An interview with Joni; UK based Vegan Straight Edge athlete and Strongman, he also co-runs the online vegan community aimed at people in all levels of all sports at www.veganfitness.net
Hi JP so firstly how long have you been Vegan, how did you find out about Veganism?
Hi mate, been vegan for 18-20 years now. I wanted to go vegetarian but it was so rare in Finland back in those days. I knew one dude who was, and he turned out to be vegan, who gave me loads of crap for trying to be vegetarian.
He said, if I am interested in stopping animal abuse it would be more logical for me to stop daily and eggs rather than meat since they involve more cruelty. Couldn’t find any faults in his logic so went vegan after 3 weeks of being vegetarian.
We didn’t really have a word for vegan in Finland back then and the whole concept was unknown. There were perhaps a handful of vegans, couple from some weird raw food sects and then one or two animal rights motivated individuals. When we set up Finnish vegan society (www.vegaaniliitto.fi) there were only me and my mate Sami there who were vegan, rest were vegetarians who supported the idea.
Now less than two decades later Veganism is common in Finland, vegan society has almost 1000 members, Vegan food is served in schools, pre-schools, hospitals, and the word is widely known. The progress has been phenomenal - in many ways it has taken over UK.
Same with Straight Edge, I know you have been involved with Straight Edge a while, but how did you first hear about it and why did you choose to become Straight Edge?
I stopped drinking after realising I was on the way to following the footsteps of my father towards alcoholism. Straight edge came a bit later and was fantastic as a remote peer support because all my friends still drank, though some of them were supportive about my choice.
I was actually calling myself SXE while still eating meat. When interrailing around Europe I ran into these straight edgers from German band called Peace of Mind whose guitarist said you cant be straight edge if you eat meat and gave some solid arguments in clumsy English - it was the first time I was ever challenged about my meat eating in my life and I was shocked. A year later I was vegan - wish there was a way to say thanks to those guys since they played their small role in making me think! Just goes to show its worth it to raise the issue with people you run into.
Have Veganism and Straight Edge always been connected for you?
Yes, but only one direction. I don’t really see much of point in straight edge without Veganism, its not a big deal, such a personal issue with little wider implications no matter how much we would like to window dress it as a big political choice.
Does being Vegan and Straight Edge effect your Strongman training?
I only started strength training after being vegan already for over 10 years so I wouldn’t know any other way. It doesn’t hinder me - maybe sometimes things can be a bit more complex, but I can take that, its what vegans in all walks of life have to do as pioneers.
If anything, I try to use it as a tool for extra motivation, if I ever needed any, and to get angry when I need to lift some heavy stuff.
In strength sports results speak for themselves, and as long as I work hard and perform in competitions guys respect it, meat or no meat. Last year was ok for me, I won one competition and qualified to England’s Strongest Man finals in the under 105kg bodyweight category.
There was one vegetarian in the finals too - but vegetarians dont really help in destroying the myth of the relevance of animal protein since everyone assumes, and usually correctly, that they just eat more dairy and eggs.
This is where online communities like veganfitness.net come handy - I can be in touch with vegans in strength sport around the world and we can give peer support via the forum.
There has been cases where some strength trainers have stopped eating meat, one went vegan, few veggie, or have reduced meat consumption after hearing about the arguments. The stereotype of strongmen is that they are thick meat heads - maybe true to some extent but still regular people with empathy and willingness to not to cause harm!
Wow thats awesome that some other competitors have actually seen what your doing and changed their diets, do you find many competitors have been shocked to find out your vegan?
yeah some are shocked, but its widely known I am vegan. I am not exactly quiet about it :)
There Is definiately a myth about strongmen/weight lifters needing animal protein, I know there are a few vegan protein powders available, do you use anything like this when you are training?
Protein myth is irritating, and the reason why vegetarians don’t really help in trying to create a cultural change which would not rely on animal proteins.
I use maybe one protein shake a day after breakfast, I use some soya milk, pea protein powder, ground flax seeds and some berries to make a “tasty” smoothie.
I remember seeing you once when you training lots and you were showing me how much you eat at those times haha, so in an average day when you are training, what do you usually eat?
When training is intense I eat around 4000-4500 calories a day - a rough estimate since I don’t really pay too much attention. My diet has been analysed by couple students of diet and nutrition studies and everything came back good.
On a typical day i would start the day with a bowl of muesli, or toast, or 6-8 wheetabix or porridge, all with soya milk. I would then have the protein smoothie described above. When at work I have my elevensies which could be chocolate soya milk and bag of nuts, or a Builders protein bar. Lunch would consist of curry and rice, falafel and rice, pasta based dish or something similar. I would still eat some snacks before leaving work to the gym.
During training I usually neck some sports drinks, and have chocolate soya milk and a protein bar, nuts or some kind of easy to eat bar straight after. Dinner would always have some meaty stuff in it, be it Frys “chicken” bits, burgers, sausages and so on, or various different kinds of tofus (smoked tofus are my favourites) with veg, potatoes or rice. Might have an evening snack too if feeling it.
I don’t ever really get hungry and try to eat constantly enough. This is why the portion sizer are not huge.
Big thanks to JP for doing this be sure to check out Vegan Fitness it’s an awesome website!