Vegan Hong Kong bodybuilder Hin Chun Chui trains for five hours a day and is part of the Hong Kong bodybuilding team, and he's vegan.
In the Western elite sports scene, you won’t be hard pressed to find athletes who follow a vegan diet – tennis legend Venus Williams, British heavyweight boxer David Haye and American ultra-trail runner Scott Jurek, just to name a few.
But in Hong Kong, plant-powered athletes are rarities.
Bodybuilder Hin Chun Chui, 2016 champion of the Hong Kong Body Building Tournament Youth Group, is among that small group.
This year he achieved second place at the 2017 YOT Bodybuilding Open Competition (a men’s sports model category).
The athlete, who trains around five hours daily, stopped eating meat and animal by-products three years ago after having a nightmare about chickens and learning about inhumane animal farming practices.
With a friend, the 21-year-old launched Revol Vegan Fitness in Cheung Sha Wan this year to help others learn about the vegan diet and fitness.
This meat-free convert admits it’s a struggle to highlight plant-based diets in a city where most people prefer carnivorous lifestyles.
Many locals find it hard to fathom he is a herbivorous bodybuilder and accuse him of being a steroid user.
It’s an uphill battle for this athlete in the bodybuilding scene, too, where many of his carnivorous peers prefer champions who promote whey protein or other sponsors’ non-vegan-friendly products to make a living.
“People say I’m fighting in bodybuilding games but I say I’m also fighting the system,” he says. In the early days of his career, this bodybuilder hid his vegan life to compete at events, but now, being part of Hong Kong’s bodybuilding team, life has become much easier.
Are there many Hong Kong vegan professional athletes?
I can’t find them.
How do people respond when they learn you’re a completely plant-powered bodybuilder?
(They can’t believe it) because they’ve never seen anyone like me before.
They usually say I must sneak meat in my diet sometimes but I always say I don’t need meat any more because there are lots of protein-packed plant-based foods available.
You also see the difference between (carnivorous) bodybuilders versus the vegan kind.
The former always have a lot of fat in their body – they tend to lose their six-pack during the off-season.
(Whereas) I can always maintain my low-body-fat muscular build during competitions and off seasons.
What is your body fat?
It’s about 8 per cent body fat but if I go to competitions I get it down to 3 per cent or 2 per cent. Meat-eating bodybuilders usually have around 10 per cent to 30 per cent body fat during their off season.
I often get accused of taking steroids but, as part of the Hong Kong bodybuilding team, I regularly get tested for doping, so I tell them it’s impossible for me to take such drugs.
Why is talking about “vegan power” important to you?
In Hong Kong and other countries, there are a lot of food choices. We don’t need to eat meat to survive. In ancient times humans had to hunt for food but we don’t need to do that now. Every time you eat meat, animals have to die. Why do you need to kill animals so humans can eat? It’s something you want but it is not what you need.
Bodybuilders need more protein than average folks – where do you get your protein from?
I eat lots of boiled rice, legumes (particularly split peas) and quinoa. I drink around 300 grams of quinoa in a shake daily, which contains about 16 grams of protein.
What is the biggest change you’ve noticed since going vegan?
Since going vegan I’m much calmer, I’m not as angry as often … I don’t know why this is the case. My body fat is lower now. Before, when I ate meat, I looked fatter, even though I trained hard. Now as a vegan, my body fat has lowered and I don’t work out more than I did before. I don’t even do cardio any more.
What do you tell people who say going vegan as an athlete is unhealthy?
It’s not true. They say if you become vegan you will [not eat enough food containing] iron, but iron is available in lots of seeds and other plant sources like quinoa, which I eat plenty of.
I feel good … I can develop muscle mass through my vegan diet, it’s proof [these misconceptions] are not true.
You haven’t mentioned soya much. Do you have soya in your diet?
I think a lot of soy (available in Hong Kong) is derived through the genetically modified organism (GMO) process.
Maybe soy is a good protein food but … I don’t usually eat it.
In my early days of going meat-free, I tried it and ate a lot of soya and tofu every day, but for some reason I lost some muscle [mass].
I don’t know why.
Since I cut soy out and eat a mixed diet, that includes rice, quinoa and nuts, my muscles have developed again.
Are there many vegan bodybuilders in Asia?
In Australia, Germany or England there are already a lot of vegan bodybuilders, so they are used to people like me. But the most shocked reactions I’ve experienced are encounters from Chinese bodybuilders. They are extremely shocked when they see a Chinese [vegan] person like me doing bodybuilding.
What’s your favourite post-workout food?
I eat around [a pint] full of mixed nuts, as they are high in carbohydrates and fat. When you’re vegan, your body fat continues to decline. To stop this, I eat lots of nuts or carbohydrate foods.
Hin Chun Chui's eating plan
A plant-powered protein shake consisting of 150g of boiled quinoa (8g protein) blended into a drink, sometimes flavoured with sugar or a banana (1.3g protein)
Plus: 150g of cooked split peas (12g protein) and 100g of cooked brown rice (7.5g protein)
150g of quinoa (8g protein) blended into a drink; a bowl of around 100g of mixed nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts and peanuts) (16g protein)
Plus: 100g of pumpkin seeds (19g protein)
50g of chia seeds (8.5g protein) with 100g of mixed rice (a combination of cooked red, brown and white rice) (3g protein)
Plus: 50g of boiled quinoa (3g protein) blended into a drink
Five to 10 slices of wheat bread (18g-36g protein) with 50g to 100g of oats (8.5g-17g protein), plus one to five generous spoonfuls of tahini (a sesame seed paste) (2.6g-13g protein)
He also eats a 300g portion of fruit and vegetables daily, consisting of either corn, yellow peppers, potatoes and bananas, or yams, purple cabbage and blueberries. – South China Morning Post/Nan-Hie In