Every once in a while I come across an incredibly interesting athlete or plant-based nutrition advocate that I feel not enough people know about and highlight them here on The Plant Eater. This is one of those special posts.
Some of you may know that my entry into the plant-based world was through Dr. Fuhrman’s Nutritarian approach, and while I don’t follow it 100% of the time, his principles really resonate with me. However, I’ve never seen a truly nutritarian athlete before – someone who takes Dr. Fuhrman’s concepts and applies them to performance and physique…until now. Everyone, please meet Ivan Blazquez.
Ivan is a drug-free champion pro bodybuilder, pro physique athlete, personal trainer, triathlete, ambassador/athlete and writes nationally for Onfitness and Vegan Health and Fitness magazines. Ivan goes against popular bodybuilding tradition by ignoring the still prevalent practices of steroid/drug usage, bulking up, low carb diets, etc. Ivan’s approach is unique in that it is 100% health-focused. He also has a growing social media following on his YouTube channel that includes videos on plant-based recipes, motivational workouts, competitions, v-logs, etc. Ivan has been a vegan since the summer of 2013. Academically, he holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of New Orleans and has had several research papers published in academic journals (see below). Since 2005, Ivan has competed in over 40 bodybuilding shows and since 2010, over 30 triathlon races.
I asked Ivan some questions I thought fellow Plant Eaters would want to know, and he graciously took the time to answer them in depth – dig in and enjoy!
How long have you been in the bodybuilding and fitness world?
In the fitness world since birth. In bodybuilding competition since 2005, but I began lifting weights at 13.
Has fitness always been a major part of your life?
Yes. I feel it’s in my DNA. I simply always gravitated toward fitness for the competition, adventure, to find out what I’m made of or what I got and also I always felt good afterward. Fitness is a great natural confidence booster.
How long have you been eating plant-based?
Most of my life, but I didn’t go all in as a vegan until the summer of 2013.
What made you originally decide to eat that way?
I wanted to take my muscle definition and leanness to another level. I saw a natural bodybuilder from Australia who embodied the approach I was always after and hoping to prove; which is one could be just as shredded while being healthy as those who get very shredded the unhealthy way. And this guy had the most shredded striated glutes I’ve ever seen. Striated glutes are like the ultimate standard of leanness for many reasons. But this is not always the case, as there are always exceptions to the rule. But that said, this guy was 80% vegan and was using a spiralizer, juicer and eating a ton of raw greens daily. So for me, this sold me and proved to me that it can be done being plant based and in fact, can be done better! So I bought myself a spiralizer and then next came a juicer. I noticed a dramatic difference in my leanness but also my overall health and vitality. Then it just came natural for me to become vegan. I simply got grossed out or turned off by yogurt and cheese, which were the last animal products to go. I thought of cheese as some mildew rotting dairy by-product that we deceptively find tasteful through acquired taste and what others want us to believe is tasteful via social influence. Personally I struggled with digestive issues for a while and through trial and error I found that yogurt was actually a contributor to these issues, despite all the “hype” about the probiotics in yogurt. I found that this “hype” is just that to sell and make money. We can find probiotics in coconut yogurt, which is much better for us and coconut has been naturally shown to be soothing to the gut and digestive system. Plus dairy yogurt like greek yogurt always had this lactic acid or battery acid taste to me. Again, I never liked the original taste of yogurt but ate it because society said we should. But I’m of the opinion that society is way behind in terms of what’s real and authentic nutrition that “makes sense” to our body biologically and in the most healthful and harmonious way. Vested interests and lobbyists unfortunately get in the way of true healthy nutrition and foods. Veganism is truly the healthiest diet on the planet and the naysayers will always cling onto the very few caveats like the vitamin B12, iron or other vitamin deficiencies that can occur with an improperly implemented vegan diet. But in today’s modern society, it’s virtually impossible to be deficient in anything as a vegan. We are living in unprecedented times where being a vegan is easier than ever and can also be healthier than ever. I’m not going to wait around for more research to come out to confirm what I already know regarding the health benefits of a vegan diet.
