Vegan athlete: Henry Shi

I'm psyched to introduce you to an inspiring vegan – BJJ fighter Henry Shi! In the very traditional world of martial arts, Henry is one of a growing number of vegan fighters who challenge the myth that you need to eat animals to perform at a high level.

Hi Henry! Can you tell us about how you got started with veganism? #

I began my journey into veganism slowly but surely when I started doing martial arts back in 2008. Because I've always trained hard I wanted to eat optimally to have the best recovery possible and so I experimented back and forth.

My diet has almost always been dominated by fruit and vegetables – probably 95% plant based since 3-4 years back at least. The more I learned and researched, it became apparent that 100% plant based/vegan diet would turn out to be the right choice and so April 2017 I made the full switch to veganism.

It hasn't been very difficult for me. It's simply the lifestyle I've chosen and I've always prioritized my diet for my body to feel good and give myself the best possible recovery.

Today I feel such a big difference. I've got so much energy, my body feels light, and I recovery very fast. Even with 2-4 training sessions per day, plus my job.

What are some of your favorite vegan recipes and meals? #

I love curries and tomato sauces of different kinds. Because I'm still young in my plant based cooking journey I'm constantly exploring new recipes to try.

My diet revolves around plant based whole food, with a focus on health. So minimally refined sugar, bad fats, fried stuff, etc. I'm a healthy individual who always looks for the freshest produce and the best ways to preserve their nutrients.

Henry practicing side control

Health is obviously a huge drive for you but how do you view other benefits of veganism, like animal rights and the environment? #

Yes, health is definitely my biggest drive and what I base all my dietary choices on – what is beneficial for my body and what makes me feel good. I'm constantly seeking to extract as much as possible from my training and recover quickly. It's an ongoing experiment and I'm trying to experiment with new ingredients and products to add to my diet all the time

Animal rights and the environment have definitely become two concerns that I've learned more and more about, because it's all connected.

It absolutely awful what goes on in the world with the mass production of meat, diary, fur, animal testing, etc. It's not something I can support and I do my best to avoid it as much as possible, by not buying from companies that perform animal tests, I don't buy clothes of animal origin, and of course I don't eat animal derived food.

The environment is also a big topic, where livestock and breeding contributes more to the global warming than any other activity, which is crazy. There's a lot to do and hopefully more people can start pulling their weight for the world we live in. We only have one.

On top of your food, do you supplement? #

I use vitamin D3 more or less year around, either in liquid or tablet form. Also vitamin B12.

These nutrients are also plentiful in the food I eat – plant based milk enriched with B12, for example.

Aside from those vitamins I also supplement with hemp, pea, oat, and rice protein in powder, after hard training sessions. Sometimes I use pre-workout and BCAA powder to help with recovery and energy.

Ultimately I always try to base as much as possible of my nutrient intake on food and drink from naturally occurring ingredients.

How did you first get in contact with BJJ? #

I've always been active with sports and physical activities. Always liked to move and get around in different forms.

In my younger days I used to play a lot of tennis, volleyball, and table tennis. Football was my biggest passion.

Henry number one

Towards gymnasium I got tired of sports and so I took a break for a year or two. During this time, back in 2008, I saw a UFC fight on the TV during a vacation in the US. Specifically I remember Anderson Silva and the way he so elegantly beat his opponents. I just had to try that sport once I got home!

So I practiced MMA between 2008 and 2013. Had some amateur fights but never went pro, because of constant injuries which hurt my motivation. Then my studies took over and I took another pause for about a year before I found "The Gentle Art" – Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which I've now practiced since January 2014.

I haven't looked back since finding BJJ and today I'm an actively competitive BJJ athlete, with a purple belt under 3rd degree black belt Waldo Zapata at SPR Athlete Factory (Viva Zapata Jiu-Jitsu).

I even work at my gym and so I'm living the BJJ lifestyle to the fullest.

What's your own training like on an average week? #

I train 2-4 times per day, 5-7 days per week, so that's between 15 and 20 sessions per week. For recovery I try to keep at least 1-2 whole days per week for rest.

My training is dominated by pure BJJ or no-gi practice men can also include instructing others in BJJ or no-gi too. I also do conditioning and some PT every now and then.

I spend more time at the gym than at home, easily, hehe. :)

Henry at the S.P.R. gym

How's it like being a vegan in the martial arts and BJJ world? #

It's my experience that martial artist, BJJ practitioner, and athletes in general have begun leaning more and more towards vegetarian and vegan diets and options.

The majority is still typical meat eater who keeps believing that protein is exclusively found in animal sources.

It's a long way to go yet but today it's so easy and it just requires a little discipline and curiosity to explore the wonderful world of plant based options. You quickly realize that it's cheaper, easier to prepare and cook, and can be at least as delicious.

What would you tell a new vegan athlete? #

Experiment and see how your body reacts. Then you can slowly but surely modify and adjust your diet to fit your own needs.

I believe everyone need their own time to adapt to a new lifestyle and diet and it's no race. We all have our own pace. As long as you feel good, switch things here and there for more healthy options, and work your way towards a 100% plant based or vegan diet.

Same thing with training – if you're new to BJJ, try 2-4 times per week. Your body needs to get used to new movement, muscle needs to strengthen and adapt, and then over time you can increase the volume of training.

Train smart, with no ego or prestige, and you'll be able to train every day if you wanted to, 1-2 sessions per day with no problem.

BJJ isn't just physical but has such big mental, strategic, and tactical aspects to it too. So you can train all aspects daily, really, and then complement with yoga, strength and conditioning, and mobility training help you in your transition.

Where can one find you to learn more about your fighting and eating? #

One can find me online on Instagram or add me on Facebook. I've also got a personal page called Healthyhenry which one can check out and like! :)

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