Meatless Meatheads

Make the move and become a vegetarian monster in the gym without sacrificing muscle or missing meat.

There was a time not so long ago when any man dedicated to moving big iron and sculpting dense muscle would have been called a grasschewing wimp or even (gasp!) a hippie, for turning down a fat, juicy rib-eye steak and instead tucking into a plate of beans and rice with a side salad. But starting in the ’50s, as modern bodybuilding began to take shape, a few dedicated muscleheads brushed off the insults and committed themselves to building an impressive physique all through a diet based on plants.

Bill Pearl, now 85, is probably the most famous vegetarian bodybuilder, though he is technically a lacto-ovo vegetarian, or someone who eats mostly plants and some dairy and eggs. He won numerous contests throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s while on a plant-based diet, including the Mr. Universe pro four times. His protégé, Jim Morris, took the plant diet even further and became a vegan—he went on to compete for more than 30 years and won contests like Mr. USA and Mr. Olympia Masters until retiring in 1985.

And the Oak himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, proclaimed that he would start adhering to a meatless Monday schedule for better health and to do his part to cut down on the greenhouse gases emitted in the production, slaughter, and distribution of livestock. In a 2006 report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that the way we get meat on our plates is one of the biggest strains on the global ecosystem, with the whole process being one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases, a leading cause of loss of habitat biodiversity and a major reason our waterways are polluted.

Besides the saving-the-planet angle and concern for the welfare of animals, study after study has shown that vegetarian or vegan diets lower cholesterol, reduce the risk for heart disease, regulate blood pressure levels, and help prevent prostate cancer and colon cancer. People who follow a plant-based diet may also have lower body-mass index, better skin, more energy, and live longer. That said, we challenge you to try out the veggie life by taking the following steps to live a healthier life, and maybe even help save the planet—and still pack on muscle.





  • 2 scoops vanilla rice protein powder
  • 2 cups frozen blueberries
  • 10 oz water


  • Add all ingredients to a blender and blend for 30 seconds.

CALORIES: 398 | CARBS: 46g | PROTEIN: 49g | FAT: 2g

Recipe courtesy of Mike Mahler




  • 2 scoops vanilla rice protein powder
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries
  • 1 tbsp Udo’s Choice Oil with DHA
  • 10 oz water


  • Add all ingredients to a blender and blend for 30 seconds.

CALORIES: 464 | CARBS: 35g | PROTEIN: 49g | FAT: 13g

Recipe courtesy of Mike Mahler


Mike Mahler, a renowned vegan strength athlete and kettlebell master, started on his path to veganism when he was 15. “Then I decided to cut out all meat except fish but kept eggs and dairy in as well,” he says. “When I was 18 I took it a step further and cut out fish.” Mahler then became a vegan in 1994 when he realized that most factory animals bred for slaughter live and die in horrific conditions.

Newbies interested in cutting meat today should phase out meat and animal products gradually. “Just learning how to put things together was hard at first,” Mahler says. “Once I loaded up on legumes, nuts, and seeds everything started falling into place as these combos provide an abundance of complete protein, low-glycemic carbs, and healthy fats for sex hormone optimization.” Mahler, who recently hit a deadlift personal record of 555 pounds and squat best of 425 pounds, plus banged out 20 one-arm snatches with a 97-pound kettlebell, says the best part about making the choice to become a vegetarian athlete is that you don’t have to change up your training.





  • 3/4 cup medium- to finely ground cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds 
  • 1/4 cup oats, ground
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup applesauce 
  • 1 cup hemp milk
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil 
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Toast cornmeal lightly in a pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until it is lightly browned and fragrant.
  2. Preheat waffle iron.
  3. Stir together the cornmeal, chia, ground oats, salt, and baking powder. In a separate bowl, mix together the applesauce, hemp milk, coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. (You may need to microwave the coconut oil for a few seconds to get it to a liquid state for easier mixing.)
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry to combine into a smooth batter. Spray the waffle iron with baking spray even if it is nonstick, and pour batter into hot iron. Follow the directions of your waffle iron, or wait until the iron stops steaming.
  5. Carefully remove waffles from iron, respray with cooking spray, and repeat. To enjoy immediately, top with maple syrup or fruit.

CALORIES: 430 | CARBS: 25g | PROTEIN: 26g | FAT: 29g

Recipe courtesy of No Meat Athlete


“For all athletes, the majority of your food intake should come from vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich foods, the most nutrient-dense foods they can find,” says Marie Spano, R.D., sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks, and co-editorfor the NSCA’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Vegetarian diets are typically lower in total protein, and many of the available plant proteins are not high in leucine, the key amino acid that turns on muscle protein synthesis.

“The best substitutes for meat and its high-protein content and essential amino acids profile are soy protein and hemp seeds because both contain all eight essential amino acids,” says Spano. “Several beans including soybeans, mung, white, kidney, and navy beans, as well as split peas and lentils, contain a good amount of leucine, making all excellent additions to round out meals.” Spano suggests opting for a higher amount of protein (at least 2 grams per kilogram body weight) based on the amino acid composition of vegetable-based proteins. Try to hit macros of approximately 35–40% protein, 25% fat, and the remainder carbs.


