We sat down with Shaka Smith, also known as Shaka Strong. Shaka shares what drew him to veganism and how to find success in vegan bodybuilding.
David: You’re an actor, model, bodybuilder, author, lawyer, and someone who has been involved in a lot. Could you briefly talk through your journey of veganism?
Shaka “Strong” Smith: Yeah, absolutely. I didn’t look for veganism. I’m from the Caribbean, where we eat a very meat-heavy diet. Goat, ox, everything. Not eating meat would have been like divorcing myself from my culture.
When I moved to Los Angeles, after undergraduate and law school, I pursued acting and began competing as a bodybuilder. I had a natural physique from swimming and water polo, but I realized I needed to learn about nutrition. I spent a long time researching, and decided veganism was the best diet. I remember this one video of Annette Larkins. Looking at her versus others her age, even her husband, she looked so young. That was visual proof, and that plus the research, I knew veganism was the right diet for me.
I gave up red meat the first year, went pescatarian the second, and went vegan in my third year. I committed to it for health reasons, but as I educated myself on the diet and vegan options in my area, I learned about the animal welfare and environmental concerns. Now, I do my best to advocate for the animals as well.
David: You’re in a small yet growing club of actor and celebrities using their platforms to encourage veganism. What are your thoughts on being most effective as a vegan activist?
Shaka Smith: Be authentic and honest. Many people assume vegan activists are aggressive and want people to change immediately. We all make a mixed variety of choices, and you may not agree with mine, and I may not agree with yours. We need to meet people where they are and not try to get them to change today. For me, being pushed to go vegan immediately wouldn’t have worked, so I think listening, educating, and respecting people’s present decisions are paramount.
David: What do you think is the future of veganism in the next 5-15 years?
Shaka Smith: Oh, it’s so exciting! We’re seeing a trend upwards. I may be biased because I live in LA, but I see companies I’ve worked with finding massive success. Beyond Meat just went public. McDonald’s and Burger Kings are adding vegan options, making it pervasive and accessible in every city in the United States.
We have a lot of money from corporations getting involved, so we know the momentum is inevitable now. We just have to make sure that the quick growth and money doesn’t steer veganism into a dark place, like any industry, but the future looks so bright.
David: Let’s switch to fitness. You authored 6 Minute 6 Pack Abs. You’re an award-winning fitness model and maintain a sculpted physique. A lot of people ask how to do that on a vegan diet. What do you think are the essential differences are for someone getting ripped on a vegan diet, if any?
Shaka Smith: It all comes down to macros, so I don’t think there are any differences. You have to watch the macros you’re intaking – fat, protein, carbs – and you need to eat to hit the right macros. Your look can be a little different based on what goes into those macros. I’ve seen less bloat and more conditioning on those following a vegan diet, but that’s more anecdotal.
David: What do you think about supplementation? Is it a must, or is a whole food plant-based diet enough?
Shaka Smith: A whole food plant-based diet is definitely enough. However, if you’re looking for dramatic changes or vegan bodybuilding for competitions, you may want to supplement to put on a lot of size as quickly as possible. It should be raw, meaning pure protein without extra carbohydrates or fillers. I use Garden of Life, but any company that’s compliant, safe, and organic is my suggestion. Not all companies are rigorous with their supplements, so pick one carefully.
Many vegan meat substitutes also have a lot of protein. Ultimately, in the bodybuilding world, you need a lot of protein and it can be a challenge to get from food alone, just like on a non-vegan diet. But for those maintaining or staying lean, no extra supplementation is needed. I haven’t been supplementing my protein for nearly five months, but I’m about to start supplementing protein for my next show in 1-2 months. I want to see where I can push my physique this go round.
“Regarding supplements, I don’t want to deny the utility of them, but there’s no necessity for them.”
David: A lot of bodybuilders struggle to get abs. Any secrets to chiseled abs you can share?
Shaka Smith: It comes down to diet. Your abs are very versatile, so you want to make sure you’re varying your routine often, but diet is the killer. I see guys going to the gym every day, then rewarding themselves with pizza afterwards, and they’re wondering why they don’t get abs.
David: Thanks so much for your time. Is there any recent work you’d like to shout out?
Shaka Smith: I produce and run a fitness show (including vegan bodybuilding and more), Fit Club, on AfterBuzzTV/Black Hollywood Live. It airs every Wednesday 6-7pm PST. You can find it on Youtube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and most places you’d get your podcasts. Feel free to give it a listen!