“The world’s strongest animals are plant-eaters. Gorillas, buffaloes, elephants and me”.
It was with these words that, earlier this week, Barnabas du Plessis revealed himself to be the new spokesperson for animal rights and vegan advocacy organisation PETA. A world-renowned body-builder and former Mr Universe, du Plessis cut meat, fish, eggs and all dairy products from his diet almost one year ago – and says he hasn’t looked back since.
“It’s the best, happiest, healthiest choice I ever could have made,” du Plessis tells me, claiming that his new purely plant-based diet has gifted him more energy, fewer aches and a clear conscience. But can a vegan lifestyle really be sustainable for a sportsman? With some of the necessary proteins and minerals only occurring naturally in meats and other dairy products, how does du Plessis maintain his imposing physique?
“The thing about protein,” explains the 41 year-old bodybuilder, “is that on a molecular level, it makes no difference where it comes from. The body doesn’t discriminate between animal and plant-based sources, so building muscle on a vegan diet is easy.
“The most important elements of my diet are fresh organic vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli. They are essential for my vitality, health and well-being – I like to think of plant-based foods as a nutrition bomb packed full of goodness! In addition to the fresh vegetables, my protein comes from lentils, beans, seeds, nuts, quinoa, oats, rice, legumes and a good quality vegan blended protein shake.”
A typical day for du Plessis sees the former Mr Universe consume a mammoth amount of food. He begins the day with coffee, coconut oil and a beetroot shot. After training, he eats super-greens, a raw date bar, tapioca, rice flakes, quinoa, mixed seeds, cacao and stevia. For lunch it’s brown rice and mixed lentils, followed by more rice, more lentils and a large quantity of vegetables. Finally, his evening meal consists of seeds and oats.
Alongside this smorgasbord of plant-based foodstuffs, du Plessis consumes daily supplements, including nutritional yeast product that is high in protein and contains B vitamins. “It’s something that a lot of people do these days, old and young,” he says.
Interestingly, du Plessis is not the only vegan strongman. Patrik Baboumian, Germany’s strongest man and the holder of various world weightlifting records, follows a meat- and dairy-free diet, as do aburgeoining group of amatuer bodybuilders. And then there’s NFL defensive lineman David Carter, who uses his considerable 300lb bulk to repel opposing attackers, and women’s tennis superstar Serena Williams, whose game is built on the sheer strength of her shots.
Du Plessis makes the point: that he has had to adapt his training regime to best work with his new vegan lifestyle. Importantly, he feels he has seen only benefits as a result.
“I do a lot less cardio – fat burning – now, because I’m on a really lean vegan diet,” says du Plessis. “Training is as good as it has always been. Both my fiancée, who went vegan at the same time I did, and I have noticed that we don’t ache for days after each workout anymore – our recovery speed is much better.
“We have also both noticed that our skin, hair and nails now reflect how healthy our bodies are inside. I had several hernias when I was eating meat because my stomach acidity and the acidity of my body were too high. My hernias were aggravated big time by my meat intake, but now that I’ve gone vegan, I no longer have them. No pain and no acid reflux.
“My body is being fed the best food known to mankind and loads of it, and that’s why I feel great,” says the former Mr Universe. “It’s a no-brainer. Eat healthy, organic, natural foods, and you’re practically guaranteed to feel the same.
“Think of it this way: if a machine is given the best fuel, then it will run better. The same goes for our bodies. They run better on plant-based foods than when we are clogging them up with fatty foods. You only have one vessel in this lifetime, and I wouldn’t put anything but the best in my hot rod – which is why I choose vegan.”