From Eating A Kilo Of Meat A Day To Getting Shredded On A Plant-Based Vegan Diet

From Eating A Kilo Of Meat A Day To Getting Shredded On A Plant-Based Vegan Diet

Here’s my body transformation journey of eating a kilo of meat a day to getting shredded on a completely vegan plant-based diet.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · 24 May 2022

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A Kilo Of Meat A Day

When I first started training as a 17 year old skinny-fat teenager with moobs and a pot belly, I always thought the only way to build muscle, lose fat and get strong was to eat a ton of meat. 

Growing up, my dad ate meat sparingly, and I’d only eat it if he cooked it at home, or if we were at a restaurant. Otherwise, my diet growing up was mainly vegetarian (eggs and dairy, with no meat or fish). 

So when I started to train, the chicken breasts I cooked to add to my mum’s home-cooked dinners definitely raised eyebrows.

I was protein and meat obsessed because everything I read, watched and listened to when it came to fitness pointed to one thing:

Eat a high protein diet with meat, fish, dairy and eggs being the staple food choices.

Being vegan or vegetarian was associated with weakness and fragility, and an impossible approach to getting fitness results.

Especially when the icon of fitness, Arnold Schwarzenegger, famously said to Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan “you punch like a vegetarian”.
Escape Plan - You Hit Like A Vegetarian
And so, as a young guy who suffered from low self-confidence but with dreams of a Men’s Health cover model physique, I went all in.

When I discovered the power of body transformation, my life completely changed. I developed a level of focus, control and confidence that I knew I needed to share with others.
After I lost my moobs and a pot belly, thinking I was jacked!
I then ditched my ambitions of following my father’s footsteps as a lawyer, and pursued fitness. Of course, coming from a South Asian background, doing anything outside of medicine, finance and law was unheard of, especially when I made this choice in 2009.

In fact, my parents’ first reply to this change was, “How will you pay the bills?”

I didn’t have an answer at the time.

A career path in the fitness industry was non-existent. Social media was only just beginning, and the idea of serious personal training - online or in-person, was in its infancy.

Deep down however, I knew this was my calling. I knew I was put on this Earth to help people unlock their potential through physical transformation. 

The rest, of course, is history. 

And as I ventured down this road less travelled, with a goal to build my physique to world-class standards, I tried and experimented with everything.

My meat consumption went through the roof. I wanted protein, and so I slowly worked my way up to a kilo of meat a day during university, split over 5-6 meals a day. 

I heard wild meats were the best source of protein, so I started shipping in all sorts of game, much to the curiosity of my flatmates, and to the demise of my student bank balance.

This kilo of meat a day diet was a staple from 2011 to 2018. That’s over 2500 kilos of meat consumed. At the minimum.

Some days, like on my 21st birthday hosted at Shaka Zulu in London, I even ate a kilo of a bull’s head in one sitting. My birthdays became known for booking out the best steakhouses in town, and all my travel across the world started with a Google search of “best steakhouse in [add city name]”.
Eating a kilo of meat in one sitting!

The 3 Year Transition To A Plant-Based Diet

Everything changed in 2018, almost by accident. I was looking for ways to be more productive, and eating all this meat was becoming a bottleneck. A friend of mine suggested intermittent fasting, simply because he knew I was at my most creative and productive in the mornings. This was a no brainer, especially if it meant I didn’t need to eat my 6am and 9am meals, and could reduce my frequency to 3 meals a day only.

My search for more productive living meant I decided to only have meat with my dinner, opting for eggs and whey protein based meals in the day.

It was at this same time I started to think, “Surely eating a kilo of meat a day can’t be good for me, or the world, long-term?”

Especially when a close friend of mine, who also happened to be a guinea pig for my training strategies as well as a training partner, turned vegan overnight around the same time.

That was a huge wake up call, because he was also someone I loved to frequent steakhouses with. For someone who loved fitness as much as I did, who ate as much meat as I did, and who cared about his gains as much as I did, turning vegan overnight made me sit up and think.
The result of my friend and long-term RNT member, Minil's transformation as a vegan!
Over the course of 2018-2020, I also started to think more consciously about the world, and the bigger picture. Various experiences with psychedelics, conversations with friends and meditation opened my eyes to the universe in a way I’d not considered. And it made me question my attitude, beliefs and relationship with my meat intake. The problem was, my conclusion was always, “I don’t want to impede my fitness gains”.

Fitness has always been a top priority for me, so I remained selfish to the fact I didn’t want anything to ruin my quality of life, strength or muscle gains. 

Fast forward to my mini moon in Cornwall in August 2021. During a beautiful hike with my wife, Chandni, we decided to pause on a rock for a bite to eat. As I watched the waves crash and birds fly by, and feeling incredibly connected to nature, I started to think again about my relationship with meat.
The hike that changed my life!
I told my wife what I was thinking, and she replied, “You’ve been telling me this on and off for the better part of 3 years, why don’t you take action on it?”

