Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vegan Bodybuilding?

Our buddy Kevin pointed me to a recent piece in The New York Times about vegan bodybuilders. According to the article, the website has "more than 5,000 registered users," and vegan bodybuilders have been a "steady, small presence" in the International Natural Bodybuilding Association for years.

This is fascinating. Bodybuilding's not my thing, so I can't profess much knowledge about bodybuilders' diets -- but developing muscle on a vegan diet can't be easy.
“Is it possible to be a good bodybuilder and be a vegan? Yes,” said Jose Antonio, the chief executive of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. “But is it ideal? No.” 
Vegan bodybuilders may face challenges getting sufficient amino acids, found in meats, Antonio said, adding that although protein can be found in vegetables and nuts, they must be consumed in greater quantities to get the same amount as their counterparts in meat. “The amount of rice and beans you need to eat would fill up a Mexican restaurant,” he said. 
Other nutritionists and bodybuilders have argued that a disciplined vegan diet, consisting of things like hemp-based protein supplements, peanut butter, nuts, vegetables and legumes, can yield similar, if not better, results than a meat- or dairy-filled diet. Carefully monitored, vegans can get the same amount of protein with less fat or toxins, they argue. (For a midafternoon snack, [bodybuilder Jimi] Sitko sometimes eats 10 bananas.)
What? Rice? Beans? Peanut butter? And just how does eating 10 bananas provide a bodybuilder with "the same amount of protein with less fat or toxins"?

Of course, there are a good number of athletic folks who say they're thriving on vegan diets (see, e.g., the Old Spice Guy, Mike Tyson, elite ultrarunner Scott Jurekthe folks in the vegan and vegetarian CrossFitters' Facebook group, etc.). While I'm sure many of them choose veganism primarily due to ethical or environmental beliefs (which I won't bother to address again here, other than to point to Lierre Keith's book) -- some also attribute their fitness and athletic successes to veganism itself. But isn't it just as likely (if not more) that these athletes have accomplished their physical achievements despite their veganism? I wonder how much better they'd perform if they started eating some animals.

On the plus side: More meat for me, I guess.