British Columbia·Growing Vegan

A naturopath told this bodybuilder to go vegan. He laughed then did it

As a bodybuilder, meat was an important staple of Ravi Bohgan’s diet. But that all changed after a bad case of food poisoning.

Bodybuilder Ravi Bohgan was shocked with the results he was able to achieve while eating vegan

Ravi Bohgan has been following a vegan diet for the past four years and credits his success in bodybuilding to his lifestyle change. (Calvin Youttitham)

Growing Vegan is a multiplatform CBC Vancouver series that explores how the business of veganism thrives in B.C.

As a bodybuilder, meat was an important staple of Ravi Bohgan's diet. But that all changed after a bad case of food poisoning.

Bohgan was sick for six weeks and lost 18 pounds; for someone who has spent his life with a "skinny" frame, that weight loss was "devastating," he said.  Afterwards, his digestion was never really the same.

"The parasites and bacteria I ingested just had a field day with my insides," he said. "It was months of not being able to digest food and just getting thinner and thinner."

After seeing numerous doctors, Bohgan visited a naturopath who suggested he consider a plant-based diet.

"I'm sorry. What's that?" he remembers asking with a laugh.

And although many — including Bohgan, at one time — believe the concept of a vegan bodybuilder to be an oxymoron, he decided to give it a shot.  Four years later, Bohgan says his workouts have never felt better and he is on a journey to prove to others that a vegan diet can sustain a bodybuilding lifestyle.

'I felt better'

When the 5 "10", self-described ectomorph — someone with a light build — decided to go vegan and continue training, he says everyone told him the same thing: "you can't do it. It's not going to work."

But Bohgon threw himself into it — both at the gym and by researching everything he could about a plant-based diet. He says he began to immediately see results in his workouts.

Ravi Bohgan says switching to a vegan diet helped him during his workouts at the gym. (Harman/CBC)

He had more energy and could exercise the same muscle group two or three times a week, without the need for a long recovery.

"I felt better. I felt really good, energy-wise. I was back in the gym," he said.

Earlier this year, he made the last-minute decision to compete in his first-ever professional bodybuilding competition, the VanPro Am. After a 12-week preparation period — much shorter than the bodybuilding standard of 20 or 22 weeks — he was on stage competing.

Bohgan finished in the middle of a pack of ten competitors.

"I felt good about it. I looked the best I ever had," said Bohgan. And he credits a lot of his success to his plant-based diet.

Once he switched to a vegan lifestyle, he says people at the gym began to flood him with questions — the same ones he had before he became a vegan.

Where do you get your protein?

"Vegetarians and vegans can get enough protein," said Diana Bedoya, senior lecturer at Simon Fraser University's department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology.

However, she says vegans need to be conscious they are finding that protein from several different plant sources.

Ravi Bohgan and Diana Bedoya both suggest a well-rounded vegan diet that includes whole, unprocessed food. (CBC News)

The biggest concern for vegans, she said, is their diets tend to be lower in important essential nutrients like iron, calcium and vitamin D.

In particular, Bedoya says vegans are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 does a lot for the body, but its main job is to help keep nerves and blood cells healthy, as well as to aid in the creation of DNA. Unfortunately for vegans, it is only naturally found in animal products.

Vegans do, however, have a few options: a vitamin B12 supplement made in laboratories, or fortified foods like nutritional yeast.

Bohgan and Bedoya both agree a plant-based lifestyle can be a very healthy option, but stress that it needs to include a well-rounded diet filled with whole, minimally processed foods.

Follow Growing Vegan on The Early Edition weekday mornings and On The Coast weekday afternoons on CBC Radio One, and watch CBC Vancouver News at 6 weekdays and read the daily stories online at cbc.ca/bc

 

With files from Ethan Sawyer

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