“I have won the German Log-lifting Championship every year since it was held for the first time in 2009. I have set three world records…after turning vegan in 2011.”
Name: Patrik Baboumian
Occupation: Speaker, Author, Sport Psychologist, Media Consultant
City/State/Country: Berlin, Germany
Type of Competing: Strongman
Q: Who was your hero as a child?
The Incredible HULK. I was deeply fascinated by his unattainable strength. As he represented a more childlike mental state led by an incorruptible “just” anger. And being practically unstoppable, he was the perfect character to identify with for a child growing up in the early 1980s in Iran (a place of war and uncertainty).
Q: Do you meditate?
I have recently started using meditation as a means to calm down and find a deeper mental focus.
Q: What are your hobbies outside of fitness?
I produce electronic music in my home recording studio.
Q: What inspired you to start lifting weights as a young man?
I was a fan of pro wrestling when I was in my mid-teens, and as I was dreaming of a future wrestling career, I started lifting weights to develop strength. Soon, strength training became my number-one priority, and the wrestling thing was forgotten. I started competing at powerlifting when I was 16.
As I made great progress, I stuck to strength-sports for many years, trying out different sports like powerlifting, bodybuilding, and arm-wrestling. I was quite successful on some level. For instance, I won the junior overall championship title at the 1999 International German Bodybuilding Championship of the IFBB.
Q: What uncommon activity do you schedule into your daily routine?
I do long late-night walks every night with my companion dog, Basco, to relax, calm down, and develop new ideas for the coming day. I live on the countryside near Berlin, and the nights are really quiet here. I love to be in nature when everyone else sleeps. I enjoy the quiet, tranquil atmosphere without the noise of human life that is omnipresent at daytimes.
Q: What are some of your strength competition feats?
- Won the lightweight German title twice in 2007 and 2009
- Runner-up heavyweight champion in 2010
- German champion in 2011, acquiring the title of “Germany’s Strongest Man”
- National Heavyweight Top 5 in 2007 and 2009 (as a lightweight)
- National Heavyweight Top 3 from 2010-2014
- Set a lightweight world record in the log-lift* in 2009, lifting 165kg
- Placed 4th at Log-lifting Worlds in Vilnius 2011, lifting 185kg.
- Won the German Log-lifting Championship every year since it was held for the first time in 2009
- Set three world records at the front-hold (20kg/1m26sec), the keg-lift (150kg), and the yoke-walk (555kg for 10m) after turning vegan in 2011.
*My personal best at the log-lift is 200kg in training.
Q: Why did you initially become vegetarian in 2005? In what ways has your health improved?
For many people I know, external pressures (media, friends, etc.) have played a crucial role in their decision for a vegetarian diet or vegan lifestyle.
For me, that wasn’t the case. One day out of nowhere, I started to reflect on my personal worldview and actions.
I realized that my meat consumption wasn’t compatible with the compassion I felt for the animals.
It was at this conclusion I decided to stop eating meat. The decision-making was done in a rather level-headed way. There were no emotional, external factors that influenced me.
What I realized after thinking about it was that all my life, starting in childhood, I always had felt very compassionate for animals. This was expressed in my need to help animals that were in danger or distress.
For example, I tried to nurse an injured bird back to health, and let it stay over winter at my home. Another time, I spent a whole day with a former girlfriend to save tadpoles from a puddle that was drying out.
We provided refuge for a little abandoned hedgehog (Harald) one autumn to let him hibernate in our house, and set him free the next spring. One day, I realized that when I see a bird suffer in front of my eyes, I have the urge to help it. And that this is inconsistent with me going into a supermarket the same day and buying chicken breasts.
It makes absolutely no sense that I feel compassion for the bird in the first case and that I don’t care at all about the product that I consume in the latter case. I understood relatively fast that in the one case, I saw the suffering directly before my eyes, and in the other case, it just wasn’t visible.
