Fitness Coach Aman Duggal Shares A Scientific Approach Towards A Vegan Diet.
When you see a toned muscular body what comes to your mind? In all probability you think of a diet which is saturated with eggs whites, chicken and dairy. It’s time to do a quick rethink..Have a look at Aman Duggal’s journey to understand the myths and facts about turning vegan.
Q: So how long exactly have you been vegan?
A: Two years. I turned vegetarian in January 2014 and then transitioned to a vegan lifestyle in July 2014.
Q: What exactly pushed you to go vegan?
A: It’s a long and interesting story. Before I answer this question I think it’s important to say that I come from a family of hardcore non-vegetarians. So for me to become vegan or vegetarian was unimaginable for my friends and family. Also being part of the scientific community I had a notion about veganism as a diet fad so I never really held veganism in high regard.
So anyway coming back to the question. I was part of my college athletics team and most of our events would take place at Baburao Sanas ground in Pune. There are hardly any restaurants in that area which serve non-vegetarian food. So during the lunch break, we would only have access to ‘shudh-shakhari khana’ which most of us used to complain about. However, one of my seniors, who was also the athletics team captain was a vegetarian and during our lunch break one day, I asked him why he was vegetarian. He told me that he was brought up in a vegetarian family. When I asked if he wished to taste chicken he responded by wryly saying, ‘You do realize that what you’re eating are the dead body parts of an innocent animal who wasn’t allowed to live.
I was speechless. Stunned. I had never thought of food that way, and I immediately thought of my pet dog and how much I loved him. And how I would feel if something happened to him. Obviously, at that time, I didn’t want to believe that eating meat was unethical, so I went home and googled – arguments against vegetarianism (LOL). I was desperately trying to find arguments to support my beliefs. I came across the plants argument, the food chain argument and tons of other stuff. None of it made sense and left me feeling disturbed.
Finally, I decided to hire an online fitness professional in the US who was studying philosophy at his university. And instead of asking him for fitness advice, for 30 days straight, I just kept picking his brain about ethics and morality. And he helped answer a lot of my questions. That experience kick started a whole new journey for me in philosophy. I learnt about argumentation, logic and reasoning. It was an eye-opener.
I always considered myself reasonably smart but after realizing that there was not one good argument supporting killing animals for food, I couldn’t believe that for 21 years of my existence I had missed something as obvious as this. I really started questioning my own intelligence. It was a difficult time for me personally. I lost my confidence and started questioning all my beliefs.But looking back at it now, it was the turning point in my life. I spent the next few months of my life drenched in books. That experience made me a rational thinker and motivated me to study harder.
Q: What were the changes that you started noticing when you went vegan?
A: Here’s the thing, I formulated my vegan diet in such a way that my calorie and nutrient intake was similar to my non-vegetarian diet. So I wasn’t expecting any changes as such. What did happen though, was I got more motivated in life in general. I finally felt like I had a purpose. We all have a limited time on this planet and most of us don’t really have a purpose as such. There are a lot of things which can add meaning to our lives but something as powerful as fighting for animals, gave my life a strong purpose. And everything else in my life seemed trivial compared to this purpose.
I decided to stop wasting time and pushed myself to work harder. I wanted to show people veganism isn’t just a casual diet fad. This motivation was reflected into my strength training and I was able to accomplish some of my strongest lifts. So I wouldn’t say that there was anything special about my vegan diet because of which my performance improved but rather it was just the added motivation which helped me, and I was more at peace with myself.
Q: But there are people who do end up feeling a lot better physically as well and experience an improvement in energy levels. So do you think veganism does make a person physically stronger?
A: The people who do end up feeling better physically are usually the ones who had poor dietary habits to begin with. So you can put these people on any well-planned diet and they will report positive results. Most of them go from feeling crappy to feeling normal and it is this feeling of normalcy which they interpret as something special. A vegan diet usually brings with a good amount of fruits and vegetables which most people don’t get enough of, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure why their health improved. What we can take away from these positive experiences is that vegan diets boost your energy just like any other well-planned diet.
Q Why did you choose this field? What was the game changer which led you take up nutrition as a specialization?
