Donna: Where do you live Derek and where are you from?
Derek: I live in Richmond Virginia where my wife and I operate our personal training studio Root Force Personal Training. I am originally from San Diego California.
Donna: May I ask your age?
Derek: Sure! I’m 25 years old
Donna: What do you do for a living/profession?
Derek: I am a trainer at our private studio Root Force, and my wife and I run our website Vegan Muscle and Fitness, where we blog, coach clients online, and have a subscription video portal.
Donna: What do you like to do for fun?
Derek: Great question! Who doesn’t like answering this one? I love playing with our 11 month old son, running with our dogs, weight training, and anything that involves being in the water, especially the ocean. I also used to play video games a lot, but haven’t had time in recent years.
Donna: How long have you been vegan?
Derek: I became vegan in 2007. I decided to try it for Lent that year and felt so good I never looked back.
Donna: Why did you become vegan?
Derek: When I first met my wife she introduced me to all the health benefits associated with a plant-based diet, and all the risks associated with animal products. Prior to that I’d never come across any of that information and frankly thought vegans must be scrawny and malnourished! She gave me a few great books on the subject which I dove into, and being a health nut as soon as I read up on the topic I was sold!
Donna: How was your transition to a vegan lifestyle?
Derek: Well, once I had learned about it I wanted to switch cold-turkey, at least on a trial basis, so I went vegan for Lent that year. I’m not religious, but it was a good framework to try a big diet change. I had a really easy time with the transition just by stocking up on things like tofu, Tofurkey, and soy milk. The only hard part were the food cravings, but that was only the first week or two. To celebrate making it the entire 30 days I went out for a celebratory steak dinner and ice cream… and got a horrible stomach that lasted the next 24 hours. I was shocked! I couldn’t believe after such a short time my body couldn’t handle those foods anymore, so it was a really eye opening experience for me. That sort of thing would never happen with say, kale.
Donna: You have one of the most spectacularly sculpted bodies I’ve ever seen. One of the most common misconceptions that I hear from men is that you can’t keep muscle on as a Vegan. Thanks for smashing that misconception!
What is the biggest misconception that you have heard about vegans?
Derek: Thank you for the kind words! I would say that is the one of the biggest misconceptions about veganism I come across, but virtually all are related to athletic performance. A lot of people I talk to and many of my clients former trainers think that a plant-based diet is a huge liability when it comes to gaining muscle, losing fat, or improving athletic performance. Nothing could be further from the truth! Athletes like Robert Cheeke, Torre Washington and myself have proven you can gain a lot of muscle on a plant based diet, and I routinely do so with my clients as well. I also had more clients win the local Gold’s Gym weight loss competitions than any other three trainers combined when I worked there, hands down. And I’ve heard from many fellow athletes, clients, and experienced first hand that your athletic performance can actually improve from removing animal products from your diet.
Donna: What is your Favorite thing about being a vegan?
Derek: Two things actually. The first is being able to shock people at the gym or at body building contests when they ask my about my diet – I love that. And the second and more important one is having the opportunity to be a role model and literally help to save lives, change lives, and save the world. There aren’t many things in life that can do all that.
Donna: As a sexy vegan yourself what do you think makes a Vegan sexy?
Derek: Hah, thanks! I think being fit, vital and confident are all things that make people attractive. A plant based diet is optimal for human health so a whole food vegan diet will contribute greatly to someone’s fitness and vitality, and vegans choose this diet because they have strong convictions, and are subsequently used to having their ideas challenged on a regular basis. There aren’t many better ways to build confidence than that.
Donna: What is your best vegan dish that you make in your kitchen?
Derek: Well, honestly my wife Marcella does all the gourmet cooking in our kitchen (see our website for delicious recipes!), but I do make a mean bowl of oatmeal! I would say some of my favorite fancy dishes are lasagna or a seitan roast, but we don’t eat things like that very often.
Donna: I am a big fan of the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell . Has this booked shaped your life in any way?
Derek: That was the book that sealed the deal for me! Marcella gave me that book when I was first learning about veganism. I am a biology degree holder so the science behind the diet is what really mattered to me, and The China Study contains some of the most conclusive and comprehensive nutrition science ever done!
Donna: T.Colin Campbell’s book The China Study talks a lot about supplements and the over use of protein in our diets. The body building industry is very big on protein intake. What is your take on protein and supplements?