The penny finally dropped. And 5 days later I had my last fitness staple of chicken and rice, without realising it’d be my last one!

That was August 13th 2021.

I still, however, kept eggs in. I was scared to drop them, worrying what I’d eat instead, and concerned (still) about my fitness goals. And whilst my dairy intake was minimal, if something contained dairy, I wasn’t fussed.

As the months went by, I realised that I wasn’t losing any muscle or strength, and my fitness gains were continuing without any meat or fish.

So I started to consider the possibility of getting rid of eggs and dairy completely, and going fully plant-based. This coincided with the idea of getting into the best shape of my life ahead of my 30th birthday on May 2nd, 2022.

I’ve always loved the challenge of going to the absolute extremes of body composition. The character building and personal growth it brings is unparalleled, and having gotten shredded in 2014, 2017 and 2019 in different circumstances and “constraints”, I thought the idea of achieving it as a vegan would be perfect.

Maintenance is one thing, which is what I’d been doing for a few months since dropping meat and fish, but could a vegan diet support extreme goals like getting bodybuilding shredded?

And so on January 1st, I started my journey on a fully vegan diet, on a mission to prove to myself that you can achieve an extreme body transformation without meat, fish, dairy or eggs.

The #RoadToVeganShredded had begun, and in this deep-dive case study, I’m going to dive into:
  1. How I set up a plant-based diet for optimal body transformation  
  2. How I set up a training programme on a vegan diet 
  3. The supplements I used to augment my vegan diet 
  4. How I got shredded on a vegan diet - week by week breakdown 
  5. How the vegan diet impacted my lifestyle 
  6. The results of my vegan diet
  7. The challenges of switching to a vegan diet
  8. What I’ve learnt about vegan diets for fitness goals
  9. What’s next on my vegan journey
If you’ve not followed my #RoadToVeganShredded YouTube series, you can subscribe and start watching here.

Let’s dive in!

Setting Up A Vegan Diet For Optimal Body Transformation

Between August 2021 and January 1st, 2022, my “transition” diet was generally as follows:

Meal 1, 12pm: 
4 large eggs, ½ avocado, 125g sourdough

Meal 2, 3pm: 
40g protein powder (soy), 90g oats, ½ banana, 100g frozen berries, 20g peanut butter, 10g dark chocolate

Meal 3, 7pm
  • Option 1: 220g tofu, 50g beans or lentils, 50g rice, tons of veggies
  • Option 2: 50g tempeh, 50g high protein pasta (edamame or lentil based), 50g beans or lentils, 50g rice, tons of veggies.
  • There are a few other options I have in the rota, but more experimenting here, so it’s not as consistent. 
Meal 4, straight after, could be called a “dessert” but it’s pretty big (!): 
30g protein powder (pea+rice combination), 75g oats, 25g granola, ½ banana, 50g frozen berries, 25g peanut butter, 10g dark chocolate

I like to have a set structure throughout the week, as it minimises my decision fatigue, and reduces food focus or excessive thinking about planning meals. As you can see in the set up, I prefer to keep variety at dinner time, which is when I have more time.

If I were to include “untracked” meals, and general variety in the week, I was maintaining on approximately 3000-3500 calories a day.

So to start this journey on a vegan diet, here’s how I set it up:

Meal 1, 12pm: 
225g tofu scramble, 100g sourdough, ½ avocado
Meal 2, 3pm: 
40g protein powder (soy), 75g oats, ½ banana, 100g frozen berries, 20g peanut butter, 10g dark chocolate
Meal 3, 7pm
50g tempeh, 50g high protein pasta (edamame or lentil based), 50g beans or lentils, 50g rice, 250g vegetables.
Meal 4, straight after:
30g protein powder (rice + protein), 50g oats, ½ banana, 50g frozen berries, 20g peanut butter, 10g dark chocolate
This was a total of 2400 calories with the following macronutrient breakdown:

Protein - 160g
Carbs - 275g
Fats - 70g

Because my diet was already very well set up, it didn’t require a drastic change outside of:
  • Eliminating eggs and swapping in tofu scramble (which tastes so good that it’s made me wonder why I was so hesitant to drop eggs!)
  • Tightening up measurements and meals out so my calorie and macronutrient intake was spot on, versus in an approximate range. This switch is arguably the biggest when you go from “lifestyle maintenance” year round, to pursuing “aggressive fat loss”. Dialling in the details is all that really changes.

Starting Point - January 3rd, 2022 

My starting bodyweight on January 3rd, 2022 was 79.5kg. As you can see in my condition below, I started in relatively good shape. I wasn’t starting this diet in a “bad” place where I’d let myself go, or lost control. 
I believe a strong part of being in “shape for life” is always being in control, whether you are actively building muscle, in maintenance, or after fat loss. 

