“The strongest animals are plant eaters: gorillas, buffalo, elephants, and I.”
If you have ever heard others claim that vegan diet does not work, you are not alone. Vegans are usually stereotyped as skinny people, and are often bombarded with questions like “are you getting enough iron?”
A German bodybuilder, 38-year-old Patrik Baboumian, is breaking all of the stereotypes. Not only is he getting enough iron and protein in his vegan diet, he is also holding a few impressive titles: world log lift record, a German heavyweight log lift record, and the title of “Strongest Man in Germany” from 2011 (the year he went vegan, and five years after he became vegetarian). His most recent accomplishment is beating his own record in the yoke walk by carrying 560 kg (1234 lbs) worth of weight on his shoulders.
“It’s a bit stupid to do things like that, it really hurts,” he said as a Vegetarian Food Festival in Toronto, where he showed his skills and hoped to inspire others to become vegan.
His shirt proudly stated “I am a vegan badass,” and that well describes his personality and mission. When his love for animals first turned him vegetarian in 2006, his life became as much about raising awareness for animal’s rights as it was for his strongman pursuits.
Why Germany’s Strongest Man Became Vegan (and Quit Being Vegetarian)
“One day, I just thought, if you see a bird with a broken leg, you really have the urge to do something about it and help the bird. Then, at the same time, you go to a restaurant and eat a chicken or something. It doesn’t make any sense,” Patrik explained about going vegetarian in 2006.
Then five years later, he became full-out vegan.
“I just realized that if it’s really compassion that drives you, maybe it’s not enough just to stop eating animals but you maybe should boycott the whole animal industry, because … it’s not what you as a compassionate being would want. So actually you should go one step further and become vegan.”
Being vegetarian and then vegan did not impact Patrik’s bodybuilding, which he has been doing since he was a young boy. When his family immigrated to Germany from Iran when he was only 7 years old, he said he felt very insecure about himself. Witnessing the Iranian Revolution and growing up during the Iran-Iraq War, he remembers feeling powerless when he saw people screaming and running on the streets. That is when he decided to become as strong he can be to always feel like he can protect and help others.
“I always had that desire of being strong and being able to protect myself, being able to protect others,” he said.
Patrik Baboumian, vegan, holds the world record for most weight ever carried by a human at 1216lbs pic.twitter.com/dHAM9IcXN1
— Kaden (@KadenZipfel) June 7, 2016
After achieving that he started to realize that being strong for him also meant protecting the animals; and that’s how his diet transition has started.
After becoming a vegetarian, he still noticed some health issues, which he believes are attributable to dairy products. In an interview with Happy Cow Vegan Guide, he said he had trouble concentrating, and at the time did not get enough iron.
Patrik said that while everyone was telling him that he needs to start eating meat again, he found that the issue was the opposite: the animal products in his body were not working well for him, especially dairy and milk. He felt it caused too much acidity in his stomach and led to digestion issues.
All of the health issues he had went away when he went fully vegan. He also noticed that his body started to recovering faster from his training and competitions.
“I got heavier, I got stronger, I won the European championship title in powerlifting, I broke three world records so everything was going perfect … my blood pressure went down.”
From his personal experience, an entirely plant-based diet was perfect for him.
Being Vegan to Help The World: from World Hunger to Environment
For Patrik, the decision to become vegan has a long list of benefits. Besides feeling healthy, being able to train better, and being humane to the animals, he also wants to help world hunger and the environment.
“We have areas in the world where there is not enough food for people and I think it’s obscene to use all these resources we have to produce something your body doesn’t actually need,” he said.
Raising animals for food uses up a lot of resources and grain that could feed many more people instead. Today there are 815 million starving people in the world. Meanwhile, we are using so much grain to feed the livestock that it could easily feed 3.5 billion people.
Besides wasting food that people are in dire need of, keeping livestock wastes natural resources. One kilogram (2.2 lbs) of beef requires 15,500 liters of water (4094.5 gallons), while one kilogram of potatoes requires just 250 liters of water — an almost 99% reduction!
The next environmental issue concerning animal farming is deforestation. The World Bank estimated that as much as 91% of the Amazon’s destruction is because of animal farming.
“I’m not saying everyone should go vegan in just a few days but I’m saying we should reduce the amount of animal products that we use dramatically … If everyone would do that they would already have a huge impact,” Patrik suggested.
What Does a Strongman Eat?
There is so much information on the vegan diet today with nutritional advice, amazing recipes, and new vegan products coming out on the market every year. Being vegan today is easier than ever before, and different types of vegan diets are steadily on the rise. Some people turned vegan after watching the eye-opening documentary Cowspiracy about destructive effects of animal farming on the environment.
Others became vegan after learning about the diet’s positive health effects.
Studies have shown that vegans have a lower risk of heart disease, blood pressure issues and bad cholesterol.
Not eating meat also cuts the chances of getting cancer (as many as 30% of all cancer cases are estimated to be due to meat consumption) when done right. Specifically red meat increases a chance of dying not only from cancer and heart disease, but also diabetes, infections, kidney and liver disease, stroke, and respiratory disease.
Other people might get inspired to become vegan because of celebrities like Patrik.
One thing that he might be getting wrong is consuming too much soy in his diet. Soy has been linked whole-body inflammation, inability to absorb needed minerals, and hormonal issues. While it has some benefits, the risks outweigh them. Soy is also genetically modified almost over 90% of the time when it is not organic, and may contain high amounts of carcinogenic glyphosate.
There are better options for vegan protein than soy. Another bodybuilder, Chui Hin Chun from Hong Kong, decided to become vegan despite his culture’s never having another vegan athlete yet (at least he has not met one). But he also refused to eat soy due to its health risks and instead chose quinoa as his main source of protein. He said quinoa is the second easiest vegan protein source after soy. Split pea protein is another good choice.
“Most people think if you are vegan you eat just green stuff, you just eat salad and lettuce and veggies the whole day … I’m eating beans, legumes, lentils and peas and rice and potatoes and a lot of things that have calories to give me the energy to do what I do,” Patrik said.
Watch Patrik’s yoke walk in Toronto:
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