Saturday, April 15, 2017

Can You Add Serious Size on a Vegan Diet? (From Iron Life Magazine)

Iron Life Magazine asked me to write an article about building muscle on a vegan diet. I've always seen endurance athletes talking about the benefits of a vegan diet but more and more I'm seeing strength and power athletes, as well as bodybuilders, switching to a plant-based diet.

I hope you enjoy the article and as always, stay strong and healthy!


From Iron Life Magazine:

Scott Shetler is an NSCA certified coach, the owner of Extreme Performance Training Systems and follows a plant-based diet. He is based in Norcross, Georgia.

We all know that protein is the most important macronutrient when wanting to build muscle. And when most people think of protein they think of steak, or chicken breasts, or tins of tuna. But there are a growing number of athletes competing at the highest level on an entirely plant-based diet, including seven-times Grand Slam winner Venus Williams, former UFC fighter Mac Danzig, and Chicago Bears 300lb (136kg) defensive lineman David Carter.
Around two per cent of Brits and Americans follow a strict vegan diet – void of meat, fish, eggs and dairy products – and a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that vegan diets are typically higher in dietary fibre, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins C and E, iron, and phytochemicals, but tend to be lower in total calories, saturated fat and cholesterol, essential omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B12, and essential trace elements, such as calcium and zinc.
Whether you are considering eating less meat and dairy, for whatever reason, or just interested in knowing how the body adapts to a vegan diet from a personal or professional personal trainer viewpoint, here are the key points.
What is a strict vegan diet?
It’s following a nutritional plan that is entirely plant-based, so doesn’t include red or white meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or any product that contains any ingredient, compound or substance that has an animal origin or uses such a product in the manufacturing process. A strict vegetarian diet excludes meat and fish, but can allow eggs and dairy; an ovo-vegetarian diet allows eggs, but not dairy; while a lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy but not eggs.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Restoration for Health, Longevity and Performance.

Restoration is one of the most overlooked aspects of training, but when implemented properly can have a huge impact on your recovery, health, and for competitive athletes, longevity in your sport.

There are many forms of restoration and it is important to note that you do not need to do all of them all the time. Some forms of restoration include:
  •         Extra workouts – strength, mobility, flexibility, etc.
  •          Ice
  •          Heat
  •          Cold and hot contrast
  •          Massage, chiropractic, and other soft tissue therapy
  •          Low intensity cardiovascular exercise
  •          Yoga, qigong, meditation, etc.
  •          Nutrition

Extra workouts are a very simple form of restoration but it is important not to turn these into max effort sessions. Extra workouts can be anything from light weight high repetition exercises, various types of sled pulling with lighter weights, exercises with resistance bands, body-weight drills, club swinging, or stretching and mobility focused exercise. These workouts should be short, 10 to 30 minutes, and should be very low intensity. The goal should be to increase circulation and blood flow without exhausting the muscles.

Hot and cold therapy can be implemented in a number of ways. A cold compress can be put on the body, you can use an ice bath or cold shower, and you can take advantage of a cryotherapy chamber if you have access to a facility that offers it. For heat a compress may be used, hot tubs or showers can be used, and you can take advantage of dry heat in a sauna or moist heat in a steam room if you have access to such facilities. Hot and cold contrast is a popular method of restoration as well. In contrast methods you generally alternate between extreme cold and extreme heat in intervals for designated times. For instance you may do a shower where you stay under extremely cold water for a period of 30 to 60 seconds followed by extremely hot water for a period of 30 to 60 seconds finishing with a cold rinse.

Body work is great for restoration as well. Having a good therapist is a great idea. Massage therapy, Active Release Technique (ART) therapy, Graston, needling, chiropractic, and other forms of body work are all regularly used by many of my athletes and clients.

Low intensity cardiovascular exercise is great for restoration. Swimming and aquatic exercise, walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, etc. all performed in the appropriate heart rate range (for most people 130 to 150 beats per minute is a good target) for durations of 30-90 minutes can have a very restorative effect on the body. One of my former coaches used to refer to this as “massage for your heart and lungs”.

Adopting a practice like yoga, qigong, meditation or even an internal martial art like Taijiquan is a great way to balance higher intensity training and sport performance. These all encourage a focus on proper breathing and awareness and have a profound effect on stress reduction. Exercises like yoga, qigong and Taiji can be viewed as a form of moving meditation. However they should not replace your seated meditation practice.

