Professional bodybuilding often comes with serious physical implications — high stress on bones and joints, grueling workouts and high-calorie, high-protein diets that are less similar to your typical breakfast/lunch/dinner and more reminiscent of a tiger gorging on an entire antelope. But an increasing number of bodybuilders reject the conception of what a serious weight-lifter “must” eat and are forging a new path into vegetarian– and even vegan– bodybuilding.
Mary Pilon of the New York Times recently delved into the world of vegan bodybuilding, asking Jimi Sitko about his lifestyle and why he chooses to live simultaneously as a vegan and an elite athlete. She writes, “Jimi Sitko gets up at 4 most mornings, works out two to four hours a day and can bench-press nearly twice his weight [...] but what is most surprising is what is inside Sitko’s stomach: tofu, fresh greens, and protein powder.”
As Sitko, and the nearly 5,000 registered users of veganbodybuilding.com, demonstrate, it is possible to be a vegan bodybuilder — but it is tough to get enough of the protein essential for building huge muscles and mind-boggling strength. Vegan bodybuilders cannot rely solely on natural sources of protein such as rice and beans and peanut butter, as they would have to eat literally tons of these foods in order to absorb sufficient quantities of protein. Vegan protein powder and hemp-based protein supplements are key to the success of an aspiring vegan bodybuilder.
My question is: why would anyone want to put themselves through the extra challenge of being a vegan bodybuilder? Bodybuilding is difficult; veganism is difficult. The two together are nearly impossible. But Sitko and others like him are dedicated to both lifestyles and are unwilling to compromise on either end. For some, the extra challenge may be part of the fun.
I was a vegetarian for about a year during high school, but since then I have not experimented with restricted eating in any form. I sometimes view my athleticism as an excuse to eat anything I want (probably not a healthy attitude!) and I admire the discipline of athletes who perform at a high level and are conscious of what they eat.
Are you vegetarian or vegan? How has it affected your exercise habits? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Photo credit: greg westfall