Despite this, I still needed to lose approximately 10kg to get absolutely shredded on a vegan diet. And anyone who’s done this before knows the last 10kg are infinitely harder than the first 10kg!

Setting Up A Training Programme On A Vegan Diet

My training was set up at 4 days a week, continuing on the same split and exercise selection as the previous 18 months since gyms reopened after the lockdowns.

Programme hopping and constantly trying new exercises are two of the biggest mistakes I see people make. All the best gains come from selecting the right exercises that work for you, then focusing entirely on applying progressive overload with perfect form each and every week with intensity. That’s as simple as training needs to be. 

Here was my set up:

Sunday - Chest / Back / Delts

1A. Kneeling Landmine Press 1x4-6, 1x6-8
1B. Neutral Grip Chin Up 2x4-6 (2nd set is lighter)

2A. Weighted Banded Paused Pushup 1x4-6, 1x6-8
2B. Bent Over Row 1x4-6, 1x6-8

3A. Hammer Strength Shoulder Press 1x6-8, 1x8-10
3B. Wide Pulldown 1x6-8, 1x8-10

Tuesday - Legs / Arms / Abs

1A. Incline DB Curl 1x6-8, 1x8-10
1B. PJR Pullover 1x6-8, 1x8-10

2A. Standing Leg Curl 2x6-8
2B. Bulgarian Split Squat 1x4-6, 1x6-8 

3A. Seated Calf Raise 2x8-12
3B. Adductor 2x8-12
3C. Hanging Leg Raise 2x8-12

Thursday - Chest/Back/Delts

1A. One Arm Floor Press 1x4-6, 1x6-8
1B. One Arm Row 1x5-7, 1x8-10

2A. Hammer Strength Chest Press 1x4-6, 1x6-8
2B. Weighted Pull Up 1x6-8, 1x8-10

3A. Lateral Raise 2x10-15
3B. Rear Delt Swings 2x20-25

Friday - Legs / Arms / Abs

1A. Hammer Curl 1x6-8 1x8-10
1B. Lying DB Extension 1x6-8, 1x8-10

2. GHR 3x Failure

3. RDL 2x4-6 (1st set paused, 2nd set lighter)

4. Reverse Band Hack Squat 1x5-7, 1x8-12

5. Banded Leg Presses 1x15-20 (rest-pause w/ 3 failure points + 30s rest)

6A. Standing Calf Raise 3x8-12
6B. Hanging Leg Raise 3x8-12

Starting Activity Targets On A Vegan Diet

The most important part of getting shredded is dialling in your nutrition. Once you’ve got that nailed, you can accelerate fat loss by optimising your activity through additional cardiovascular work and a daily step target.

To keep it simple, I started off with 3 days a week of 30 minutes on the stairclimber, aiming for a calorie expenditure of 400 calories. Whether or not the figure is accurate isn’t important; it’s tracking the consistency of energy deficit created that counts. Using a machine for cardio can be useful for this - especially when every detail matters in the pursuit of extreme results. 

This was done on my three “off days” from training, so I was in the gym daily, which helped with building routine and structure in my week.

Interestingly, this cardio prescription remained the same throughout the entire diet, with the only difference being how hard it was to get through it!

I also made a point to make every cardio (and training) session to be completed unplugged, without any music, podcasts or “distractions”. I know music can be motivating to train with, but there’s something meditative about doing cardio especially without anything coming in. It makes it hard. Your mind will be doing somersaults in a pursuit to find distractions. But I believe this to be some of the best deep work you can do for your mental state.

For my step target, I started off at aiming for a 10,000 a day average. Nothing sexy here with gadgets or tactics, with everything being tracked on my trusty iPhone.

Supplements On A Vegan Diet

I’ve always been a simple guy when it comes to supplements. Vitamin D3, creatine monohydrate, a protein powder and amino acids are about as exciting as it’s ever got.

One of my fears prior to making the switch to a fully vegan diet was around developing nutrient deficiencies. After all, doesn’t the vegan diet lack so many key nutrients like calcium, iron, zinc, B12 and omega 3s?

When I dug into the details and the research, I was pleased to find most concerns were misguided. With the right whole-food, plant-based approach to veganism, with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and quality soy, many of the typical deficiencies like calcium, iron and zinc could be alleviated.

Even a lack of omega 3s could potentially be solved, but the consumption of chia or flax seeds required to hit the necessary targets would mean calories would end up too high.

The reason most vegans end up with nutrient deficiencies is because they take a “it’s vegan so it must be healthy” approach to food, and base their diet on mock meats, processed foods and diets void of any real nutritional value.

My supplement stack for this #RoadToVeganShredded consisted of:
Special Bonus Codes For You:
  • You can use the code RNT20 on Optimum Nutrition US and UK stores for 20% off.
  • Enter “Akash Vaghela” at checkout or use this link to get 20% off the Vegetology store.

