This vegan bodybuilder has been accused of using fake weights and steroids

There is a common stereotype that successful athletes eat only rare meat and raw eggs. But there’s an ever-growing list of vegans who question everything we thought we knew about optimal sports diets.

One of them is Noah Hannibal, an Australian bodybuilder who holds two national bench press records. He also competed in Mr America on an all-vegan team called Plantbuilt, winning a gold medal in that sport.

Hannibal has been a vegan since 1991 and says he has never eaten meat in his life. He quit vegetarianism after discovering the dairy and egg industries at the age of 15.

He decided to pursue strength training in the mid-90s after a bodybuilder he knew mocked vegans for being “weak”. Hannibal challenged him to an arm wrestle and spent six months training before “breaking his hand on the table”.

Hannibal spoke to Plant Based News (PBN) on his career, shattering stereotypes and the challenges he faced along the way.

Vegan Strong Plantbuilt Hannibal participated in Mr America in October 2022

Overcoming Misconceptions About Veganism

Numerous studies have shown that a well-planned plant-based diet is optimal for human health. But there remains a common misconception that vegans are weak and generally less fit than meat eaters.

“When I started powerlifting, a national coach told me to go eat a steak and come back after I had eaten it,” he says. PBN. “And then I started lifting and competing and doing well.”

This misconception is largely due to the fact that many people mistakenly believe that protein only comes from meat. This is despite the fact that protein deficiency in veganism is exceptionally rare. Many health professionals have said that fiber deficiency in meat eaters is the real problem.

According to plant physician Michael Greger, the average vegan is highly unlikely to be protein deficient if they eat enough calories per day.

Of course, athletes generally need more than the average vegan. But it’s perfectly easy to maintain with a plant-based diet, says Hannibal. The bodybuilder aims to eat 200g a day, which he gets through foods like tofu, seitan, tempeh and protein shakes.

Vegan Strong Plantbuilt

Veganism has not only been shown to be an acceptable diet for athletes, but also an optimal one.

According to a 2021 study from the University of Berkeley, a plant-based diet can “help athletes improve performance by decreasing weight, creating leaner bodies, and improving endurance.”

A separate study looked at whether a plant-based diet was detrimental to endurance and muscle strength. It found that vegans and meat eaters had comparable levels of physical activity, body mass index, body fat percentage, lean body mass and muscle strength. But he also found that vegans had a significantly higher estimated VO2 max (the amount of oxygen the body can use during exercise) and a submaximal endurance time to exhaustion.

Shattering records

Hannibal won his two bench pressing records in national drug-tested federations in Australia and America.

One of the reasons he competes in drug-controlled competitions is because vegan athletes have often been accused of using steroids by competitors. Some people just can’t believe anyone can compete at this level while following a plant-based diet.

For this reason, Hannibal, along with a number of other vegan athletes, have been accused of using fake weights or Photoshopped images.

“There’s always an excuse when people see a strong vegan,” he says PBN. “But no one can challenge national records. It’s just a good thing to have to show that you can be strong on a vegan diet.

The future of vegan athletics

Hannibal competed alongside 20 other vegan athletes on the world’s largest vegan team at Mr America in Atlantic City in October. The team won a total of 18 medals: eight first place, five second place and five third place. The team battled against mostly non-vegan athletes in bodybuilding, powerlifting, kettlebell, and CrossFit.

Hannibal thinks the misconceptions surrounding veganism and strength are changing, and “more and more” people are opening up to the idea.

Vegan athletics, he says, is a “good form of activism” because it “opens minds and breaks stereotypes that you can’t get stronger as a vegan.”

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