Thursday, September 27, 2007
Building Muscle As A Vegetarian
Question: I recently purchased Muscle Gaining Secrets and have to tell you how very pleased I am with it. The information makes perfect sense. I'd like to know what your thoughts are on training and having a vegan diet. I am a big fan of the environment and not eating meat was my first step to help change things (not to mention improving my health). The more I read and learned about the global food industry at large, the more focused I have become on being very selective on my diet choices.
I have read, understand and agree with you on the importance of big caloric intake when building size is concerned. However, for someone like myself, who has been vegan for 4 years now, can I still make this work for me? Granted my size may suffer somewhat but what do you think about the stress of heavy training and a strict vegan diet? I think there are a lot of serious lifters who are also struggling with the yes/no to meat question.
I hope you can provide some guidance in this matter as the material you have put out so far is the best I've personally come across.
Thanks and keep up the great work!! I have told everyone who will listen to pick up your MGS if they are serious about muscle growth.
Answer: Frank, great question and I will do all I can to provide you with a worthy answer. First of all, I am going to start with some information that will probably come as a shock to everyone who has ever read my stuff…
I don’t eat meat anymore.
That’s not a misprint. I gave it up exactly one month ago and can’t see myself ever going back. I used to own a t-shirt that said “Nobody likes a vegetarian.” I also made fun of people who didn’t eat meat and called them pussies. Not eating meat was the equivalent of curling in the squat rack, in my mind.
But when I realized why some of these people weren’t eating meat, I was embarrassed by how I had acted and thought all those years.
There are three reasons why someone would stop eating meat and they are:
- The negative effect on the environment and the contribution to global warming.
- The cruelty to animals issue.
- Health reasons.
You can’t make fun of someone and call them a pussy if they are giving up something they love in order to do their part to make the world a better place. The consumption of meat has a negative effect on the environment that we should all be aware of. The main thing that got me thinking about cutting meat out of my diet was the environment issue. I’m very passionate about a great number of causes that I believe in and saving the environment is one of them. I’m not going to explain the whole cycle here or push my beliefs on anyone but there are plenty of books you can read on the subject.
Also, I can’t really see how wanting to stop the slaughtering of innocent animals makes you less of a man.
But if you just choose vegetarianism for health reasons and health reasons only, I will still make fun of you while I drink a beer and smoke a cigarette. One has to draw the line somewhere…
So, how does being a vegetarian affect your ability to build muscle?
Probably a lot less than you would think or have been led to believe.
First of all, man was probably actually intended to be a herbivore and not a carnivore. Physiologically speaking, man has all the characteristics of a herbivore and none of the characteristics of a carnivore. We have the teeth, jaws, digestive enzymes, stomach acidity, and small intestine length of herbivores. Probably the most disturbing and nauseating of those is the small intestine length. Carnivores have a small intestine that is 3-6 times body length. This is because meat rots very quickly and needs to pass through the body very rapidly. Unfortunately, humans have a small intestine length of 10-11 times body length. What this means is that long after the meat has gone rotten, it’s still in your body decaying and contributing to untold number of diseases.
When you add in all the chemicals and other unhealthy substances that our meat contains these days you can see that eating meat might actually not be the best option for those interested in remaining healthy long into the future.
With that out of the way let’s get to building muscle on a vegetarian diet. As I have mentioned plenty of times in the past, high protein diets are a scam. You don’t need all that much protein to build muscle. Although many people thought he was insane, Mike Mentzer first told me that during a phone conversation back in the mid 90’s. I asked him his thoughts on protein intake and he screamed at me “That’s the biggest scam under the sun! Nobody needs that much protein. Muscles are 70% water. The only reason you read about the benefits of high protein area because that’s what everybody sells! It’s all a lie, Jason!”
Say what you will about Mike Mentzer, but I think he was ahead of his time on that one and you have to respect his rebelliousness.
In all honesty, being a vegetarian will not affect your strength gains AT ALL. In fact it shouldn’t really affect your size gains that much either. As you know, you need a caloric surplus to build muscle. To this as a vegetarian, you need to focus on good fats like nuts, oils and avocadoes, starchy carbs like oatmeal, sweet potatoes, pasta and brown rice and for protein sources you will be limited to dairy and fish (if you eat those things) or if you are a true vegan- beans, legumes, quinoa, soy, hemp protein, nuts, etc. Even though your protein will be lower than that of most meat eaters you can still build plenty of muscle.
Look at guys in prison. Walk into any state pen and take a look at the weight pit. You will see some of the biggest, most jacked guys you have ever seen. How many grams of high quality protein do you think they eat per day? Very, very little, I can assure you that. Someone I know used to be a prison guard and told me of how big and strong the guys were. “How are they getting so big with no protein” I asked (this was back in the days when I was still brainwashed). He told me that he had no idea because all they had to eat was grits, fake potatoes, rice and a small serving or two a day of very low quality meat or a meat substitute. So maybe they were getting 90 grams of protein per day. Yet they were huge.
You simply do not need high protein diets to build muscle.
When it comes to adding muscle while maintaining bodyfat, this is the only place you may have difficulty. Because it will be impossible to get all the calories you need from veggies and fruits you are going to really need to pile down the starchy carbs like rice and bread. If you are lean, this shouldn’t be a problem. But since your insulin sensitivity is lower when you are fatter, you may have trouble staying lean by eating all those starchy carbs. This may slow down your size gains because you may end up looking like a fat slob in no time.
To combat this problem, I would recommend carb cycling the way a normal meat eater would do it. Have super high carbs on training days and limit your starchy carbs on non training days. Maybe one day per week, only have vegetables as your carbs and eat nuts, and beans and fish and eggs that day.
Building a great physique as a vegetarian is definitely possible. I believe Clarence Bass was a vegetarian and a couple other legendary bodybuilders were as well. My friend and colleague, Robert Dos Remedios, is vegetarian and is a lean 240 pounds and in incredible shape.
Like the great Chuck D once said, don’t believe the hype. You don’t need 400 grams of protein per day to grow. You will progress just fine as a vegetarian. Good luck and keep me posted.
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