How I Got Shredded On A Vegan Diet - Week By Week Breakdown

2 Weeks In, 17th January, 77.7kg

There’s no better way to get immediate buy-in to a new regime than fast results. In the first few weeks, I saw my strength continue to build in all my big lifts, which gave me early confidence that I was on the right path. 

The first episode of my YouTube series was filmed at the end of the first 2 weeks, which you can watch by clicking here.

3 Weeks In, 24th January, 77.4kg

As week 3 started to progress, I noticed the scale was already starting to slow a little after the initial drops, so I kept all activity the same but reduced calories from 2400 to 2100, coming from a mix of protein, fats and carbs.

My macros were now:
Protein - 150g
Carbs - 240g
Fats - 60g

4 Weeks In, 31st January, 76.6kg

I kept everything the same from the middle of week 3 up till the start of week 5. Progress was picking up nicely, and at the end of January I was on track at exactly 3kg down.

5 Weeks In, 7th February, 75.8kg

The scale was bouncing around a bit here so I decided to step on the gas a little on February 9th by dropping calories from 2100 to 1900, and increasing my weekly step average from 10,000 to 13,000. Cardio remained the same at 400 calories on the stepper, but I was testing myself by trying to get it done faster by going at higher levels. I knew it wasn’t sustainable but it was a nice challenge to keep cardio stimulating whilst energy stores were still high.

My macros were now:
Protein - 140g
Carbs - 200g
Fats - 60g

6 Weeks In, 14th February, 74.8kg

Despite seeing great results, I became conscious of the timeline. At this stage, the goal was to be in shape for April 1st. With only 5-6 weeks to go, I made a push on calories 7 days after the previous drop to set it at 1800, down another 100 calories.

My macros were now:
Protein - 140g
Carbs - 185g
Fats - 55g
You can see in the pictures I’m now crossing from “OK” shape into “beach lean” condition. I also noticed that in week 5 and 6, as I was sitting between mid 74s and mid 75s that I was in my sweet spot of feeling, looking AND performing at my best.

I don’t think I fully appreciated it at the time, but sifting through my journal, there are a few clues:
  • Despite dropping bodweight, I was still hitting PRs in the gym, which means I was still in a nice zone of gaining strength.
  • I was extremely productive, effective and efficient in my work, with minimal overthinking and anxiety.
  • My libido, energy, hunger and satiety were all in great ranges.
This was a big win because I’d never experienced this feeling before. Normally, strength would start tapering off around 76-77, and mood would take a big hit around 75. 

On this Road To Vegan Shredded, I hit peak strength around 75.3kg, with maintenance being achieved in the high 74s.

The second episode to watch of my YouTube series was filmed at this time, where I take you behind the scenes of one of my brutal leg days, whilst giving you a deeper behind the scenes of how it’s been. (Click here to watch!)

7 Weeks In, 21st February, 73.7kg

It was all going smooth sailing until Friday 18th February, when I went out for my friend’s 30th birthday. 

The next morning I woke up feeling very rough at a new bodyweight low - 73.5kg, so the weight was coming off rapidly at this stage. I simply took this as part of the process, and continued on with life.

But then I started sleeping 11-12 hours a night, and my wife tested positive for Covid-19. I was still negative between 19th and 23rd February, until a walk in the park had me literally hallucinating on a bench.

That’s when I thought, this isn’t part of a body transformation process! Lo and behold, I tested positive, at less than 5 weeks from my intended deadline.

This is when the power of expert RNT coaching is worth its weight in gold. After consulting with my team, we decided to push my deadline back 2 weeks and implement a diet break in order to allow my system to recover effectively.

As a type A personality with a natural instinct to do more than less, this went against everything I’d normally do.

8 Weeks In, 28th February, 73.5kg (Diet Break)

From February 24th, I stopped all weight training and cardio, and pulled my steps down to 10,000. I kept the same diet until the 28th, after which I increased the calories from 1800 to 2200.

My “diet break” macros were:
Protein - 150g
Carbs - 265g
Fats - 60g

I ran these macros from 1st to 7th March, and resumed training on the 3rd March, almost a full 10 days off.

The best bit? 

I returned to the gym with zero loss of strength AND my bodyweight stayed the same. This gave me great confidence, especially because the first session back was dumbbell pressing, which is the first to drop when bodyweight gets low. 

The plan worked.

9 Weeks In, 7th March, 73.6kg

After recovering from Covid-19, and 6 days on higher calories, I went back to my pre “diet break” nutrition set up of 1800 calories, whilst also pushing steps up to 14,000.

At this stage I also pulled the intensity of my cardio back. Whilst I was aiming for 400 calories, I stopped the challenges I was doing and just stuck to a lower speed, even if it took a bit longer.

It was prompted by our Head of Applied Research at RNT, Ivan, who said to me, “more is not better, better is better”.

