If you've been thinking about going vegan, you may worry that it will hamper your gym game. But the animal-free way of eating—meaning no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy—doesn’t have to get in the way of your fitness goals if it's the diet you prefer to stick with.
Want proof? Look no further than Jon Venus, a bodybuilder, trainer, and Youtuber who went vegan a few years into his career after learning about the environmental impacts of the animal farming industry.
People are increasingly adopting vegan diets for ethical and health reasons, too. Plant-based products are in higher demand than ever and will grow as a food trend in 2018, according to predictions from Whole Foods Market. In fact, when we polled Men's Health readers about going vegan on Twitter, nearly 20 percent of them said they'd at least give the diet a shot.
But for Venus, going vegan isn't a short-lived experiment. “When I changed to a 100 per cent plant-based diet, I noticed countless improvements to my performance in the gym—much to my surprise,” Venus says. It started with his energy levels. “I was feeling sore less often and always had the energy to give 100 percent effort in my workout sessions,” he says of the first three months of eating vegan meals.
His speaks-for-itself physique proves that finding a diet that works for you—and that you can stick to—is key. “It is important to know that you have to eat according to your goals,” he says. “Just like a meat-eater, you have to choose the foods that will help you achieve a certain goal.”
For Venus, that means eating nutrient-dense plant-based foods that check the right macro boxes. “My only rule is that I try basing 95 per cent of my diet around whole plant foods—anything that is in its natural form is great to eat,” he says.
To help his clients build muscle and lose fat, regardless of whether or not they’re vegan, he recommends a macro ratio that’s around 60 per cent of your total calories coming from carbs, 20 per cent from protein, and 20 per cent from fats. (We typically recommend 50 percent from carbs, 30 percent from protein, and 20 percent from fat for the average guy, but that ratio will ultimately be individualized to your goals, whether it be losing weight, maintaining weight loss, or gaining muscle.)
To see exactly how Venus powers through his workouts—and gets anywhere from 80 to 180 grams of protein a day—we asked him to break down exactly what he typically eats for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner.
Venus saves breakfast until after his morning workout, replenishing his energy with a plant-based protein smoothie or smoothie bowl.
“Usually I will have a recovery smoothie made with bananas, frozen mixed berries, hemp seeds, kale and/or spinach, pineapple, almond milk and a scoop of Protein Powder.” For a vegan protein powder option, head to a clean brand such a NuZest Clean Lean Protein.
There’s nothing light about Venus’s go-to midday meal. “For lunch, I typically eat something hearty like a burrito bowl,” he says.
To stave off hunger, he loads it up with a satiating mix of carbs, fat, and plant-based protein. On a bed of brown rice, he'll load up pinto beans with taco spices, tofu, roasted sweet potatoes, leafy greens, guacamole, and salsa.
If hunger strikes, Venus keeps his mid-day refuels simple with mango, peaches, watermelon, and berries. “I snack whenever I feel hungry throughout the day, usually on fruits or cut veggies—whatever I have available at that time,” he says.
For his last major meal, Venus focuses on boosting his vegetable intake without sacrificing filling nutrients, like fiber and protein. “I normally eat a lot of lentils spiced with cumin seeds. I toss them with chopped tomatoes, some quinoa, and veggies such as asparagus, broccoli, and roasted cauliflower. Then I add some smoked tempeh for protein,” he says.
To top it off, he makes a big raw salad with red cabbage, more tomatoes, sliced cucumber, mixed leafy greens, chopped peppers, jalepenos for kick, and a solid dose of a homemade dressing.