There’s this belief that to build muscle you have to eat meat, and to build lots of muscle, you have to eat lots of meat.
“There’s no way you can be a pro bodybuilder without meat. I’ve never heard of anyone who doesn’t eat protein,” says Dexter “The Blade” Jackson, who last year won the premier international bodybuilding championship, Mr. Olympia.
Jackson routinely bookends a day of steak and chicken eating with 10 egg whites. (“My metabolism is very special,” he notes.) Meat is such an obvious delivery device for protein that bodybuilders often use the two words interchangeably.
But can someone become a bodybuilder without going this route? Is it a myth that if you don’t eat meat that it’s impossible to build muscle?
“I can’t think of any reason why muscle can’t be built on a vegan diet,” says nutrition professor Marion Nestle, the author of What to Eat. Going vegan, she explains, should have no effect on the performance of normal athletes, provided they eat a balanced diet.
Kenneth Williams is a prime example of the fact that not eating meat and building muscle are not mutually exclusive. He’s a professional body builder who five years ago made the switch from a full-blown meat eater to a vegan.
Now 41 years old, he’s currently 6 feet and 190 pounds. He took the last four years off from body building, but is now back in full training mode and hopes to gain another 25 pounds. And he’s doing it all on a diet of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and lots of soy protein.
In 2004, before he went on his hiatus from body building, Williams did the same thing most every other body builder did: eat lots of meat-based protein. But then one night in 2004, Williams had what he called “the awakening.” He was fixing a meal of two pieces of fried chicken, rice, and salad, but for some reason, he couldn’t stop glaring at the chicken.
“I was thinking about all the killing and the destruction going on in the world. And I looked down at that chicken and said, ‘I’m eating death, and I don’t even know why.'” He scraped the meat off his plate and went back to sleep a changed man.
He had never heard the word “vegan” before. All he knew was, “The spirit told me, ‘Nothing from an animal. You don’t eat nothing from an animal until you find out what’s going on.'” He entered the 2004 Natural Olympia, which is the one of the pharmaceutical-free-bodybuilding circuit’s premier contests, to prove a point to his meat-loving gym buddies.
In a feat that he claims “shocked the world,” Williams placed third in the novice division of the Natural Olympia in 2004, becoming a major figure in the exceedingly minor subculture of vegan bodybuilding.
So far, just a few vegans have infiltrated the elite levels of professional sports, such as Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez, the former Atlanta Hawks guard Salim Stoudamire, and Ultimate Fighting Championship bruiser Mac Danzig.
Williams is on a mission to inflate his body into a bulging rejoinder to the myth that you can’t build muscle on a plant-based diet.
“If you think of a vegan,” he says, “you think of someone who is skinny and frail, who has issues. A tree hugger. Smells funny. I’m putting the breath of life back into people. I’m out to save lives.”
Williams generally eats between 210 and 250 grams of protein a day—what you’d find in about 2.5 pounds of lean top sirloin. He eats six or seven meals daily, and a few mornings before the most recent Natural Olympia, he prepared his second breakfast: a shake of water, 50 grams of soy protein, and three supplement powders made by HealthForce Nutritionals, his sponsor.
He has three of these a day, supplementing a diet of tofu, red and black beans, nuts, lentils, and leafy greens like kale.
The point of this article is that even if you have no intention to become a professional body builder and enter the Natural Olympia, there are many ways to build muscle, and it’s a myth that eating lots of meat is the only way.
As Williams shows, there are great sources of protein from vegetable sources, so there’s no way you can become protein deficient if you eat no meat or less meat.
The reality is that most people, particularly Americans, eat far too much protein.
If you recall, that’s the point I made when I wrote the article about the China Study and what their findings were. They precisely said that a diet high in animal protein is very detrimental to the health.
Vegetarian Bodybuilding says
Once again…science proves that vegetarian diet is able to produce just as good athletes as the carnivore’s diet…soon the imperative to switch will be so great that all athletes will be vegetarian
I am a 49 1/2 old Vegan Bodybuilder and i know that you can build a fine body without flesh. I am 6 0 202 and vibrant as anyone…..
Michael Wayne says
That’s great. Thanks for the confirmation Anthony. It’s really a myth that a person has to eat meat to build muscle.
Kanakarajh Raman says
Nice article… It’s very motivating.. I hope that someday a vegan will become Mr.Olympia… that will open people’s eyes….
Damn, I feel like pumping iron now….!!
Michael Wayne says
Thank you, I’m glad you liked it. I hope it proves that a person doesn’t have to eat meat to build up their muscles. And that would be great if a vegan were to win Mr. Olympia one day.
Joey Rocket says
When this article was written Tony Gonzalez was already a full time starter for the Atlanta Falcons…not the KC Chiefs.