Most of the time you’ll see either fitness advocates speak about nutrition solely to achieve short term results, and then you’ll see plant-based doctors or nutritionists talking about nutrition purely from a longevity and disease-prevention standpoint. But it seems you’ve been able to blend the two. Can you explain briefly how the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive, i.e. why you don’t have to sacrifice long-term health to achieve aesthetic results?
Well you’ve certainly done a great job getting to know me and the stuff I’ve put out there 🙂 Absolutely, my goal is to prove and show one can get extremely lean the healthy way and that the body will do as you want if you take care of your body first. Feed the body the right fuel and it will be cool. Unfortunately in today’s bodybuilding and fitness scene, there are too many bro-scientists out there. I’m here to be an authentic authority figure in this industry and also to create a new space of showing and proving one can be incredibly lean and fit while being highly fit, strong and vibrant. To prove this, I remember at a show one bodybuilder, who wins a lot, commented to me and my friend saying, “I don’t know how you guys compete in this and triathlons at the same time.” “This [bodybuilding] is enough for me.” This was a huge compliment in the message I’m sending, which is that one can be very healthy, vibrant and not have to diet to get incredibly lean and muscular. And one of my biggest broscience pet-peeves is this macros hogwash. The IIFYM garbage that’s being spewed out to the public at large, only creates mass confusion and more questions rather than answers. People work full-time jobs, have families and other responsibilities, who in the hell wants to be spending their valuable time counting calories? This is why I came up with the saying “I don’t count my calories, I make my calories count.” When one eats nutritarian-vegan or nutritarian, there is no need to count calories. There are certain principles and concepts to be adhered to, but none are limiting or restrictive, they are simply laws of human physiological science. Achieving the level of leanness I’ve achieved was done with years of hard training, clean eating and continuing to learn, grow and evolve. My basis of being lean is cardiovascular-based, not weight-training based. Don’t get me wrong, I love lifting weights and know a ton about weight lifting physiology, but the heart of the matter is just that, the heart. And cardio trains the heart better than weight training. The heart is the most important muscle in the body. If that muscle stops working, we cease to exist. Now weight training does have modest heart health benefits, but it pales in comparison to the benefits of cardio. Particularly, high intensity interval training or simply high intensity cardio. But the combination of weights and cardio, now that’s the pinnacle of heart health. Which is why I do both and with Evan Posey we started the group Tribodybuilding, which stands for being a triathlete and bodybuilder at the same time. Me and my friend Evan Posey have flipped this oxymoron on its head and have proved it wrong. We show that you can build muscle while being a serious triathlete. In fact, I feel I’ve also gotten leaner and more shredded from being a triathlete. Essentially Tribodybuilding combines the two most extremes of weight training and cardio and puts them together. So what we get is a ridiculously lean and muscular human being with excellent cardiovascular function and metabolic muscle capacity. This concept goes way beyond just aesthetics; there’s some serious health benefits to be had by being a tribodybuilder.
To learn more about Tribodybuilding, find us on Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/groups/Tribodybuilding
There are a lot of different kinds of plant-based eaters and I get a lot of questions from those who favor a diet heavier on starches. What role does starch play in your diet?
It plays a minor role. Starch is completely overblown and over-rated. My main carb-dense sources are beans. My main starch carb sources are sweet potatoes, squashes, beets, carrots, oats and that’s about it. Regarding other grains, I occasionally eat black rice, quinoa and rarely brown rice. I think we underestimate the capacity of the human body and how it can run on substantially less calories than most people think they need. My main focus is on eating intelligently and eating in a way that is life-span friendly. In other words, ask yourself what an 90 year old person would eat and that will help us eat smarter. You see, as we get older, certain foods we ate when we were younger may cause digestive or body issues. This is why I say put yourself in a 90 year old person’s shoes, because at this age, eating smart is no longer just an option, it’s a necessity in order to age gracefully. So even though I don’t have celiac disease, which is a gluten digestive disorder, I still avoid gluten or minimize it. Why? Well, because it’s a hard protein for the body to digest. And even though I can digest it fine, this doesn’t mean the body is not having to work harder to digest it. So the point is, I eat the healthiest and least stressful foods to the body in order to truly take care of my body and it’s organs. I want to make life easier on my body and feed it the best possible food available. This is eating smart, which is what I’m all about.
