How a vegan athlete set a new bar for powerlifting

You are here

» How a vegan athlete set a new bar for powerlifting

In a community rife with scepticism, Bill McCarthy is out to prove that vegans have a competitive edge in powerlifting. He has the size, strength, and willpower that brought him to the same level as the most respected athletes in the ultra-competitive sport of powerlifting.

 Bill McCarthy
(Image: Plant Based News)

Last year, Plant Based News announced that the 36-year-old athlete broke the state record for Equipped Bench Press in Maryland, USA. Kirk Karwoski set the record at pressing 255kg in July 1996 and has been undefeated for 21 years until McCarthy broke the record by lifting 265 kg.

Born in New Jersey, McCarthy became interested in martial arts when he was five and earned a black belt in Taekwondo. His years in school were divided into maintaining grades and competing in different sports, including American football for which he eventually earned a scholarship. In 2007, McCarthy turned his passion into a profession by becoming a strength and conditioning coach and sharing his knowledge with other people.

Bill is not a newcomer to powerlifting. He also has the record for Raw Bench and Squat in his home states of New Jersey and Maryland. That being said, the strongman hasn’t always been on a plant-based diet. It was only after coming across the Engine 2 28-Day Challenge of eating only whole, nutritious food that he fully transitioned into veganism. It was a conscious choice that outlasted the event. The challenge was started by a former firefighter, Rip Esselstyn, who noticed that his colleagues were in poor health. This was largely caused by their standard diet of meat, dairy, and processed food, which is also a problem worldwide. NPR shared the findings of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems Nutrition, which show that more and more people are resorting to processed food over whole food. Junk food is notorious for being caloric dense without any real nutrients; meat greatly contributes to an increase in cholesterol, and too many sweets mess with the body’s ability to metabolise sugar. It’s no wonder that this has led to the rise in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Grains(Image: Pexels)

As for McCarthy’s peers, the main issue is not so much on general health, but more on building and maintaining muscle mass. People always get surprised that the record-holder is a vegan and he’s used to getting questions like ‘Where do you get protein?’. The truth is that becoming stronger, even up to the point of powerlifting, is entirely possible without meat. Beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, sprouted grains, tofu, tempeh, and seitan are much kinder sources of quality protein. And in response to World Milk Day, The Vegan Society recently highlighted amazing alternatives to conventional milk. These are made from different varieties of plant milk, and they can also abundant in calcium, protein, iron, and other essential nutrients. McCarthy, who weighs 120kg with personal bests of 340kg squats and 300 kg deadlifts in addition to his state record, is a testament that being plant-powered is not synonymous with being weak.

Of course, the American powerlifter is not the first athlete to discover veganism as an adequate support to his respective field. Many have experimented and successfully maintained the lifestyle after discovering its countless benefits to their performance. One of the most prominent is five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, who adheres to a raw vegan diet. The tennis superstar told Health Magazine that her decision came after being diagnosed with Sjörgen’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause complications to the joints and major organs. Her condition forced her to withdraw from the US Open in 2011. Williams has been very vocal about her lifestyle change and has since bounced back and dominated the court on several occasions.

 Sir Stanley Matthews
(Image: UEFA)

What McCarthy and Williams have in common is that they live in a time when there is more information on veganism and it is more accessible. One of the greatest players the world of football has ever seen, Sir Stanley Matthews, was one of the first few known to explore a meat-free diet as an athlete. Sports website Coral notes that the Englishman was the oldest player to represent his country internationally who played until he was 50. Back in his heyday (1930s-1950s), veganism was a totally alien concept to most, especially in the world of sports. But Matthews abided by a strict diet close to being completely animal-free, drank carrot juice every day, and was a known teetotaller. Many have always attributed his athletic performance to the discipline he showed in terms of his training and lifestyle even though it was totally against the norm back then.

Bill McCarthy, Venus Williams, Sir Stanley Matthews, and all the other vegan athletes who manage to excel in their sport, shed a light on the benefits of veganism on the human body. Aside from hundreds of studies on plant-based diets, these athletes and their achievements also show the world that it’s time to take veganism more seriously.

by Scott Johnson 

Would you like to write for our blog? Read our guidelines then send your pitch to web[at]vegansociety[dot]com.

The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.

Reg. Charity No: 279228 Company Reg. No: 01468880 Copyright © 1944 - 2024 The Vegan Society