Over the last two years, there has been an explosion of interest, best-selling books, supplements, websites, festivals, and award-winning documentaries in the plant-based nutrition domain.
And now the Arnold Schwarzenegger of bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has weighed in on the topic and says we should try to eat less meat.
According to a recent article put out by the BBC, “Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says people should go meat-free one or two days a week to protect the climate.”
Arnold also recently said,
“I have seen many body builders that are vegetarian and they get strong and healthy.”
Wow. I didn’t see this day coming. This is akin to Donald Trump getting a crew cut.
To be clear, this legendary bodybuilder isn’t saying that everyone should become vegetarians, but he is bringing a great deal of attention to the topic. To me, this is a win in itself because many more people are talking about it now.
There are so many compelling health reasons to become a vegetarian, but as Schwarzenegger points out, the truly important one is the environment.
Agricultural food production contributes 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the livestock sector generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide and 35 percent of methane, which have 296 times and 23 times the Global Warming Potential of CO2, respectively.
The average cornfield could deliver more than 15 million calories per acre each year (enough to feed 14 people per acre) if we ate the corn ourselves. But due to the allocation of corn to animal production, each acre only yields 3 million calories (enough for just three people).
Clearly, meat takes just as much of a toll on the environment and global food supply as it does our bodies. Now is the time to join Arnold in the fight against climate change with simple dietary changes, one meal at a time.
What’s next, Arnold encouraging the fitness community to try vegetarian bodybuilding?
That said, according to our good friend Robert Cheeke, Arnold is no stranger to vegetarian bodybuilding:
Arnold used to lose bodybuilding competitions to a vegetarian bodybuilder, Bill Pearl. He grew up in the bodybuilding world among successful vegetarian bodybuilders, in addition to Pearl, including Mr. Universe, Andreas Cahling.
One of Arnold’s long-time bodybuilding colleagues is another former Mr. Universe champion, Jim Morris, who has spent many years as a vegetarian and is now vegan. I was with Jim and Arnold in at the gym just a few months ago.
Arnold has had successful vegetarian bodybuilders around him for his entire bodybuilding career, dating back to when he was a teenage bodybuilder trying to keep up with the more experienced, and very successful, Bill Pearl.
I met Bill about 5 years ago and he was in his 80s and still active, much like Jim Morris, who is now 80 and in the gym 5 days a week. Though I don’t think Arnold was totally convincing in his statement about cutting back on animal products, suggesting that most people would be unwilling to cut out much, it is still a powerful message coming from the most influential bodybuilder in history, the man so many bodybuilders and others aspire to be like.
The Part-Time Vegetarian
If you like the idea of trying a vegetarian diet but the thought of never again eating a Thanksgiving turkey or a BLT leaves a bad taste in your mouth (pun intended), then try a semi-vegetarian diet (also known as a flexitarian diet).
Flexitarians are often confused with omnivores, but omnivores don’t typically care whether they eat meat or plants. Flexitarians strive to eat mostly veggies and fruits, and hardly any meat. The meat they do eat is carefully selected to be produced open-range and antibiotic/hormone-free.
Oddly enough, a flexitarian diet can be even more plant-based than a vegan diet.
This is because you can technically eat “vegan” (e.g. French fries, soda, cereal, etc.) all day and not have actually consumed a single vegetable. This more recent class of plant-based fellows, or semi-vegetarians, is also the most ancient expression of vegetarianism.
It turns out that most vegetarians across the globe eat some meat. You may enjoy reading “Origins of Vegetarianism” for some perspective on the subject. It is my observation that our culture tends to be more concerned with labels than the rest of the planet. We may get along better if we lightened up on striving for black and white all the time.
The primary concept here is that if you eat plant-based foods a majority of the time, you can still get most of the health benefits. I tried being semi-vegetarian first before going all-in, to see how my body would respond to hardly any meat. It also helped psychologically, because it offers flexibility and didn’t seem so extreme.
According to registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, who coined the term “flexitarian” over a decade ago, semi-vegetarians live longer and weigh less than their omnivorous counterparts. And like vegetarians, flexitarians also have a lower risk of cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease.
Plant-Based Protein Is Easier Than You Think
Protein becomes a hot issue because vegetarians have been taunted for a long time about not getting enough protein. Many who say this are not well-informed, so it makes sense that they might reject the message and instead blame the messenger.
For a vegetarian bodybuilder or athlete, the primary thing is to incorporate plant-based foods that are hearty and packed with protein and nutrients.
Also, because meat is calorie-dense, there tends to be a deficit after eliminating meat from your diet. To help increase my total calories for the day, I simply eat more calorie-dense foods like nuts, seeds, and coconut oil.
Sources of Protein:
- Quinoa (my personal favorite and also a complete protein)
- Soy foods, like tofu
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Plant-based protein powders
Of these, only quinoa and tofu are complete proteins. And some veggie burgers and plant-based protein powders have a blend of proteins and make a complete protein as well.
You can also utilize combinations of whole foods with incomplete proteins to make up a complete protein meal. For instance:
- Peanut butter and sprouted bread
- Beans and brazil nuts*
Sample Semi-Vegetarian Meal Plan
Naturally, if you’re a larger human being like myself, who weighs 220-230lb, you will want to increase the amount of food. Likewise, if you’re a smaller human being, you can trim this meal plan down to suit your needs.
- Breakfast: 3 organic eggs, free-range; toast with almond butter
- Lunch: Veggie burger with lettuce and slices of avocado and tomato; fresh veggie juice with organic greens
- Snack: 1 serving organic Greek yogurt, grass-fed
- Dinner: Tofu stir fry with quinoa
- Snack: Plant-based protein shake
To see a few recipes to help get you going, click here.
A plant-based, semi-vegetarian diet is overall a good and healthy thing.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Luckily, we know that you can get your protein from many different ways. You can get it from vegetables; I have seen many bodybuilders and lifters who are vegetarian and are strong and healthy.”
The UN also advises a vegan diet: “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty, and the worst impacts of climate change”.
The bigger picture of eating more plants and less meat makes its own respective contribution to compassion for animals, preserving resources and the environment, and quality personal health. The more thoughtfully and less judgmentally we can invite others to eat more plants, the better the aggregate effect.
Thankfully, icons like Arnold are contributing to the conversation, which in turn gets more people talking about it.
There are many reasons one may try going plant-based, but it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. In other words, eating less meat and more plants is a simple, valid option.