If asked, most people would say that being vegan and being a bodybuilder were pretty incompatible. How can you build serious muscle without eating meat or dairy?
But while being vegan is certainly not beneficial for building muscle, it is no real hindrance.
There may not have been any vegan Mr Olympia winners yet, but amateur bodybuilding is filled with well known names who follow a vegan lifestyle.
In this article we will take a look at ten of the best vegan bodybuilders and discuss how it is possible to build muscle without meat or dairy.
The Challenges That Face a Vegan Bodybuilder
To become a successful bodybuilder you need to consume enough calories to build muscle. You also need to hit a lot of protein, both of these things are achievable while following a vegan diet.
However it would be fair to say that the vegan diet is not usually optimal for building large muscle.
While the ten vegan bodybuilders we are going to talk about buck the trend, most vegans tend to be slighter, and less naturally muscle bound.
Studies have shown that due to less saturated fat in the diet, male vegans and vegetarians tend to have significantly lower testosterone levels than omnivores .
This does not mean that if you’re a vegan you will automatically have lower testosterone levels than your meat eating friend, there are many factors that can affect this.
But remember that at the highest level of bodybuilding, every advantage helps. This could go some way to explaining why vegan bodybuilders and athletes in general struggle to make the very top level.
But at amateur level? A vegan diet is not a hindrance at all, you may need to be a bit more creative with your cooking and food choices, and you may need to concentrate on acquiring certain supplements (creatine is a MUST).
A predominantly plant-based diet can make it difficult to consume a high calorie diet, as most plants are not calorie dense. You can get your calories from nuts, avocadoes, and oils such as olive oil or coconut oil.
Protein can come from vegan protein powders, beans, soy protein, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, lentils, and chia seeds.
Some vegetables can also be surprisingly high in protein (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach). But it does take quite a lot of these foods to hit your protein targets. Which can be difficult when you’re on a bulk.
How to be Successful as a Vegan Bodybuilder
Success as a vegan bodybuilder is hard to achieve, but then so is success as any form of bodybuilder. It’s a difficult sport which has a low success rate in general.
The first thing to do is to make sure that you are hitting your protein targets each day.
Exercise is the same whether you are a vegan or an omnivore. Lift heavy weights repeatedly until you reach the desired size!
Rest and recovery is vitally important, particularly if your testosterone levels are lower. Get your eight hours sleep in each night, and get more if you can manage it.
Supplementation is very important when you are a vegan looking to build muscle. We’ll take a look at what supplements to take in the next section.
Other than that it’s all about time management, consistency, and hard work.
You will be confronted with the decision that all bodybuilders have to make at some point, whether you are going to be a natural or unnatural bodybuilder (stay clean or take steroids).
Taking steroids can really help to level the playing field when it comes to muscle building, but there are the health risks, moral issues, and legal issues that make taking steroids a tough decision for anyone to make.
Supplementation for Vegan Bodybuilders
There are a few supplements that aspiring vegan bodybuilders should always consider taking if they want to grow bigger muscles.
Usually fitness experts claim that supplements make up less than 5% of success, but with vegans that number is slightly higher.
A meat and dairy free diet has many benefits, but it does tend to be deficient in certain nutrients, and can also be relatively low protein. So purchasing the following supplements is advisable:
Soy, rice, pea, hemp, bean protein powders are all available. Some companies even do a blend of all of them.
One of the most important supplements for vegans. Creatine is used by the body to help create energy for muscular contractions.
The body only stores a small amount, it can be topped up through diet – but creatine mostly comes from meat, meaning that vegans can have a lower level than omnivores.
Luckily creatine supplements are made from synthetic substances so are perfectly fine for vegan consumption and can provide amazing results.
An amino acid that helps increase Carnosine levels (usually found in meat), Beta-Alanine can help to reduce fatigue, increase muscular endurance, and help with fat burning.
Top Ten Vegan Bodybuilders
Here is a list of ten excellent vegan bodybuilders, some compete in natural competitions, some don’t compete at all but have impressive physiques.
One word of warning, quite a few of the bodybuilders on this list only became vegan in later life, so their physiques would have been initially created while on an omnivore diet.
This factor is often overlooked in articles on vegan bodybuilders, but is actually quite important.
Think about it, if someone took steroids for 20 years and built an amazing body but then stopped taking steroids for 3 years. You would say that steroids built the body.
