John Berardi goes vegetarian? What happens when a confirmed meat-eater tries to build muscle on a nearly-vegan diet.

While years of training and lifting heavy weights has led John Berardi to a career in professional bodybuilding, his new goal is to build muscle while reducing his caloric intake. After reading Dr. McDougall’s book, John has decided to follow a plant-based diet, which he hopes will curb his appetite and leave him more fulfilled as he pursues his dream physique.

John Berardi is a 6-time World Powerlifting Champion and one of the best known natural bodybuilders in history. Berardi got his start building muscles at a young age, building up to a 385-pound bench press by age 11. By the time he was 16 he was bench-pressing a staggering 500 pounds! By 20, he had benched a staggering 700 pounds.

John Berardi is a competitive bodybuilder based out of Michigan. He is a vegetarian, but has also been a vegan for a year. He has a strong history of eating meat and has always worked out well, but recently he began to feel that something was missing. His goal was to gain as much strength as possible without adding muscle, so he decided to try a vegan diet.

John Berardi finds himself trying to gain muscle while adhering to a strict plant-based diet due to a unique and twisted set of circumstances. Some people believe this is impossible. Dr. Berardi appears…


Muscle strengthening from plants?

My dear friend Damian was in town a few weeks ago, and we were in the middle of a back workout at the gym. Another friend, Nate, came up to say hello in between sets. And he was accompanied by his new training partner, Lou, a slim-ish guy in his mid-20s.

Lou introduced himself and explained that he was new to the gym and that as a vegetarian, he was having difficulty gaining muscle. Knowing that nutrition is my game, he had to ask, “What can a vegetarian do to gain muscle?”

“Eat meat,” said my friend Damian without skipping a beat.

That made us all laugh out loud. But Lou’s muscle-building difficulties were clearly not being solved by that response. No, Lou needed to figure out how to acquire enough calories, protein, and vitamins and minerals without eating meat. That’s a difficult task for any plant-based eater, regardless of their goals, let alone someone who wants to gain muscle. So Lou and I set aside some time to discuss a plant-based muscle-building diet for him.

I carried a copy of V3 with me when Lou and I met together. Why? I believed he’d benefit from reading all about how to optimize his nutrition – even while avoiding meat – since this current version of PN contains a brand-new guidebook called “The Plant-Based Diet Guide.”

Plantbased_coverYes, he did. And at the end of our discussion, Lou had a fantastic meat-free muscle-building plan in front of him.

Surprisingly, I told a few acquaintances about the plan after my discussion with Lou. The carnivores among them were understandably dubious. “Vegetarian bodybuilding is stupid,” one of them said. “It’s difficult to gain muscle without eating meat,” the other said, and I quote.

Impossible? To me, that sounds like quite a challenge!

I’m a constant experimenter with my body, you see. I’m continually trying new things in the hopes of looking better, feeling better, and improving my health. This tiny push, combined with the fact that Lou’s diet sounded like something I’d enjoy, was all I needed to put the PN Plant-Based Diet Guide to the test.

And what a challenge it was. It’s a no-brainer, really, that a well-designed PN-style plant-based eating plan can help people improve their health and lose some unnecessary body fat. However, such a diet can be used to gain muscle while remaining thin. That’s a PN-sized problem to solve. I started this challenge on Monday. This is a challenge I’ll be working on for the next 30 days or so. A challenge about which I’ll write here on the PN Blog.

What is a plant-based diet, exactly?

Plant-based diets are primarily vegetarian meal plans, according to pages 1-3 of the PN Plant-Based Diet Guide. So why not call it “vegetarian diets”? Well, the term “vegetarianism” has taken on a life of its own, implying moral and/or philosophical decisions that not everyone who is striving to eat more vegetables and less meat agrees with. I’m one of them.

Simply said, not everyone who abstains from eating meat does so for philosophical reasons. Some people believe that abstaining from meat is simply healthier. Others say it is more environmentally friendly. Others, of course, make this decision based on religious or animal rights beliefs. For these reasons, I refer to it as a plant-based diet rather than vegetarianism. The word “plant-based diet” does not contain the same prejudices and biases as “vegetarianism.”

Simply said, it means eating more vegetables and less meat. It’s all about the diet.

More crucially, by referring to vegetarianism as a “plant-based diet,” I am referring to it as it should have always been referred to. In other words, a proper vegetarian meal plan revolves around eating mostly/only plant-based foods. Not meatless manufactured junk food, which many vegetarians consume.

Plant-based diets come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some plant-based eaters do consume meat, although in far smaller quantities than the usual. Others who eat a plant-based diet eschew meat but eat fish, dairy products, and eggs. Other vegans eat solely dairy and eggs from animals, avoiding all meat and fish. Finally, vegans consume purely plant-based diets, eschewing all animal products such as dairy and/or eggs.

Who am I pretending to be when it comes to plant-based eating?

In this month’s experiment, I’m going to try to stick to a plan that’s as close to vegan as possible (no animal products at all). I’m not sure what to say. I enjoy a good challenge.