It was around this time we recorded a podcast to discuss all the research surrounding optimising a vegan diet for strength, muscle and fitness. (You can listen in here.)

10 Weeks In, 14th March, 72.1kg

After pulling the pin post diet break, my bodyweight started flying off. I made no changes during this period and just rode the wave of momentum.

11 Weeks In, 21st March, 71.7kg

I didn’t get the drop I wanted in these 7 days, so I actually made two changes in the week. The first was on the 21st March, pulling calories from 1800 to 1600. The second was on 26th March, after feedback from Ivan.

I sent the below picture (weighing in at low to mid 71s), and the response was “I think you may need to get into the 68-69kg range before peaking to get fully dug in quads, hamstrings and glutes.”
That reply threw me as I’d never ventured below 70kg in my adult life. At the same time, I was ready for the challenge. I had less than two weeks to do it whilst giving myself enough time to peak.

So I pulled calories to 1450 and increased steps to 15,000. Cardio and weight training stayed the same.

My macros were now:
Protein - 130g
Carbs - 140g
Fats - 40g

12 Weeks In, 28th March, 70.4kg (Grind)

Let the games begin!

This prep went from zero to 100 very quickly. Filming episode 4 of my Road To Vegan Shredded YouTube series was meant to be focused on the “grind” - but in hindsight, it was nowhere near getting started.

If it’d been filmed two weeks later, it would have had a whole different vibe!
The final ten days going into the shoot were rough. One thing that had been on my mind was the fact that I’d not been able to get quality lighting on any of my pictures, so I was struggling to see where I was really at.

I “felt” better than I “looked”, but I needed confirmation. After the penultimate brutal leg session of prep, I searched all around my flat to find a spot. 

And then at 10pm on Friday 1st April, at 69.8kg, the day I was initially supposed to shoot on, I saw this:
Mission accomplished.

I went from cranky, dragging my heels, and frustrated, to going to bed a happy man. I achieved what I set out to do, and I’d never in my life seen condition on myself like this. 

This week also brought with it physical challenges, with a micro tear to my supraspinatus happening out of nowhere, which meant for the final two weeks, I couldn’t press with my left arm.

Luckily, I found workarounds with a mix of isometrics and push-up variations that were pain free, but it was an injury that didn’t help with the mind games when you’re that lean, and doing all you can to preserve muscle mass.

Life under 70kg was very interesting, and not a place I’m rushing to get back to. My sleep went completely out the window, waking up after only a few hours each night. At the same time, my mind started to get very anxious. It was constantly racing in a way I’d never experienced. I’d be wired at all times of the day as my body went into a state of fight or flight. 

Disclaimer: I write “life under 70kg” specifically because this is when I’m personally very lean. This will be at different stages for however much muscle mass and body fat you carry.

I was determined to dig, and I wasn’t going to take my foot off the gas.

So with a few days before peak week, on 29th March, I pulled calories another 100 to 1350, just to throw the kitchen sink at my body.

My macros were now:
Protein - 130g
Carbs - 130g
Fats - 35g

At this stage, I was in such extremes of body composition that I wasn’t the best to be around personally.

My wife, was an absolute superstar, even if all the fun and playfulness had been zapped out of me. I believe a partner can make or break your goals, especially when they are all-consuming and as extreme as getting shredded.

So I brought her on the RNT Fitness Radio podcast to discuss the experience, and what it’s like to support your partner on this journey: (Click here to listen to it):

Peak Week

13 Weeks In, 4th April, 69.4kg

I wanted to experiment with more aggressive loading for this peak week, especially after seeing the latest research on it, as well as the newest updates to our own article on the website.

The high level overview:
Here were the details I wrote in an Instagram post at the start of the week:
  1. Training is as is, but now I’m keeping a few reps in the tank to enable recovery.
  2. No changes in rep ranges, structure, shocks, or new ‘pump’ stuff. All this does is create excess inflammation that is noticeable when lean.
  3. No weird manipulation of salt, water or diuretics. Remember, if you think you’re ‘holding water’, it’s body fat!
  4. Fats have doubled today for 3 days to fill up some IMTGs (intramuscular triglycerides) which should allow the ‘look’ to hold better post carb load.
  5. Carb loading will begin aggressively on Wed giving us time to clear up any spillage. Fats minimal. Lots of simple easy digestible carbs!
  6. Last leg session will be Tuesday. Right now they feel numb and like lead and they need recovery to allow them to pop come shoot day. Tapering steps + cardio from tomorrow will help too.
  7. Friday onwards is still TBD depending how the load goes. (What I ended up doing is written above).
  8. Aiming to keep workload + stress levels light this week to maximise recovery. Need to get my sleep back on track as the last few days have been rough since getting sub 70kg.
This picture was after a gruelling Friday night leg workout - the final really heavy one!
Peak week is often glamourised as a saving grace to get you in shape. The reality is it’s only useful if you’re actually in shape already, because the three top rules for peak week are:
  1. Be in shape.
  2. Keep it simple.
  3. Relax, let your body recover and know that if you’re in shape, the hard work is already done.
With 800g carbs going in on Wednesday 6th, the final few days leading up were insane.

