“Keeping my waist tight has enabled me to keep my posture, which keeps excess strain off my joints and muscles.”
It is my pleasure to introduce Jim Morris, a former vegan bodybuilding champion.
Update: Morris died on January 28, 2016 at the age of 80.
Jim was a soft-spoken, humble man who was a professional bodybuilder for over 30 years and competed against many of the greats, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. He said that his health greatly improved after he made the switch to a plant-based diet in 1985.
From left to right: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Eddie Giulliani, Joe Gold, Bob Paris, Danny Padilla, and Jim Morris.
Q: Who was your hero as a child?
Al Jones was my hero.
My parents separated when I was one year old. Al was a coworker at the laundry my mother worked at. He had a family of his own, but he would find time to spend with me. Al would help me with my scouting merit badge projects.
He took me to museums, car shows (Motorama), Coney Island, the Sportsmen’s Show, the circus, and Broadway theaters. During our time together, I learned a lot about life through his example.
[Interesting fact: From 1974 to 1988, Jim was Elton John’s personal bodyguard. In effect, Jim is a hero himself.]
Q: Do you meditate?
I meditate daily. It is part of my life, and I do it without planning, schedule, or limit. It happens on its own and is open-ended.
Q: What are your hobbies outside of fitness?
I spend most of my day in my yard. I enjoy moving stuff and being a part of the ongoing creative process in the yard.
Q: What words of wisdom would you tell your 13-year-old self?
Believe in yourself!
I didn’t start bodybuilding until I was 19 years old. Ever since the first day, the gym members started asking me questions about how I had built my body; I was hooked.
Q: What are some of your bodybuilding feats?
- In 1972, I won Mr. USA.
- In 1973, I won the AAU Mr. America competition.
- In that same competition, I also won Most Muscular, Best Arms, and Best Chest subdivisions, along with setting records for Largest Winning Margin (30 points), Oldest Winner (37 years-old), and Only Openly Gay to win.
- In 1974, I won Mr. International.
- In 1978, I was inducted into the Physical Fitness Hall of Fame.
- In 1996, I came out of retirement and won Mr. Olympia Masters Over 60.
- In 2015, I was inducted into the Venice Muscle Beach Hall of Fame.
Q: Why did you initially become vegetarian?
In 1985, my partner Jim Brown and I bought a house and immediately found ourselves with three adopted dogs. I quickly learned of their personalities as sentient beings, and mainly watching them interact with Jim. I came to realize them as individuals and equal beings. From there, it was automatic for me.
In January of 1969, I went to Los Angeles to ask Bill Pearl’s advice about bodybuilding. I was so taken with him, I moved to Los Angeles to learn from him. Bill taught me the mechanics of training and training others. With Bill’s guidance, I was able to win the Mr. America.
I decided to become a vegetarian in 1985 at age 50. In 2000 at age 65, I became a vegan.
[Side note: Pearl became a vegetarian at age 39 and is the most well-known vegetarian bodybuilder next to Jim.]
Q: In what ways has your health improved?
During the first 15 years [of being plant-based], my overall system became more unified and strong. Since becoming vegan:
- I no longer have any joint pain or stiffness.
- I no longer have any allergy symptoms.
- I no longer wear eyeglasses.
- All of my digestive problems have cleared up.
“I don’t experience the joint pain that many other iron athletes my age constantly complain about.”
Q: Tips on bulking up?
To bulk up, I increase the weight/poundage I am training with, which stimulates my system to eat more food, and then I eat whatever my appetite indicates.
Q: Supplements or hormone therapy (as your age would require)?
- Take 200 mg of testosterone weekly.
- Four teaspoons of hemp seeds daily.
- One aloe vera leaf daily.
Q: If you have to pick only three exercises, what would they be?
Q: How has your training regimen changed over the years?
I think what you’re asking is: “How have you dealt with the advancing age in your training?” (Expecting some sort of compromised intensity.)
My training regimen and my life are one and the same.
All of the components of my life – goals, nutrition, and activities – are the same as those of my training regimen.
I do not think of them as different.
As I learn and incorporate that knowledge into my life, it becomes part of my always-changing training regimen.
Depending on my circumstance at the moment, I will workout differently in the gym. So the changes in my regimen are constant, as they always have been and always will be.
The last time “I got into shape” was to do the PETA poster of the Rodin “Thinker” sculpture two years ago [photo on the right].
That followed the 75th commemorative photo session two years earlier, so I was in pretty decent shape to begin with. So starting from that point was easy.
Q: What unique tips can you share that have led to your success in bodybuilding all these years? Why do you think you have been able to train well into your 70s?
I have accepted responsibility for my life. Which includes conscious responsibility for the condition of my body.
I have always kept my midsection in shape. No matter what condition of the rest of my body, fat or skinny, whatever. My waist has always been my priority.
It has kept me from wasting time with processed and non-nutritious food. Keeping my waist tight has enabled me to keep my posture, which keeps excess strain off my joints and muscles.
Q: What future trends do you anticipate in health and fitness?
Veganism will be the next “organic.”
I think “meals” as we know them [with multiple food groups] will become obsolete. There will be mostly nutrient-specific meals which may consist of only one type of food. I think people will eat only when they are hungry, and then one item will be enough to satisfy them.
I think workouts and exercises will be more functional and geared toward enhancing our day-to-day movements and habits.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to try vegan bodybuilding?
Go for it.
The only difference is in the food. Everything else is the same. The workout, the exercises, the poundages, and the rest periods – everything except the food.
And while you are at it, eliminate processed and refined food as well.
Jim Morris: Lifelong Fitness was a 2014 Slamdance Film Festival official selection and has been screened at festivals all over the world.