Now this does NOT apply to all or even most vegan bodybuilders, but occasionally you’ll see a vegan bodybuilder with an amazing physique but later find out they only gave up meat and dairy a couple years ago.
They are a great example of maintaining an impressive physique on a vegan diet, but they are NOT an example of someone who has built an impressive physique while on a vegan diet. These are two very different things.
Vegan Bodybuilder #1: Patrik Baboumian
Who is He? The Strongest vegan in town. Patrik is a German/Iranian strongman who is currently the strongest man in Germany. He holds the World Record for log lifts and for yolk walks.
When Did He Become Vegan? He turned vegetarian in 2005 and became a vegan in 2011.
A lot of his records have come after becoming vegan, but he already had a huge physique when he became vegan.
Vegan Bodybuilder #2: Berto Calkins
Who is He? Technically more of a fitness model than a bodybuilder, Berto Calkins goes by the name the tatted vegan, in reference to his many tattoos.
When Did He Become Vegan? He’s been a vegan for 4 years now, and clearly has put on size rather than losing anything.
Vegan Bodybuilder #3: Jordan David
Who is He? A large, muscled vegan trainer. Not so much a bodybuilder, but more of a fitness model and coach.
When Did He Become Vegan? About 2-3 years ago
Vegan Bodybuilder #4: Torre Washington
Who is He? Torre is a Jamaican bodybuilder who also happens to be a vegan.
He has had his pro card for 9 years now and has completed 16 competitions with a third place or higher in all but one.
While he admits that being vegan has made it difficult to put on serious mass, he says that it does have its benefits in terms of recovery.
When Did He Become Vegan? 20 years ago
Vegan Bodybuilder #5: Jim Morris
Who is He? The late, great Jim Morris was born in 1935 won many bodybuilding titles, notably Mr USA in 1972, Mr America in 1973, and the IFBB Masters Olympia in 1996.
He mostly competed at a time when black people and homosexuals were openly discriminated against in the bodybuilding world but still won titles despite being black and openly gay.
When Did He Become Vegan? At the age of 50 (1985) he became a vegetarian, and in 2000 he became a vegan.
This means that almost his entire bodybuilding career happened while he was eating meat (except for the Masters Olympia win).
He was 65 when he became a vegan, meaning that it’s inaccurate to call him a vegan bodybuilder. He was a bodybuilder who became a vegan after competing.
Vegan Bodybuilder #6: Kenneth G Williams
Who is He? America’s first vegan bodybuilder to make the USA bodybuilding team. Kenneth G Williams is truly a vegan bodybuilder, he turned vegan a year before he got into bodybuilding.
When Did He Become Vegan? In the year 2000
Vegan Bodybuilder #7: Nimai Delgado
Who is He? Professional natural bodybuilder and fitness model who also happens to be a vegan.
When Did He Become Vegan? Nimai has been a vegetarian all his life, but made the change to becoming a vegan just a couple of years ago.
It certainly hasn’t negatively affected his physique, he’s been going from strength to strength (literally).
Vegan Bodybuilder #8: Massimo Brunaccioni
Who is He? An Italian bodybuilder and sprinter who is also a vegan. He also works as a nutrition coach. He also gets a lot of work as a fitness model.
When Did He Become Vegan? About 4-5 years ago (it’s not completely clear). He says that his mother was vegetarian for 16 years before becoming vegan.
Vegan Bodybuilder #9: Jon Venus
Who is He? Natural bodybuilder, half Brazilian and half Norwegian. Has been voted the world’s hottest vegan.
When Did He Become Vegan? In his early 20s
Vegan Bodybuilder #10: Jimi Sitko
Who is He? A well known vegan bodybuilder who has competed in tested and non-tested natural events. He has a very impressive physique and a great set of abs!
When Did He Become Vegan? He started the transition into full vegan in 2007, so around 11 years ago.
Honourable Mention: Bill Pearl (Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian)
He may not have been a vegan, but Bill Pearl may just be the most famous non-meat eating bodybuilder in history.
He became a vegetarian at 39 years old and won the 1971 Mr Universe title in London two years later.
In that competition he beat Frank Zane and Sergio Olivia. He mentored Chris Dickerson who won the 1982 Mr Olympia title.
Some may think that being a vegetarian or vegan can limit your ability to build muscle.
While it is clear that the above mentioned bodybuilders wont be competing on the Mr Olympia stage alongside Phil Heath, their physiques are certainly ones that many men would aspire to achieve.