Name: Prishen Sivanarain – “The Vegetarian Bodybuilder”
Height: 1,86 m
Off-season weight: 120 kgs
Contest weight: 110-115 kgs
Current city: Durban, South Africa
Occupation: Nutritional & Supplement Advisor and Online Transformation Coach
How and when did you get started in training and fitness?
I started my fitness journey at the age of 17. My biggest influence and guidance, at that time, came from my elder brother who had already been training for a few years. Like most people, we initially started by training at home before joining a gym.
We trained as partners for a few years. With fitness being my passion I studied Sport Science at University of KwaZulu Natal, and thereafter successfully completed a Diploma in Personal Nutrition.
How long have you been vegetarian for and what made you make the change?
Was it a difficult change to make initially?
Not at all! Since my decision to become a vegetarian was a personal one and I wasn’t forced into it, it wasn’t difficult at all. Usually if someone is forced into something like this they still crave selected foods. I literally had no craving or the urge to go back to eating meat since the day I left.
Seeing that I gave up meat willingly the transition was really simple. To top it off food preparation, at home, wasn’t even difficult because the rest of my family had also given up meat a few months prior to that. In fact my mum stopped eating meat more than 30 years ago.
We have to ask the question, so where do you get your protein from? Do you manage to get adequate amounts on a vegetarian diet for bodybuilding?
I’ve only been bodybuilding on a vegetarian diet so it’s safe to say it’s possible to consume adequate protein on a vegetarian diet. My protein comes from a combination of lentils, beans, soy, nuts, cottage cheese, quinoa, tofu and peanut butter. In addition to these foods I make use of protein shakes to ensure I get sufficient protein.
Do you have any advice for people making the switch to a more plant based diet?
Firstly you need to consider the reason behind switching to a plant based diet. If someone has to make the transition unwillingly (e.g. due to health reasons) the best approach would be to phase in plant based eating and not change your entire diet completely.
When people make too many changes at once then sustainability usually becomes an issue. Another important factor to take into consideration is that your macro and micro nutrients are consumed from a variety of food sources. The common mistake made by many individuals, when switching to plant based, is that they stick to a very selected few food sources which eventually lead to some sort of vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Since certain fruits and vegetables are rich in selected vitamins and minerals, while it may be deficient in others, it needs to be paired with other sources that complement each other.
What made you decide to compete? And how was the prep for your first competition?
I started my bodybuilding journey at 67 kg’s and gained more than 20 kg’s over the first few years. Seeing the transformation on myself kept me constantly focused on setting goals for myself with one of them being to step on stage at least once in my life – little did I know that it would only be the start of my bodybuilding career.
Even though I competed in many competitions, both provincially and nationally, my first competition has been my most memorable one.
Apart from it being the first competition that I participated in it was the first competition that I won!
The prep was both exciting and difficult for me, especially since it was the first time I went through the process. Thankfully I had an experienced coach guiding me through the entire process. He took care of structuring and adjusting my diet and training as needed based on how fast my physique changed. The difficult part at that point, was adapting to the training frequency and intensity.
Do you ever lack motivation on some days? How do you deal with this?
There are certain days where I may not feel like sticking to the plan, especially during prep, however the discipline that bodybuilding has taught me keeps me on track. Discipline by far, is one of the main qualities I’ve learnt from this sport.
Remember motivation is the little spark that gets you started however discipline is what ensures you do whatever needs to be done no matter how you feel. Watching videos and going through pictures of my previous competitions gives me motivation when I need it the most.
Even though I am being judged against other athletes, at competitions, I still view bodybuilding as me myself being my biggest competition. My goal at every competition is to beat my previous personal best. So by going through my past competition videos and pictures it constantly reminds me of how high I’ve set the bar for myself.
Who has been your biggest influence/support in your life and how did they affect you?
A lot of people, including myself, enjoy the aspect of bodybuilding whereby your results are completely based on the effort you put in and not the performance of someone else. Unlike a team sport where your performance could be optimal, the results are still based on the performance of your teammates.
With bodybuilding you rely on yourself to get every workout in as well as sticking to your meal plan even though you may not feel like. This may seem like bodybuilding is an individual sport however your support structure directly involves how much easier or harder the process could be.
