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While overall health and wellness are becoming a growing concern in the world of bodybuilding, the sport is still beset by unhealthy attitudes and extreme techniques that lead to the perpetuation of dangerous ideas, putting the lives of pro bodybuilders and the amateurs that follow them at risk.
While the use of drugs, such as steroids, diuretics, human growth hormone, insulin, and thyroid medications are unquestionably a large part of the danger bodybuilders face, high-protein diets that rely heavily on the consumption of meat and other animal products are also a major threat to health and wellness for bodybuilders at all levels of competition.
In this article, we’ll look at the differences between vegan bodybuilders and those that eat meat to see which diet is better for long-term health and athletic achievement.
Both red meat-eating and vegan bodybuilders are likely to take supplements and consume protein powders as a source of protein to increase muscle mass, though naturally, the vegan bodybuilder will focus on plant-based proteins, while meat eaters may eat eggs, whey protein and other protein powders sourced from animals. That point of divergence is where the big differences begin. While humans who eat meat are technically omnivores, not carnivores—the human body does require plant-based nutrition as part of a well-balanced diet to receive ideal nutrition intake—some bodybuilders pursue extreme diet plans that wipe out fruits and vegetables entirely. In this sense, meat-eating bodybuilders can actually eat diets that are totally the opposite of the plant-based diets the vegan bodybuilding community and other vegan athletes eat.
Every bodybuilder is different, but if you take on the entire bodybuilding community as a whole and separate out the red meat eaters from vegetarians and those on a strict vegan diet, you’ll find a grossly disproportionate amount of animal protein and amino acids being consumed by the meat eaters. There’s a fear of carbohydrates that drives many meat eaters to extremes and the results can be devastating on the body.
From heart disease to chronic abdominal pain and even cosmetic issues like acne and bad breath, too much meat is a recipe for discomfort, bad health, and even death. Combine this with extremely unhealthy doping regimens and stimulant usage and it’s no wonder big-name, meat-eating bodybuilders like Mike Matarazzo end up dead at an early age.
Matarazzo is a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that eating an extreme meat-focused diet and engaging in dangerous doping practices is a healthy way to live. Toward the end of his life, Matarazzo underwent major heart surgery and had to stop training, but he still died at age 40. This is what meat-eating bodybuilders face when they buy into the lies that underlie extreme dieting and doping practices. We’ll cover this later in the article. For now, let’s stick to an examination of what meat-eating bodybuilders eat.
Eggs, which are high in fat and cholesterol and red meat, which is also known for the unhealthy elements that piggyback on the protein, are major staples of many meat-eating bodybuilders’ diets. Though some meat-eating bodybuilders try to focus on lean protein, many seem to take a macho approach to their diet, focusing on “manly” foods like beef and pork and totally shying away from nourishing natural foods like greens and fruit. The sugar content of fruit is often demonized in the meat-eating bodybuilding community, but all-natural fructose, the sugars that occur naturally in fruit, is easily digested and metabolized by the body as energy.
Between unfounded paranoia over carbohydrates, fear of sugar and a rejection of fat, meat-eating bodybuilders are often extremely restrictive with their diets, swearing off entire categories of food that actually contain fiber, energizing complex carbohydrates, and other nutrition sources that fuel the body and make high-level athletic achievement possible. No wonder the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are so common. Bodybuilders back themselves into a corner with ridiculous diets that devastate their bodies and focus on all the wrong elements of nutrition.
As you can see in our Famous Vegan Bodybuilders article, a vegan bodybuilder’s diet is often much more flexible than that of a meat-eating bodybuilder. Vegan bodybuilders don’t labor under the delusion that carbohydrates are bad for the body. Carbohydrates are an important energy source that fuels athletic performance. However, that doesn’t mean vegan bodybuilders are snacking on white bread and eating whatever they feel like. Even the vegan bodybuilders who describe their diets as being largely flexible and based on bodily intuition stipulate that they stay away from foods with artificial flavors or additives, GMOs, and other unnatural additives.
A vegan bodybuilder’s diet is often focused on natural whole foods that provide efficient nutrition and energy to boost performance. This does mean a lot of protein intake, which vegan bodybuilders are able to consume in high volume thanks to natural plant-based protein sources like beans, nuts, grains, and soy. Tempeh and tofu are common protein sources for vegans, as is oatmeal, peanut, and almond butter, lentils, quinoa, and brown rice.