Michael Wayne says
You’re right, my bad. But that still doesn’t negate the fact that Tony Gonzalez is so tuned into his diet.
What A Joke says
How does this article “prove” that being a vegan doesn’t require you to eat meat? Was there a scientific study done? Was there a group of test subjects and a control group that were fed a vegan diet compared to a meat diet? Was there a exercise routine instilled or measurement of muscle mass before and after? One person who is a vegan and places third in body building competition doesn’t mean anything. Did you take into account his natural genetics or the fact that you have no idea how many “supplements” he takes? Let’s see him try eating only natural food without supplements and see how he fares. I’m not against being a vegan but this article is ridiculous in the claim that you don’t have to eat meat to be a body builder. You should be ashamed of yourself. Provide some conclusive scientific evidence before you go out making claims like this.
Michael Wayne says
Ok, let me use your logic and reverse it: what evidence is there that eating a meat diet is imperative for being a bodybuilder? Is there scientific evidence for that? Were there test subjects and control groups that proved that?
What A Joke says
I’m not the one who’s trying to prove that eating meat builds more muscle and if not equal amount of muscle as a vegan diet. YOU are trying to prove that being a vegan does. If you tell me Jesus exists and then I say he doesn’t, then you say prove that he doesn’t and I can’t, this doesn’t mean he exists. I’m not the one trying to prove something, you are. If you want to make stated arguments like this try backing it up with some actual science first as opposed to finding one case to satisfy your view on being a vegan.
Michael Wayne says
Ok, here’s the point I was trying to make to you – there are no studies that prove eating meat is integral to bodybuilding, just as there are no studies that prove eating vegan is integral to bodybuilding. Furthermore, even if there were studies either way, they would be flawed, because true, double blind scientific dietary studies of a broad-based nature – I consider the hypothesis of whether eating or not eating meat and its relationship to bodybuilding to be of a broad-based nature – is too difficult to fully control. How can we know what test subjects truly eat in a study? How can we control for variables? The only thing that’s known regarding diet and bodybuilding is that protein builds muscle mass, and that has then been extrapolated by many to then say that eating meat is the only way to build muscle mass and be a bodybuilder. But there’s many ways to skin a cat, as the organization/website Vegan Bodybuilders is showing: veganbodybuilding.com
Furthermore, just because something can’t be proved through the channels of scientific/double blind studies, doesn’t mean it’s not true or lacks validity. Most pharmaceutical drugs have never fully been proven as to how they work – aspirin being one of these – yet they are not discounted that they do. And because something has undergone scientific/double blind study doesn’t mean it is the final, absolute truth, because most scientific studies are flawed. I say that, not based on my own opinion, but on the work of Dr. John Ionnadis. If you’re not familiar with his work, I would suggest you read about him, because he is a major influence in the field.
hahahahaha@ what a joke! You are the joke… clearly you just don’t get it! Although how hard is it to understand? Let me dumb it down for you.. this article is basically saying that you don’t HAVE TO eat meat in order to build muscle… looks like someone hit a delicate cord with you…
your truth has reached me..after a very weird day for the first time in my life and eight years since i started bodybuilding i have bin having a spiritual battle with self and ego and just bin aware of the meat that i eat is …. a living animal that i when see appreciate the existence of the animal and love cats, dogs all creatures yet I’m eating them.. a life is a life and I’m eating life. thank you for answering the questions that i ave but could not really decide till truth was shown to me and my sub conscious and ego and me in all.. hear truth when it is told. that can never be hidden. thank you again. after many years of not knowing and being confused. your eyes are the eyes of an awakened being maybe an enlightened one ?thank you for your wisdom and guidance
I totally agree that you can build muscle on a plant based diet. I will say, I am not a total plant based eater. That being said, I believe that soy is a poor source of protein. When it isn’t fermented, I believe it is a carcinogen. I also believe it is poorly assimilated in the body. It is often hard on the gut and is greatly GMO’d. That being said…there is Hemp, flax, green pea and chia protein to name a few. You can use beans as well. I do not believe we should be low fat either. When I say this, I mean, good fat. I consume 3T coconut oil a day. I eat at least one avocado a day…(I am not training right now). They are a fantastic whole food, good fat and protein to boot. I happen to do at least one shake a day with hemp protein and a pea protein (plantfusion) and super greens powder. I stay away from the commercial stores for my product. I go to health food stores or buy from vitacost or mercola online. I eat a whole foods diet…that does include meat….just not huge amounts. Since we know we can only assimilate 25 grams of protein at a time without taxing the liver, why would I do it. This is my opinion…and it stems from me coming out of the lifestyle of bodybuilding and mad crazy “supplements”….getting sick and having to go through a paradigm shift on health and how I see it. Thanks for listening to my opinion.
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