Derek Tresize, Vegan Bodybuilder: Meat Grows Muscles and Cancer
He grew up a multitalented athlete in San Diego. At age 19, he began reading the works of Dr. Joel Fuhrman (who invented the ANDI scale, which Whole Foods uses), Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (whose works are the subject of the documentary Forks Over Knives, about the health benefits of a plant-based diet). His reading convinced him to convert to a vegan diet, and he says his athletic performance increased across the board. He's now the director of personal training at a gym in Richmond, Virginia; a model; a "vegangelist"; and a competitive bodybuilder.
(See yesterday's profile of Danny David, a fitness guru who trains with vegan foods.)
With a degree in biology and a plant-based nutrition certification from Cornell University, Tresize seems like a pretty scholarly dude. So I called on him to explain how bowling-ball-size biceps and organic radishes came to find a home in the same body.
Derek Tresize: I would agree with them. [Laughs.] Bodybuilding at a competitive level is all about pushing beyond your body's natural homeostasis and natural frame and trying to put on as much muscle as you can. I would agree that that's not a natural process and probably not ideal for long-term health. You're spending tons of time breaking down and rebuilding muscle. And a lot of studies show that calorie restriction [and not overconsumption] leads to a longer life in animals.
So why the heck do you body build?
[Laughs.] I like being big and strong! It's fun to be physically impressive, and that's the entire sport of bodybuilding -- trying to become physically impressive.
But it's also a great mode of spreading awareness. It gets people's attention. If you're a big, muscular guy and you say, "Hey, I eat this diet," people are going to pay more attention to me than say, a scrawny, pale "land vegan." So it's very effective in that regard. I do consider bodybuilding as somewhat of an unhealthy sport in that you're pushing your body beyond its limits, physically. But if you're gonna do it, it makes a lot more sense to do it on a plant-based diet. I mean, if you're just packing your body constantly with animal protein, you have to be stressing your heart, stressing your kidneys, stressing your skeletal system.
How did all of this start?
I was pretty much a red-meat, chicken, and broccoli guy before, which is what you see a lot of the strength trainers doing. Then I just started learning about the negative effects of animal protein on the body, and I thought I'd give it a shot. Just from reading in Dr. Campbell's China Study, and from Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live, you hear over and over the promotion of cancer, the promotion of heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, significant problems that afflict millions of people.
Heart disease and cancer both run in my family. So I tried going 30 days without touching [animal products], and I noticed right away, aside from food cravings, I felt much cleaner. That's the best word -- you feel cleaner inside. Then, after the 30 days, I went back to trying to eat those foods again, and they made me really sick. And so that was kind of a wake-up call.