In 2020, more people than ever are adopting plant-based lifestyles - even athletes. While there’s a perception that achieving peak performance is harder without any animal products in your diet, this simply isn’t true. And these 13 vegan bodybuilders prove it.
Among vegans, the most common worry for would-be bodybuilders is that they’ll struggle to get enough protein from their plant-based diets. Without being blunt though, this is just nonsense. A combination of a well-planned diet and the right vegan protein powder can create massive gains.
Modern supplements also mean that you needn’t worry about getting the right micronutrients in your diet plan. To prove it, here’s 13 tips from some vegan bodybuilders at the absolute top of their game.
1. Derek Simmnett
Derek Simmnett is an online coach and certified nutritional practitioner. Not only did he transition to full veganism in 2011, he also made the switch from running to bodybuilding at the same time. All of his gains in this period have been fuelled by a plant-based diet.
His mission is to help others make the switch by providing tasty and easy to source recipes for vegan bodybuilders. Many would-be vegans struggle because they don’t know how to get enjoyment out of their new diet.
For bodybuilders, Derek recommends adding anti-inflammatories to your morning smoothies to aid muscle recovery. In particular, he uses turmeric, black pepper, and flax seeds in his own breakfast drinks to ease inflammation caused by heavy lifting.
2. Ferdinand Beck
Ferdinand Beck, the mastermind behind Vegains, is one of the most inspiring stories in vegan bodybuilding. He turned to veganism on a complete whim in 2014, and since then he’s added 20kg of muscle mass and started a successful business advising others.
One of his secret weapons is beetroot. He recommends adding 1-5 teaspoons of beetroot powder to your daily diet. He prefers the powder, since it’s not as strong in flavour as whole beets, so it’s easier to incorporate into meals.
In addition to being a great source of protein, beets are also a fantastic way to get micronutrients such as iron, magnesium, and manganese into your diet as a vegan bodybuilder. In fact, an average serving can contain around 10% of your daily requirements of these nutrients.
Beetroots are also a powerful antioxidant, which has the dual effect of improving your brain power and lowering your blood pressure.
3. Tori Ree
As well as being an IFBB pro, Tori Ree is also a motivational speaker and online coach. While she first came to public attention as a voice in the fitness sphere, these days her work is much broader. Of course, you can’t have fitness without mental strength and vice-versa.
Most importantly for vegan bodybuilders, she advises not getting hung up on comparing yourself to others. This is harder than ever in the social media age. Bodybuilders suffer from this more than most, as it’s easy for someone else’s progress to make you feel inferior.
To combat this, Tori recommends being mindful of the reasons that images of others make us feel insecure, as well as remembering that when we see other people’s lives online, it is only a snapshot and not the full story.
4. Bianca Taylor
Bianca Taylor is an entrepreneur, who founded the CBD beauty company SKARA. She’s also been a vegan bodybuilder since 2014, having previously been a competitive dancer and bikini model.
When Bianca first started bodybuilding, her trainer gave her what she jokingly calls a ‘chicken and broccoli diet’, but she points out that she didn’t really see any results. In fact, she says this approach to nutrition was misleading and caused her to avoid carbs and fats.
Adopting veganism in 2014 helped her to gain a fuller picture of sports nutrition. She now advocates what she calls real nutrition, where carbs can fuel workouts rather than being something to avoid at all costs.
She combines this with an approach that emphasises self-love and good mental health as a crucial part of your bodybuilding journey. For Bianca, fitness isn’t about denying pleasures, it’s about finding them in healthier places.
5. Nimai Delgado
You may recognise Nimai Delgado as the IFBB pro who was recently featured in James Cameron’s Game Changers. Impressively, he’s also never eaten a single shred of meat in his life. He committed to a completely vegan lifestyle in 2015.
What’s more impressive is that he managed to stick to vegetarianism while growing up in Mississippi in the 90s and early 2000s. He’d be the first to admit that this wasn’t the easiest environment to avoid animal-based foods.
As such, his advice often surrounds the psychological challenges faced by vegan bodybuilders. He advocates practising mindfulness when you’re finding it difficult to stick to your diet plan. Essentially, this means understanding why you feel a certain way so that you can take steps to overcome it.
Nimai also has little time for the macho culture that often appears in bodybuilding circles. If you encounter someone who doesn’t think vegan is ‘manly’ he advocates ignoring them, and remembering that the best test of character is sticking to your principles.
6. Paul Kerton
Paul Kerton’s fitness journey started over 25 years ago, when he took up karate classes as a kid. He became a full-on vegan bodybuilder in 2012 to avoid heart disease and improve his cardiovascular performance.
Before he became a full-time personal trainer, Paul worked as a doorman in Norwich. He’s always been seen a bit of a ‘hard man’, so he’s keen to dispel some of the myths surrounding veganism, as well as to emphasise how much muscle you can gain on a plant based diet.
In particular, Paul emphasises the importance of getting certain micronutrients - which can be harder to get without animal-based products - through vegan supplements.
He recommends seeking out vegan-friendly supplements for vitamin B12 and creatine, which aren’t available in a plant-based diet otherwise. These are crucial for achieving peak performance, as well as improving recovery times.