I feel like the more people I speak to and the more clients I work with, I spend most of my time debunking nutritional myths. What are some of your favorite myths and what do you say to combat them?
Ha! I just mentioned one being IIFYM. Then there’s the myth about the health benefits of animal foods. Eating animals is simply a short-cut to eating real food. All beings need plant foods. To prove this, most animals eat plant foods, even carnivores. If a carnivore eats a herbivore, it’s simply consuming plants indirectly through the flesh of the herbivore. You see, plant foods provide the fundamental unadulterated building blocks of nutrition. Animal foods provide a “short-cut” to these building blocks through the food chain (e.g. Cow eats grass or grains; a person later eats a steak). So the point is animal foods don’t really have anything “extra” or better than plant nutrition. If anything, the few differences like heme iron and B12 that are processed within the animal, are poor excuses to justify animal foods as being essential or better than plant foods. It’s like saying the 2 things that animal foods have over plant foods is better than the 1,000 thing plant foods have over animal foods. It’s just an absurd stance or point of view to take and laughable to me and it’s incredible how these dinosaur nutrition talking points continue to be perpetuated by the animal-based food industries (dairy, meat companies).
Can you walk us through a typical day of eating?
I will save you time by showing you. I have 2 videos detailing this answer.
A Day of Eating with Vegan Pro Bodybuilder/Physique Ivan Blazquez : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6VuB0d4aJc
Another Day of Eating with Vegan Pro Bodybuilder/Physique Ivan Blazquez: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oH0hqIdhlw
What does your typical weekly workout routine look like?
It’s pretty set in that I train 6-7 days per week doing some cardio-based workout. I lift weights 2-3 times per week during competition time, but rest of year I continue doing cardio 6-7 days per week but start shifting toward more functional and prehabilitative training. I incorporate HIIT, ICT (integrated concurrent training), MIIT, triathlon training, yoga, core training, etc. I like to do it all just about. I workout anywhere from 20-60 min per day, but during competition time, I workout from 40-90 min per day and a few times I’ll reach 120-150 min, but these are “special” fat-loss plateau buster workouts.
What are your favorite workouts?
The one’s that make me sweat.
What are your favorite meals?
The ones that are good for my health. I don’t really have many favorites because I like all the food I eat. But I’ll list some of my favorite meals I’ve had from places I’ve visited during traveling. I enjoy eating at vegan restaurants and have had the privilege and luxury to eat at some awesome places around the country. The following is a list of favorite foods from various vegan restaurants I’ve visited over the past few years:
Raw pizza & Lentil burger with purple potato chips with hummus dip from Livehara in Hollywood, FL.
Pacman salad with chickpea “tuna” salad and key lime avocado pie from Counter Culture in Austin, TX.
Peanut butter cookies and watercress salad with coconut yogurt dressing from Health Regency Spa in Hollywood, FL.
Yummy moss d-lite (Sea moss, kelp, warmed almond milk, dates with cinnamon served warm) and 14 Karot “carrot” gold salad from Balewa’s gourmet in Memphis, TN. (unfortunately this restaurant closed)
Raw tacos, chocolate lava cake and mango cobbler from Leafy Greens Cafe in St. Petersburg, FL.
Best truffles ever at Blissful Cafe in Orlando, FL.
What are some overlooked superfoods that people should be trying to include in their diets?
Raw garlic. My most popular YouTube video, which is at nearly 200,000 views, is a video on how to eat raw garlic and I demonstrate the easiest way to do it and it actually tastes very good!
Learn how to eat raw garlic here-> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceBbQcdhvVk
For people looking to achieve flat stomachs, aside from eating a healthy nutritarian diet, what kind of exercises should they do?
