This feature write-up of mine got published in June 2017 edition of VegPlanet Magazine, India’s first magazine on Veganism. This edition is the first edition of the magazine and I’m really happy that my feature happened to be a part of it’s legacy.
I’m grateful to my friend Niranjan Amarnath, who is the publisher and editor of the magazine for giving me such an incredible writing opportunity. I wish him all the success in his endeavor.
Veganism- strict vegetarianism that shuns meat, dairy, egg and all other animal products as well as byproducts – has underwent an enormous evolution over decades after parting company from ovo-lacto vegetarianism and pescetarianism.
Today, veganism has become a global phenomenon with great number of people taking up vegan diet and lifestyle seriously. Various food, health, beauty and fashion products are hitting markets with plant based ingredients sealed with vegan logo.
Celebrities, athletes, politicians and people from various walks of life line up to advocate veganism while embracing it as an intrinsic part of their life.
People turn up to veganism for various reasons. Some for health, others for love for animals and some others for betterment of the life of fellow human beings. Some of them transform themselves as vegans on environmental concerns and other few for pure ethical reasons. Whatever the reason be, today, this lifestyle is an ongoing trend worldwide.
Vegan fitness has gained momentum in the world of bodybuilding which is dominated by dairy, egg and meat protein supplements. Vegan bodybuilders build muscles using just plant based amino acids along with well planned workout sessions.
Bodybuilders and athletes like Kenneth G Williams, Jimi Sitko, Amanda Riester and Billy Simmonds have become vegan fitness legends and also strong advocates of plant based diet.
According to them, combination of plant based protein and good training is more than enough to sculpt a great looking physique rather than indulging in omnivorous protein supplements and steroids.
Vegan fitness enthusiasts and professionals believe that plant based diet consist of all sorts of proteins- building blocks of muscles- which can be readily absorbed by human body. Plant based protein and diet takes no toll on environment and also does no harm to animals too.
Love changes everything and everything changes for good.
Its exactly what happened in Nishriin Parikh’s life. Born in an Islamic family and raised as a non vegetarian, she decided to become a vegetarian when she fell in love with her future husband who is a vegetarian hails from a Gujarati Jain family.
Nishriin is the founder of Yoga Strength, a holistic fitness movement and a national award winning personal trainer based in Mumbai. She trained over 600 students and loves to share her knowledge for the wellness of all.
A martial arts expert herself, she never consider transforming to a vegan as a challenge. “It was not a challenge at all!” she says with great confidence. “I see every endeavor as a mind game. Our body always listens to our mind, if you have the will. Make up your mind and nothing feels like a challenge.”
She works out at home and does weight training at a local gym.
Thirty years ago, Nishriin underwent Hysterectomy. The surgery usually take a great toll on the health of a woman. Most women tend to become obese after that. she turned to veganism after the surgery to keep herself fit.
“Most of my friends and relatives have become obese after undergoing hysterectomy, but, thanks to my vegan diet and lifestyle, at 50 I’m just 46 Kilos with 16% body fat” she says proudly.
Instead of meat and diary products, her diet mainly consists of nuts, seeds and fruits while shunning cereals. She prefers pea protein isolate as protein supplement.
The story of Aman Duggal is different.
A passionate sportsperson during his college days, he turned to vegetarianism when he was motivated by a vegetarian friend in college athletic team. His never-ending love for animals eventually transformed him as a vegan.
He is the Founder and CEO of Alpharaj, which is an unbiased, independent and evidence-based organization devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and critical thinking in the fitness industry. A passionate advocate for the animal liberation movement himself, Aman studies animal rights philosophy extensively.
“The entire concept of humane killing is based on the premise that animals have absolutely no desire to live their life and therefore killing them is not a harm. And that is nonsense.” says Aman. He believes that even if we can do it painlessly, killing constitutes an irrevocable harm. Animals obviously want to live. And death deprives them of all their future experiences.
As a nutritionist, he says that the essential nutrients which are found in meat can also be found in plants.
