's Thrive, and I would like to believe much of it, but he's rather unspecific about things and many of his claims seem to come out of nowhere, with no supporting evidence or context. Sure, I could believe that eating "better quality" protein means you need less of it, but nowhere in the book does he give guidelines for how much protein to eat. It does not look anything like 1g/lb bodyweight, judging by the meal plans and other comments he makes. He considers gluten and soy, the densest vegan protein sources, allergenic. (I myself have noticed poor sleep when eating seitan.) And hemp is expensive. When Brazier posts a pic of him squatting on his Instagram, his depth is 1/2 and the plates are cropped out. The comments are kind of sad, calling him strong for having low BF%, and his thighs look pretty thin. This is discouraging, but basically useless for answering the question. Again, it's just the problem of nothing to go off of. He's not a strength athlete.


Google tells me that 1 cup of cooked brown rice has 5g protein. Even if that were 100% absorbed, for me to get 200g it'd take 40 cups and 8500 calories. Boiled lentils: 18g/cup, 12 cups, 2750 calories. Maybe? But again, how much is absorbed? And I'd need to eat still more to complete the protein. And the carbs, carbs, carbs.


Here's another tough question:

My reasons for going vegan were mainly ethical/political. If there is a conflict between the diet and lifting, am I obligated to choose the diet, and accept slower and more limited progress?

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OK, rant incoming.


I don't really post anymore because I just don't have the time. Every now and then I poke my head in to see what's up. I am one of those "made gains and then doesn't post anymore" people. I've just posted an update on my log if you want to check it to see where I am at.


First off, don't get swept up in the bullshit of other people's idealism. Find out what vegan means to you and be true to yourself. No matter how someone else defines it.


Most bodybuilding/strength/etc. forums will bash vegan/vegetarian diets as ineffective for building muscle mass/strength. And it's mostly true. It takes a lot more work and effort to get big and strong on a vegan diet compared to a meat/dairy diet. It is also much slower. You need to commit. Again, be true to yourself. If it's what you really want, you'll figure out how to make it work. I eat the same damn thing 5 days a week because I found what works for me. My diet goes to shit on the weekends, but that's because I can't regiment my time as well with two small children to entertain compared to weekdays when I'm at work. Don't compare your gains to anyone else. Compare yourself to where you were last month/last year/last decade. If you feel you've improved then you are on the right track and keep at it. I started as a Vegan at 175-180# and had only been in the gym for a few months just putzing around. I have put on 40-ish # of muscle while on a vegan diet and lifting heavy. Check my log.


Regarding strength programs - they all work, at least the really well know/popular ones such as SS, 5/3/1, stronglifts, westside, cube, etc. They work regardless of where you get your protein, you just need to be consistent. Take it easy and slow as you start out. Make sure you learn the lifts at lower weights and if you get hurt you stop and figure out what went wrong. Take videos, post them to forums and ask for tips. If you post to meathead forums simply don't mention veganism at all. It's not important in the context of how to get better at lifting. If you preface everything with "I'm a vegan" then many people are going to give you shit for it, not take you seriously due to their preconceptions, or insist that it's a hindrance. Don't use it as a crutch - I am having trouble getting protein due to my vegan diet, blah blah. You really only need 1 g per # of bodyweight and you can make gains with much less. Only for the past year have I been hitting the 1:1 ratio, for the first almost 4 years of lifting I was getting 100-150 g protein per weekday with only 1 or 2 20g protein shakes a day. I have also seen some great gains over the past year (~20# of muscle mass added and lots of PRs). The only soy I consume is fake meats I have sometimes on weekends because I like it and my family likes it too.


Slow progress is still progress. Peanut butter is your friend but balance it out with some flax oil for omega 3s. Do what you feel is right - always be honest with yourself and learn to be OK with it. Commit to the long haul.


OK, I need to get back to work. Rant over.

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The basic fundamental principles for increasing ones size and strength have not changed since they where discovered by physiologists over a century ago....

1. Results are proportional to the intensity of effort put forth,

2. Intensity and volume coexist on an inverse ratio

3. Enough rest time must elapse for both compensation and over compensation to take place.


Now, heres was I seen over the last 2 and a half decades in gyms...

- People do not train with anywhere near enough intensity required for stimulating a meaningful response

- People use too much volume

- People train too frequently


Whats the first thing people blame for their lack of progress? THEIR DIET!


With regards to vegans having a harder time building muscle, i recently re-read Dr Dardens last book, the bodyfat breakthrough, the study in that book (which had the highest percentages of fat loss with muscle gained on record) took 114 individuals and had them perform just one or two supervised high intensity workouts per week that emphasised negative accentuated training. Several of the participants were vegans, guess what... the vegans did just as well as any of the meat eaters, moreover, Dr Darden stated "vegans have a better knowledge and understanding of nutrition than meat eaters".


So yes, vegans can indeed increase their muscular size and strength as well as any meat eater...provided they properly fulfill the first requisite.


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