Interval training. Now instead of just saying high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is what many will say, I say interval training because this includes 3 forms of interval training: low-intensity interval training (LIIT), moderate-intensity interval training (MIIT) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). So now, we have life-span friendly exercise training. But for those who are willing and able, the key to achieving a flat stomach is simply adopting the fit and healthy lifestyle. This requires a healthy nutritarian diet but also, daily exercise training that challenges and changes you. The key to a flat stomach is creative cardio, not just cardio. You see, we all have the potential for greatness, but the key to unlocking this potential is something called motivation. I train my clients with creative cardio methods in which I keep their heart rate up and get them sweating the entire workout with many mixed and advanced methods of training. It’s all about progression and variety. Set a goal, improve on it, then once that gets old, set some new goals and improve on those. This incorporates variety, which feeds our motivation.
What are you most grateful for in your life?
I’m grateful for God and I’m grateful to have been born and be alive. We don’t live forever, so to be alive is something to be very grateful for. I’m grateful for my family, friends and clients. I’m grateful for everyone I’ve met and look forward to meeting some more amazing people in my life.
What are your biggest goals or plans moving forward?
I have many big goals and plans for sure. With work, I want to continue improving the quality of life of my clients and also to continue learning, growing and evolving in the field. I want to also continue to grow my social media presence and leave a positive mark in the lives of others with an authentic, educational but most importantly, relevant and practical delivery of health/fitness information, inspiration and motivation. There are many acclaimed so-called fitness gurus out there who take the “short-cut” route of looking at the short-term (vanity as their marketing tool) and not taking a look at the bigger picture of long-term health. My social media sites focus on improving health and fitness throughout the lifespan. I have a lifespan-friendly focus on health/fitness, nutrition and wellness. For example, instead of focusing on just 6-pack abs and the sacrifices made to get them, which can be mentally unhealthy for many, which can trigger and create many body image issues. For me, health comes first and if the aesthetics follow great, but if they don’t, who cares. Health is most important at the end of the day and more importantly, in life. But with my approach, aesthetics will naturally follow improved health, but the extent or degree of these aesthetic benefits will vary from person to person. So having an attitude of gratitude goes a long way and seeing the bigger picture puts things in there proper perspective. In fact, I made a video about this very topic- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J98aJXWanSk
I also have plans of continuing to grow my YouTube channel. The global reach of YouTube is truly surreal as I’ve seen people from all over the world comment on some of my videos. So obviously YouTube has been a great vehicle for exposure for me. I also have plans to grow a few projects that are under works right now. I’d like to eventually start my own website. I also would like to continue traveling and competing in physique competitions and triathlons. My goal is to win a pro physique show. I also have goals to improve my swim and bike times and also to continue improving my own physique development. I’d like to continue to improve my health as well and optimize it. I’d also like to eventually write a book at some point.
What can people do to support you or learn more from you?
Well first I appreciate anyone reading this and thank you for taking the time! To learn more simply follow me on my social media:
Twitter – https://twitter.com/clinicalvegan
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/Ivan25
If I had to choose one, I’d recommend subscribing to my YouTube channel, as I’m very active on it and have lots of video content. Regarding support, I accept donations and sponsorships through PayPal. Simply send any contributions to email@example.com If you have any questions regarding support, feel free to email me personally and I will respond and answer any questions you may have. Your contributions will be directly put into future video productions and other relevant expenses affiliated with my channel. Thank you in advance and remember, my channel is here to inspire and educate while offering cutting-edge advice and information that can only come with profound knowledge and experience in the health & fitness field.
Ivan’s Research Publications
Blazquez, IN, Warren, BL, O’Hanlon, AO & Silvestri, LR. (2013). An Adequate Interset Rest Period For Strength Recovery During A Common Isokinetic Test,
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(7), 1981-1987.
Oliver, GD, Stone, AJ, Wyman, JW & Blazquez, IN (2012). Muscle Activation of the Torso During the Modified Razor Curl Hamstring Exercise, International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1), 49-57.
Blazquez, IN, Warren, BL, O’Hanlon, AO & Silvestri, LR, (2009). An optimal interset rest period for strength recovery during a common isokinetic test, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(5),(Suppl. 535).
Warren, BL & Blazquez, IN, (2005). Strength recovery rest periods during isokinetic testing, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 37(5),(Suppl. 260).
Warren, BL & Blazquez, IN, (2004). Rest period for strength recovery during isokinetic testing, Proceedings: XXIInd International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports, International Society of Biomechanics in Sports, pp. 143-144.