7. Brian Turner
There are many reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle, but one you might not have considered is curing acne. All the same, that’s exactly how Brian Turner decided to go completely plant-based. In fact, ditching dairy helped him to clear his skin, where intensive medical treatment did not.
Like many vegan bodybuilders, Brian loathes what he calls bro-science: advice that spreads around the gym without any science to back it up.
Instead, he prefers his science-backed humerus smoothie: a mixture of bananas, mangoes, cacao nibs, almond milk, and Vivo Life vegan protein powder. Frankly, this blows the chicken and broccoli approach out of the water.
Brian’s also a big fan of the Happy Cow app, which helps you find vegan-friendly food pretty much anywhere in the world.
8. Rob Walker
Rob Walker is one of the most prolific vegan bodybuilders around. He’s won multiple awards from the likes of the Arnold Classic, British Weightlifting, and the BodyPower Games.
He’s a real advocate of fitness beyond just adding muscle mass and strength. He’s a crossfitter as well as a vegan bodybuilder, so he knows a thing or two about functional movement and conditioning.
In particular, he advises putting serious effort into your flexibility and joint mobility. This is an area that too many bodybuilders ignore, which can lead to pain and injuries.
9. Rob Webster
Rob Webster is the founder of Vegan Physique, where he creates personalised diet and fitness plans for vegan bodybuilders who want to see consistent progress. For him, the core of this is meal planning without breaking the bank.
He often points out common issues that vegan bodybuilders encounter in their diets. One of these is what he calls ‘tag-along carbs’. Not all carbs are created equal, and where possible it’s best to choose the option with the most micronutrient content.
An example of this is switching white rice for brown, or overly processed pastas for their whole-grain counterparts.
He also emphasises the importance of gaining a calorie surplus for gaining mass. Since vegan foods are generally less calorific, he recommends making up this difference by drinking your calories using meal replacement drinks.
10. Anna Hulda Ólafsdóttir
Anna Hulda Ólafsdóttir isn’t just another vegan bodybuilder. She’s also a professor of engineering, and a mum of two. Without putting too fine a point on it, she has quite a lot on her plate. Even so, she’s won multiple national and international bodybuilding and crossfit awards.
Unsurprisingly then, her best advice for vegan bodybuilders is about finding the time to train. One is keeping a gym bag in your car at all times to squeeze in training sessions whenever possible. This might be because of a cancelled appointment or a spare hour between meetings.
She also emphasises the importance of having clear priorities. For Anna, family comes first, then work, and then training. This is important as it keeps her responsibilities from competing with each other.
This approach also prevents working out from becoming a chore. Instead, it provides a helpful release and serves to keep her motivated while she carries out her other responsibilities.
11. Zanna Van Dijk
Without exaggerating, Zanna Van Dijk is one of the most important fitness voices in the UK. She’s won several awards, runs multiple successful fitness brands, and even hosts a fitness podcast on the BBC.
She has several easily actionable tips for vegan bodybuilders. One of these is adding variety to your fitness and diet plans. This has the dual benefit of improving motivation and helping to ensure you gain full-body fitness and all the necessary nutrients in your diet.
Another easy to implement tip is to add a 15-second cold blast to the end of your morning shower. This may sound odd, but even a short exposure to the cold improves circulation and your immune system, as well as increasing your perceived energy levels.
Zanna also understands that it’s easy to deviate from your diet plan. To avoid eating unhealthy snacks, she leaves healthy alternatives like fruit and nuts around her home, office, and even her car.
12. Maddie Lymburner
Maddie Lymburger is a Canadian vegan fitness YouTuber, who also creates a vast range of easy and delicious plant-based recipes. Her recipes are a great source of inspiration for creating vegan fuel for a busy and adventurous lifestyle.
For vegan bodybuilders who’ve caught the travel bug, she recommends spinach and potato energy balls, which can be made in a single pan just about anywhere - from hostels to the campfire. They’re perfect to carry on the hiking trail as a healthy snack.
She also recommends cutting out cooking oil as an easy way for vegan bodybuilders to cut fat. She’s quite shrewd about this, pointing out that if she wanted coconut oil or olive oil, she’d eat a whole coconut or olive. This ensures that you get the full nutritional benefit of the whole food, especially fibre.
When frying foods, oil can be avoided with the right non-stick cookware and by refraining from overcrowding your pans.
13. Izzi von Kohler
London-based blogger and personal trainer Izzi von Kohler has been a vegan for over six years. When she made the transition to a plant-based diet, she also quit her job of 13 years to commit herself to running her fitness business full-time.
To new vegan bodybuilders, she points out that it’s important not to think in terms of what you can and can’t eat. Rather, it’s important to think about the quantities of certain food that you eat. In all nutrition, moderation is the key.
She’s also sure on the importance of setting your own goals and deadlines. Taking full control and ownership of your own fitness journey is the best way to retain motivation. This type of empowerment is one of the most important factors in achieving your goals.
Izzi knows better than most people that setting yourself new challenges is always scary. At the same time, this means that your hard work will pay off even more when you finally achieve your goals as a vegan bodybuilder.
As you may have noticed by now, you can make gains and get enough protein from a plant-based diet. Mixing together a planned diet and using the right vegan protein powder can help you achieve your goals.