When you think about bodybuilding one of the first things that springs to mind is meat protein and lots of it, but veganism, surely not? Well, step forward 2014 Mr Universe winner Barny du Plessis!
This mountain of a man made the switch to a vegan diet two-and-a-half years ago, and from the looks of things, it certainly seems that he can still pack in the protein with plants.
We caught up with him to talk about his diet, how his massive lifestyle change has affected his training, and to get some great advice for other pumpers of iron thinking of leaving the world of meat-eating behind.
The MALESTROM: Why did you make the decision to go vegan?
Barny du Plessis: My wife Josie wanted to go vegan a couple of years ago but I wasn’t ready. However, the seed of change was planted. Many reasons came together at once really. I have a couple of hernias that were causing me increasing discomfort over the years due to the acidity of my meat-based diet. It was becoming unbearable. I watched the documentary GMO OMG and this really opened my eyes. There was no way we were going to give another single penny to these industries we don’t believe in.
Josie was becoming increasingly sensitive to dairy products, so they were almost out of our diet anyway. I was becoming aware of the mass industrialised farming methods that are now completely standard acceptable practice, and there is no way I could support that. I was aware now of how many animal products I relied on and I was disgusted with myself and the bodybuilding and fitness industry, I was living like a hypocrite. I love animals, I wouldn’t kill a butterfly, let alone a cow, sheep or a pig, so why did I think it ok to pay someone else to do it?
All these things were playing on my mind for ages but it wasn’t until a brief conversation with a local Vegan coach called Paul Kurton a.k.a. the “Hench Herbivore” that the penny really dropped… it was time to change my entire life. That evening I mentioned the idea to Josie thinking she’d be resistant to the thought but contrary to my expectancy, she was relieved and said “of course, let’s do this. I’ve only been waiting two years!”
We’ve never looked back. That was the best decision we’ve ever made. We should have done it years ago. We’re taking responsibility and accountability for ourselves and our choices nowadays. So from that day, over two and a half years ago, we haven’t touched an animal product and never will again.
We’ve also eliminated animal products or stuff tested on animals from our clothing, toiletries, cleaning products etc. We were also appalled at the impact these industries have on the environment, so our change was backed up further by helping save the world too.
We see the added health benefits of veganism as a further bonus for making better, more ethical choices which are of our first concern. I do believe that the journey to being a vegan was parallel with my spiritual development. Also to be a true animal lover, you have to be vegan. Why do we think it’s ok to eat one animal and love another, it’s hypocritical, it’s speciesism and it’s insane!
The MALESTROM: What are the standout physical differences you’ve experienced since turning vegan?
Barny du Plessis: It’s incredible really. I feel emotionally more balanced, certainly more sensitive and tuned in or tuned up. Genuinely happier in myself, like a dark cloud has been lifted, plus living with the knowledge that nothing is suffering, being exploited or murdered for my existence is a good feeling.
All our food is GMO-Free if we can help it and organic when able and other products we purchase these days are ethical trade, and with the environment in mind, of no animal origin. So we’re clearer in our minds and the same thing with our bodies.
Think about it, GMO-free, organic, vegan. Food that is seriously healthy and good for us, in abundance… our bodies thrive on this. My energy is always reliable and good, I ache less after workouts, strength and muscle mass is as good as it was on a meat-based diet but I’m far healthier.
I eat a lot more, I need to in order to keep my gains but I only get leaner as the food is so healthy. The body uses everything as it should, nothing is stored as fat. By only putting the best, healthiest nutrition on the planet into my body I’m going to feel amazing and be at my best.
I have also noticed that my body is far more responsive. Little adjustments are registered almost instantly rather than a dulled response. I wasn’t expecting any particular changes in my health and physical ability but the results are profound. I feel youthful and with more bounce.
So I eat more, get leaner, get healthier, train less and get better gains. No brainer! I think vegans have a distinct advantage over meat-eaters in fitness. This is due to the many health benefits that veganism provides.
