Name: Avi R. Lehyani
Weight: 200 Lbs (91Kg) .Compete weight: 193 (88Kg)
Current Residence: Israel
Why did you become vegan?
Reasons were ethical, health and responsability towards the environment in that order. I Tried to become vegetarian already at age 13 but pressure from family and even family doctor did their thing and I reverted to meat eating shortly thereafter. At age 20, my then girlfriend, herself a semi-vegetarian, convinced me to do the right thing. I kept consuming eggs and dairy until a few years later (I then lived in VA), when after conversing with one of the PETA founders, I understood that was no need for dairy to keep strong bones, as I thought at the time, a victim of the dairy industry propaganda. I never turned back.
I have since "given up" all processed foods including cane sugar and I bake my own bread so at least I know what is in it for sure. I have to add that my family background drove me to behave ethically from early age. In fact my father, himself an ordained rabbi and ritual slaughterer always did his best to educate his children about "God" and of course the creation, so we always appreciated the living things around us.
A couple of things I like to remember are that when I asked him once why he just "did" chicken, his reponse was that slaughtering cows was too painful for him. Also when on a visit to the processing plant where he mostly worked, I witnessed a very harrowing event; the processing line always being kept as fast as possible for obvious reasons, my father had to work hard to keep up. I then, saw him run to the plant manager and ask him to stop the line , he was frantic and had a hard time explaining the reason for his request. He had missed one of the chicken and the poor thing was now going to be scalded and defeathered alive. He was told that there was no way the process was to be interrupted for one lousy chicken, and that they just had to add the unlucky one to the non-kosher pile. He was so distraught, he broke down in tears, he couldn't stand the thought of such a painful death "even" for a chicken.
I believe that even though, my parents, at start, did not approve, they actually were the catalysts for those decisions. Today, they realize the validity of my choices and they themselves try to reduce their intake of animal products to a minimum.
When and why did you become interested in fitness?
This is interesting because originally, as a kid, I was very disconnected from any kind of sports. I was a short, chubby bookworm that was more interested in the etymology of words than the number of pushups I could perform. That changed the day, when at the age of 13, during a physical education session, I was to jump up in the air, swivel my body around and fall back softly on my feet and then roll forward on a matress. I was so scared of screwing up that on the landing part I forgot to straighten my feet and so I fell on my knees. Everybody laughed, including the coach. From that point on, I decided that NOONE would ever laugh at me for lack of fitness. I took up bicycling and judo and slowly improved my fitness and self confidence to where I also found the need to increase overall strength and physical size. In France, at that time (1975) lifting weights was still an obscure, misunderstood activity, as it was said to stunt growth, to be dangerous and nowhere near any little jewish boy should be found. I eventually located a small (very small indeed) gym where I learned the basics . Eventually at the age of 17, I started olympic weightlifting and that was when I finally fell in love with iron and the amazing feeling of being stronger than the average Joe. At age 19, I moved to Israel where I found it much harder to keep lifting for lack of infrastructure but I always tried to keep fit. I had to give up olympic weightlifting but I always managed to improvise and used everything from furniture to concrete blocks in order to keep up. Eventually (in1984) I moved to the US, and finding a proper training facility was no longer an issue. I am now back in Israel, doing the thing I dreamed about for a long time. I own a small gym where health and strength are the prime movers, muscle size come as a side effect of that. Of course being a vegan and still remaining the strongest guy around makes people incredulous, so I don't usually go around trumpeting those facts. I have managed to slowly induce doubts into my members' mind concerning their unrelenting belief in "meat for muscle" dogma. I hope to make my mark eventually as I participate in national powerlifting meets. I am the masters contender for BenchPress and Deadlift for the 90k category. I am planning to improve my performance enough to beat the above 90Kg current champion . We shall see.....
Current #'s. ("Raw")
Bench Press: 172.5Kg (380 Lbs) Note: I lifted as much as 430Lbs before a shoulder injury in 1998.
Squat: 192Kg (422 Lbs)
Dead lift: 240Kg (528 Lbs)
Rack lift:(below knee) 380Kg (836 Lbs)
How would you describe your nutrition program?
I am not a person inclined to culinary quests, I keep my diet to the most simple ingredients. My staple foods are whole wheat bread, brown rice, oats, and beans. I consume very little soy as I find it very hard to cook and the whole phytosterol controversy makes it suspect for the moment. I do not consume oils per se but I will always include fat containing foods like tahini, olives, avocado, nuts etc. I don't concern myself with calories except making sure I eat enough for the day. Vegetables are a must and always in quantity but I don't really look for the much more expensive organic kind.
