Traditional thinking would say no.
You know the dogma. Veggo’s are small, pale and weak. They cry when they’re hit and they never need a locksmith as they can just slide under the front door when locked outside.
Or do they?
There’s a lot of bullshit in this industry. People latch on to dogma like a 3 year old grabs his mothers hand when he’s frightened.
So I thought I’d shine a light on some evidence to the contrary when it comes to being a vegetarian in the weight training world.
Meet Damian Korus. Polish born personal trainer working at Fitness First Bondi Platinum. Damian is big, strong, lean, male, healthy…. and a vegetarian.
We sat down in the food court and I asked him about what it was like being an anomaly in the fitness world. He just happened to be eating…as usual
B : What have you got there, mate?
D : Ratatouille on a bed of brown rice
B : Did you make that?
D : No my beautiful wife cooks all my meals. I’m lucky that she cooks all my meals and I get a lot of amazing seasonings and variety
B : Lucky man
D : Very!
B : Alright lets kick this off. What are your stats
D : 177cm, 88kg, 8-9% bodyfat.
B : If you told me you were 100kg I would of believed you
D : Ha-ha yeah I get that a lot. Just lean.
B : What are your main lifts?
D : 145kg bench, 190kg dead, squat 170kg.
B : Pretty strong for a veggo
D : Ha-ha yep, I guess.
B : So How long have you been vegetarian for?
D : Since I was 15…so 24 years now.
B : What made you go vegetarian?
D : I‘ve always hated meat. The taste, the texture. It made me feel sluggish, it made me feel heavy. I come from a family of massive carnivores. Polish cuisine is heavy on heavy meat dishes. I have too many traumatic memories of cooking dishes I just wasn’t looking forward to eating and yet I was forced to. So at the age of 15 I decided I was old enough to say no to this..
B : How did your family react
D : They thought this was a phase so they said “yes” to it, then a few months into it they were trying to talk me out of it…But I managed to stay on track.
B : What about your friends? Did they give you shit for it?
D : No. They were all quite supportive actually. In fact, some of my friends tried to jump in on it after seeing me looking healthy and getting results in the gym but they didn’t last as it wasn’t for them. For me I think we should always listen to our bodies. For me my body has always been telling me it detests meat, it doesn’t like it, the moment I made that decision I felt like I had a lot of potential in my body energy wise. As a kid I was sick all the time, get all kinds of infections, I’d always be sniffly and have coughs, under the weather…a fat, weak kid. Then I changed my diet dramatically whilst cutting out a lot of shit like lollies, soft drinks, and I lost a lot of weight.
B : How did you go about becoming a vegetarian? ‘Cause from my experience most people who become vegetarian do it the wrong way. It is actually quite hard to transition, yeah?
D : Well first of all I went to what I call ‘fruitarianism’ for the first 4 months of the process where I was just eating fruit so I lost a lot of weight. Both muscle and fat and I became weak, border line anaemic. Then had a massive yo-yo effect as I was training judo but then stopped that and started eating sugar and got quite fat and soft again. That went on for about another 2 or 3 months and decided that while I liked this vegetarian thing, I better get a little more scientific with it and started researching everything I could. I realised I wasn’t doing the basics of vegetarianism…eating vegetables!
My diet back then and my diet now couldn’t be more different. Now I eat a lot more vegetables. So I made a conscious effort to start eating lots of vegetables and a heavy amount complex carbs. Its pretty much been the same ever since.
B : Anything different now?
D : Not really. There’s always rice, there used to be always pasta, noodles, bread, lots of bread as polish food has lots of bread, but it made me feel bloated so I removed it. There was a period of time I made a conscious effort to remove processed foods. There wasn’t a lot of information about processed foods but it made me feel shit so I removed them and replaced them with rice.
When I was eating all the bread and vegetables I was kinda bulky, I wasn’t fat but I was heavy, probably around 15% body fat. Once I added more vegetables I noticed I really leaned out.
B : Speaking of training, how did you train back then?