Eating vegan also means you’re exposed to an awesome array of nutrient-rich healthy foods, and you feel great knowing that you’re helping the environment and animals – people in the fitness industry forget that one’s mental health is vital for being physically healthy. Following a vegan diet can give you increased energy and younger looking skin, which is amazing.
Plant-based foods are also low in saturated fat, high in fibre and rich in antioxidants – fantastic for your health. I feel much cleaner and non-toxic being Vegan. My recovery is better from my training and my sleep is of much better quality too. Thus helping my training and continued awesome gains.
TM: Is consuming enough calories an issue, with a vegan diet?
BdP: Yes definitely. It’s vital if you want to maintain or gain size. However, there is a drawback from all your food coming from being plant-based, as the sheer volume of food required in order to acquire the number of calories, protein e.t.c. one needs for maintenance, let alone to grow.
Plant-based nutrition is much higher in fibre and it’s more nutrient dense thus the volume is far greater gram for gram. This makes it harder to eat enough calories, you simply feel full all day long.
TM: What are the main sources of protein you now consume?
BdP: Vivo fitness Perform raw vegan protein blend with added BCCAs is a fantastic product, we really rate this stuff.
Protein staples are lentils, chickpeas, beans, rice, oats. Added seeds and veg cranks up my protein intake a little more. I love tofu in stir fry.
A company called FiteX UK make an awesome range of vegan, gluten-free protein bars that Josie and I enjoy in our diet. I am also sponsored by a company called Huel. This stuff is fantastic, it’s easily the best complete nutrition product on the market.
It’s a maverick product that is 100% plant-based, high protein, medium carbs, low fat, all from natural healthy sources. Mixes well tastes great and it’s perfect for my meal replacement when I’m busy working. A very valuable addition to my daily diet off and on season. Seriously recommend this product to everyone interested in quality nutrition vegan or not.
TM: What are the benefits of a plant-based diet over eating meat?
BdP: No animals need to suffer and die for us to live. The huge and growing negative environmental impact from mass farming is lessened.
Natural resources such as water aren’t affected nearly as much.
Ethically and morally we are able to demonstrate compassion and empathy to our planet and the animals.
Health wise too it’s low in saturated fats, helps prevent coronary artery diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer amongst so much more.
TM: What effect has it had on your training regime? Have you maintained your famous strength?
BdP: I’m as strong as I’ve always been but feel so much healthier. I admit it is harder and very important to keep a higher amount of protein-rich foods coming in on a regular basis to sustain, maintain and grow muscle than someone taking in protein from other concentrated forms of protein in the way of animal products that yield more protein per gram.
I recover quicker, ache less, feel healthier but above all I’m happier knowing I have no tortured corpses in me lowering my vibration. So my ‘energy’ is buzzing!
TM: What advice would you give to vegans looking to get into bodybuilding?
BdP: I wish I’d have stuck to being a vegetarian and turned vegan years ago. If I’d known then what I know now I would be equally as good as I am now but healthier and guilt-free. Plus a much better example of the virtues of veganism, so there would be no one saying ‘yeah but he built his muscles on a meat-based diet.’
This is unfortunately true, but it makes no difference, if I’d known back then the real facts, I’d have made equal gains free of all animal products. My advice is your body, the animals and the planet will love you for being vegan. Ethically, environmentally and physically it’s the best thing you could ever do.
Just make sure you eat enough and a wide variety of protein-based plants. Train smarter not harder. Train to stimulate but not overdo it. You’ll just take longer to recover and won’t make quicker progress. Eat 1k to 2k more calories than you would on a normal meat-based diet to make the same gains. Make sure you get a wide variety of protein foods in your diet to ensure all and plenty of amino acids are supplied to your body.
Supplements to take would be definitely B12, D3, creatine, a good plant-based protein powder like the one we use, Vivo Perform plant-based protein with added BCCAs, its the best product I’ve ever had to be honest.
To be the best at anything never settle for anything less than what you really want, be fussy and don’t compromise your standards. If you settle for second best, that’s what you’ll get. You have to love what you’re doing to put in the extra effort that’s required and become obsessed live, breath and shit bodybuilding.
