Badass Vegan Athletes Part 4: Scott Shetler
Scott Shetler is the owner of Extreme Performance Training Systems and a personal trainer living in Atlanta, Georgia. He has a degree in Health and Physical Education, is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a certified Taijiquan instructor under Master Jesse Tsao of Tai Chi Healthways, a certified Westside Barbell Special Strengths Coach, and a World Kettlebell Club Kettlebell Lifting Coach.
Through his training center and online coaching program, he works with clients on their health and fitness programs and athletes from strength, combative, and Olympic sports on their strength and conditioning programs. Scott has competed in powerlifting and kettlebell sport and is currently studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Taijiquan. As an advocate for animal welfare and vegetarian for 10 years, vegan for the last 7, he fuels his training with a plant-based diet. To learn more about Scott, visit his website at www.eptsgym.com.
What are some ways in which your active, vegan lifestyle contribute to your quality of life? What does it do for you? How does it enhance your life?
I try to keep balance in my training. I used to compete in kettlebell sport and powerlifting, but still follow a very intense strength training and conditioning program. In addition I train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and am a student and teacher of Taijiquan and qigong. I practice meditation and try to spend as much time as possible with my feet on a skateboard, whether it is hitting the local skatepark or carving downhill on my longboard.
On top of my active lifestyle I own a sports performance and training center where I train motivated fitness enthusiasts and athletes from many different sports at all levels of competition. My business includes online coaching and consulting, writing and self publishing books as well as blog articles, social media content, video content, and podcasting.
At 45 years of age, between my busy workload and activity, I need to stay fueled with high quality nutrition. I have found that a healthy vegan diet delivers everything I need for health and performance. After switching to a vegan diet the biggest thing I noticed was my recovery from hard training sessions had improved dramatically. In fact, after following a healthy whole food plant based diet for only four months, I had reduced my bodyweight from 230 lbs to 178 lbs and at my annual physical, my doctor was completely blown away at how much my lab work had improved. It was the first time all my numbers were in the excellent range and while skeptical of my vegan diet, he had encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing.
Please share your best nutrition tips for vegans who are interested in healthy diets to support their active lifestyles.
I feel it is important to keep the emphasis on health. It is very easy to jump on the processed and junk food bandwagon since there are so many options for vegans nowadays. While I certainly think an occasional indulgence is fine (vegan donuts and chocolate chip cookies are usually my favorite), the bulk of a healthy vegan diet should be made up of fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.
Hydration is incredibly important as well. For people who are training hard, adequate protein intake is important but generally overrated. For the most part, provided an individual is eating an appropriate number of calories from a wide variety of whole plant foods, protein needs should be met easily. Many vegan athletes I know usually consume a protein and carbohydrate recovery drink around training to make sure their bases are covered.
There are a few supplements that should be considered. Vitamin B12 is important to supplement with, and I know many health professionals recommend supplementing with Vitamin D3 and a vegan EPA/DHA supplement as well.
As a plant-based athlete, what sorts of foods do you prepare or pack when you travel?
Honestly I don’t travel much, but when I do I always make sure to have water and some vegan protein bars or trail mix on hand as a backup in case I can’t find food. A simple combo of mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts are my personal favorites) and some dried fruit can really help in a pinch.
On the road I usually look for Mexican or Asian restaurants as it is very easy to load up on rice, beans and vegetables. It is getting easier to find vegan specialty restaurants, particularly in larger cities, and the Happy Cow app has been very helpful in that regard. When I get to where I am staying, I always look for vegan-friendly restaurants in the area and usually hit a grocery store to stock up on food to keep at my Airbnb or hotel. I know travelling and food will be a bigger concern with bodybuilders and physique athletes, but for me it requires little planning.
How do you think your life would have been different had you not decided to become vegan?
Honestly I don’t know how to respond to this. I have always been compassionate towards animals so becoming vegan was a very natural part of my personal growth. I definitely feel that my health would not be anywhere near as good as it is currently. While appearance is something I am not concerned with, I am often told that I look much younger than I am and I feel a lot of that has to do with the emphasis I’ve placed on eating a healthy diet and maintaining an active lifestyle.
Do you have any active living tips to share with vegans who are just beginning to exercise, or those who want to be more active?
If someone is just beginning an exercise program, building consistency is more important than intensity. It actually takes very little training to stimulate muscular development and improve cardiovascular function. I think people new to exercise may look at bodybuilders or competitive athletes for inspiration and become overwhelmed with everything they are doing to be competitive. For people looking to lose weight and improve their body composition, 2-3 strength training sessions and 3-4 cardiovascular training sessions per week would be plenty. That works out to be 5-7 days of low to moderately intense exercise per week and 30-60 minutes per session. This is more than enough for someone looking to improve health and fitness.
