One Small Change
The Ultimate Vegan
A few years ago, Men’s Health magazine sent me to profile Robert dos Remedios, the director of speed, strength, and conditioning at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California. He had just been named the Collegiate Strength Coach of the Year, which was no small feat given that he works for a junior college and the award includes the biggest universities in America.
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Coach Dos is a mountain of a man who’s gentle in all aspects of life except one: the weight room. He’s all about building explosive strength and speed through workouts with testosterone-charged names such as CHAOS. And with these routines, he’s performed miracles not only on his athletes but also himself. At age 44, he can toss around dumbbells and medicine balls in ways that kids half his age can’t. But what makes all this even more impressive is that he’s been a vegan for 20 years. When we went to lunch, he ordered the bean burrito instead of the double-beef fajitas. All the stuff you’ve heard about needing steak, eggs and other traditional protein sources to build stamina, lean muscle and power? Forget about it, says Coach Dos.
“It’s possible to get all the protein and amino acids you need from a vegan diet,” says the former offensive lineman at the University of California, Berkeley. “It takes more effort and you have to be smart, but there’s no reason why you have to sacrifice strength or lean body mass. Anyone who trains with me will tell you that.”
Indeed, an article in the current issue of Men’s Journal called “The Rise of the Power Vegan” cites pro athletes such as Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, ultra-endurance athlete Scott Jurek, and even former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson as experimenting with veganism—some more successfully than others. (Gonzalez reportedly lost 10 pounds and significant strength before rebalancing his diet.)
The key to being successful, says Coach Dos, is making sure you’re getting enough quality calories and that you’re deriving your protein from a variety of sources. “Most people just replace the meat with bread, pasta and rice when they should be seeking out more beans, legumes and whole grains,” he explains.
Danielle LaFata, a nutritionist and education specialist with Athletes’ Performance, notes that animal protein is “complete.” In other words, a single serving of steak or chicken contains all the essential amino acids your body needs. But plant protein is incomplete. It takes more than just tofu to stoke the fitness furnace.
To help you understand this important concept better, let’s take a look at a typical eating day for Coach Dos. But be careful; please keep your arms and legs inside the tour bus:
Breakfast: Power shake made with 10 ounces orange juice, 2 scoops of rice/pea/hemp powder (in equal parts from TrueProtein.com), ½ frozen banana, ½ cup frozen mixed berries, 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal, ½ cup almonds, and a smattering of uncooked oats—all blended until smooth.
Early (post-workout) lunch: Either a salad with “tons” of beans, avocados and vegetables, or some spaghetti topped with homemade tomato sauce, beans, legumes, peas and seitan or “wheat meat,” which is another great source of protein. (“I don’t do a lot of soy,” says Dos. “It’s the most genetically modified crop we have, and I’m not a big fan of that.”)
Mid-afternoon snack: Either another shake or a pita stuffed with wheat- or soy-based meat and vegetables.
Dinner: Homemade Vegan Buddha’s Feast featuring brown rice, lentils, broccoli, seitan and Sriracha hot chili sauce, plus a Stone Mill Organic Pale Ale—or two. (“Beer is my vice; I’d be shredded ripped if it wasn’t for that.”)
Supplements: Pure Advantage Vegan Vitamin B-12 spray, Trader Joe’s Men’s Once Daily Multivitamin, Deva Vegan Glucosamine MSM, and Deva Vegan Omega-3 DHA. (Although he doesn’t use it himself, he also recommends Beano if such a diet gives you gas.)
Totals: Dos estimates he’s ingesting 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day and 100 to 150 grams of protein. “I hear all the ‘rules’ about eating ½ to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day but, to tell you the truth, I don’t count,” he says. “Some people would argue I’m not getting enough protein for someone my size and I should be sparing muscle, but it’s just not happening. If I feel tired some days, I just do an extra shake or eat more.”
In many ways, Coach Dos is an experiment in process. He doesn’t know of anyone who works out as intensely as he does and has also been a vegan for so long. “I’m an enigma in that respect,” he says. “But I’ve never had any issues with it. I’ve been able to get every single nutrient I need from this diet and stay healthy and active.”
He admits, however, that it’s a lot easier now than when he swore off meat and dairy in 1990 after reading John Robbins’ classic book, Diet for a New America. “Back then, there were no veggie burgers, and my diet wasn’t the healthiest,” he recalls. “I was eating a lot of salads and cheese-less pizzas. But now there are so many alternatives. Still, if you’re thinking about trying this you should understand that it’s not easy. You need a real reason for sticking to it.”
For Coach Dos that reason is “cruelty free, compassionate living.” He is against the abuse of animals, and his wife and 9-year-old daughter share these ethics and his diet. “Having your family involved makes it a lot easier,” he admits. “When we travel, we’ll research the places in the area and see what the alternatives are…. But I’ll be honest with you, I grew up on pork chops, steak, potatoes…all that good stuff. My mom was a crazy great cook, and I weighed almost 300 pounds in college. But those foods are no longer an option for me. I have a reason for what I do.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the vegan lifestyle, here are some of Coach Dos’ favorite sources of information:
- Guide for Newbies: http://features.peta.org/VegetarianStarterKit/index.asp
- Cooking Tips/Recipes: http://www.vegancoach.com/
- Animal Cruelty Advocacy: http://www.veganoutreach.org/
- No More Chicken Chest!: http://www.veganbodybuilding.com/
- Vegan Restaurant Guide: http://www.happycow.net/browse.html
- Vegan Bible: http://www.vegnews.com/web/home.do
About The Author
Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.