By Bri Basco
“Does powerlifting make you huge? How do you powerlift and be a vegetarian? How do you lift so much weight when you’re so tiny? How do you get protein if you don’t eat meat?”
These are all questions I commonly get asked when people find out I am both a vegetarian and a powerlifter. It’s interesting how surface knowledge can be so deceiving, right?
To answer these questions: No, powerlifting does not make you huge unless you set a goal to be huge and the right diet is in play. Vegetarians excel in weightlifting just like non-vegetarians. Yes, meat has a high source of protein, but there are a lot of other ways to get protein. No, you do not have to be huge to lift.
The cool thing about powerlifting is that we come in all sizes: petite, bulky, plump, muscular, not so muscular, scrawny… well, you get the point. People often confuse powerlifters with bodybuilders, whose sole purpose is to sculpt their bodies, compared to powerlifters, whose goal is purely strength-based. While powerlifting does transform your body, it is unlikely to get extremely bulky if you have a basic healthy diet and do a healthy amount of cardio. However, it is a very physically demanding sport so one’s appetite will increase because of the larger amount of calories being burnt. The kind of calories and types of food that is eaten will determine one’s appearance. So basically, you only get heavy if you eat heavy.
Don’t believe me? I’ve powerlifted for almost five years and I weigh 96 pounds. When I am not eating healthy and not doing cardio, I can weigh up to 10 pounds heavier (which is 10 percent of my body weight). It’s really about the diet and personal goals.
Now to the misconception that vegetarians lack protein in their diet: recently I became a vegetarian again. This sounds bizarre to meat-loving powerlifters and other athletes because meat is their main source of protein. While meat is high in protein, animal protein is higher in saturated fat and calories. Legumes (garbanzo beans, lentils) are a great example of plant protein because they have ZERO cholesterol and no saturated fat. Plant protein leaves one feeling more energized because there are more vitamins in comparison to animal proteins.
As a vegetarian, it is also important to consume complementary proteins, such as combining grains and beans (red beans and rice, hummus and pita bread, black beans and tortilla). This is due to the fact that some plant proteins lack some amino acids, but when combined with another plant protein (grains), it can make a complete protein. Most American’s diets are too high in protein anyway because they think they need a lot, especially to get strong.
The truth is that it all depends on the types of activities performed on a daily basis. Powerlifters require more than those who are less active because in training they are constantly breaking down muscle tissue that needs to be rebuilt. The recommended intake of protein for powerlifters is one to two grams per pound. Another benefit of eating plant proteins like nuts and seeds is that they are extremely high in fiber. Fiber can lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of developing heart disease and improve your digestive track. Milk, cheese, yogurt (particularly Greek yogurt) and eggs are also an amazing way for vegetarians to get their protein. Eggs are ideal because they contain every essential amino acid. Another benefit of being a vegetarian powerlifter is that we maintain a lower weight, which is good because we compete in different weight classes.
Being tiny has its benefits in lifting, such as being closer to the ground, and it is easier to set back when squatting. It is also easier to build muscle faster at the beginning because we have a much smaller area for muscle to be distributed.
Body proportion contributes a lot to how good or bad one may be at a specific lift. Some are better at bench because they have shorter arms, which means less travel for the weight, but then there are people like me who have a better deadlift and a weaker bench. For example, I have longer arms which puts me at a disadvantage when benching, but I have an outstanding deadlift of 275 pounds. My longer arms and lack of height means the weight travels less. Everyone has their strength, weaknesses and their favorite lift.
Being a powerlifter and vegetarian is a challenge, but it possible and yields great benefi