When it comes to losing body fat, nutrition is more important than training, as training is just a stimulus for muscle growth and fat loss. Making sure your caloric intake is appropriate for your activity level and goal is crucial. For those that fall into the general fitness category, nutrition should simply be focused on healthy whole foods. Aside from Vitamin B12 and the supplements mentioned earlier, there is no need to worry about consuming anything other than healthy whole plant foods and staying properly hydrated.
What has been the greatest diet- or nutrition-related challenge for you as a plant-based athlete?
The biggest challenge has been getting enough calories through healthy foods. The downside to eating a whole food plant based diet is that it can be calorically sparse, particularly if you don’t have a huge appetite like I do. I tend to drink a lot of green smoothies and eat pretty high fiber foods so I get full easily. On days where I am training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu plus heavy weightlifting and conditioning, I can feel pretty wiped out and it can be tough to keep my body weight stable, let alone try to put weight on. This is why I don’t sweat it when I eat the occasional donut or cookies! Getting more fat in my diet through nuts, nut butters, and avocado has helped push my calories up as well.
How do you promote muscle recovery?
There are a few things I do to enhance recovery. One is nutrition. I eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. I think berries and greens are very important in particular. I use a protein and carbohydrate drink around training that consists of 1 gram of protein to about 2-4 grams of carbohydrates. I drink a little before training and the rest immediately after and I do feel this helps facilitate recovery from training.
I average around 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight and pretty much eat whatever I want, whenever I want with about 85-90% of my diet being healthy whole foods. I have been experimenting with time restricted eating and have found that I feel really good when I stop eating about 3 hours prior to going to bed and wait a minimum of 1 hour after waking to begin eating. I also find that I feel much better eating the bulk of my calories mid-morning to early afternoon.
Hydration is essential for recovery as well, and I drink plenty of water throughout the day. I am not a big supplement guy and try to focus on whole foods, but I find creatine to be beneficial for recovery. I also take a supplement that provides a daily dose of B12, D3 and EPA/DHA. I use quite a bit of turmeric daily, a minimum of ¼-½ teaspoon daily usually mixed into a smoothie or salad. I’ve also experimented with a systemic enzyme supplement called Restorazyme from Mike Mahler that I feel is very beneficial as well.
Outside of nutrition and supplements I strive to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night and a 20-minute power nap most afternoons. I have a joint mobility and flexibility exercise series I do daily, and practice qigong and Taijiquan 4-5 times a week which, along with low intensity aerobic activity (heart rate 130-150bpm) serve as great active recovery modalities.
On occasion I use various types of salt baths, contrast showers, ice, massage, and other therapeutic modalities as well. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that monitoring the intensity of my training is important for recovery. I use a heart rate variability (HRV) recovery app called Morpheus to help monitor my daily physical readiness and can adjust my training as needed.
What are some athletic achievements you’d like to highlight?
Most things I’ve done have not been at a high level so I hesitate to call them “athletic”. Like in powerlifting, while I have set state and national records in a couple different federations there are something like 27 sanctioned powerlifting federations, so unless the record that lifters claim are on the all-time lists, I take them with a grain of salt. I mean literally every lifter on Instagram is a powerlifting record holder, it’s absolutely absurd.
That being said, some of my favorite personal achievements were in kettlebell sport. Placing 3rd at the first ever kettlebell sport competition at the Arnold Sports Festival in 2009 was a big accomplishment. I had always wanted to compete at the Arnold and to be part of the first ever kettlebell sport event which had over 110 lifters was awesome. In addition, I got to play a small part in the growth of kettlebell sport in the US. I started the first organized kettlebell sport organization in the state of Georgia and hosted meets for a decade from 2004 to 2014 before passing the reins to a friend and colleague. Winning the 2013 and 2014 Florida State Kettlebell Sport Championships in the long cycle event, both my weight class and best lifter overall, were pretty big accomplishments as well.
Outside of that, staying competitive in powerlifting from 2004-2008 then making a comeback in 2014 and 2015 to compete with Team Plantbuilt on their powerlifting squad was awesome. My focus now is on health and longevity and exploring my martial arts training and practice at a deeper level. As a coach, my focus is on my athletes and their competitive careers. I find helping others succeed to be incredibly rewarding and in many ways more fulfilling than my own competitive endeavors were.
Scott on the No-B.S. Vegan podcast
Scott joined me on episode 030 of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast to discuss veganism in strength sports, working with elite athletes, and writing books to benefit animal welfare organizations.
The Badass Vegan Athlete Series
Sprouted Gains: Your guide to gaining muscle, losing fat, and fuelling your strength training on a plant-based diet.
Karina's ebook, Sprouted Gains, shows you how to enjoy delicious plant-based foods while making sure you nail your fitness and physique goals.
The best part? You don't have to cut carbs, chug 3 protein shakes a day, forgo your favourite foods, or spend 5 hours meal prepping every Sunday.