I wrote this on Tuesday 5th:

“Hardest day on the grind - felt like I was just walking through mud all day. My brain capacity has gone to zilch, I can’t think straight, and I just feel anxious about all the small things. I just gotta get through today and a leg session. It’s been rough, and I’ve got what I wanted and needed out of the process. I didn't see the 68s this time, there just wasn’t enough time. But I’m in the best shape of my life.”

Lo and behold, I woke up on Wednesday at 69.2kg, looking like this:
I was shredded. It was now time to load up, get my first wax, and get a tan!
Jacked and tanned!

Shoot Day

14 Weeks In, 11th April, 70.7kg

The day had arrived. The moment to capture my latest “checkpoint” in my fitness journey.
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After bottoming out at 69.2, I finished peak week at 70.7kg. I never realised when I started on January 3rd I’d have 10kg to lose to get in shape, but it goes to show without fail something I always repeat:

Most people overestimate how much body fat they carry, and underestimate how much muscle mass they have”
Starting out as a 17 year old skinny-fat kid with moobs and a pot belly, I never in a million years thought I’d achieve this body.

I remember when I was 18, I thought I’d made it. I had shed my moobs and pot belly, and saw my first six pack.

I wasn’t even 60kg, but my confidence had skyrocketed so much I thought I’d have a chance in winning the annual Men’s Health “cover model” competition they used to run.

Seeing my pictures at my shoot with Simon Howard (SNHFOTO) made me think for the first time in my life, I have accomplished all I’ve wanted to in my body transformation journey.

When I saw the shots on the camera, I literally couldn’t believe it. In previous years I’d always scrutinise my body’s lagging parts, whereas I now feel I have the “complete package” I personally have always strived for.

That doesn’t mean I’m perfect, or I can’t improve. Far from it. It just means that through all the blood, sweat and tears - literally - after 12 painstaking years of hard work, I’m proud of myself.

When you haven’t got the best genetics for bodybuilding, it makes the progress so much sweeter. Because you know you’ve earned every single ounce of it.

And to me, seeing that full body “walnut glute” shot, made everything worth it.

This is my favourite picture captured on the day; the black and white effect brings a statue-esque feel to it!
I often get asked why I still do crazy challenges like this. I often struggle for any real “tangible” answer outside of “I love it”.

Of course, owning a global transformation company means I must always practice what I preach at the extremes. But to me, this is just life. It’s the ultimate self development tool that nothing else beats. And it’s my “soul food” that brings me joy.
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Why This Vegan Diet Has Been The Best Yet

Getting shredded is never easy. There’s just no two ways around it, no matter how experienced you are. Life sucks when you are shredded. However, there’s no doubt that this route to getting shredded has by far been the best and “easiest” in all my attempts. 

And the “suck” that comes with low body fat kicked in much later than I expected, which of course, I can’t complain about. 

When reflecting on why this is so, I have six reasons in no particular order:

1) Prioritising Sleep. At the start of 2021, I committed to throwing out my alarm clock, once and for all. For years I’d forced 5am wake ups Monday to Friday, only to crash and burn every weekend. In previous diets, I’d eat into sleep more and more in a way to get my cardio and steps done. 

This time I decided no matter what, I’d prioritise sleep, especially as I have the luxury to do so: a flexible work schedule and no young kids! I honestly think this was a game changer for my recovery, satiety, hunger, strength and energy. Sleeping as much as my body needed allowed for continuous auto-regulation in my recovery.

2) Stress Management. Over the past few years, my ability to mitigate stress has improved drastically. Just going through the rollercoaster of business (and life) makes you more numb to little things, and builds on your ability to live in a state of daily radical acceptance. How you handle stress is such an underrated part of getting into incredible shape, because you deal with cravings and hunger in a sensible way, and you recover from your workouts more efficiently.

3) Less Movement. In previous diets I’d always prided myself on the ability to create insane amounts of expenditure. 20,000+ steps with 60 minutes of daily cardio wasn’t uncommon in the last 4-6 weeks. This time I never went higher than 15,000 steps and 3x30 minute cardio. 

Similarly, on every diet before I’d weight train six days a week (as well as my daily cardio). This time I kept it at four low volume sessions throughout. From both a time and recovery perspective, these were absolute game changers. It’s also debunked a lot of beliefs I held around needing excess energy expenditure. 

4) Diet Break. The implementation of a diet break was something I never planned for, but it’s now added a new useful tool in my toolbox. I’d always known about the science behind them, but with my type A personality of “keep pushing harder”, the idea of using it on myself wasn’t ever a consideration. I think it helped delay the onset of the “suck”, whilst also enabling me to avoid going into “overdrive” with creating a bigger and bigger deficit.

