Today’s blog post is something a little different from my usual articles! I recently had the chance to sit down with Barny Du Plessis, professional vegan bodybuilder and winner of Mr Universe 2014.
Barny is the complete opposite of the stereotypical meathead (excuse the pun) bodybuilder that we’ve come to expect. He’s compassionate, intelligent, and committed to building something much bigger than just his own body.
Most of all, Barny is a walking example of how you don’t need meat (or dairy, or eggs) to build serious slabs of muscle. Let’s be honest – he doesn’t exactly look like a guy who is lacking protein, does he?
What were your reasons for going vegan?
Josie wanted to go vegan a couple of years ago but I wasn't ready. However the seed of change was planted. Many reasons came together at once really. I have a couple of hernias that were causing me increasing discomfort over the years due to the acidity of my meat based diet. It was becoming unbearable.
I watched the documentary GMO OMG and this really opened my eyes..there was no way we were going to give another single penny to the industries we don't believe in. Josie was becoming increasingly sensitive to dairy products so they were almost out of our diet anyway.
I was becoming aware of the mass industrialized farming methods that are now completely standard acceptable practice and there is no way I could support that. I was aware now of how much animal products I relied on and I was disgusted with myself and the bodybuilding and fitness industry, I was living as a hypocrite. I love animals, I wouldn't kill a butterfly let alone a cow, sheep or a pig, so why did I think it ok to pay someone else to do it?
All these things were playing on my mind for ages but it wasn't until a brief conversation with a local vegan coach called Paul kurton aka the hench herbivore the penny really dropped...it was time to change my entire life.
That evening I mentioned the idea to Josie thinking she would be resistant to the thought but contrary to my expectance she was relieved and said "of course, lets do this. I've only been waiting 2 years".
We've never looked back. That was the best decision we've ever made. Should have done it years ago. We're taking responsibility and accountability for ourselves and our choices nowadays.
So from that day, over 1.5 years ago we haven't touched an animal product and never will again. We've also eliminated animal products or stuff tested on animals from our clothing, toiletries, cleaning products etc.
We were also appalled on the impact these industries have on the environment so our change was backed up further to help save the world too. We see the added health benefits of veganism as a further bonus for making better more ethical choices which is of our first concern.
I do believe that the journey to being a vegan was parallel with my spiritual development. Also that to be a true animal lover, you have to be vegan. Why eat what you love?!
Were there any challenges that you faced when you made the switch?
Nothing in particular apart from the typical meat head remarks vegans get (more so from the hardcore meat eating bodybuilders of which there are an abundance I can assure you) and the monumental amount of prepping required of all the fresh foods for us both daily because of our nutritional requirements as elite level bodybuilders.
How has your health changed since making the switch?
Its incredible really. I feel emotionally more balanced, certainly more sensitive. Genuinely happier in myself like a dark cloud has been lifted plus living with the knowledge that nothing is suffering, being exploited or murdered for my existence and that's a good feeling. We're clearer in our minds and the same thing with our bodies.
My energy is always good, I ache less after workouts, strength and muscle is as good as it was on a meat based diet but far healthier.
I eat a lot more, I need to in order to keep my gains but I only get leaner as the food is so healthy. The body uses everything as it should..nothing is stored as fat. By only putting the best healthiest nutrition on the planet into my body I'm going to feel amazing and be at my best.
I have also noticed that my body is far more responsive. Little adjustments are registered almost instantly rather than a dulled response. I wasn't expecting any particular changes in my health and physical ability but the results are profound. So I eat more, get leaner, get healthier, train less and get better gains. No brainer!
I think vegans have a distinct advantage over meat-eaters in fitness. This is due to the many health benefits that veganism provides. Eating vegan also means you’re exposed to an awesome array of nutrient-rich healthy foods, and you feel great knowing that you're helping the environment and animals - people in the fitness industry forget that one's mental health is vital for being physically healthy.
Following a vegan diet can give you increased energy and younger looking skin, which is amazing. I feel much cleaner, non toxic being Vegan. My recovery is better from my training and my sleep is of much better quality too. Thus helping my training and continued awesome gains.
What does your current diet look like?
My maintenance off season nutrition looks like this:
- Protein 300g
- Carbs 700g
- Fats 130g
- 5120 calories
Pre workout 7am - strong espresso, BCAAS, coconut oil, beetroot juice, pre workout.
Breakfast - organic oats, seeds, PERFORM protein.
Lunch - rice & quinoa mix, lentils, veg.
