Zack Belknap
I’m a Vegan Bodybuilder. This is How I Build Muscle with Plant-Based Diet


We talked with Zack Belknap in November, 2019. Follow Zack on Instagram and Facebook
Country:
United States
Age:
27 years
Weight:
92 kg
(203 lbs)
Height:
178 cm
(5 '10)


Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training

My name is Zack Belknap. I am 27 years old, I live in Eugene, OR and I am the owner of Bold Body Fitness LLC personal training business.

I began working out around the age of 16 when I discovered that I enjoyed that gym aspect of playing sports more than I actually enjoyed playing the sports I grew up on: Football, baseball, track, hockey, and basketball.

I trained for fun until I was about 22 years old and then I really began training with the intent of becoming a bodybuilder. I first started competing in bodybuilding in 2017 and by 2018 I had earned my professional status with the WNBF, and in April 2019 I won my pro debut.

When I am not in the gym training clients or working out, I enjoy exploring the incredible landscape that Oregon has to offer as well as going to concerts and music festivals as often as possible!


Describe a typical day of training


I try to go as long as possible without doing cardio but towards the end it always becomes a necessity.

I have spent most of my bodybuilding career lifting intuitively; I feel what my body needs on a week-by-week basis and train accordingly. Sometimes that means blasting out sets of 20 on everything and sometimes it means hitting two or three rep maxes.

I have followed some programs here and there but I always end up returning to daily undulating periodization (DUP). I like to do 1-3 compound lifts at about 4-5 sets each and then I’ll move on to accessory work, which always involves higher volume.

Most workouts are done between 60-90 minutes and I train five days a week with the following split: Upper press / lower press / upper pull / shoulders and arms / lower pull. I found that the best tool for gaining strength and weight is the simplest – EAT MORE FOOD!

Once I became comfortable with losing a little bit of my conditioning and began eating more, I made huge jumps in both strength and size. When I’m dieting down for a show the answer is just as simple, eat less.

I work with a bodybuilding coach who sets my macros and I eat accordingly. We always go for long term preps anywhere between 20-30 weeks so as to lose weight very gradually and preserve lean tissue.

I try to go as long as possible without doing cardio but towards the end it always becomes a necessity. My last prep involved an hour of fasted cardio (walking at an incline on the treadmill) every morning for about a month.

Supplementation is pretty basic for me: Vital One Vitamins, Sports Nutrition creatine, Now Sports HMB, Acetyl L-Carnatine, and PrimaForce ZMA. I am also a Run Everything Labs team member and I love their plant-based protein as well as the DTE fat burner.


How do you keep going and push harder?

Motivation for lifting has always come easy for me because I love doing it. I enjoy challenging myself and setting new records. I also really enjoy standing out and doing things that I know most people can’t or won’t do.

Working out is always my favorite part of the day! In the rare occasions where I truly don’t want to train, I remember that even when I’m “off season” I am still working towards my goal of hitting the stage bigger and better for my next show.

Regardless of whether I am dieting down or bulking up, I am an athlete looking to improve my performance and that is a very strong motivator (not to mention there is money on the line in the pro ranks!)

Having a workout partner also helps me. I am usually able to push myself very hard when I train alone, however I always end up with a better workout when I am training with a friend.

Right now, I train with my bodybuilding coach three days a week and he pushes me because he is just barely stronger than I am in most things, and drives my competitive nature, and on the other two days, I train with two of my coworkers that I am slightly stronger than and I find that equally motivating because I like taking the leadership role.


How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

When I began competing in 2017, I pretty much went for two years straight with very little breaks. I spent something like 19 of 24 months in prep. I am currently taking my first long-term break (15 months) and loving the increase in food as well as the resulting increase in strength and size!

My short-term goals include prepping for a powerlifting meet coming up in January, getting to a bodyweight of 210 lbs (currently at 203 lbs), and setting PRs wherever possible.

My long-term goals are the same of any bodybuilder – pack on mass and return to the stage better than I have ever been.

I plan on doing a longer prep than I have ever done for my next show in 2021 so I am thinking 30-35 weeks. After that I want to compete at the WNBF worlds, probably in 2023.

Outside of my fitness training my goals are both business and personal. I want to continue growing my business and helping people achieve lifetime wellness while also recruiting more athletes for bodybuilding shows.

I also want to continue challenging myself with major hikes and mountain ascents as well as hit some major music festivals around the country and around the world!


How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?