I do, however, enjoy eggs. So each morning, I’ll eat three entire eggs with one slice of cheese on top. That will be the sole animal-based food I include in my diet. That qualifies me as a lacto-ovo plant-based eater. However, I am unconcerned about the labeling in this case.

As you may have predicted, I’m not going to join omnivore’s anonymous and confess my meat-eating habits. This study isn’t intended to prove the nutritional advantages of a smart plant-based diet over a smart mixed diet. I’m also not making any moral, environmental, or animal-rights declarations. Rather, I’m doing a personal experiment to “see what happens.” I’m curious to see what happens if I stop eating meat and only eat veggies while trying to grow muscle.

The first step is to determine the muscle metrics.

Of course, the best method to see how a training or nutrition intervention works is to get the Measurement Guide out and start measuring things. That’s precisely what I did.Mainenance_cover

I started on page 1, determined which measurements I’d collect, and went out and got them on Monday morning. First and foremost, I weighed in. After that, I had a skinfold study done, which recorded both my skinfolds and my total body fat percentage, then I measured the girths of important body areas, and finally I took some before photos.

Here’s how it turned out after I entered all of my numbers into the Results Tracker.

Body mass index

JB's starting body weight - 179.6 lbs.

JB’s starting weight was 179.6 pounds.


4mm in the chest Triceps – 2mm Triceps – 2mm Triceps – 2 4mm Axillary 6mm subscapular 9mm abdominal 3mm Suprailiac 4mm in the thigh

5.5 percent total body fat 9.9 pounds of total fat mass 170.1 pounds of total lean mass



Waist – 33in Hip – 36.7in Thigh – 22in Calf – 14.5in Neck – 15in Shoulders – 49in Chest – 37.7in Arm – 14.2in Waist – 33in Hip – 36.7in Thigh – 22in Calf – 14.5in

I should mention that I’ve been in maintenance mode for the past two years. To put it another way, I haven’t been deliberately attempting to gain or lose weight. I’ve simply focused on eating for maintenance because I’m satisfied with where I’m at. And I think I’ve done a fairly good job at it. My PN Results Tracker has informed me of this. It’s worth noting that the 2nd to last measure (taken in October 2006) and the final measure (taken on Monday) are nearly identical, with the exception of around a pound.


This suggests that now is a good moment to test a new intervention. For the past two years, I’ve maintained my weight on my current diet. Two, assuming my training maintains the same, any changes that occur over the next month or so will be attributed to the new eating program.

Step 2: Muscle-building menu

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That may not be doable in a month’s time. So, if things are going well, I may keep going to see how long it takes me to reach my goal. If things go catastrophically wrong, on the other hand, I’ll make some adjustments. After all, if I’m checking my weight and body fat every two weeks or so, how “horribly awry” can things go?

This is referred to as outcome-based decision making in the System. We take measurements every few weeks and tailor our strategy based on the results. And it works perfectly.

So, for the time being, here’s where the menu started on Monday morning:

Prior Before Breakfast 5 BCAA pills (Biotest – total 5g) 2 Resveratrol capsules (Biotest) 1 vitamin supplement (Genuine Health) 1 vitamin D tablet (1000IU total, Webber Naturals) 500 mL water 1 serving sublingual B-12 Breakfast 1 slice of cheese and 3 whole eggs 1 cup vegetables 2 slices sprouted grain bread 500 milliliters of water 1 green tea cup
Snack #1: 2 cups granola (homemade) (mix includes pumpkin seeds, unsweetened coconut, whole oats, almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios, and dried fruit) 1 tablespoon honey 1 cup soy milk, unsweetened 1/2 cup hummus (homemade) for lunch 2 tortillas (whole wheat) 1 cup vegetables a half cup of mixed beans (not canned) 1 cinnamon-topped sweet potato
Snack #2: 2 cups granola (homemade) (mix includes pumpkin seeds, unsweetened coconut, whole oats, almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios, and dried fruit) 1 tablespoon honey 1 cup soy milk, unsweetened Drink During Your Workout 2 tsp BCAA (14g total) (Xtreme Formulations) 2 carbohydrate servings (Avant Labs – 22g total) 1000ml distilled water
Following a Workout 1 pound of mixed beans 1 quinoa cup (measured uncooked) 2 c. green vegetables 2 garlic cloves 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp flax oil (flavored) curry powder, 1 tbsp 1 vitamin supplement (Genuine Health) 1 vitamin D tablet (1000IU total, Webber Naturals) Snack Before Bedtime 2 tbsp protein (Genuine Health Vegan) 1 cup of greens (Genuine Health Perfect Skin) a handful of uncooked nuts 1 piece sprouted grain bread, 1 natural peanut butter and honey sandwich

Those of you who have already purchased a copy of may be asking how this type of food fits into the PN Habits. If you look at the PN Individualization Guide, it fits in wonderfully. You’ll find various nutritional customization options based on your body type, activity levels, and other factors if you dig around in there. And, according to pages 4-12 of the Individualization Guide, I’m the ideal candidate for a higher calorie, higher carbohydrate intake because I’m an ectomorph with a very high volume of training (about 6-7 hours per week).