So in other words:
Atkins is probably turning in his grave right now :-)
How would you describe your training program?
I am not a bodybuilder so I concentrate on strength. I consider proper training, a workout that is going to utilize the body as a unit and not as unconnected muscles. So there is almost never the so-called isolation exercises like preacher curl. Yet a few times a year I will perform extreme cheat speed curls partially using legs and trapezius with as much as 100kg. So in other words, Squat, Deadlift, BenchPress, Standing military press and pullups (or pulldowns) are the "founding fathers". Of course I will add other significant exercises like barbell bent-over row, cable row, pull over, flyes, upright dumbell rows, heavy shrugs etc.. so I don't develop a lack of balance within the different muscles.One thing I am sure will get a lot of eyebrows raised is my being adamant about not doing any direct abdominal work. For most practical purposes, I consider it completely useless ; after all I am not trying to be an acrobat or beat the world record for sit-ups. Still squats and deadlifts will get the abdominal region in line with the rest .To those still unconvinced about my contentions I tell them to do some heavier pull-over work, that will stretch and exert their sixpack way beyond anything they can achieve on a matress or other abs contraption.
A usual weekly workout schedule will be as follows:
Day 1 Squats or Deadlift
Day 2 Rest
Day 3 Bench Press(Incline or flat) + Heavy flyes
Day 4 Back (cables and free weight)
Day 5 Rest
Day 6 Shoulders (Military press + Standing -dumbells or barbell- rows)
Day 7 Rest
I will sometimes add short workout sessions on "rest" days for Shrugs stiff legged or high-rep bench press sets, the type of things I can't include on regular workout days because of the high intensity workload.
What kind of supplements do you use if any, and why?
I tried creatine a few times and I can say it helped. Also, I tried a NOx formulation with no true effect except the permanent sensation of blood pumping through. I am not a supplement fan as I consider that if its not naturally in your food, then it's not meant to be ingested but of course I won't negate any possible aid that might help the athlete get to the next stage as long as the research proves its efficacy as well as its safety.
When asked by members what kind of supplement they should take, I just tell them to eat more. I think that for most people, especially newbies, the addition of protein powders of any kind is unnecessary. This said I realize that some will have difficulty to manage additional meals in an otherwise busy schedule and the easily prepared protein drinks can be effective.
What are some common misconceptions about veganism?
We all suffered the ignorant stares, comments or even taunting from the "real people" (from the "Beef ,real food for real people" campaign) and I am not going to expand on that.I will say though that, generally the most common question would be " But where in the hell do you get your protein from ??" To which I retort politely that protein although important is way overrated, especially by newcomers. I do say to them, also, that the energy that makes the muscle contract and push the weight comes mainly from carbs or fats not protein.I finally add that lentils have 26% protein, beans have 22% even the lowly bread is up to 12% protein, so how much do you really need?
I believe that vegans use proteins and other nutrients more effectively than meat eaters and that daily requirements for those should be elucidated in a scientific study using vegans and non-vegans as 2 distinct groups .
What do you think the most important aspect of fitness is?
Self confidence, increased strength, healthier life.
What do you like best about being vegan?
Having become a vegan in a fairly early stage in my life has given me more of an impetus to educate first myself of the positive consequences of such a decision but also become an effective advocate so others might realize the full ramifications of their daily food choices.
What do you like best about being fit?
Always forgeting that I am approching fifty.
What are your strengths as an athlete?
Challenging myself, always.
What advice do you have for vegan athletes who are just starting out?
Ignore the sceptics comments.
Eat more .
Find a workout partner
Always strive for improved performance (Rep and weight).
What advice do you have for people who are thinking of becoming vegan?
Learn proper nutrition- your local supermarket is geared toward meat-eaters and it can be daunting task to figure out a vegan balanced diet.
Learn the effect of animal products/foods on your body, on your soul and on the environment as these three aspects of your choice' repercusssions will mutually reenforce each other so you will have a better chance of staying the course.
What motivates you to continue to be a successful vegan athlete?
Results in health, performance and peace of mind.
How has the website www.veganbodybuilding.com helped or inspired you?
I once thougth that I was the only vegan weight lifter. It helped me learn that others went through the same difficulties, uncertainties but eventually also the same satisfactions as I did.