“People have this notion that vegan food is extremely deficient in vitamins and minerals. When in reality, it takes only around 1300 calories from a well-planned vegan diet to hit the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of each nutrient. So if you plan your vegan diet properly you will easily exceed the RDA for each nutrient since you’ll in all likelihood be consuming a lot more than just 1300 calories a day.” he asserts.
According to him, all nutrients except Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D can be found in plants. But, while Vitamin D can be easily obtained from a supplement or exposing ourselves to sunlight, Vitamin B12 can be picked up from fortified foods.
The month of November in 2015 is an unforgettable one for Azadbir Singh Athwal, an Indian born personal trainer based in United Kingdom. After watching few videos on factory farming and slaughter houses, and also reading number of articles on veganism along with his brother, they felt being hypocritical about their food and lifestyle. After few months of introspection and reflection both of them turned to veganism.
“It was one of the best decisions I have taken in my life” he says with a smile.
“Until 2011, I was an omnivore. I turned to veganism, when it dawned on me that I can’t be against the murder of innocent animals so much but be OK with their exploitation and rape for my dairy and egg products. Its the same thing I was against – the exploitation of innocent beings.” he expresses his point of view.
Researches prove that those who follow vegan or plant based diet have lowest incidents of heart disease, lower blood pressure, cholesterol and thyroid levels as well as have less risk for certain types of cancers. As long as nutrition is concerned, plant based diets are rich in fibre, antioxidants and phyto-chemicals. It can also help to maintain better blood profile.
“I can speak confidently about my own experiences. Since going vegan, I have lowered
cholesterol levels, more energy in gym, better recovery, lower resting heart rate and more
regular bowel movements.” Azadbir tells enthusiastically.
Bodybuilding is science as well as an art. The science of nutrition, diet and regular exercise plus an art of sculpting muscles, maintaining physique and posture. When it comes to vegan bodybuilding, the game gets even tougher for the bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. Vegan bodybuilders and athletes faces more challenges than an omnivore sportsperson. Main reason is, it is always a difficult job to search and find vegan dietary supplements, food products as well as eateries.
“A few years ago, When I started out as a vegan, it was very difficult to find a vegan store or a restaurant. But today, the scenario has changed. You can find stores with vegan supplements and products with little effort” says L. Sathishwaran, a 25 year old international table tennis player who also runs a fitness centre at Chennai.
Satishwaran became a vegan purely on ethical reasons. He believes that modern factory farming is a brutal as well as a messy business. Killing and torturing innocent animals for leather or other animal products and for painful laboratory experiments are totally unacceptable to this animal lover. He is also a part of ‘Anbe Sivam’, an animal rescue team works along with Blue Cross to rescue trapped and injured animals.
Great things worth having never comes easily, goes an old proverb. It goes well with veganism too. Peace of mind, inner calmness, positive attitude and a healthy body are some of the few perks for being a vegan.
Taking good effort to bring down cruelty towards animals and to create a clean environment brings greater satisfaction too. As one vegan puts it, “It feels great to realize that no one got killed for a plate of food for me!”
Though vegan fitness has gained popularity in western world, in India, the Vegan movement is viewed with a great degree of skepticism. It is mainly because of misinformation, intolerance towards new ideas and biased approach of the fitness industry.
Without seeing the bigger picture, people cherry-pick the ideas those suit their biases and strive to establish them as facts.
Veganism can also be seen as vegetarianism combined with a campaign for animal rights. When a vegan speaks, he or she doesn’t just speak for themselves, they speak for animals and environment too.
Veganism stems from the awareness that all life forms are equally important. Modern day farming accounts for 28% of global greenhouse gases. Recent studies show that livestock and their byproducts create at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, that is, 51 percent of annual worldwide Green House Gas emissions.
Livestock farming is considered as a major source of land and water degradation as well. Major part of the global crop yield is diverted to feed livestock which in turn comes as meat and poultry on our dining table. This whole process is highly expensive and also harmful for environment.
Vegan fitness diet should be based on the cornerstone of the protein pyramid of nuts, cereals (like quinoa and oats) as well as legumes. The challenge comes in balancing the amino acid profile in diet. And the good news is: there are always good substitutes for dairy and meat protein in plant kingdom. As such, if you rely heavily on eggs for protein, you can turn to soya or pea protein as a great protein source.