Nutrition is often overlooked as a form of restoration, but let’s face it garbage in equals garbage out. I don’t want to turn this into a dissertation on what the best diet is, but I do think it is wise to focus on getting a lot of unprocessed, whole plant-based foods. Focusing on eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds will give you all the protein, carbohydrates and fats you need. Unfortunately due to the overuse of the term “macros” in fitness pop culture, the ever important “micros” are overlooked and underappreciated. A diet focusing on whole plant foods provides micronutrients in spades. Eating a ton of plant-based foods will give you an abundance of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemicals / phytonutrients that are essential for good health, energy, and cellular repair. In addition whole plant-based foods provide a ton of fiber. In addition to good food, make sure you are drinking plenty of fresh, clean water daily. Waiting until you are thirsty is poor practice for proper hydration.

Some of these practices should be done on a regular basis. I feel it is imperative to focus on good nutrition and engage in a meditative practice daily. Daily movement and activity is essential. Doing extra workouts on “off days” is much better than doing nothing. A light workout or extra mobility and flexibility work will help you recover from a heavy workout far better than sitting on your ass and doing nothing.

Restoration and recovery practices that are more therapeutic should be used only when needed. I feel that the more you use these methods the less effective they become. Soft tissue work, chiropractic, contrast therapy, etc. are all very effective but do not need to be performed daily.

By implementing the appropriate restoration and recovery methods and exercises into your annual, monthly, weekly and daily programming you will help to reduce the chance of injury and improve health, longevity and performance.

Stay strong and healthy!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Vegan Protein Myths

Protein is one of the most discussed topics in health and fitness and has been for the two decades that I’ve called this industry my profession. It’s even worse when it is concerning protein for vegans and vegan athletes.

Personally I can’t stand talking about nutrition because I think people overthink it and are usually just looking for “experts” to justify what they think is the correct way to eat.

However after being vegan for nearly five years the whole protein thing rears its ugly head more often than I’d like. I decided to write this blog to put together some of the information that I’ve found beneficial regarding protein considerations for vegans and vegan athletes.

Photo credit: Seth Pajak
First of all, I am not a dietitian, I am not a nutrition science geek, I simply like food and love to eat it. As a result I turn to people far more knowledgeable than myself when I look for nutrition information. Some of the people I have really benefitted from are registered dietitian Matt Ruscigno, Dr. Michael Greger, and Dr. Garth Davis. I love the fact that these three focus on evidence based nutrition when they publish and share information and all do a very good job separating the science from the BS.

Advice from my friend Matt!

One great source of information that cleared up many of the protein myths for me was an article my friend Matt Ruscigno contributed to a book I published. The book, “Know Your Own Strength” was for my Plant-Based Performance project and all book sales go to benefit the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Forgotten Animals Rescue. His article was titled “But Where Do You Get Your Science? Addressing the Supposed Science Deficiency in Nutrition for Athletes” and is full of great information. 

Here are some of the key points I feel are pertinent to this blog:
  •          A complete protein is a food source that contains all nine essential amino acids.
  •          There are food sources that are complete proteins and there are many that are incomplete proteins.
  •          The idea of an incomplete protein is myth based in truth. It assumes we only rely on one food source for protein.
  •          Most people eat a wide variety of foods, most of which contain some protein, which makes it easy to consume all of the essential amino acids the human body needs.
  •          Combining foods is putting different foods together to form a complete protein. For instance rice and beans by themselves are not complete proteins, but when combined they form a complete protein food source.
  •          Combining foods is not necessary. Our bodies pool amino acids and use them as needed regardless of the perceived completeness of the source. Yes eating rice and beans together is great because it tastes awesome (especially with avocado and salsa) but if you eat your rice for lunch and beans for dinner you will get no less of a benefit.
Matt, Jason and I like to combine our Yves pepperoni, seitan bacon, mushrooms, black olives, and Daiya cheese to ensure a complete source of awesome on our pizza!
How much protein do we need?

This is a topic that blows my mind. I’ve heard as little as 50 grams a day, as much as 400 grams a day and everything in between. One thing I do know is generally higher protein recommendations are pushed heavily by protein supplement manufacturers. Here is the information that makes the most sense to me.