Derek: I run into this a lot with my clients. Protein, especially in supplement form, is way over consumed by the general public, and there is a bounty of nutrition science showing that we need very little for optimal health. That being said, I am in a sport where the main objective is to push your body as far out of equilibrium as possible by gaining as much muscle mass and shedding as much body fat as you can, and there is some anecdotal evidence (decades of successful bodybuilders for example) showing that excess protein helps this process. I eat a moderately high protein diet (20-30% of calories) and use protein supplements like Plant Fusion, SunWarrior, or Vega post workout to aid in recovery, but I make sure that 80-90% of my daily protein intake comes from whole foods like beans, whole grains, green vegetables, and nuts and seeds. I actually discourage many of my clients from using protein supplements unless they are trying to gain muscle and/or their diet is already perfect.
Donna: Can you please give us your 3 best tips for any guys wanting to bulk up, trim down and potentially even compete?
Derek: Absolutely 1) Nothing you do matters unless your foundation of nutrition, sleep, and water are in place. The greatest training program in the world won’t work if you’re not already covering these bases.
2) When it comes to training three things are more important than anything else: form, focus, and intensity of effort. The exercises you choose and the weights you use are almost secondary to these things. If you have a complete program that will work all the muscle groups on a regular basis and you train with perfect form, focusing on what you are trying to accomplish during every rep, and pushing your physical limits with every workout you will be amazed at the results you can achieve.
3) The sport of bodybuilding is an endurance race. The people who succeed are the ones who are most consistent with their diet and training not for days and weeks, but for months and years. Make it part of your routine, stick to it, and give your body lots of time to realize the changes you are after.
Donna: Could you fill us in on some titles that you have to your name in the sports/fitness world?
Derek: Sure! ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Certified in Plant-Based Nutrition (Cornell University/T Colin Campbell foundation), BS Biology, Co-Owner and operator of Root Force Personal Training and Vegan Muscle and Fitness (veganmuscleandfitness.com), And I’ve placed in the top 3 at every bodybuilding contest I’ve competed in except one, and placed first once.
Donna: What do you eat on a normal day?
Derek: My daily meal plan varies based on whether I’m trying to bulk up or get lean, but I’m currently eating 6 meals, oatbran and a fruit smoothie for breakfast, a whole food shake (beans, oats, seeds, fruits, spinach, and soymilk) for my morning and afternoon snacks, a green salad, bean and whole grain based entree for lunches and dinner, and a protein shake post-workout. I’m eating around 5000 calories per day, with almost all of it coming from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Donna: Does what you eat day to day change much when you’re competing? If so, how?
Derek: Yes, I slowly reduce my calorie intake as I get closer to the show date while trying to keep my protein intake about the same. This means preferentially reducing lower protein foods like nuts/avocados, fruits and starchy grains/root vegetables while maintaining lots of beans, greens and tofu/tempeh.
Donna: What training do you do on a normal day/week?
Derek: I train 5 days per week and I’m currently following a 3-day split, meaning it takes me three days to work my entire body. My current workouts are chest/back on day 1, shoulders/arms on day 2, and thighs and calves on day 3. I do cardio and abs on my two ‘rest’ days every week.
Donna: Does your training vary much from when you are not competing to when you are competing? If so, how?
Derek: My training only varies slightly during contest prep in that I include more isolation exercises, but I do cardio as often as three times per day pre-contest, versus maybe once a week the rest of the time.
Donna: I love my sleep! I’m wondering how important is sleep to you? How much sleep do you get each night?
Derek: Sleep is extremely important, and I don’t get nearly enough! This is a point I really try to drive home with my clients – sleep is when you recover and improve from your training, and even a small sleep deficit will reduce physical and mental performance, and hinder results. That said, with my schedule and our baby’s questionable sleeping habits I probably average 6-7 hours a night, whereas 8-10 would be ideal.
Donna: Do you do 1 on 1 coaching? Must clients live in your area to benefit from your coaching?
Derek: I train clients 1-on-1 at our studio here in Richmond Va, and I coach clients and small groups through our website veganmuscleandfitness.com. Check us out sometime and come by the studio if you’re in our area!
Donna: I definitely will! Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?
Derek: Just one thing. Our objective through our business and personal endeavors is to create as much of a positive change as possible by shifting peoples’ habits. We want every friend and client to excel because their success will inspire others to change. Everyone can be a role model!
Donna: Thank you so much Derek! I know that your answers today are going to inspire change and new habits among my readers. You are an absolute inspiration. Thank you for your time.
Derek: You are most welcome!