That’s a whole lot of health food, the kind of stuff you aren’t likely to find from garbage-factory fast-food restaurants. A meat-eating bodybuilder’s diet, on the other hand, can easily be sourced from just about anywhere that serves meat. Both types of bodybuilders take care with their diets, but a vegan bodybuilder’s diet is much more focused on health, wellness, and ethics. For a meat-eating bodybuilder, food is a means to an end rather than an important element that affects their entire state of wellbeing.
Because the widespread use of high-protein diets is relatively new, there’s a lack of thorough research on the subject to back up the idea that eating tons of meat and ditching healthy fruits and vegetables is definitively detrimental to your health, but the high occurrence of heart disease in individuals who eat this way is enough to support the idea that the lack of healthy diversity in a meat-eating bodybuilder’s diet is dangerous.
One thing to keep in mind is that scientific studies are written with a level of academic dispassion that can be misinterpreted by those who expect their information sources to do a degree of interpretation for them. Academics strive to remain neutral, to present information without alarmism and to focus on the facts. When studies are published on the effects of a high-protein diet on the body, they aren’t going to scream from the rooftops that this is a dangerous lifestyle.
They’re going to present facts that support or refute a specific idea. When you read the studies that focus on high-protein diets and DIY diets that meat-eating bodybuilders put together for themselves, you’ll find plenty of information to shock and alarm, particularly when it comes to kidney function and other parts of the digestive tract.
High-protein diets based on meat intake are, in fact, so risky to the kidneys that some health experts recommend that anyone considering going on one of these diets get some kidney health tests run prior to starting to make sure the diet won’t cause permanent damage to these vital organs. Aside from the kidneys, eating that much meat is bad for your heart. Plus, fiber is an important element of digestion and meat-eating bodybuilders are likely to experience a range of excretory complications and discomfort due to their dietary choices. The bottom line is that the extreme diets of meat-eating bodybuilders pose health risks to a number of vital bodily functions due to the high volume of protein, cholesterol, and sodium associated with such a lifestyle.
Extreme dieting, body image issues, and eating disorders go hand in hand and in the bodybuilding world, the response in some corners has been to rely more and more on performance-enhancing drugs to get results rather than taking a step back and making an honest assessment of what it takes to excel in this sport. Some, however, have reacted with the opposite intention, forming a community of natural bodybuilders who swear off doping and focus on the natural results they can achieve through hard work, dedication, and careful nutrition.
While there are plenty of meat-eating bodybuilders in the natural bodybuilding community, it’s no coincidence that this community hosts many vegan bodybuilders as well. The focus on health, natural achievement, and being good to the body is a natural fit for a vegan. Many of the vegan bodybuilders profiled in the Famous Vegan Bodybuilders article compete on the natural bodybuilding circuit, which is gaining in popularity as more and more bodybuilders wise up to the risks associated with traditional extreme dieting and dangerous doping.
Again, if you visit the Famous Vegan Bodybuilders page and get to know the athletes profiled in that article, you’ll understand that stereotypes don’t apply when it comes to professional, high-achieving vegan bodybuilders. You’ll see incredible muscle, strong bodies and competition-level achievement from vegans. In many cases, these athletes perform better in competition than their meat-eating counterparts.
The question of which athletes get better results is a matter of opinion, largely, but that depends on what your goals are. If you simply want the approval of the bodybuilding community and you want to achieve superhuman gains, it’s probably doping, not meat, that’s going to set you apart from other competitors. Meat is not some magic key to bodybuilding success. Vegans can get enough protein, creatine, and other nutrients to build tons of muscle and win competitions.
And when it comes to health and wellness outside of bodybuilding itself, there’s no contest. Vegan bodybuilders get better results in overall health, lifestyle quality, and longevity. Bodybuilders like Mike Matarazzo stand as proof that extreme techniques come at an extremely high cost. Going about it a more honest, healthy way pays off dividends in the end by allowing you to enjoy your life and stay athletic without having to quit the sport you love due to health complications and other safety concerns.