For a person who aspire to build muscle on plant based diet should start to track what you eat daily, that means diet monitoring. Good news is that, great number of applications like Myfitnesspal are available at your disposal. This is the single best thing you can do to begin to understand what you’re eating. Online TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) calculators can help you determine how many calories and Macro-nutrients you need daily for your fitness goals and you can also track in order to achieve them. It is also recommendable that people should do a thorough look around at local supermarkets because they often miss a lot of vegan friendly choices around them by just sticking in their comfort zone. It may take a few painful weeks of tracking calories and reading labels to determine what’s vegan and what’s not, but in the long run you’ll find things so much easier.
Weight or Resistance training is vital for any bodybuilder whether he or she is a Vegan or not. It is the only way to slow down the aging process, bone degradation, to get in better shape and to protect you against the world’s biggest health killers.
“When I used to tell people, eating meat is bad for us, animals and so on, people would tease me saying that if you want your body to be in good shape, you should eat animals. I took it as a challenge to show them that with vegan diet I can achieve the same.” says Aravindan, an accounting analyst in Oracle India. “When we tell that our muscles are based on plant diet, most of other bodybuilders look at us as doubtful as if we are lying.” he says with a sigh.
“Generally, the first response I get is of hate from other bodybuilders.”says Azadbir Singh Athwal. “There are so many bad connotations with the word ‘vegan’, which is why I’ve decided to use the term ‘plant based’. I don’t blame others to be brutally honest, it’s really hard to try and see things from a completely different perspective. I can only draw comparison on when I was an omnivore, I never even looked at what the definition of a vegan was. I didn’t know there was such a thing.” he confesses.
“Many people believe that building a good physique is possible only through a “dead body” diet but the truth is different. Plant based diet is much healthier and totally guilt free. Believe that you need not kill an animal, pull away its baby or keep them in filthy cages to gain protein.” he states.
Poor diet management, whether it is vegan or non-vegan, is the major reason behind failed fitness results. You can’t even blame plant based diet on that.
“Number of people approach me to prepare for them a vegan diet. I’m always happy to do that. Education is the most important factor here along with scientific and critical thinking. You should be open to the idea of veganism.” says Aman Duggal.
Inspired by Aman’s decision to become a vegan, most of his family members and some of his friends have turned to plant based diet and vegan lifestyle.
“It’s a great feeling when you realize that you are the catalyst for change and inspiration to people around you” Aman says cheerfully.
“We have been lied to since childhood that animal protein is superior to plant protein. It has been established as a fact that in order to gain muscle or perform well in sports, animal or omnivorous protein is a must. Its high time to shatter those lies.” opined L.Sathishwaran.
All of us have a limited time on this planet and most of us don’t really have a purpose as such. There are a lot of things that can add meaning to our lives as something as significant as fighting for animals or environment. This unique way of thinking hand over a greater purpose to a vegan’s life. And everything else in their life seem trivial compared to this mightier mission.
“I have decided that I am going to stop wasting time and start working hard. I wanted to show people that veganism isn’t just some diet fad which can be casually dismissed. I carried over that motivation into my strength training. So I wouldn’t say that there was anything special about my vegan diet because of which my performance improved but rather it was just the added motivation which helped me, and overall I just felt more at peace with myself.” states L. Satishwaran.
Vegans ask for only few things from non-Vegans or people who are not living on a plant based diet: Keep ego aside, let your mind be open to new ideas. And listen to vegan message.
Vegan philosophy is quite simple—live and let live.
Vegan fitness is a march towards mitigating cruelty and creating a win-win situation for animals, environment and for ourselves. Its the path towards building a cruelty-free body. No one should be harmed for our greed, extravagance or exhibitionism. Keep in mind that we cant take everything for granted on this planet.
Let us all make an honest attempt to learn new things, face ideas that make us uncomfortable, keep bias aside and strive to overcome our deeply held beliefs.