A: I think what made me drift towards nutrition has more to do with my DNA. My parents are doctors and most of my family belongs to the medical profession. I, however decided to pursue engineering. Simultaneously, I joined the gym and like most noobs in the gym, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. So I became interested in learning about exercise and nutrition. Then in my first semester, I was briefly exposed to Biochemistry which grabbed my attention.
As a student of nutrition and exercise it’s been a great journey where I have been very lucky to learn from some of the best minds in the world. My parents have been very supportive and my professors are geniuses. They’ve kept me humble and instilled in me a relentless desire to constantly learn and challenge the boundaries of my knowledge . Even in university, I was exposed to valuable lessons in Biomedicine, Statistics and Research Methodology which have added to my learning experience.
Q: So what are the major challenges that you overcame whilst going vegan?
A: Personally I didn’t face any challenges. As someone who studies nutrition, I knew that all I really had to do was replace the nutrients found in meat with vegan foods rich in those same nutrients.
People have this notion that vegan food is extremely deficient in vitamins and minerals. When in reality, it takes only around 1300 calories from a well-planned vegan diet to hit the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of each nutrient. So if you plan your vegan diet properly you will easily exceed the RDA for each nutrient since you’ll in all likelihood be consuming a lot more than just 1300 calories a day. Also, when I say each nutrient I mean every nutrient except Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Vitamin D because it’s rarely found in food so you either get it from a supplement or sunlight. And vegans can get Vitamin B12 from either fortified foods or supplements.
And as far as bodybuilding is concerned the only other concern is protein. A simple solution is use plant based protein powder. We have pea protein isolate, rice protein concentrate, soy protein isolate and a bunch of other vegan proteins easily available now. Most non-vegan bodybuilders are already consuming a whey or a casein supplement and most of them are consuming anywhere between two to three servings a day. So we easily replace those servings with plant based protein powder. Simple
To learn more, you can check out my video on vegan bodybuilding.
Q: What is the non-vegan food product that you still you still crave? If there is any.
A: Honestly, there isn’t. Firstly I am lactose intolerant so dairy is something I can’t tolerate anyway. Meat, surprisingly I have never had a craving for. I think once you start looking at meat as the body-parts of a murdered animal, it’s kind of difficult to develop any desire to consume it. So personally I don’t have any cravings as such, but I can understand if others have such cravings.
Q: What is your favorite form of natural plant based protein?
A: I don’t really have a favorite. I like dal, tofu, nuts and a vegetable which my mom makes with beans and mushrooms. But for the most part I do rely quite heavily on protein powder. I take two scoops a day which I divide into four half scoops which helps me hit my daily dose of protein.
Q: I just remembered that many people believe that getting into a relationship as a vegan is challenging.
A: I think around 70-80% of the vegan population is female. So if anything, you have a much better chance of finding a girlfriend as compared to the nonvegetarians who constantly crack jokes at your expense. Often, the minute a vegan girl hears you are vegan, she wants a deeper connection and the attraction sets in. We vegans are quite sorted when it comes to relationships.
Q: You must have heard of the China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell, right? A lot of vegans swear by it.
A: Of course vegans swear by it. People tend to swear by anything which aligns with their pre-existing beliefs. However, there are several issues with that book. And by the way, I think it’s important to emphasize that last line – the China Study is a book, it is not a peer-reviewed study which was published in a scientific journal. As obvious as that sounds, a lot of people don’t realize this.
Well so you must be wondering what the problems are with the China Study. Well to begin with, just like many other diet books, it presents an over simplistic solution to a complicated problem. Campbell attempts to draw conclusions from epidemiological research which cannot show cause and effect. And as much as I wish his conclusions were true, they’re far from it. I would encourage all the vegans reading this to check out Denise Minger’s excellent breakdown of the China Study. She found a lot of claims made in the book which were not supported by the data. Campbell also failed to mention some important data points which contradicted his message.
So I think as vegans, we need to take that book with a grain of salt. We are a passionate community and sometimes we allow our biases to come in the way of reason. It’s important that we peel back a layer and be skeptical of the claims we come across. Even when the claims favor our biases.
Q: What is your view about humane killing?
