Broccoli for Beasts: Vegan Bodybuilding

By Vincent Corvino

vegan bodybuilding is no contradiction

In life, contradictions can be harder to swallow than raw broccoli, but ours is a universe in which conflict creates harmony and where positive and negative forces conspire to make the world go round.  My life has forced me to embrace contradictions.  I was born and raised in a tough working class Bronx neighborhood but educated at an elite upstate prep school.  Though I was born with a semi-functional but deformed right arm, I’m a guitar player, a trained boxer, a bodybuilder, and a former captain of my high school wrestling team who also sang arias at school recitals and landed leads in school plays.

Right now, I’m a high school English teacher and lead singer of the hard rock band, Urbansnake.  So, when a recent high-blood-pressure diagnosis forced me to trade my classic bodybuilding diet to one I’d learned to associate with the stereotypical flimsy hippie, I was more than ready to both pump iron and forage.  Before long, I would find myself lovingly bound to a fitness plan that best satisfied all my reasons for ever entering a gym: vanity, health, and well-being.

I’ve always loved meat and had become capable of easily downing a twenty-four ounce London broil in one sitting.  The bodybuilding media had indoctrinated me with the idea that eliminating meat meant losing muscle.  I didn’t want to lose muscle on my new plant-based diet, but at least one of my blood pressure numbers resembled betting odds for a Floyd Mayweather fight, and I figured I wouldn’t gain much muscle sleeping eternally in a subterranean compact bedroom — if you get my drift.

The well-researched connection between plant-based diets and reduced blood pressure was far too convincing to reject.  For years, I’d been ingesting a small serving of lean meat or fish and a measured complex carb every three hours of my waking life.  This eating plan had drastically increased my muscle size and strength.   I was regularly benching over 350 lbs and carrying between 250 and 260 lbs on a 5 9′ frame.  According to my doctor’s BMI chart, I no longer met the height-to-weight ratio acceptable for my species and should probably consider joining a gorilla community.

body building vegans

Pumping up with veggies.

Yes, I was big.  Yes, I was strong.   I also couldn’t shake the fleshy softness coating my muscles, no matter how hard I trained or how strictly I adhered to my classic bodybuilding diet.  I attributed this problem to genetics and learned to accept that I would probably never achieve my desired physique.  Hell, I was still more fit than I’d be without a diet and workout plan.  You can’t always get what you want, right?  As Pulp Fiction’s Sam Jackson so stylishly said, “Allow me to retort.”

I replaced my daily six to eight servings of meat with bean salads, hummus, tofu or seitan wraps, and modest servings of nuts and peanut butter.  I swapped by post-workout whey protein shake for a vegetable, fruit and soy-protein smoothie.  I added more leafy green vegetables and sweet potatoes to my regimen.  I stuck to this new menu for twelve weeks and actually gained strength and stamina in the gym and began to steadily shed body fat, particularly the fluff around my midsection.  Within a year, I dropped 44 lbs, reduced my blood pressure to better-than-normal numbers, and gained a few artsy friends at my local farmers market and natural foods store.  Yes, these things exist on Staten Island.  It ain’t all pizza, giant sunglasses, and ugly vendettas.

Why is a plant-based diet so conducive to muscle gain and fat loss?  Plant-based foods are anti-inflammatory foods.  Why do misguided bodybuilders use steroids?  Because they have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that speed up muscle recovery and, therefore, muscle growth.  Fat loss easily occurs on a plant-based diet, because unlike animal foods, plant-based foods are high in fiber and water.  Fiber and water fill the stomach.  A four-hundred-calorie serving of fiber-and-water rich broccoli will occupy far more of the stomach than will a four-hundred-calorie serving of meat or dairy.

As a result, plant-based dieters feel fuller on fewer calories.  So, what about protein?  If you think that your body will absorb all forty grams in that sirloin you’re eating, you’re wrong.  In fact, plant-based proteins are far easier to digest and offer the added benefit of micronutrients that aid muscle repair and growth and general health and well being.

Want to become a beast on broccoli?  Here are some tips:

1. Stick to whole unprocessed plant foods.  Brown rice is a whole grain and whole food.  Supermarket “whole wheat” breads are processed foods.  An orange is a whole food.  Orange juice is candy in a container.  Avoid refined flour and sugar at all costs.

2. Lose the protein myth.  One-hundred grams of highly absorbable protein is enough for most gym rats.  Whole grains, nuts, seeds, soy, and many vegetables provide ample protein for muscle recovery and growth.

3. Continue to eat several small meals a day.  This keeps your muscles in an anabolic state and improves your metabolism.

4. Accept your body.  Have you noticed that the big guys in the gym are always trying to get ripped like the naturally lean guys in the gym?  In turn, the lean guys are always trying to bulk up.  Didn’t Hurricane Sandy teach us that you can’t fight nature?  The ripped hulks on the magazine covers would have you believe they’re on egg whites, not steroids.  Stay natural, and do the best with what you are.

5. Curry favor with your savings. Meat is expensive.  A plant-based diet will save you lots of money.  Spend it on your best girl.  I’m sure she loves your biceps, but she’ll love them even more inside that restaurant she’s been dying to visit.

About the Author:

Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, amongst them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake.  He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership.  He has been an English teacher since 1996.

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