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  • 1 cup dry quinoa 
  • 2 tsp coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp natural almond butter
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste 
  • 1 large egg, or vegan egg substitute 
  • 2/3 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped 
  • 1 tsp cayenne (as needed, start with 1 tsp) 
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp black pepper (add to taste) 
  • 2 tsp ground cumin 
  • 4 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats 
  • 1/4 cup oat flour


  1. Place quinoa in small saucepan with 1 cup water over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and cook 10–15 minutes until water is absorbed. Remove from heat.
  3. Heat coconut oil in small pan over medium heat, and add garlic. Add 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, sauté for 5-6 minutes. Place mixture into large bowl.
  4. Add black beans and almond butter to bowl, mash together into pasty mixture.
  5. Stir in tomato paste, egg, corn, cilantro, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper, cumin, pumpkin seeds, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Add cooked quinoa, oats, and oat flour. Mix well.
  6. Form mixture into four patties and place on baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least four hours.
  7. When ready to eat, preheat oven to 400°F. Coat baking sheet with coconut oil, and place patties on it. Cook 10–12 minutes or until patties are golden brown and crispy. Flip and cook another 10 minutes.

CALORIES: 480 | CARBS: 67g | PROTEIN: 22g | FAT: 18g

*Recipe courtesy of


“Vegetarian and vegan diets could potentially be lower in calcium, iron, vitamin D, zinc, and particularly for vegans, B12,” she says. To get your fill of zinc, hit up wheat germ, wild rice, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, black beans, pink or red lentils, cashews, and mixed nuts. “For calcium and vitamin D,” Spano says, “look for fortified orange juice or milk alternatives such as soy, almond, or rice beverages.” If you’re flirting with keeping fish in your diet, you can get extra calcium and vitamin D from fatty fishlike salmon, tuna, and mackerel, plus build up your zinc and vitamin D levels with oysters. If you’re stacking your plate with lots of beans and leafy greens, you’ll get plenty of iron and you can supplement with some fortified foods like breakfast cereal. Vegans can also turn to nutritional yeast for vitamin B12, but make sure to check for B12 on the packaging. Mahler covers his vitamin and mineral needs by taking a multivitamin from Life Extension and supplements with extra vitamins D3, B100, zinc, and magnesium.

Protein-enhanced products and powders are also obviously a go-to for plant-based lifters; look for soy, hemp, rice, or pea protein. Some of the newest protein supplements are great tasting, too. “MusclePharm’s Thrive, Orgain protein almond milk with brown rice as well as leucine-rich pea protein, and PureFit bars with soy protein are all delicious and provide plenty of plant-base protein.” Peanut powder can be used to thicken soups and stews, mixed in yogurt and hot cereals, and used as the base of a protein shake, says Spano.


Meatless Meatheads



  • 1 tbsp cornstarch 
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth 
  • 1 tbsp black bean sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar 
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1 lb tempeh, cut into .-inch cubes
  • 1 small head of kale, leaves torn in half
  • 1 small zucchini 
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips 
  • 1/4 lb sugar snap peas 
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Dash of soy sauce for flavor
  • Cooked brown rice (optional)


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and vegetable broth, then add black bean sauce and sugar and stir together. Set aside.
  2. Heat large skillet over high heat, then add 3 tablespoons of peanut oil when hot. Once the oil is shimmering, add tempeh cubes and brown for a few minutes, turning quickly to let all sides touch the oil. Do not burn. Move to a plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Carefully wipe out the skillet, return to heat, and add remaining peanut oil. Once hot, add all vegetables and red pepper flakes. Stir everything quickly through the hot oil for three minutes, until they’re tender-crisp. Add back tempeh and sauce from the bowl, then stir everything together for another minute.
  4. Season with soy sauce to taste, and serve, optionally over rice.

CALORIES: 286 | CARBS: 41g | PROTEIN: 8g | FAT: 11g

Recipe courtesy of No Meat Athlete


Whether you go for meatless Mondays or work up to becoming a vegan, there are tons of options to make the transition easy. Your energy may shoot up, nagging injuries may disappear, and your bros may even call you a hippie. Whatever happens, there’s no shame in getting in more fruits and veggies, even for bodybuilders.


There are lots of variations on the plant-based diet. Some people go superstrict and become raw vegans, while others take a more flexible approach and allow some meat. Here’s a list of the most common:

  • LACTO-OVONo meat, but does include dairy products and eggs.
  • FLEXITARIAN OR SEMSome meat can be eaten occasionally.
  • FRUITARIANRaw fruit only, with some nuts and seeds.
  • PESCOCan eat fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy.
  • VEGANMore of an ethical stance, all foods and products of animal origin—like honey, leather, marshmallows, etc.—are not eaten or worn.
  • RAW VEGANAs above but eats raw, uncooked plant foods only.


You still want to eat whole foods if switching to a plant-based diet—just cut out the meat. Load up on all of the essential fruits and vegetables, plus bump up your intake of beans and nuts, and supplement with meat substitutes like tempeh (made from soy) and seitan (made from wheat) for texture.

FRUITS (All types, but in particular)Apples ■ Bananas ■ Berries ■ Figs ■ Grapes ■ Melons ■ Oranges ■ Pears ■ Plums

LEGUMES: Black beans ■ Chickpeas ■ Kidney beans ■ Lentils ■ Mung beans ■ Pinto beans ■ Soybeans ■ White beans

GRAINS: Oatmeal and cereals ■ Brown rice ■ Bulgur ■ Buckwheat ■ Farro ■ Millet ■ Quinoa ■ Whole-wheat breads and pasta

OILS: Olive ■ Canola ■ Coconut ■ Flaxseed ■ Hemp