The Meatless Powerlifter
(is that an Oxymoron?)
Stephanie Lozen, RD
It has long been thought that to get big and strong one needs to lift heavy weight and eat a diet that consists of meat, potatoes, and more meat. Images with massive guys taking a bite out of a raw steak with the caption “Eat like a man!” flood fitness media.
But there are other ways…
Why Choose the plant-based lifestyle?
There are many reasons someone may choose to live as a vegan or vegetarian.
Ethical – You can’t stand to see animals suffering
Environmental – Growing plants uses less water and leaves a smaller carbon footprint than raising animals.
Health – Plant-based diets have been associated with preventing various diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes (1). This is due to the increased fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals in plants.
Weight – Following a vegan or vegetarian diet can aid in your weight loss/gain goals.
Financial – Plant-based foods typically cost less than meat.
I originally became vegan purely for the health aspects. In 2005 I discovered that I was lactose intolerant, so I eliminated dairy from my diet.
However, I always felt like I had a rock in my stomach after eating any kind of meat, so I experimented with alternatives. In 2013 I decided to become a vegetarian, but I still ate eggs. About 6 months later I ended up cutting out eggs as well.
I found that not only did my stomach feel better but I had more energy throughout the day. My strength didn’t suffer, in fact I continued to get stronger in the gym, and I was saving money on groceries too! Win-win!
I then started to educate myself on my new lifestyle. I read articles and researched how to keep my macros in a healthy range. What I discovered was that I could eat a LOT more than I originally thought!
Then, I started watching documentaries on Netflix. What I found greatly disturbed me (I urge you to check it out, see additional resources below)
From then on, veganism was no longer just a way of eating. For me it had become a way of life.
People often associate veganism and vegetarianism with the image of a thin, pale individual that looks sickly and weak.
That is far from the truth!
Veganism and vegetarianism has been gaining more publicity lately. From world-class athletes competing in the Olympics; to the athletes grinding away in the gym, I have seen more plant-based competitors popping up in the media than ever before.
In 2016, Kendrick Farris was Team USA’s only male competitor in Olympic Weightlifting, and he’s a vegan.
Patrik Baboumian was named Germany’s Strongest Man in 2011, and he only eats plants.
Nick Diener, a fellow USAPL-Michigan powerlifter is a vegan.
Alice Zheng, a USAPL lifter who was national champion in junior’s division 63-kg weight class in 2014 and world champion in junior’s division 63-kg in 2015, is a vegetarian.
Ashley Will is a vegan powerlifter who placed 1st at 2016 Raw Collegiate Nationals and 4th in 2015 IPF Classic Worlds in the Junior Class.
Those are just a few of the many strong athletes of the world who only eat plants.
Plant-based powerlifters have also boasted about quicker recovery times and being able to get back into the gym faster (2).
But where do you get your protein from?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question!
Protein recommendations for strength athletes are typically between 1-1.7 grams per kg of body weight (3). However, most athletes consume around 1 gram per pound of body weight, which is more than enough.
Protein is found in many foods other than meat.
For example, lentils have 17.9 grams of protein per cup along with 15.6 grams of dietary fiber.
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) have 12 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber per cup.
And 1 cup of black beans contains 15 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber.
All with none of the saturated fat that animal protein has.
Some, not all, plant-based athletes use protein powders as well. There are many companies that are beginning to cater to the vegan community. These protein powders have come a long way as far as taste and texture. I use a chocolate protein that is to die for! However, most people can get their protein needs from whole foods.
To supplement or not to supplement
Do plant-based athletes NEED supplements?
Yes, specific ones.
B12 – Only found in animal products and fortified foods. So, if one is eating a diet primarily of plants with very little processed foods, then they need a B12 supplement. B12 is essential for the body to make healthy red blood cells and maintain nerve cells. It is also important for DNA synthesis, and energy production.
Creatine – Found in red meat and some fish, has been shown to increase athletic performance in athletes. It increases the amount of ATP (the body’s energy source) in the muscles and in the brain. It has been shown to increase energy and focus (4). Vegans and vegetarians can benefit greatly from this supplement, though it’s not necessary (5).
Vitamin D – Found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel), beef liver, egg yolks, and in fortified foods (milk). It is also produced in the skin when we are exposed to sunlight. In the Midwest, sunlight can be sparse, especially in the winter. Supplementation can benefit some individuals (5).
***NOTE: Always consult your doctor before trying any supplements. ***
So, do you eat a lot of salads?
No, not really.
While I do like salads, they are not a staple in my diet.
I eat a ton of vegetables (both fresh and frozen), beans, lentils, fruit, nuts, and seeds. I drink almond or cashew milk, both in my protein shakes and in my coffee (so good in coffee!).
I also eat pasta or pasta made from veggies (spiralized zucchini is a great pasta substitute), sweet potatoes, and hummus. I indulge in dark chocolate, shredded coconut, and chunky peanut butter (my favorite!).
We plant-eaters eat most of what meat-eaters eat… except meat.
I have never met a vegan/vegetarian who has felt deprived. There are so many options out there now that are just as good, if not better, than foods made with animal products.
Of course, one needs to plan a bit, but that’s true for most people. Anyone who follows flexible dieting and/or counts macros typically plans what they are going to eat.
While changing one’s diet can seem daunting, let me remind you that most of us thought that way before a particularly hard training session. The key is taking it one set (or sometimes one rep) at a time. Make small changes at first. Start out with “Meatless Mondays), or try to eat meat only on the weekends.
Whether you eat meat or not, proper nutrition is an important part of training and recovery. Food is not only fuel for the body, it’s also a way to connect with people.
Food is emotional.
Food is love.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
Forks Over Knives
Speciesism: The Movie
Super Size Me
If you have any questions, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Leitzmann C. Vegetarian Diets: What are the Advantages? Forum of Nutrition. 2005;57:147-156.
2. Mears T. A vegan and plant-based diet has helped powerlifter Matthew Jones become third best in the world. Available at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/local-news/vegan-plant-based-diet-helped-11450819. Published June 9, 2016. Accessed December 1, 2016.
3. Hewlings SJ, Horak A, Kalman DS, Lucett S, McCall P, Miller M, Rhea M, Richey R, Robles MJ, Stull K, Valency C, Weinberg R. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. 5th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2017.
4. Denton M. How creatine improves ATP syntheses for both brain and body. Available at: https://breakingmuscle.com/fuel/how-creatine-improves-atp-synthesis-for-both-brain-and-body. Accessed December 1, 2016.
5. Venderley AM, Campbell WW. Vegetarian Diets: Nutritional Considerations for Athletes. Sports Med. 2006:36:293.
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