According to Dr. Garth Davis, the public CDC website lists average daily requirements of 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. He goes on to say that these numbers came from “nitrogen balance lab studies, epidemiologic studies, randomized clinical trials utilizing biochemical assessments, and animal studies.”

Just writing that out is making my head spin, but it is safe to say that these are the recommendations necessary to prevent protein deficiency, something most Americans are in danger of if you believe a lot of the crap many fitness experts blog about.

Sorry, but if you are eating enough calories to sustain your daily activity you are nowhere near being protein deficient. That being said these requirements are not optimal for athletes or even weekend warriors.

The government RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of lean body-weight. Most people don’t readily know their lean mass to fat mass ratio so often we are just told 0.8 grams per kilogram of body-weight. According to this, at 89kg, I need 71.2 grams of protein a day. I exceed this number easily eating fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds.

Is the RDA sufficient for athletes? Most say no, and I agree. However I think people need to seriously assess whether or not they are an athlete or even training near the same level as an athlete. The American College of Sports Medicine along with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has found 1.2g/kg to 1.7g/kg to be an optimal range for hard training endurance and strength athletes. More than the RDA but still much less than the often recommended 1-2 grams per pound of body-weight that you see in most fitness and bodybuilding publications.

I’ll use myself as an example just to examine the difference in these two approaches.
  •          89kg x 1.2 / 1.7 = 106.8 / 151.3 grams per kilogram of body-weight.
  •         196lbs x 1 / 2 = 196 / 392 grams per pound of body-weight.
I am not a big fan of tracking anything, I prefer to eat calories and not count them, but I decided to log my food for a few days to see if I was as protein deficient as everyone told me I’d be after I went vegan. On regular days I was getting between 90 and 110 grams of protein through whole plant based foods. On training days I use a protein supplement around my training session and I was getting 120-140 grams of protein on those days. This easily put me in the 106 – 151 grams per day range without much effort at all. Does it work? I’ve slowly raised my body-weight from 178lbs to 196lbs and am fairly lean. Granted you won’t see my on a bodybuilding stage, ever, but I have visible muscle definition and am far from being overweight.

A little side note, my friend Stic of the hip hop duo Dead Prez, put on 20lbs of mass in just under 3 months when he was training with me. He was eating a very healthy whole food plant based diet, no junk food, no supplements, pills or powders of any kind. As a skinny ectomorph he is proof that you can get all the protein you need through a healthy, whole food vegan diet. His nutrition and training is detailed in our book, "Eat Plants, Lift Iron".

What about the bulk of us who hit the gym hard, are not sedentary but far from being an athlete? I like Dr. Davis’ recommendation of shooting for 1 gram per kilogram of body-weight daily with a protein supplement after training.

Please note that for protein utilization and recovery purposes it is important to consume carbohydrates with the protein. Recommendations vary, but I’ve seen 2-4 grams of carbs to 1 gram of protein being pretty standard. I’d recommend looking up the studies and work done by Dr. John Ivy if you’d like to learn more about nutrient timing as it pertains to training.

Simply put if you are normal and engage in light to moderate activity the RDA of 0.8 g/kg of body-weight is probably sufficient.

If you are the weekend warrior hard training type, Dr. Davis’ recommendation of 1g/kg of body-weight + a post workout protein and carbohydrate drink is probably a good recommendation.

If you are a strength or endurance athlete who is training at a very high level and putting a great deal of stress on your body the 1.2 to 1.7g/kg of body-weight recommendation is probably the way to go.

Don’t forget the more energy you expend the greater your total caloric needs will be and as caloric intake increases so will protein intake by default. If you’re not a big numbers person and don’t want to worry about all the minutia just make sure you’re eating enough calories from whole food sources to fuel your daily activity and needs and you will be fine.

Hopefully this article provided some useful information regarding protein needs for vegans and vegan athletes. If you would like to explore this topic more deeply I strongly suggest following the work of experts like Matt Ruscigno, Dr. Greger and Dr. Davis. They share a lot of information through their social media pages and their respective publications.

Stay Strong and Healthy!



Davis M.D., Garth. Proteinaholic: How Our Obsession with Meat Is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It. Harper Collins. New York, NY. 2015. pp 245-252.

Ruscigno RDH, Matt. Plant-Based Performance: Know Your Own Strength. Extreme Performance Training Systems. Duluth, GA. 2015. Pp 88-90.