I have only ever dealt with one injury and it was a shoulder impingement that lasted about seven months. I tried everything I could think of including visiting a physical therapist, doing daily PT exercises, getting weekly massages and chiropractic adjustments, stretching, foam rolling, cupping, and epsom salt rubs.

Ultimately, it just came down to the compounded effort of all those things and lots of time. As a preventative measure, I make sure to stay on top of the many things listed above such as massage/chiro/foam rolling as well as make sure not to overtrain when I’m training for strength.

If I do a one to three rep max week, I make sure to increase the volume the following week so as to not do too many heavy days in a row. I also value sleep above all else!

The book “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker was extremely enlightening and gave me very many tactics for improving my sleep, which in turn improved my training and recovery. If you’re not big on reading he has an excellent episode on the Joe Rogan podcast.


How is your diet and what supplements do you use?

One of the main reasons I became so passionate about bodybuilding is because I first became plant-based and I was tired of hearing people talk about what vegans can and can’t do.

I started eating plant-based in early 2016 and am now approaching four years of no animal products. When I am cutting I eat a mostly whole foods diet including sweet potatoes, brown rice, various vegetables (mostly cruciferous for their higher protein content), tofu, tempeh, and homemade seitan (a meat alternative made from vital wheat gluten).

My macros during a cut usually stay around 230 protein, 400 carbs, and 100 fat (3,420 kcal). During my off season I reverse diet for a while, increasing my calories by about 200 every week until I feel that I have returned to hormonal balance.

At that point, I then try to eat as much as I possibly can. There is no calorie restriction, I literally just force feed as many clean calories in as possible all day long.

Currently, I’m eating a lot of homemade mushroom stroganoff, breakfast burritos with plant-based chorizo, and plant-based burgers with tons of veggies and quinoa. I also really enjoy baking and going out to various restaurants around town.

I have two years of restricted eating to make up for! I’m guessing my current calories are somewhere around 5,000 a day. I also allow myself much more freedom in regards to drinking alcohol because when I’m in prep I go 100% rigid; straight up robot mode.

So in my off season I enjoy getting drinks with friends and catching up on a lot of the social activities that I miss out on during prep.


What has inspired and motivated you?

The biggest motivation for me is continuing to prove nay sayers wrong. There have been several experiences where I’ll place top three in a show and then people find out I’m vegan and I get to watch their heads explode.

I read David Goggin’s autobiography (he also has a dynamite episode on Joe Rogan’s podcast) and he talks about being uncommon amongst uncommon people and that really resonated with me.

People who have the grit and the discipline to make it through a contest prep and actually be competitive in a bodybuilding show are already uncommon. But to do that as a plant-based athlete when everyone in your community is telling you it is impossible. That’s uncommon amongst uncommon and that motivates the hell out of me.

Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?


I have put myself in an environment where I am constantly being challenged and learning new things.

My advice for people who want to improve themselves is to try new things, pursue education about different approaches and find methods that they resonate with.

All those stupid cliches that we see on Instagram about dedication and persistence and patience – they’re all true. Nobody becomes successful overnight so find things that you enjoy, and do those things every day until you get what you want.

Three things that have worked the best for me and my training have been lifting with people who are stronger/more experienced than me, changing to a plant-based diet, and pursuing a degree in exercise/sport science.

I have put myself in an environment where I am constantly being challenged and learning new things. The worst thing a person can do is become complacent or arrogant and stop putting forth 100% effort. If you find that you are the best or the strongest in your crew, than get some new crew members to push you!


Are you taking on clients right now?

I am currently taking on clients. I only train in-person because I don’t think there is enough accountability via online training and I can’t correct improper form if I don’t know it is happening.

There are a few reasons why clients want to train with me: One reason is my education background – I have a B.A. in exercise and sport science and I am certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Another is my experience as a professional bodybuilder and the experience that comes with that including prescription of macronutrients and measuring body composition.

And lastly, the thing that makes me stand out the most is my experience with a plant-based diet.

The fitness community is shrouded in a belief that people need to eat paleo or keto or carnivore (massive eye roll) in order to see results, and I have had several clients who have literally been told that they won’t make any progress because of their diets and have been turned away from gyms.

Where can we learn more about you?

I am currently taking a hiatus from Facebook but when I’m back people can find my personal page by searching Zack Belknap, my business page by searching Bold Body Fitness, and my athlete page by searching Zack Belknap WNBF Pro Bodybuilder.

My Instagram handle is @boldbodyfitnessllc.


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I’m Mads Phikamphon, founder of Bulk Hackers.

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