If the fitness world is keeping score, it’s time, then, to add another tally mark to Team Vegan. Bodybuilder Barny Du Plessis, Mr. Universe 2014, is crediting his vegan diet for helping him unlock a new level of fitness, giving him more energy and strength than ever (he's never been happier with his physique). Since going vegan about a year ago, he says he’s training half as hard and still making remarkable gains. Not to mention, that after switching from a meat-eating diet to a plant-based one, Du Plessis says his problem with hernias disappeared, too.
Du Plessis joins other notable athletes, like vegan UFC fighter Nate Diaz and American Ninja Warrior Tim Shieff, who have entirely eliminated all animal products from their diets.
On an average day, Du Plessis eats about 300 grams of protein. During off-season training, he consumes around 6,000 calories per day, and his main food sources are mixed lentils, beans, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, and basmati rice. For a post-workout recovery, he downs a vegan protein shake with a banana. We caught up with Mr. Universe to find out why he ditched a meat-and-egg-heavy diet for veganism, and if he has advice for other would-be plant-eating athletes.
Why did you decide to adopt a vegan diet?
My partner, Josie, mentioned to me a couple of years earlier that she wanted to go vegan, but I wasn't sure. I wasn't ready. But still, the seeds of change were planted in my mind.
Then I watched the documentary GMO OMG, and the penny dropped. Around the same time, I noticed that my meat consumption was severely aggravating my hernia issues. So when I combined that with my newfound awareness of the unethical and environmental troubles involved with factory farming, and the fact that I absolutely love animals, it was a no-brainer. It was time to go vegan, and I did it without a second thought. There was no way my then-fiancé and I were ever going to give our money to an industry that supports everything we don't believe in. My wife and I have now been vegan for one year, and it's the best thing we've ever done.
Is veganism really an athletic advantage?
Being vegan certainly seems to be the new athletic superpower. If you ask me, being vegan gives athletes such power that it's almost an unfair advantage over meat-eaters.
What was the biggest change you noticed in your training after switching to a vegan diet?
Our recovery time is a lot quicker during workouts and training sessions. Very few aches and pains, and I've got better flexibility, muscle tone, and skin. I'm holding all my muscle mass easily. I train half as hard and make better quality gains. I train less, eat more, and get leaner quicker. My body is really responsive, almost instantaneous. I see noticeable physical changes with very little manipulation of calories, protein, carbs, and fats. My mood and general well-being are really good. I feel much happier and better about myself. My hernias that used to really play up on my old carnivorous diet no longer bother me.
What's your favorite meal?
[It's] actually all of them, especially when I'm hungry. Josie buys, preps, cooks, measures, and portions out all my food. Her culinary skills are awesome. Everything she cooks is banging.
Your wife, Josie Keck, is a professional bodybuilder. Who would win an arm-wrestling match?
Ha! She's not only a top bodybuilder, Josie was also the U.K.'s strongest woman in 2010. She is very tough and would give most men a run for their money in the gym. She's as hardcore as it gets. She would break my arm off in an arm wrestling match, so I wouldn't play her at that game. I would make her play to my strengths in my domain: I would take her to school in my favorite game, Tiddlywinks. She kicks my ass at Scrabble.