Aman: The entire concept of humane killing is based on the premise that animals have absolutely no desire to live their life and therefore killing them is not harmful. And that is nonsense. Even if we can do it painlessly, killing constitutes an irrevocable harm. Animals go to great lengths to stay alive, they obviously want to live. But I would also say that vegans should not dismiss humane meat entirely. And the reason I say that is because in India, animals are living a horrible life and the entire meat industry isn’t going to close down overnight. But in the meantime, the least we can do is give those animals a good life. I think that is something we can achieve in the short-term because even meat-eaters wouldn’t oppose an endeavor like that. It certainly does not justify slaughter but at least the animal can live a somewhat decent life.
Q: There are many people who believe that certain diets work for certain people and vegan diets may not work for everybody.
A: If you think about it, what they’re really trying to say is that there are certain people who cannot derive essential nutrients from plant foods, so they have no other option but to derive those nutrients from animal products. And that’s a bold claim to make, considering the vast range of vegan foods and supplements most of us have access to today.Yes, there are certain people who’ve done poorly on vegan diets, but that is usually because they didn’t plan their diet well and developed deficiencies over time.
This type of argument usually comes about when non-vegans realize they’re running out of things to say. Most of these people haven’t even tried a plant-based diet.
Q: You must have been asked a million questions on how you manage this lifestyle. So what do you generally say to convince them that this is the right choice?
A: Yes I have been asked many times about how I manage this lifestyle. But I always put the question to them – “What aspect of my life do you think I struggle with?” If they say nutrition, then I address their concerns or redirect them to my video on vegan nutrition which generally answers most of their questions.
Q: Where exactly did you get this idea of forming Alpharaj?
A: Alpharaj was started as a little passion project back when I was in college. I wanted to bring an evidence-based and unbiased approach to fitness in India. A lot of fitness authorities in India claim to be scientific but all they end up promoting are their own biases. They cherry pick research which supports their beliefs and ignore a mountain of evidence which completely contradicts their claims. At Alpharaj, we try to educate people about scientific and critical thinking. We encourage people to adopt a skeptical mindset and question the information they come across.
Q: So why the name Alpharaj?
A: Alpharaj is a breakup of two works. Alpha like I said represents for us certain qualities like leadership, courage, confidence and creativity. And Raj in Hindi means to govern or rule. So you live Alpharaj when you allow your life to be governed by these principles. We want people to think intelligently, take responsibility of their life, break-free from the shackles of society and dominate.
Q: Can you compare vegan bodybuilders to non-vegan builders? If yes then is either stronger?
A: No, I can’t really make that comparison. Both vegan and non-vegan bodybuilders can be equally strong and healthy, provided they program their training and nutrition correctly.
Q: Has anyone switched to veganism by looking at your progress as a bodybuilder?
A: Yes! Most of my family has become vegetarian. Some of my close friends and colleagues have also adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet. Even professionally, I have worked with clients who approached me to develop vegan or vegetarian diets for them.
Q: Is there a message that you would like to give to your readers?
A: I think we all realize that debate and arguments are a critical part of the animal rights movement. Some of the arguments we use, especially with regards to health are not supported by the current body of scientific literature, and thus, it becomes easy for others to dismiss or counter them. Veganism is viewed with a great degree of skepticism. We’ve earned a questionable reputation and we only have ourselves to blame.
It is important for us to realize that when we speak, we aren’t just speaking for ourselves, we are also speaking for the animals. So I would suggest we be more thoughtful of the approach we use and the things we say (on the internet and on the streets) while campaigning for animal rights.
To the non-vegetarians I would say – be a little more open to the vegan message. It’s easy to cherry pick a couple of poor vegan arguments and break them down but try to address the bigger picture.
As humans, our rationale is truly tested when we are faced with a situation which makes us uncomfortable. When we are faced with an idea which goes against tradition and deeply held beliefs, it is how we react to these problems which shows just how rational we truly are. Yet, I don’t see many of you thinking rationally about a practice which you perform every single day.
Let us all make an honest attempt to learn new things, face ideas that make us uncomfortable, keep bias aside and overcome our deeply held beliefs.
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Fitness Coach Aman Duggal Shares A Scientific Approach Towards A Vegan Diet.
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