I also repressed the fact that my own consumer behavior lead to animal suffering, just like the greatest part of our society does every day. But I didn’t want to carry on with that. I realized that I could not reconcile this with my own conscience, and I had to make a decision. The decision could lead in two directions.
One possibility could have been to decide not to be compassionate anymore, and to say: “It’s important to me to be able to eat meat and not care about the animals.” The other possibility was to follow my compassion and change something about my life. I had to stop letting my habits as a consumer be responsible for the death of animals.
“To be honest I was very anxious how switching to a plant-based diet would affect my performances before I went vegan. The interesting thing was that none of my fears became true.”
I had expected that everything would be very hard for me to get used to. But that wasn’t the case. It was much easier than I had anticipated. Above all things, this desire for dairy products was swept away within one or two weeks. In retrospect, this is hardly surprising because when you’re addicted to something and you’re abstinent for a while, the craving goes away after some time.
Within two weeks, I had no urge to drink milk anymore. I had no yearning to consume anything that contained milk or dairy products. The second thing was my performance. I had assumed that it would suffer, but nothing of that sort happened. My sporting prowess was totally stable, the only thing that changed was that my overall sense of well-being noticeably improved.
I suffered from constant heartburn while consuming dairy products, and was chronically, overly acidified due to the gigantic amounts of animal-based protein that I consumed.
It’s important to know that animal protein contains especially high amounts of sulfur-containing amino acids.
This leads to an over-acidification of the body. This becomes evident when one gets heartburn, and the fiendish thing about that situation is that at first it helps to drink milk.
The stomach has something to do in this moment, and the acid gets balanced. Though that was my reasoning, I didn’t realize that the heartburn was caused by dairy products in the first place.
I only understood that when I started to omit dairy products that the heartburn disappeared after two or three days. I asked myself what had happened. Before I switched to a vegan diet, I had feared that I would die of heartburn without milk.
“I had assumed that dairy goods were a remedy for heartburn, whereas in reality, they are the cause for it.”
So for the record – and let us savor this one: Nothing of all the things I had feared had become true. What actually happened was the opposite of everything I had expected.
“My athletic performance stayed stable and even improved in the long run. Today, I am significantly stronger than I used to be. And my well-being improved dramatically.”
My acid-base balance is regulated, the heartburn improved – these were naturally only two aspects. If you have a balanced acid alkaline metabolism, there are a whole lot of other bodily effects that are very positive. For example, you recover faster after athletic training. A balanced acid-base metabolism is important for the body to be able to absorb nutrients.
“If your body is too acidic, it can’t digest protein at optimal levels, and for a strength athlete who is concerned about a sufficient protein supply, this is a nightmare.”
As a strength athlete, you are anxious to consume huge amounts of protein. Your goal is to develop a considerable quantity of muscle, and this demands a substantial amount of building material, which after all, is protein.
When your body is hyper acidic and consequently can’t absorb protein, this is actually one of the worst things that can happen to you as a strength athlete. By changing to a vegan diet and omitting animal protein, this has shifted to a gigantic part in a positive direction.
Q: Sample meal plan for bulking up?
Please remember that this schedule was planned according to my needs. You will, of course, find all the listed meals, smoothies, and shakes in my book, “VRebellion,” that can be ordered online.
- 9:00 – Breakfast: Baboumian Shake
- 11:00 – Between meals: Snack assortment of nuts
- 2:00 – Lunch: Bean soup with rice
- 2:30 – One liter of soy cocoa as dessert
- 3:00 – Between meals: Smoothie
- 5:00 – Pre-workout: Protein shake with 50 grams soy isolate and a vegan calcium preparation with D2 (D3 isn’t vegan)
- 5:00 – Workout: I drink water or a homemade Isotonic drink
- 7:00 – Post-workout: Smoothie with creatine, 50 grams multicomponent protein, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium
- 8:00 – Dinner: Tofu with rice and sweet and sour sauce
- 10:00 – Snack: Peanuts
- Before going to bed: Protein shake with linseed oil
Q: Favorite pre-workout meal?