(Remember, if you’re new to PN or healthy eating in general, the PN Habits are a good place to start.) In many ways, this entails starting with a set of universal guidelines. However, once you’ve improved your eating habits and begun to get in better shape, you can progress to PN Individualization, as outlined above. Check out the PN System for further information.)

Now, putting nutrition theory aside, you might be asking how things are going in practice. As of today, I’ve been on the diet for two full days and am liking the food. But there’s one thing I’ll say. There’s a lot of food here! Almost all of the time, I’m completely occupied. Let’s just say that my GI tract is still adjusting as a result of the increase in fiber. As a result, I’ll be visiting my local health food store to purchase a decent digestive enzyme to assist me. I’ll also pick up an algae-based DHA supplement when I go to the shop to ensure that I obtain a sufficient amount of omega-3 fats. Yes, flax oil is beneficial. However, flax is ineffective. My best bet is to use the DHA directly.

Step 3: Posting my grocery list and menu

Because this is a new way of eating for me, I decided to print up my new eating plan and keep it next to my weekly grocery list on the fridge. I’ll definitely integrate a little more flexibility into my shopping and day-to-day meals in the future. However, because it’s all new to me right now and I’m still figuring things out, I’ll stick to my pre-printed plan for the first few weeks.

It’s difficult enough for me to organize everything else in my life, let alone attempting to make nutrition decisions on the fly while I’m just starting out on a new nutrition program. So, for the time being, I’m going to keep to a plan. Hopefully, this will keep me from making too many mistakes in the early days of my plant-based diet.


4th step: go shopping

My first trip, with my food list in hand, was at the Bulk Barn, a neighborhood retailer.

The Bulk Barn is a retail store owned by the same business that operates Loblaws, No Frills, The Great Canadian Superstore, and a number of other regional and national supermarket chains across Canada. The Bulk Barn’s focus is, as you might expect, high-quality bulk food. So I usually stock up on dry beans, peanut butter, mixed nuts, whole grains (like quinoa), and other staples at the Bulk Barn.

Check out the Bulk Barn’s selection of items, which includes mixed beans, quinoa and other whole grains, as well as natural peanut butter.x




After visiting the bulk barn, I went to the Great Canadian Superstore for vegetables, whole grain breads and wraps, unsweetened soy milk, honey, and other items. Take a look at my bounty below:


Step 5: Food preparation and consumption

Of course, the final stage was to prepare the food and then consume it. I did two things right away when I got home with all of my groceries. First, I mixed up my granola and devoured a large bowl of it.


After that, I began soaking the dry beans. You can really lessen the gaseous effects of those little buggers by soaking them for about 12 hours with a little baking soda mixed in. This technique also aids in the removal of some of the anti-nutrients found in beans. So that’s what I did for the second time. I began to soak. Following that, I went about my business.

I boiled two enormous pots of pre-soaked legumes around 12 hours later. Navy beans, kidney beans, and garbanzo beans, as well as red and green lentils, all in one pot. The other was solely made up of garbanzo beans. I chopped some green peppers, red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, and sugar snap peas for the week while prepared the beans. This way, I won’t be able to use chopping as an excuse to skip a meal.

Here’s what I came up with when it was all said and done: fresh, clean, and preservative-free.



The mixed beans were then refrigerated, while the garbanzo beans were cooked into homemade hummus and served in wraps with my pre-chopped vegetables.

Note: Gourmet Nutrition, which comes as a bonus when you get the System, has more on bean prep and creating homemade hummus.


Keep an eye out for updates.

As previously stated, I am two days into my plan and everything is going nicely. So far, I’m enjoying my new diet, my training is going well, and it’s been interesting to learn about this new way of eating firsthand. So that brings us to the end of today’s blog.

With photos, girths, and skin folds, I’ll keep you posted on how I’m appearing, feeling, and how my body is changing over the next few weeks. Of course, I’m hoping for the best with this strategy. It was created with my body type in mind, as well as my training routines and goals in mind. Furthermore, it appears to fulfill and surpass all of my nutritional requirements for preventing deficiency and maintaining optimal health on paper.

I’ll also keep you updated on Lou’s improvement if he does a good job with his feeding and training. He’s around 30 pounds lighter than me, yet he’s on the same diet as me, adjusted for his body weight. As a result, this small experiment may only have a n of two.

Keep this in mind as well. Whether you’re a vegan or not, whether you’re attempting to gain or lose weight, the same planning, measuring, nutrition plan development, meal preparation, and outcome-based decision-making processes will help you succeed. Just follow the instructions outlined above. V3 is a good place to start if you need further help.



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Yes, it is possible to build muscle while being a vegetarian.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”Can a person build enough muscle if they are on a vegan diet?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:”
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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you build muscle while vegetarian?

Yes, it is possible to build muscle while being a vegetarian.

Can a person build enough muscle if they are on a vegan diet?

It is possible to build muscle on a vegan diet, but it takes a lot more effort and time.

Will I lose muscle going vegetarian?

No, you will not lose muscle going vegetarian.

Related Tags

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • what does plant based mean
  • oldest ever vegan
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  • is shrimp vegan food
  • vegetarian athletes

About Vaibhav Sharda

Vaibhav Sharda

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