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Vegans and masculinity: Plant-powered bodybuilder debunks myths

RichardWattsheadshot1Compassionate, kind and physically fit and strong, British bodybuilder Richard Watts is determined to break the stereotypes often foisted on male vegans.

20 November 2013

I have been vegan since the end of 2000, so at the time of writing, I have been vegan for about 12 years. Before that I was vegetarian for about 13 years. Unfortunately, most people who read that would assume I am skin and bone, and it is a miracle I haven’t died from malnutrition yet.

Actually, I am in fine health, and often have people remark on my physical condition. Indeed, I’ve inspired many people to get back to the gym – whether they know I’m vegan or not, they ask me what I’ve been doing to get in shape – so I feel proud that I’m a positive example of a vegan.

I work as a labourer at an animal sanctuary, which is a pretty physical job. Also on my days off I go to the gym for weight training. I run the website, and I was asked to write this article to give some insight into training, diet and health on a vegan diet. But I think I should rewind and start with some fundamentals.

It seems that vegetarianism is far easier for most people to understand, than veganism.  The idea that for meat to exist, an animal had to die is easy to comprehend. Veganism is often considered to be going “too far” or “unnecessary”, or even just completely pointless. However, there are two key facts that really need to be appreciated.

First, in order to get a cow to produce milk, it needs to be impregnated, just like a human.  Male calves born in this process obviously do not produce milk themselves. Thinking about this from a business perspective, there is nothing to gain by having billions of male calves on your land, serving no purpose. The only thing they can do is provide semen for breeding (for which you only need a tiny number of males). With that being the case, most are killed for meat. So in order to get milk from dairy cows, there is this side effect of the male calves having to be killed, that’s a fact.

Similarly with eggs, you need female chickens to lay more eggs. Male chickens serve no purpose and represent no profit to the farmer, so the general system is to kill them, normally immediately when the chicks are identified as male. Obviously a few males are required for breeding, so a few might live.  But if you buy eggs, then part of the process of how you get the egg, involves the slaughter of billions of male chickens, there’s no other way around it.

With that said, the question of “what’s wrong with milk and eggs” becomes very simple – there is a lot more to be said, but the bottom line is that in order to produce milk or eggs, there are billions of males being killed constantly. As a person who cares about animals, it is the same choice as a vegetarian choosing not to eat meat.

But it is strange to me that often it is considered not to be masculine if you show compassion, caring, or even kindness – and that lack of masculinity is magnified if those feelings are towards animals. I think that’s absolutely nuts. It’s just sensible to not want harm to come to anything. Given a choice between something being harmed, or not being harmed, why would you want to choose the first option? It’s often misconstrued as weak, or overly emotional, but it’s just logical, just straight forward. To actually want something to be harmed is sadistic.

But I think the lack of consideration towards animals is generally limited to men. Women I have talked to are usually impressed by veganism, even if they are not vegan or even vegetarian themselves, they can see that I am someone who takes himself seriously, has self-respect, pride and whose word means something.

If you make a commitment to something like veganism, it shows a dedication and belief in something beyond your own life. It’s easy to just say the words, “I care about animals” and so on. Unless you actually change your lifestyle, it’s basically nonsense – how can you say you care about something, when you pay for someone to kill it so you can eat it?

When faced with someone who follows through with their actions, it shows that they believe in what they say and their words carry much more weight. Of course, there is also the other side of it; that women perhaps find it more comfortable to feel empathy in general, and so it is refreshing for them to meet a man who is unafraid to also show compassion towards animals.

But once you accept that killing animals is wrong, the world takes on a very different appearance. It infuriates me, and the emotion I feel most is anger. I take it for granted that cruelty and slaughter of animals is wrong now – I have been vegan for so long it’s not something I think about.

Veganism is not some kind of hippy, fluffy nonsense.

To me it’s more about being so enraged with what’s going on, that you put your foot down and say “no”. It takes some guts to do something different, to stand out and let your beliefs dictate your actions.

It’s easy – and weak – to just go with the flow, join in with your friends, not make a fuss. I think it underlies real strength to be true to yourself and what you consider to be right, or wrong. It seems repulsive to me that in order to be considered to be a “real man”, you have to take pleasure in the suffering of animals. That seems so backwards.

I also despise the notion of masculinity in general. To define men as one thing and women as another is just discrimination. Who makes the rules? Why are certain sports “for men” and others “for women”? It is completely fabricated. Sure, there are trends regarding how men and women behave and interact, and even how they think. But those are only trends, not rules.

There is no reason to consider any action or activity as “male” or “female”.  My interests are varied, and include things that some might call masculine, and others feminine. I like to lift weights, practice martial arts, listen to heavy metal and play guitar, play video games, read graphic novels, watch action movies and horror, and have an interest in serial killers.

Then, I also like Bob Ross, origami, drawing and painting, playing with kittens, cooking, watching dramas and documentaries, and I have no problem talking to people about their feelings and what is going on in their life.

To me, it’s all the same. Neither list has a gender associated with it. And what does it say about me if you did arbitrarily associate a gender? I don’t like being pigeonholed, I’m an individual like everybody else, with interests, likes and dislikes.  Anybody can do anything they like, and there should not be a stigma attached to it. Caring about animals is a logical practice, not something which should be looked down upon as childish or “girly”.