Mid afternoon - rice & quinoa mix, lentils, veg.
Dinner - oats, seeds, PERFORM protein powder in a porridge.
All thanks to my special cooking fairy Josie she buys, weighs, measures, cooks all my food. I'm a very lucky chappy.
Everything we eat is weighed and measured to the gram, every day for each meal. We eat every three hours approximately. Our off-season calories are different to on-season competition prep. Typically i will eat around 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day off-season and 4,000 to 4,500 calories a day pre-competition.
My competition prep nutrition is from the following foods:
- PERFORM protein
- Hemp protein
- Rice Protein
- Mixed seeds
- Apples, bananas, dates, berries
- Basmati rice
- Rice flakes
- Brown and red lentils
- Wide variety and lots of healthy veggies
What about training?
At present, my "off-season" training is a ticking over kinda thing, just training three or four times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday.
Mondays typically would be chest, biceps, abs – two to four exercises per muscle group, four to five sets per exercise, 10 to 15 reps per set. It takes approximately one and a half hours to complete.
Wednesday: back, triceps.
Friday: quads, hams, calves.
Saturday: Shoulders, traps, abs.
Same rules apply for sets and reps, etc.
Off-season cardio is walking two to four times a day every day. Dog walks and to and from work – each walk is about 30 mins (two hours total a day).
On-season is the same but with added gym cardio, such as 40 minutes on a bike, stepper or stairmill six days a week for the final two months before shows.
The on-season training split is higher volume and really getting the machine (my body) tuned up:
Monday: chest, abs
Tuesday: back, traps
Thursday: shoulders, abs, obliques
Friday: hams, calves, forearms
Typically, my training looks like this, but I do have many different training systems, techniques, tricks up my sleeve if I ever feel it time to use them. However, normally it's five sets of 15 reps a set of three to four exercises per muscle group covering all angles, helping to sculpt a 3-D physique that really pops out.
What supplements do you use?
We are really impressed with PERFORM protein. It's an excellent product and the best vegan protein on the market. All our supplements are vegan of course.
Also we both use b-complex, vitamin c, zinc, glucosamine sulphate, chlorella, alpha lipoic acid, oregano, garlic, chromium, calcium &vitamin d, milk thistle, coconut oil (pre workout), Bcaa intra workout, creatine (essential for vegan power athletes), beetroot juice (pre workout).
What advice would you give to a vegan wanting to build muscle?
I wish I'd have stuck to being a vegetarian and turned vegan years ago. If I'd known then what I know now I would be equally as good as I am now but healthier and guilt free.
My advice is your body, the animals and the planet will love you for being vegan. Ethically, environmentally and physically its the best thing you could ever do. Just make sure you eat enough and a wide variety of protein based plants.
Train smarter not harder. Train to stimulate but not over do it. You'll just take longer to recover and won't make quicker progress.
Eat 1- 2000 more calories than you would on a normal meat based diet to make the same gains. Make sure you get a wide variety of protein foods in your diet to ensure all and plenty of amino acids are supplied to your body.
To be the best at anything never settle for anything less than what you really want, be fussy and don't compromise your standards. If you settle for second best, that what you will get. You have to love what you're doing to put in the extra effort that's required and become obsessed, live and breathe bodybuilding.
You put half measures in, youll get back just the same. When you think you've reached the end or had enough, go further...the further you go into this dark abyss the better you will be. This is the zone that many fear to tread/venture into...make this dark place your home. This is where champions are made and many drop away.
You need to train with intent with clear direction and focus towards the goals set. Take baby steps steadily forward to each target towards bigger goals. Consistent applied effort. You can't sprint a marathon. Training harder and harder wont make you grow faster. Stimulate don't annialate. Do enough to create a response but don't cause too much damage, you'll just take longer to heal and wont make better gains if anything you'll slip backwards. Be the tortoise not the hare.
What does the future hold for you?
I've had to put competitive bodybuilding on the back burner for now and just settle for ticking over until I'm fully trained up in my new vocation as a tattoo artist.
I will be stepping back on stage sometime next year though to keep my 'pro card' from expiring.
Over the past two years we've been very busy re-educating ourselves with new skills. Josie with multiple holistic therapies and myself following an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist (using only vegan inks and products). Where I'm travelling to and from Norwich to London every week for a year. Later on in the year we plan to be working full time in our newly learned vocations and start a new stage in our lives.
Want more from bodybuilders? Check out our 13 vegan bodybuilders tips on how to bulk up!