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.
What kind of supplements do you use if any, and why?
Until recently, I didn't use much of anything other than some pea protein and a multi-vitamin, but since my eye problems came about I've been experimenting with a lot of different things, having had a few weeks where I'd taken roughly 15 different supplements each day to see if it made a difference. I didn't see a whole lot of change due to the supplements, so I cut down to the few things I put the most trust in and take a minimal amount on a daily basis. Currently I take pea protein, a multi-vitamin and a DHA/EPA supplement every day, and I try to keep up with taking a creatine/glutamine/taurine supplement on workout days.
What are some common misconceptions about veganism?
There are two main misconceptions that I think tend to plague the image of veganism. One is that you have to sacrifice everything you used to enjoy, which most people get turned off by because they don't like the thought of change or inconvenience. The other is that vegans are all scrawny, sickly people who live off salad and don't seem to be as healthy as they should be. If it weren't for these two assumptions I think a lot more people would give it a try. I can safely say that neither one is true — I feel like I enjoy my food and all other vegan items I use much more than I used to with non-vegan things, and I believe that I've done a fair share to dispel the “sickly and weak” myth, too.
What do you think the most important aspect of fitness is?
I think that the most important aspect of fitness is being healthy and happy. It doesn't matter how strong you are if you're in jeopardy of having a heart attack at any time. It doesn't matter how far/fast you can run if your diet is making you feel ill. Fitness and health should be very closely connected — I think that people often disassociate the two when it's important to keep them equal in importance. I wouldn't sacrifice my health for fitness, and vice versa — they both work together quite well in my lifestyle.
What do you like best about being vegan?
What I like best about being vegan is that I know I'm doing my best to make a change for the better, for the animals, the environment, and for myself. It's an all-encompassing journey that really makes me feel good about a lot of things, and knowing that I've taken a step in the direction to make a positive change is what I enjoy about it. To wake up and know that I'm not knowingly directly contributing to animal cruelty on a daily basis is a great lift to my spirits. And, the better I feel about why I am vegan, the more I work toward furthering veganism through my business to promote it to others to keep the cycle going.
What do you like best about being fit?
I think that I have a good way to go in the general term of “fitness” since when it comes to endurance-type activities I get left in the dust, however, in being larger and stronger than most people, that's the part that I like best. It feels good that where other people would struggle to move a heavy piece of furniture with a two people working together, I can usually move it by myself. I like the fact that I can go out and have fun doing hard manual work because I just think of it as an aspect of training — if someone needed me to move rocks from one side of a field to another, I'd find it enjoyable since it's all making me stronger. Not saying that I'm not a fan of intellectual pursuits, but my training and goals have made me appreciate the simple things as well when I know that it gives me a chance to test my will and progress physically, too!
What are your strengths as an athlete?
I think that my main strengths are that I'm not afraid of hard work to make progress, and I'm always willing to take the time to help people who are just starting out or who are seeking advice from someone who has spent a good deal of time training over the years. If you expect quick results you'll end up disappointed, as experience has taught me that in lifting, nothing comes easy and nothing comes that quickly, or, at least as quickly as you want it to happen. Be patient, be helpful, and good things will come your way.
What advice do you have for vegan athletes who are just starting out?
My advice is, find what you like doing and have fun with it. If it makes you feel better about yourself and provides some physical benefits, then you're doing the right thing. We all have our preferences, and some people are better suited to some sports and might not excel at others (for example, I will never be an ideal marathon runner!) But, whether or not you're good at it is beside the point — if you're having fun and being safe about it, it doesn't matter whether you're going to be a top athlete or if you're just doing it for the fun and exercise. Just set reasonable goals in your sport at the start, give yourself a few years to see where it takes you if you want to pursue it on a competitive level, and study from those who have done well in your activity if you want to see how far you can go. Again, it doesn't matter whether you hope to be in the Olympics or just want to get out and hike on occasion — it's all doing good for your body and your sense of well being, so get out there and have fun!
What advice do you have for people who are thinking of becoming vegan?
I think that going vegan is one of the best decisions someone can make — it's so much of a complete self-realization process and opens up so much insight during the journey and after you've made the change. It really, really puts into perspective how much impact each and every one of us has on other creatures and our environment. Then, it shows you how you can make little changes to improve the big picture and improve yourself at the same time. I guess my advice is, don't think twice — give it a shot, because it's something you won't regret!
What motivates you to continue to be a successful vegan athlete?
My motivation has always been to try and make each year better than the last when it comes to my training — I've hit a few snags along the way with injuries and such, but while years ago that would have been enough to derail my desires now it only makes me want to try harder. I dream of being far more competitive at Strongman competitions in the future — I'm not as skilled or as strong as some of the people I've competed against, but my aim is to close that gap over time and keep getting better and better, all while maintaining Longetivity so that I don't end up one of those guys who is battered and broken before 40 and can only reminisce about the glory days. I expect to be bigger, faster and stronger when I break the next decade in my age than I am now!
How has the website www.veganbodybuilding.com helped or inspired you?
I find the site very helpful and inspiring in a few ways. It's always helpful to network with other vegans and get to know more people in the community, especially those who share similar interests such as fitness. I'm always inspired by following the progress of people on the site — it's fascinating to watch the transformations of people who go from beginners at their physical activity to seeing them develop into being those who reach their goals and really enjoy themselves along the way. I've kept track of quite a few people over the years who didn't really know what they'd wanted to do fitness-wise and came to the board for help and for the camaraderie factor, and in the end they've done some pretty amazing things. It doesn't matter if I share the same activities they do or not — it's all really great to see them make such terrific accomplishments and look/feel better for it in the end.