We sat down with the team of Vegan Muscle and Fitness, pioneers in online vegan bodybuilding coaching. In this sit down, Derek Tresize, Max Seabrook, and Forest Nash share valuable advice for vegan bodybuilding and the future of veganism.
David: Let’s start with the start of your journey. How did it begin?
Derek Tresize: Originally, when I went vegan and saw the incredible results, I started trying to get everyone at the gym to go vegan. No one would listen, so rather than trying to tell people to eat only plants, I was inspired by conversations with Robert Cheeke to push my personal training online. That was back in 2009, and the idea of providing recipes and workouts online was pretty new, but we had success. Max was an early client, and Forest was a lifelong vegetarian turned vegan personal trainer, and they both joined as the business grew.
Since 2013, online vegan training has really blown up, and we have experimented with different training styles. Most of our clients now prefer diet plans – we’ve found nutrition to be the #1 key to success as a vegan athlete – and 1-on-1 training.
David: Do you see any barriers to someone getting fit on a vegan diet versus an omnivorous one?
Max Seabrook: Not anymore. There is so much inspiration online, making it easy for anyone to go vegan. It’s pretty similar, except you get health benefits such as longevity and fiber. For someone new, there is a hurdle with learning what to eat, but there are many different diets that work. We advocate a whole food plant-based diet.
Derek Tresize: I’d add that eating enough is a common issue. Whole food plant-based meals are less calorie dense, so tracking macros is critical. We advise all our clients to track macros.
David: Let’s say someone is eating healthy. They’re already slim or in decent shape. What would you recommend for getting built in 3 hours per week, if they’re busy?
Forest Nash: If eating correctly – which, as you nailed, is key – we’d typically create a workout around switching off non-consecutive days, like Monday, Wednesday, Friday. In those days, do compound, multi-joint exercises like the squat to ensure you’re hitting your full body each time. Hitting muscles with higher frequency builds more muscle than doing so weekly. If you can, feel free to add in some isolation exercises, like bicep curls, which only work one muscle. Add in progressive overload, so you’re increasing weights or reps over time, and you’re set.
Max Seabrook: When you have limited time, compound exercises are definitely going to giving you the best bang for your buck.
Derek Tresize: With any program, compound lifts are going to be the bread and vegan butter.
David: Working with so many athletes, what do you think is preventing more men from going vegan? Recent numbers show that only 20-25% of vegans are men.
Derek Tresize: There are three big things:
- Meat eating is still seen as masculine to some folks, playing on the archetype of the hunter man, even if most folks go to the supermarket to get it.
- The belief that it is hard to be strong on a vegan diet.
- Cultural momentum.
For #1, having role models is key, so the rise of vegan athletes, actors, UFC fighters, and other “manly men” is helping. For #2, that’s where we work. We start all our clients with the reminder that they are a walking billboard for veganism, even if they don’t tell people about fitness, just by people knowing they’re vegan. We’re showing you can be strong on a vegan diet. And #3 affects men and women, but the ball is moving in our favor. Veganism is snowballing and going mainstream.
Max Seabrook: I agree. It’s considered masculine to eat meat, but that myth is dying. What you’re eating doesn’t define your masculinity, and there are examples on both sides.
Forest Nash: It takes time for opinions and belief to change. That cultural inertia can be overcome.
David: What do you think activists could do to make it easier for more men to go vegan?
Max Seabrook: Activists are doing a good job already with a wide mix of activism, from exposing what is happening behind the curtain to just being public about being vegan. Different messages work for different people. The best thing is that people are public about being vegan, even if they’re a normal person going to work and eating healthy or not. It normalizes veganism.
Also, be educated on what can work for other people. For example, if you’re not someone who goes to the gym, know a few vegan bodybuilders that you can direct people interested in fitness to. People resonate towards veganism when they discover it for themselves.
Derek Tresize: For some blue-collar men into hunting and fishing, they won’t respond well to animal ethics arguments, but listening to someone like Fraser Bayley and Ryan Nelson, people who used to be butchers or hunters, that could work for them. They may be open to change for lifestyle, family, and health reasons, if they’re not turned off by pushing too hard or browbeating.
David: Where do you see the future of veganism, in 5-15 years?
Forest Nash: The growth is going to be exponential. It’s like night and day from 5-15 years ago already. Every year, more momentum builds, vegan documentaries come out at an increasing pace, social media allows information to be shared freely, vegan options for food and fashion increase. We have foods like the Impossible burger which people can’t distinguish from meat burgers. Everything you can get on a non-vegan diet can now be gotten on a vegan diet. Even ice cream.
Derek Tresize: Forbes even called 2019 “Year of the Vegan,” so we know everyone’s getting ready to get on board, if they’re not already.
Max Seabrook: Veganuary is a good example of what Forest said. Every year, Veganuary has a bigger buzz, and this year’s was the biggest by far with companies scrambling for coverage. We had huge buzz in the UK, like the news about Piers Morgan and the vegan sausage.
I think the biggest change will be the rise of the “unhealthy/junk food vegan.” In the past, veganism was associated with eating healthier foods, but now you can have your vegan meats and cheeses, and dessert to top it off. While it may have been a health thing in the past, the increasing accessibility will allow more people to go vegan and keep eating less healthy foods, so I could see a rise of the unhealthy/junk food vegan in the future. Which can be a great thing for the animals and people transitioning! But from a vegan fitness and health perspective, we still advocate a whole food plant-based diet.
Stay tuned for the rest of the conversation on a very different topic: raising vegan children.