But even for those who understand, or even agree, that animal farming is unacceptable, there are further issues to do with the application and practicality of veganism that need addressing.

These are some common questions I get asked, and I’ll do my best to explain.

Where do you get your protein?

A big concern for people about veganism is protein. But, I don’t think many people even know how much protein you’re supposed to get in a day, they just assume they get enough if they eat meat, and assume you don’t get enough if you are vegan or vegetarian.  However, if you look at information from official health guidelines around the world, including the World Health Organisation, the recommendations for everyday average people is that between five to ten per cent of your calories should come from protein.

Protein is easy to come by on a vegan diet.  Protein is everywhere, not limited to animal products!  Just for example:

Spinach  – 32% calories from protein
Kidney beans – 24% calories from protein
Bread – 12% calories from protein
Rice – 8% calories from protein
Oats – 12 % calories from protein
Peanuts – 15% calories from protein
Cashews – 11% calories from protein
Green Peas – 22% calories from protein

(numbers taken from

So you can see, that even with just regular fresh foods and staples, you would easily reach that recommendation of five to ten per cent. Those are just examples, but if you have a look around at the nutritional data of foods, you might be surprised how easy it is to get it in your diet.  In fact, I believe it is harder to avoid it than it is to obtain it. If you eat enough calories in a day, your diet would have to be really peculiar to completely miss the mark.  Basically the only people who don’t get enough protein, are those who are starving in general, who don’t get enough calories.

Can you build muscle as a vegan?

Yeah. If you find the time, you can check and you can see in the profiles section, dozens of examples of fit and healthy people, as well as some really huge and ripped guys. Building muscle as a vegan is the same process as building muscle as a non-vegan.

body1withheadPrimarily, you need to train hard and consistently towards a set goal, and eat appropriately. Everyone has a different goal in mind, but generally I guess most everyday people want to get a bit bigger, and get a bit leaner. At a simplistic level, that means eating enough carbohydrates to allow you to function properly and exercise, and eating enough protein to help you recover after your workouts.

There is continuing disagreement and discussion about how much protein somebody should consume if they are trying to put on muscle. Some people talk about having one gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, some would say you should consume 150 grams of protein every day. Others even say double that amount! Personally I’ve seen progress from people eating far less than that. But really it involves personal experimentation. Create a diet plan, stick to it for three months or so, see if you get the changes you want, and then go from there, making alterations.

There isn’t a magic recipe that will turn you into the hulk, no matter if you’re vegan, vegetarian or a meat-eater. It requires dedication and hard work, that’s the key. Often, bodybuilders consume protein shakes as a convenient way to get additional protein in their diet, with minimum additional calories. Again, that is true of vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters (the latter often consume whey, whilst vegans would be on something like soy or rice protein and so on).

Don’t vegans miss something in their diet? Isn’t it unhealthy?

It depends on the diet. Somebody who eats meat is not intrinsically healthier than someone who doesn’t, and vice versa. I know some very unhealthy people, and I know some extremely healthy people. I’d say that anybody hoping to be healthy needs to make sure they’re eating a high quantity of fruits and vegetables. That should be the bulk of your diet, no matter what else you’re consuming.

So even if somebody doesn’t want to be vegetarian or vegan, I’d say that they should still focus on fruit and vegetables just for their health, if nothing else. I would also say that the more animal products you consume, the worse it will be for your health, especially those that are known to contribute to cancer and heart disease. Exclusion of animal products does nothing to harm you.

Veganism is certainly not dangerous to your health. It’s impossible to say “you’ll be healthier if you become vegan” – because you might become vegan and then just start eating chips and candy. Obviously that is not healthy at all, but that would be your own ignorance causing the health problems, not veganism.

The only thing I would say you need to remember as a vegan, is to make sure you are eating foods fortified with vitamin B12, or take a supplement for that vitamin, as it will only be in fortified foods (like cereal), and if you’re not eating those, then you likely won’t be getting much of it.

Nobody should shy away from veganism on the grounds that it is “feminine”, unfashionable or unhealthy. I really recommend doing your homework before reaching any conclusion.

Make a diet plan, look at what you currently eat, check out or a similar site to understand precisely how much fat, carbohydrate and protein you eat per day, and how many calories you take in.

It’ll take you a little while, maybe an hour, depending on the complexity of your diet. But then you’ll have the facts. I think most people do not know how much they eat – let alone what they should be eating! But once you start putting a diet together, and trying to optimize it, you can achieve a very healthy plan as a vegan.

PlantPoweredMen200This is an edited extract from Plant Powered Men by Kathy Divine (editor). Reprinted here with permission. Published by Create Space Publishing. Copyright 2013.

Buy Plant-Powered Men on on 30 November and receive Vegans Are Cool e-book (also by Kathy Divine), free. Email your receipt to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to receive the free e-book. Mention your favourite vegan charity in the email and they will get $2 for every copy of Plant-Powered Men you purchase.

Connect with Richard Watts at Vegan Body Building and on Facebook.

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