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Interview with Brian Evans: Vegan Exercise Enthusiast

Brian Evans is a university professor at Pace University in New York City. He primarily prepares students to teach mathematics. He has traveled extensively and has been to all 50 U.S. states, over 80 countries, and all seven continents. He also enjoys hiking, cycling, martial arts, and exercise. He can be contacted on email.

Brian_Evans_Antartica

Why Vegan?
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I adopted the vegan lifestyle primarily for ethical reasons. I soon learned about the health, environmental, and human welfare implications and consider all of these good reasons for being vegan. Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation was a book I read soon after becoming a vegetarian and this gave me a solid philosophical grounding for my new lifestyle. I also became involved in the straight edge hardcore music scene, which also had strong vegan influence and highly assisted in my move from vegetarian to vegan. 

How long have you been vegan?
I have been vegan since 1993, which means I’ve been vegan for over 20 years. I was vegetarian for one year when I decided to adopt the vegan lifestyle.

What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
Personal benefits have primarily been the physical health and psychological benefits of a vegan lifestyle. I was born in 1976, which means at the time of writing I’m 37 years old. I’m often told I look much younger than my physical age and that I’m in great physical shape. While I do not know the extent my diet has contributed as compared to genetics and exercise, I would like to think diet has a significant impact. I add psychological benefits because being a vegan means reducing the harm to other sentient beings, which has significant personal psychological implications. 

What does veganism mean to you?
My primarily motivation is the ethical consequences of a vegan lifestyle, which is the process of reducing animal suffering to the greatest degree possible. It also means reducing environmental degradation and improving human health to the greatest degree possible.
 
Training
What sort of training do you do?
The primary interest to the reader is likely to be the quantity of pushups I do each day. My usual morning involves 500 one-arm pushups on each arm along with 500 regular two-arm pushups in sets of 100 to 125. If I’m not overly busy, I do it again in the evening before dinner. This means my typical day involves 3000 pushups. I recently found out that I’m not terribly far away from several world records. I’ve been encouraged to attempt to break a record or two by many friends, and I have been considering working on it.
In between sets of pushups I practice martial arts, stretch, and do squats. I have a black belt in Shotokan and have practiced Aikido, and I frequently teach self-defense classes to my students at my university. While probably not as impressive, I do 3000 squats a day in addition to the pushups. Several days a week, I run three to four miles and do pull ups, and I also frequently cycle. I enjoy getting outdoors to hike and the picture I’ve used below is on a hike in the Annapurna region of the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal.

How often do you (need to) train?
I know I’ll receive some criticism for this but I usually train every day. I enjoy training very much and my day does not feel right without it. When extraordinarily busy I will skip the evening work out. However, it’s extremely rare for me to skip the morning work out.

Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
Yes, I frequently give talks to college students at my university on exercise, healthy lifestyle, and veganism. Friends often solicit advice as well.

What sports do you play?
Most of my physical interests are exercise, martial arts, cycling, and hiking. I do not have the opportunity to play team sports very often, but I do enjoy playing basketball, soccer, and volleyball. Quite a few years ago a friend and I were affectionately called the “vegan power houses” by some non-vegan friends who often played basketball with us.

Brian_Evans_in_Nepal

Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
In the 20 years I’ve been vegan I’ve seen much improvement in the way in which people perceive veganism. In fact, 20 years ago most people didn’t know what a “vegan” was. I rarely encounter that today. The biggest misconceptions I encounter are around the nutritional adequacies of the vegan diet. I am not formally educated in nutrition, but have learned much about it on my own. I do my best to address concerns presented to me. I find that presenting myself to people as a friendly, smart, and physically fit example of a vegan has been helpful.

What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
Since readers will likely be most interested in the quantity of pushups I do, I would say my upper body strength, while remaining slim and athletic, is my great physical attribute. I’m well suited for performing large numbers of pushups because I’m strong but have a slim and athletic build. Being too muscular is good for weightlifting, but probably would not help as much with pushups. Not surprisingly, I won a pushup competition in college and had no problem beating much larger athletes.

What is your biggest challenge?
Probably like most people, finding the time to remain active is a challenge. I have a very busy schedule, but I prioritize my exercise. Motivation was never a problem for me, but I acknowledge lack of motivation is probably the other major factor for most people.

Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
When I encounter non-vegan athletes, I sometimes receive negative comments about how introducing some animal products into my diet would likely benefit my physical performance. I politely disagree. However, most non-vegan athletes are more interested in my lifestyle and have many questions. Most people I’ve encountered seem supportive.

Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
Yes, my parents now know that after 20 years my diet is not a teenage fad.

What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
Usually the most common questions revolve around nutrition. I do my best to present what I know about vegan nutrition to those who will listen.

Who or what motivates you?
In terms of vegan athleticism, the great vegan athletes, such as many being profiled here, are quite inspirational. I feel very honored and humbled that my story is included in the same work as theirs. In terms of what motivates me, I have been fortunate that most of my life I’ve had a strong intrinsic motivation for success.
 
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:
Breakfast
- My breakfast and my dinner are nearly identical. I usually eat about a pound of leafy greens (collards or kale) and about a third of a pound of legumes (lentils or beans) with crushed flax seeds and salt for breakfast and again for dinner.
Lunch - I mostly eat fruit and nuts or seeds for lunch.
Dinner - Dinner is the same as breakfast on most days. This means I’m eating about two pounds of leafy greens and two-thirds of a pound of legumes each day. I’ve done a nutritional analysis of my typical diet to be certain I was receiving adequate quantities of the nutrients I need. I understand that most people would find my diet a bit repetitive and boring, but I like it. I also think the most nutritious of all vegan foods are leafy greens and legumes. I do my best to stay away from processed foods and I promote a healthy plant-based diet based around whole vegan foods.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) - Like my lunch, if I snack it’s going to be mostly fruit and nuts or seeds.
 
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Legumes (lentils or beans)
Calcium - Leafy greens (collards or kale)
Iron - Legumes (lentils or beans)
For all three I would advocate for leafy greens and legumes. I get more protein, calcium, and iron I need particularly as a very active person.  
 
What foods give you the most energy?
I really like raisins and peanuts on long hikes. Dried fruit, while being high in calories, can be quite good for instant energy.

Do you take any supplements?
I take a B-12 and vitamin D supplement every day. I sometimes take a pill for additional omega 3’s in addition to the crushed flax seed in my breakfast and dinner.
 
Advice
What is your top tip for:

Gaining muscle - There is much to say about the science of muscle gain, but I would say legumes are my favorite source of protein for those concerned about protein intake. Many believe fewer repetitions with heavier weights are more effective than many repetitions with lighter weights. This knowledge motivated me to add the one-arm pushups to my routine.
Losing weight - Reducing processed foods, even vegan processed foods, and eating mostly unrefined whole vegan foods is the best tip I have. I would add that in addition to diet and exercise, sufficient amount of sleep and stress-reduction are two other important variables in promoting overall health. I advocate drinking large quantities of water and avoiding any other drinks except green tea.
Maintaining weight - Balancing a healthy diet with the amount of physical activity is the best tip I have.
Improving metabolism - I have a simple general answer to offer. A balanced diet with exercise is the best one can do. I recommend gaining some muscle mass since muscle uses more energy than fat.
Toning up - I recommend pushups and squats for general toning. Body weight exercises are highly effective and can be done anywhere. I travel frequently and I can do these exercises anywhere. Pushups involve many of the upper body muscles and have the advantage of engaging stabilizing muscles. Pushups, like planks, are great for abdominal muscle strengthening. When I realized this I stopped doing crunches and situps, and I don’t think my abdominal region suffered at all by doing this.

How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
As mentioned earlier, on a daily basis I promote veganism through example. I present myself as a friendly, smart, physically fit example of a vegan. I think unless one is a full time activist, this is the best approach a regular person can take.

How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
People are consistently amazed that I do 2000 one-arm pushups and 1000 regular pushups every day. However, it took many years to build to this. I began with 50 pushups in five sets of 10 the mid 1990s. Over the years I’ve slowly improved and that is how I am reached the quantity I’ve reached today. Similar advice could be given for switching to a vegan diet. While I would like to see people quickly adopt a vegan diet, I understand that a slower transition is probably more sustainable rather than radically altering one’s diet in a very short period of time.

 

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