D : Reading flex magazine and copying everything the big guys in the gym did. We would go in and lift heavy for up to 2 hours. All I knew is I had to train hard and a lot. I would spend 2 hours in the gym sometimes twice a day. But I was 17 when I started so my body managed to handle it and I responded really well. Typical meat head approach really.
B : How do you train now?
D : Very differently! High intensity low volume.
B : By intensity – you mean percentage of 1 rm?
D : Yes.
B : Sets and Reps?
D : 4 week cycles – 2-6 reps for main lifts and 8-10 reps for accessories, and probably around 25 sets per workout.
Upper body – Mon.
Lower body – Tue.
Wed – off or light cardio.
Upper body – Thurs.
Lower body – Fri.
Weekend – Off.
There are certain things I don’t do as my body punishes me for it. For example, I like sprints but if I do too much then I get aches and stuff. I can still lift heavy on lifting days if my weekends are low on booze. If my Wednesday is low impact, then my joints are fine.
B : What are you best maxes over time?
D : That’s them. I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been. I easily build muscle but I struggle with strength. I could easily be 95kg which I used to be, but I felt heavy and frankly, weak for the size. That was my struggle in the past. So I consciously keep volume down to keep my strength up. Rest period of 3-5 minutes. Foam rolling every day. Keeping joints happy.
B : So you’re making a conscious effort not to grow??
D : Yeah!
B : Gee sucks to be you eh?
D : Ha-ha, yeah…
B What about supplements
D : I need to be mindful of my joints so fish oil and turmeric helps with that. Multi vitamins. Every now and then a green supplement. Creatine. I’m using creatine constantly.
B : Do you count carbs?
D : Never have. I have a very casual approach to carb cycling I guess. I find the more in tune I am with my body the better I look. On training days my diet is full of carbs on off days I eat less. If I’m hungry I feed it, if I’m not, I don’t. On the weekends I probably eat 60% as I don’t train. And I try to stay low and carbs and higher on vegetables. I monitor my weight once a week and I stay quite consistent.
B : Intuitive stuff. So what about protein?
D : When I was younger I was aware of the 2g per kilo body weight thing so I used to eat a lot of eggs and dairy. Cottage cheese etc. I couldn’t afford supplementation at that time so it was not that easy to achieve. But after 3 years of hard training I noticed that my muscle density was quite poor. So I added whey protein and my muscle got a lot denser. So supplementing immediately made sense to me and I’ve been supplementing with whey protein ever since.
B : But no meat?
D : No meat from the age of 15. Every now and then I have a bit of white fish but not much. I generally have 3 shakes and 6 eggs a day.
Also I found that ever since I built my muscle mass, my body has more forgiveness I can have a treat here and there and I’m not being punished for it.
B : How much of this mass do you think is genetics? What’s your family like? They’re not all Polish tractor throwers or anything are they?
D : My dad was tall and skinny, my mum average build, on my mums side my grandad was a bit of a stocky guy, but there’s no genetic freaks in my family. But I was the only person that took strength training to the next level. I don’t think any one in my family does sports to be honest. No athletes.
B : Do you know any other vegetarian strength athletes personally?
D : No not many, I haven’t come across many strong vegetarians.
B : Seems like you really just listened to your body
D : Yeah. And that’s what I tell my clients. I don’t try and make them eat like me and I don’t go around preaching to eat like me. I just tell people to listen to their bodies. Because for me, it has worked out really well… But I don’t think most people know how to “feel their body” if you know what I mean.
I think it takes time to sense how you react to food and whether it works for you. If you feel sluggish, bloated or have less energy after a meal, chances are there was something in that meal that isn’t agreeing with you. And that’s my message: “Do what’s right for you”.
So there you have it. Not everything works for everyone. We all exist on a bell curve. I tend to think a lot of advice will work for 70% of the population, but what about the 15% either side? Damian is a classic example of the 15% of people who can get really big and strong by not eating meat. A lot of people can’t.
This really is a lesson in learning how to listen to your body and work out what works best for you – no matter what the latest fitness ‘guru’ says. Because chances are, and you may have noticed this, gurus ALWAYS recommend what works for THEM..
See you in the gym!
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