Posts Tagged ‘Muscle’

How I Got Strong While Eating A Raw Vegan Diet

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

In October I decided I was going make myself strong again.

Although never ridiculously weak, for the last five years or so my training regimen has almost entirely consisted of endurance running, yoga, hiking, biking, and a random assortment of whatever came up, a mix that did not put me on the path to brawniness.

In my late teens I took up Ninjitsu, and in my early 20s I did a fair amount of mountain climbing, both of which had left me fairly strong.

But after getting my colitis and other health conditions squared away, and feeling really energetic on the raw food diet that brought about those improvements, I got into distance running. I found that by shedding both fat and muscle I became a much faster runner, and so shed them I did.

I’ve talked about the weight loss extensively. The muscle loss was just a matter of atrophy, and it occurred slowly over the course of years.

Fast forward to October of 2011.

I had reached the lowest weight of my adult life – 158 pounds, a far cry from the 220 that I’d known at age 17. I was running better than ever, and felt great in most respects. Yet my increasing weakness was starting to annoy me.

On a hike in the mountains one day I saw a promising boulder and decided to haul myself up. After five minutes of strain, I realized that I couldn’t, and as has happened a number of times in my life, something snapped inside of me.

While lying in the dust, having fallen off the damned rock, I realized that I was done with being weak.

I decided that I was going to pursue a more generalist approach to fitness; I was going to be strong again.


Can You Be Strong On A Raw Diet?

Rumor has it that raw food vegans, with their lower-than-average protein intake, have a hard time gaining muscle.

Cooked food vegans have largely dispelled the myth that animal protein is required to be muscular, with multiple vegans competing in and winning body building contests. However, some make use of concentrated vegetable protein supplements, or at least eat cooked legumes and other protein-rich whole foods.

But if you’re eating a low fat raw vegan diet, with its emphasis on whole fruits and vegetables, you’re going to be taking in less protein than is considered ideal for building muscle.

One muscle-bound weight lifter, upon hearing about my diet, insisted that I would never get stronger sunless I changed my diet. I generally have little patience for arguing, so I merely smiled and got to work, confident that I’d be fine.

On an average day I might take in 60 grams of protein (7 percent of calories), which is short of the 1.41 g/kg which is recommended for strength athletes.

But I’ve worked with a number of clients who had success gaining muscle on raw diets, and I’ve posted some success stories, such as that of my friend Sam.

I’ve written more about protein requirements here.


The Results

My results are apparently visible, because I’ve gotten several emails mentioning that I was looking more brawny in my recent video on standing.

For comparison, here is a picture taken of me shortly before my strength training began at a salad bar buffet in Thailand. The manager was impressed by my eating ability, and posted this to his facebook page.

Skinny Raw Foodist Pre Strength Gaint
I’ve increased from 158 pounds last October to 178 pounds today

Note that approximately five pounds of my weight gain are from fat. I decided to ditch the hollow-cheeked look, and ate hardy for awhile to increase my body fat.

Strength Gains

I am not a particularly competitive person, and I rarely enter races or fitness events. I have no idea how my strength progress would be interpreted by those who are really into strength activities.

Yet by my own standards, my progress has been fantastic.

I feel tremendously better, simply because my body now has so much more utilitarian value. Boxes that were once heavy are now light, I can haul myself up ropes, and I’ve scaled a few boulders, for revenge purposes, of course :)

Yet statistics tend to have more pull when it comes to these things, and I’ve gathered my fair share.

For the purposes of providing a strength-gain gauge, I’ll be giving my stats over time for three exercises which are considered to give a fairly well-rounded representation of a person’s utilitarian strength when added together, at least in some fitness circles.

These are my 1 rep max lifts for the back squat, strict press, and deadlift.


Back Squat Strict Press Deadlift Total
10/10/11 135 75 135 345
12/11/11 165 93 215 473
04/03/12 210 100 250 560
06/11/12 225 110 275 610
Percent Increase 66.60% 46.60% 103.70% 76.80%



My Training


My strength training began in early October, and with the exception of a month off due to an unrelated injury, it has continued straight through to today.

It consists of a fairly standard Crossfit-style mix up of Olympic weight lifting, kettlebell swings, pull ups, situps, burpees, tire flips, sprinting, sledghammering, slam balls, rope climbing, wall balls, prowler drags and pushes, box jumps, and whatever else comes up.

I generally do at least four days a week of strength training, with some endurance activities mixed in. Generally I do some sort of strenuous exercise six days a week.


By my standards, I’ve succeeded admirably.

As far as I can tell, my diet is not impeding my strength gains, despite my protein intake being less than is considered ideal for strength athletes.

It’s my opinion that as long as you’re eating sufficient vegetables (I generally eat 2-3 heads of leafy greens a day), enough calories, and you’re meeting the lifestyle requirements of health (sufficient sleep and sunshine, etc), muscle gain should not be an issue for raw food vegans.

I think it’s likely that much of the food-and-supplement information you hear about in strength circles is based around hype and money-making schemes.

I have met bodybuilders who eat almost nothing but animal foods, as well as those following  cooked vegan diets, low carb diets, tons of fast food pizza and KFC, and now, I’ve just gained a considerable amount of strength while eating only raw fruits, vegetables, and a few nuts and seeds.

Progressive strength training leads to increasing strength; food is likely secondary.

Learn more about eating a healthy raw food diet here.