I do not eat before a workout to keep my blood-sugar-level stable. Instead, I just drink a water-based protein shake with plant-based proteins.
Q: Philosophy on supplements, and which ones you take?
“I have stopped using a lot of supplements as I went vegan, and I feel that I have overrated a lot of supplements in the past.”
I still use some supplements that I feel help optimize my results, such as:
- Nutritional yeast
- Ceylon cinnamon (for anti-oxidants)
Q: If you have to pick only three exercises, what would they be?
I think that these three multi-joint exercises are the most effective movements when it comes to building mass and strength. They are also quite functional movements.
Q: How has your training regimen changed over the years?
Not so much [laughs]. I have always loved to train heavy and build strength. I love functional movements. I have always trained according to Mike Mentzer’s heavy duty principles. As I began training more with strongman disciplines and less with gym-based routines, I still stuck to the fundamental principles I always believed in.
Today, 22 years after touching a dumbbell for the first time, I’m still able to improve. So I assume I will go on training this way for some more time.
Q: What unique tips can you share that have led to your success in strength training?
My main advantage over most of the athletes that I have been able to best in all these years have been more on the mental side.
“As I am quite small for a strongman competing in the heavyweight division, my only chance to overcome the physical disadvantage has been to simply be mentally stronger.”
One thing is that I literally never give up.
For example, I have won the title of Germany’s strongest man only three weeks after a muscle-tear in my left calf, barely being able to walk until three days before the competition just by training around the injury and doing everything in my power to recover as quickly as possible.
Another thing is that I know exactly why I do what I do. As a vegan athlete fighting the common stereotypes of vegans being skinny, weak guys, I consider myself more of a warrior with purpose than an athlete.
“I do not compete to win, I compete to change the world.”
Q: What are the three biggest trends you see in fitness right now?
have the feeling that the industry realizes that there is a big movement towards a more health-based approach to fitness and strength-training. I see a revolution according to the “stardom” within the industry, away from the pro-bodybuilders and toward the more everyday guy type personalities fueled by social media. And I see a big trend towards outdoor training, bodyweight training, and more functional training approaches away from the gym and toward the street or nature.
Q: Tell us about your new book.
I wrote “VRebellion” to answer frequently asked questions about vegan nutrition and how my diet enables me to gain weight, power, and muscles. I also wanted to provide a little insight into the unique particularities of my vegan diet, because I simply think that there are certain things I do differently.
Maybe I can give one or two useful hints to people interested in the vegan lifestyle regarding how they can understand what it involves in practical terms that would save them time and trouble.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to try vegetarian bodybuilding or powerlifting, and struggles with the same fears and hesitations you had at first?
I believe that there is a simple error in reasoning that plays a big role in a lot of the fears and misconceptions people have regarding what a vegan lifestyle truly is: as soon as somebody mentions that he or she is living on a diet that is based purely on plant-based products, people immediately assume greens and vegetables.
The first picture that comes to mind when one hears the word “vegan” is a diet consisting mainly of vegetables and salad. We know that vegetables and salad consist mainly of water, so presumably one has to eat gigantic amounts of vegetables and salad in order to gain any weight. That’s why many people probably ask themselves how one can get so muscular while on a vegan diet.
How is this even possible?
Well, you simply have to think about the fact that a vegan diet does not consist of salad and vegetables alone, but also food like nuts or legumes with high calorie content. Even if we consider the food that many meat-eaters rely on as a source of energy, we find that much of it is of plant origin as well.
Whether it is potatoes or oatmeal, rice or noodles made from durum wheat semolina, there are plenty of wonderful sources of energy for the body that are not meat. Peanuts, for example, are a wonderful source of protein. They contain a higher amount of protein than a steak, and have a higher energy density than most animal products.
The peanut contains lots of vegetable fats, as well. It’s wonderfully suited to supply us with calories and with protein. I could go on and on about all kinds of other legumes like beans, lentils, or peas. We would find that it is quite easy to supply one’s protein needs.