Weightlifters Add Beef to Muscles Without Eating It
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August 2006

Vegan bodybuilding might seem an oxymoron, but in Portland it attracts a (pretty small) crowd.   In front of the mirror, Alexander Dargatz flexed biceps the size of Cornish game hens and abs rippled like a rack of ribs.

He's a bodybuilder, works out four days a week and boasts the body fat of a gnat. But you won't find him at the training table getting his protein fix with a Double Whopper.

Dargatz is a vegan, visiting Portland for a gathering of like-minded weightlifters and other athletes that ends tonight. Theirs is a lonely calling, a subculture within a subculture, which might explain why only six of them showed up Monday for a workout at a nearly empty St. Johns gym.

Vegan bodybuilding, it seems, isn't quite ready for ESPN.

"These are world-class athletes," said Robert Cheeke, who lives in Portland and organized the seven-day gathering. "But we're in a sport that's not very popular. And we're a lifestyle that's not mainstream."

As the Ramones and Nirvana played overhead, Cheeke and Dargatz pumped and flexed, then paused at one point to remove their shirts for a posedown.

The conference started last week and has included a vegan cooking demonstration, a visit to an animal sanctuary and plenty of workouts. Some events, Cheeke said, have drawn more than two dozen people.

It's been so much fun that Cheeke, who owns a company called Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, wants to host a similar gathering every year in Portland, which is known worldwide as a vegan-friendly city.

That doesn't mean, however, that you'll find local gyms packed with vegans. People often tell Cheeke that vegan bodybuilding is an oxymoron. It certainly goes against everything that grandma and grandpa preached. But, apparently, you don't have to eat your meat and potatoes to grow up and be a strong man. Or woman.

Vegans, of course, live on plant-based diets. That means no prime rib, medium rare. No bratwurst smothered in onions and mustard. No corned beef Reubens dripping with Thousand Island.

Dargatz, though, doesn't miss meat. He's a 29-year-old physician from Germany and has been a vegan for more than six years. He doesn't need a T-bone to get his protein.

"Protein is everywhere," he said. "You can't eat a proper amount of food without getting enough protein."

Still, the bodybuilders who tossed around the iron weren't the stereotypical muscleheads. Dargatz is about 6-foot-1, 190. Fit, yes. Ripped, sure. Big? Not really.

Steve Harris lives in North Portland and finished his workout shortly before Cheeke and his friends began theirs. He's a big fella, 6-foot-1, 235. And he eats meat, mostly chicken and fish. But he won't argue with the vegans.

"I'm not going to throw dirt on what they do," he said, "if what they do works for them."

Stephen Beaven: 503-294-7663; [email protected]

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