Thirty years ago, Matthew Kenney was an aspiring teenage bodybuilder. Now, he’s one of the most accomplished raw food chefs in the country, having opened Matthew Kenney OKC in 2009, a raw vegan restaurant in Oklahoma City that Forbes magazine called one of “America’s Best Restaurants” the following year.
You would think, then, that Kenney, himself a vegan, abandoned his bodybuilding roots around the same time he stopped eating meat. You’d be wrong. Kenney hits the weights just as hard now at age 48 as he did 10 years ago, before he started eating raw, and he has several bodybuilder friends who also eat raw exclusively.
“The raw food diet as we speak about it refers to a plant-based diet of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted greens that are not heated above 105–110°,” says Kenney, author of the cookbooks Everyday Raw and Raw Food Real World.
“The enzymes and nutrients are still alive, so the foods are very healing because they’re more digestible.” Among the tangible benefits of eating raw, according to Kenney are that it can reverse such ailments as diabetes, arthritis, and joint pain as well as provide ample energy throughout the day. Kenney also considers a raw diet to be extremely physique-friendly, in terms of both adding size and losing body fat.
“You can actually train more intensely on a plant-based diet than when following a standard diet because your recovery time is faster, you have fewer injuries, and you have more energy,” he says. “You may not be able to bulk up to 265 pounds, but developing lean muscle mass is fully attainable.”