5) No Stimulants. Outside of 1-2 coffees per day, I didn’t take any supplementary stimulants. No caffeine, no pre workouts, no fat burners, no Yohimbine HCL, nothing. In the past I’d thrown the kitchen sink at myself with over a gram of caffeine, tons of Yohimbine HCL, and anything I could “legally” get away from a natural bodybuilding perspective. They’d help create a ton of “fake energy” but the recovery and drag on my body was rough. Using zero stimulants, even in the depths of the “suck”, made a huge difference in how I felt.

6) A Plant-Based Approach. There’s no doubt about the fact that adopting a plant-based whole food approach made dieting significantly easier, because of the higher food volumes that come with it. My dinner every night has been a mix of tempeh, edamame or lentil pasta, beans or lentils, and a ton of vegetables. In previous attempts it’d be chicken, a bit of rice, and vegetables. Just the sheer volume and “look” of the plate made this diet much easier, especially knowing that even when I was on 1350 calories, my dinner plate would remain bigger than my wife’s!

7) Experience. Every time you do this, it is going to be better. You learn more and you know what to expect. A seasoned dieter will always find it easier than a rookie.

Myth Busting A Vegan Diet

What I’ve enjoyed most about this journey so far is just how many myths I’ve been able to bust, every single week.

Not just for myself, but for the thousands who I’ve been able to share this with, and especially, to all the meat eaters who never thought getting shredded on a vegan diet was possible.

Here are all the myths you will have heard at least once before.

1) “You need meat to get shredded”

2) “You can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet”

3) “You will end up with deficiencies on a vegan diet” 

4) “Eating soy will ruin your hormones”

5) “It’s impossible to gain muscle on a vegan diet”

6) “You need to eat lots of mock meats and processed foods to hit your protein”

7) “You can’t eat out, socialise or travel as a vegan”

8) “You can’t get results on a vegan diet” (It’s shocking how many personal trainers and coaches I’ve heard tell people this; often refusing to help people if they don’t eat meat!)

Every single one has been well and truly debunked.

Many of these come from the early days of the fitness industry and widespread culture, which circles back to the examples I gave at the beginning of this case study.

And I hope now with my journey, I can help continue to break some of these perceptions and myths that stop people from seeing a different way.

The good news is the research is starting to catch up, with studies now showing no difference in muscle building results between omnivorous and vegan diets. With the popularity of veganism and plant-based diets growing, the opportunity to conduct more of these studies will grow in accordance, and so building more “proof” that you don’t need meat to be fit.
I thought eating soy would bring back my “moobs”...

The Challenges With Making The Switch To A Vegan Diet

I remember being at a best friend’s wedding where before one of the events, I sat on the toilet and Googled:

“Can you travel as a vegan?”

After 3 weddings on the bounce where all I got served was a nice variety of vegetables, I was questioning what I’d signed up for.

Aside from this, and the extra due diligence I often need to take in order to ensure a restaurant serves proper vegan food; or to make sure I can effectively reach my protein target for the day when travelling or out and about, it’s been straightforward.

The world is a different place now to 10 years ago, and it’s never been easier to be plant-based.

In the rare moments it is a challenge, I remember something a friend of mine says to himself, “is my convenience more important than the greater cause?”

It’s easy to think one person being more plant-based makes no difference, but global change only happens one person at a time. Our own egos and self-importance can easily put convenience first, but if we have the privilege to live a more sustainable lifestyle and eat less meat, we should take it. 

And right now, knowing what I know now about climate change, ethics, environment and sustainable farming that’s scalable for 7 billion people, it’s hard to see an alternative to being plant-based. 

That’s why episode 3 of my Road To Vegan Shredded YouTube series was dedicated to this discussion of hard truths, sad realities, and education of what’s really going on in the world:

How You Can Be More Plant-Based And Keep Your Gains

“One step at a time…”

That was the best piece of advice I got when making my own transition away from eating meat, fish, dairy and eggs daily.

I gave an example at the start of a friend who went vegan overnight. That’s a rare case, and for you reading this, not a relatable or realistic solution.

Instead, a better way is to literally start with one meal.

Swap a typical chicken, veggies and rice meal with tofu. It was one of my first steps.

Then try swapping a whey protein shake for a plant-based alternative, like soy, rice or pea protein.

After that, swap normal milk and yogurt for oat, almond or soy. 

Just stack these small changes and the next thing you know you’ll have drastically reduced your intake and animal products.

There is one caution though. If there’s one way you can eat less meat in the WRONG way, it’s replacing all your meat with mock meat and heavily processed foods.

Swapping steak for seitan, chicken for mock ‘chicken’, and so on.

Highly processed mock meat is fine if used sparingly, but if it’s the foundation of your protein, you’re asking for digestion troubles and potential nutrient deficiencies.