Put half measures in, you’ll get back just the same. When you think you’ve reached the end or had enough, go further… the further you go into this dark abyss the better you will be. This is the zone that many fear to tread/venture into… make this dark place your home. This is where champions are made and many drop away.
You need to train with intent, with clear direction and focus towards the goals set. Take baby steps steadily forward to each target towards bigger goals. Consistent applied effort. You can’t sprint a marathon. Training harder and harder won’t make you grow faster. Stimulate don’t annihilate. Do enough to create a response, but don’t cause too much damage, you’ll just take longer to heal and won’t make better gains, if anything you’ll slip backwards. Be the tortoise not the hare.
TM: Who or what inspired you to get into bodybuilding?
BdP: Arnold Schwarzenegger was my idol! Earlier than that, when I was a young kid I wanted to be He-Man and a Master of the Universe saving the World, it must have had a far more profound effect and been an underlying driving force throughout my life, more than I imagined!
TM: How proud a moment was it after all the years of training to be crowned Mr Universe?
BdP: I was actually quite annoyed because I had other shows lined up after the Universe that I seriously wanted to win too. Now I had won the big one all my other plans were scarpered.
It didn’t sink in till a few weeks later. Then I had a massive anticlimax. I became really depressed actually. My goal had been reached and that was that! However after being told by my lovely wife times over I was Mr Universe it started to finally dawn on me, then it became reality.
TM: What would a typical meal now look like for you?
BdP: My main cooked meal of the day is typically:
500gm new potatoes
1 tin of chickpeas
1 tin of peas or mushy peas
Loads of greens and fresh herbs.
Steamed and served with seasoning and sea salt.
My Last meal of the day is 150-200gm (measured dry weight) of oats depending on how hungry I am, cooked up with 60gm of vegan protein powder mixed in, plus 25gm almonds & 25g flaxseed.
TM: Is there a detox period? Does it take the body long to adjust to a vegan diet?
BdP: A couple of weeks to a month and the transition steadies out depending on the person. However, much of it depends upon how you do it i.e. being aware and educated on the correct vegan nutrition to ensure it’s a success.
With us being prep coaches and well educated on nutrition, this was a quick and simple process.
TM: What are some common myths about veganism?
BdP: Oh man! There are just SO many! My wife and I are a living, walking, talking demonstration that the general backwards thinking about plant based nutrition being inferior and being a vegan is dangerous to our health is all a load of absolute bullshit. We’re blowing the lid off the myths and misconceptions through action not words.
TM: What’s become your favourite food?
BdP: I don’t have any favourite foods. After 20 odd years of eating food mainly for function and not for taste, my pallet is pretty basic. I have no attachment to food other than what I have to eat to keep my machine working properly.
TM: Is there a mantra or a piece of wisdom you’ve lived by?
BdP: Actions speak louder than words, so don’t just talk about it, do it! Always follow your heart, it’ll never lead you astray and keep you on your destined path. Trust in your intuition and believe in yourself. The pain of discipline versus the pain of regret.
TM: Do you have any recommendations for anything to watch or read for those out there wanting to get more information about veganism?
BdP: There are lots of really good documentaries on the subject. I’d suggest taking a look at Earthlings, What the Health, Vegucated, Forks over Knives, Speciesism and Plant Pure Nation. But like I say there are plenty out there to help you make an informed choice on the subject.
TM: What legacy would you like to leave to the planet through your veganism?
BdP: That I was the first ever professional level bodybuilder to switch to being vegan. The most muscular vegan on the planet, leading by example and helping make a significant difference to the world.
Together my wife and I are the most muscular vegan couple on earth, and through our vegan journey and coaching, we’re helping people to learn how to become awesome without the need for meat and other animal products by showing them the way.
Barny du Plessis is a tattoo artist at Demon Ink, Welling, London, offering vegan friendly products.
Josie is a plant based health and fitness coach, holistic therapist and herbalist.
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