Nutrition plays a key role in the process of muscular development. Following a vegan diet can provide several health benefits but it is often said that building muscle mass is difficult in combination with a vegan diet. This is said to be due to a protein deficiency when removing meat from your diet. Traditional bodybuilding diets include a lot of animal source foods due to their high protein and calorie content but many are switching to plant-based diets to reap the full benefits.
One of the great things about plant-based food is that, by volume, it typically contains fewer calories than animal-based foods, allowing vegans to eat more total food and feel fuller, without necessarily gaining more body fat. The plant kingdom is full of protein-rich foods, which means all that people who are looking to gain size and strength on a plant-based diet need to do is educate themselves on which foods those are and include lots of them in their daily eating schedule.
Implementing the vegan bodybuilding diet requires a great deal of planning and preparation. Ensuring sufficient protein and calorie intake, including plenty of fat, and drinking enough water are three major aspects that should not be ignored. However, with the right set up. it is completely possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet to build muscle and Jamar Hotep is proof of that.
Check out our interview with Jamar Hotep below to see more about his journey.
Please can you tell us about your journey, and how/why did you decide to become vegan?
I went vegan in the summer of 2016 after doing some extensive research into what was actually in the food I ate. What sparked this interest was hearing speakers like Dick Gregory talk about why he didn’t eat meat and the health benefits of a vegan diet. I wanted to make a more conscious decision about the food I consumed since I saw the direct correlation with my community and family.
I learned high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, etc. were not hereditary but based on what we eat. I stopped drinking dairy milk long before veganism after learning only a small percentage of what’s in it was actually milk and the rest was chemicals and other gross stuff. The real turning point was when I lived in Brooklyn NY and met a woman named Muntu who owned a health food store “Namaskar”.
I learned high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, etc. were not hereditary but based on what we eat.
Muntu and her husband were in their 80’s but looked very young and energetic. They spoke about being vegan for decades and all the benefits and here I was at 31 feeling like I was at the end (haha). After this encounter, I really started considering a plant-based lifestyle more seriously and doing my homework. I learned about how cruel the process was for the animals and how they’re filled with steroids, fed garbage, and mistreated, but then we eat that and expect to be fine. The quote that really put it all in perspective was – “Is your body a graveyard or a garden.”
When I made the switch I went cold turkey, 100% overnight. The first week was the toughest since I didn’t know what to eat. I had serious withdrawals due to the drastic change in habits and not knowing what to eat. What helped me in my early days of veganism was finding the vegan alternatives to the foods I liked; vegan chicken wings, vegan burgers, vegan snacks, etc.
I’ve adopted a very hands-off approach to veganism and don’t try to convert people or judge them. Lots of people have made the switch just by being around me and seeing that I’m pretty down to earth.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegan athletes and how do you address this?
One of the biggest misconceptions about veganism and vegan athletes is they’re all skinny and weak. I too thought this was the case prior to my transition. When I decided to go vegan I was ok with losing my muscles because my goals were long-term health and it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. What I didn’t know was the exact opposite would happen as I gained more muscle and strength after the switch. I’m currently stronger and in better shape than I have ever been.
A plant-based diet has increased my recovery times and endurance which helps me work out harder and longer. I address this misconception just through living my life. If I work out with someone and I’m lifting heavier weight than them they’re usually shocked I’m vegan.
I’m their proof that vegans can have muscle. To continue this example I push myself in many activities, Spartan races, Martial arts, sparring tournaments, and show people the skinny vegan stereotype is a myth and I’m living proof.
I’m their proof that vegans can have muscle
How has being a vegan influenced your fitness goals, performance, or regimen?
Veganism has increased my overall performance and regimen greatly. Prior to veganism at 31 years old I was working out 2-3 times a week. My knees were in bad shape from years of running and I figured I passed my prime for athletics. Within a few months of the transition, I noticed I was waking up earlier and had more energy throughout the day. My knees were feeling better (thanks to the lack of mucus in dairy products). This lead to me being able to work out harder and lift heavier weights than before. I noticed I was recovering quicker than in the past so I increased my workouts to 4 days a week, then 5, then 6.
After that I added running on the weekends, which then became running up and down a canyon for 4 miles, which then increased to 8, then I started doing it in a 40lb weight vest. I started testing myself against others by running in the elite division of Spartan races (which is an obstacle course race). Then later I started training in American Kenpo Karate 5 nights a week, putting my total weekly workouts to 11-12 times a week.
I continue to up the ante with my workouts and intensity because I feel anything is possible. It’s like the clock has been pushed back 10 years and I’m renewed.
What non-related issues do you believe are important to pair well with being an active vegan?
I think it’s definitely important to rest. I have a sleep alarm to ensure I’m going to bed at a set scheduled time and getting full rest. I also have a mandatory rest day to rejuvenate myself. I believe overall health inside and out is equally important, and I try to keep a positive mindset and focus on that.
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in becoming vegan but worried about gains or fitness goals?
My advice is to do your research, my results are not guaranteed for anyone else, but with proper nutrition and work ethic, any goal is attainable. The key is balancing your protein intake (protein is everywhere haha) and staying hydrated. There are many brands of vegan protein and supplementations which help make being a vegan athlete seamless.
Who or what motivates you?
I’m motivated by the opportunity to outdo myself. Each day I wake up and try to be better than I was the day before. I used to think age was a limit, or certain goals were not possible all until I met and heard about others who were smashing them.
People like CT Fletcher who is a motivational speaker / world class powerlifter / strongman and newly vegan is a major motivator for me. He came back from open-heart surgery where he was on the brink of death, and told he’d never lift weights again, to being back in the gym, then owning a gym and being known around the world for never quitting. His tagline is ISYMFS which in the clean version means “it’s always your go, its never time to quit”.
Others like David Goggins a former Navy Seal who really gets you to take the lid off of what you think is possible and smash it. Les Brown, Dr. Eric Thomas, Inky Johnson, Coach Pain all great motivators and all on repeat on my workout playlist.
Jamar Hotep is 36 years old and lives in Los Angeles with his wife Akilah of 6 years. He works in the Financial Services industry during the day and takes over the world at night.
You can find more on him on Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, SnapChat, Twitter = @VeganHotep