I would save these foods for when you’re trying out new restaurants, or for a weekend treat, and instead opt for the following to hit your protein:
  • Legumes, beans and pulses
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Rice, soy or pea protein powders
Remember, you don’t need an obscene amount of protein to build your ultimate body; 1.6-1.8g/kg is more than enough for hard training individuals (the scientific research backs it up!).
It’s been incredible to throw light on how to make these tiny steps to a better body and planet in UK national media.

What’s Next On My Vegan Fitness Journey

The question I get asked more than any other now is, “Are you staying plant-based?”

Especially now the Road To Vegan Shredded has finished. The answer I always reply with is a resounding yes.

My biggest fear for years was always that I’d lose muscle, strength and my physique if I dropped meat, fish and eggs.

All of these beliefs have been broken during the first half of 2022. Now that I know I can be fit, healthy and strong on a plant-based diet, it’s a no brainer to continue.

Especially when it aligns with the ethical and environmental concerns I’ve always had with excess meat consumption. 

Now I don’t need to live in a moral dilemma, and I can continue to make gains on my fitness journey.

So what’s next?

What I’m excited about now is building more muscle and strength on a plant-based diet, and exploring a whole new world of nutrition.

I feel like a total beginner again, so this is an exciting process of learning what different foods contain, how to balance macronutrients, and further refining my long-term lifestyle solution to feel, look and perform at my best year round.

I don’t have any ambitions now to go through heavy “bulking” phases again. I feel those days are behind me - once you’ve done that for a few years, multiple times, the potential benefits of aggressive building are outweighed by what it involves.

High performance, productivity and a clear mindset is my main goal. I want to be at my best for my biggest priorities in life, and that means staying relatively lean year round.

As of writing this, I’m 3 to 4 weeks into Consolidation - or reverse dieting, and I’m currently sitting about 1-1.5kg up.
The hardest thing about getting shredded is actually letting go of the idea of being shredded.

It’s a very strange feeling. You know you need to get out of the danger zone, but because you’ve worked so hard to get into condition, you want to stay there.

Because I got so lean, I’ve had to force myself in the past few weeks to add some bodyweight, which hasn’t been easy in terms of a nutrition set up due to extensive travel, so I’ve had to rely on portion control and checking bodyweight daily to ensure I’m eating enough!

Straight after my shoot, I travelled for 10 days in the States - with trips to Nashville, which isn’t the easiest for vegans, and New York, which is more about keeping things under control!

I’m now in Bali for 5 weeks, which is the best place to be as a vegan, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey of finding my “sweet spot” again. My general set up is to focus on achieving ~10,000 steps a day, 4 weight training sessions, 2 “fun” cardio sessions, and approximately 3000 calories (which I “guesstimate” when out here).

I then use my bodyweight to intuitively eat more or less to ensure I’m on track. I expect to work slowly up over the course of May and June to sit around 74-75kg, which is definitely where I feel my new zone of high performance lies.

I couldn’t believe how effective I was in that range of bodyweight, and I’m excited to see what life brings with it there.

Are You Next?

One thing I think about a lot is the growing possibility of Earth not being Earth in 50-100 years time.

It’s a very real thing that can often feel too “far away” to care about.

And if there’s one small difference you can make to help, it’s being a bit more plant-based, even if it’s just once a week.

The problem is, before you read this, you’ve probably believed that to be fit, healthy and strong, you need a ton of protein from meat.

As I bring this case study to a close, I hope I’ve been able to show you how it’s all a lie.

You can be plant-based and achieve everything you want with your body.

And the better news is you can do it whilst doing your bit for the planet.

Because it really is, one step and one person at a time.

Are you next?

Resources

Here are some cool resources you will enjoy to learn more about my journey, research on plant-based diets, and how you can optimise your own fitness results!
  1. Optimising Health, Fat Loss & Muscle Building On A Vegan Diet
  2. Can You Get SHREDDED On A Vegan Diet? | Akash Vaghela’s Road To Vegan Shredded
  3. A BRUTAL VEGAN Leg Workout (I couldn’t walk for a week!) | Road To Vegan Shredded
  4. The Sad Truth About The Meat You’re Eating For Protein | Road To Vegan Shredded 
  5. How To LOSE FAT WITHOUT Terrifying Diets Or Suffering | Road To Vegan Shredded
  6. MEAT vs PLANT-BASED - MY 14 WEEK EXTREME TRANSFORMATION | Akash Vaghela’s Road To Vegan Shredded
  7. Akash Vaghela’s 2017 Bodybuilding 21 Week Prep Write Up
  8. Quarterly Insights Part 3, Instalment I – Akash’s Photoshoot Prep, 2019
  9. The Ultimate Guide To Reverse Dieting And Avoiding Fat Regain
  10. Stop Messing Up Your Peak Week
Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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