My biggest support has come from my family. They’ve supported me from the very start of my journey. Apart from my family my biggest influence has come from my coach, Reza Moolla, whose been coaching me from my very first competition.
Everything from my diet to my training plan and posing is taken care of by him. Over the years we’ve experimented on how my body responded to different foods and training styles leading up to competitions. Something as little as changing your carbohydrate or protein source can change the way your physique looks. He actually understands my body better than I do. He’s definitely one of the most knowledgeable people that I’ve come across in the fitness industry. Besides him being my coach and mentor we’ve been training partners, business partners and basically as close as brothers.
All that I’ve achieved wouldn’t have been possible without him and my family.
Has it ever been difficult juggling other aspects of life with training and preparing for competitions? How do you manage it all?
When I decide to get ready for a competition everything else, in my life, revolves around getting ready for that competition. Over the years I’ve managed to master my mind in a way where I have the ability to switch it on or off as per my will.
So if I know my prep starts in three days time I’ll eat whatever I feel like for those few days and wake up on the third day knowing my prep has started and I have a structured plan to follow. During this time it’s usually difficult to go out socially because the prep demands a lot from you but I try to spend as much time as I can with my family.
When I start my prep nothing stops me from sticking to the plan. Even if a close family function coincides with my prep I plan and pack my meals knowing I need to eat at a certain time. There were also times that I’d sign up at a 24 hour gym, which used to be in my area, just for my competition prep because I wanted to train during times when the gym would be empty and I could focus on my training without any distractions. It would be common to find me there at 2 and 3 am getting my first session done.
The benefits of bodybuilding for me, have been far greater than just my physique transformation. I’ve gained qualities such as self-confidence, stronger will power, determination, discipline and self control which are qualities that are useful even out of gym.
What are your future plans??
I’ve just completed a specialized nutritional advisor course at the HFPA Fitness Academy which is actually one of the well recognized fitness academies. I plan on furthering my studies with them by completing other courses based on holistic development as I advocate general wellness and healthy living and not just bodybuilding to my clients. In terms of competing, I’ve given myself a break from the stage for the past 2 years to improve on certain aspects. If all goes as planned I may get back on stage next year.
What process do you follow when its time to start getting ready for a competition/photoshoot or to just lean down?
I try to keep my diet as clean as possible, by limiting the amount of junk food I eat, even in the off season. So from a dietary point of view I completely cut out junk food and swap over from high GI carbohydrates to low GI carbohydrates.
It is common for most athletes to highly restrict their carbohydrate intake during this time, however my body thrives on carbohydrates so I never get to a point where I need to drastically reduce or completely eliminate it from my diet. I go by what works for me.
The main change I make to my training schedule is incorporating two weight training sessions a day. I usually decrease rest periods during sets and add in other training techniques like supersets, tri-sets, drop sets, giant sets and increasing the time under tension.
Give us a brief description of your philosophy on your diet and what sorts of foods do you eat:
My diet varies based on whether it’s off season or in season. I always try to get in 5 meals a day. My training always remains intense so during the off season I have the freedom to keep my diet very flexible. During this time I am not too strict with the food quantities I eat however I make sure I eat enough to make sure I am in a calorie surplus with white bread and pasta being my preferred carbohydrate sources.
I’ve figured that my body responds to those the best during my growth phase. My protein sources remain the same throughout. When I start prepping my diet gets very strict. I weigh every meal to make sure I eat the required amounts.
My carbohydrate sources change to sweet potato and oats. During this time my diet doesn’t have much variety with me eating the same meal 5 times a day. I prefer it this way because I have fewer variables to deal with when the need arises to change up food quantities or timings to achieve a different look.
Do you use many supplements? What are the essentials in your opinion?
Your required daily protein intake is calculated using your body weight as well as the type of activity you engage in. With my daily intake being well over 200 grams it becomes difficult to reach my target with whole foods alone. This is where protein shakes become useful to me.
Supplements are meant to supplement your diet and not completely replace all the foods you should be eating. So it should be used in instances where your diet may be falling short.
My current supplement protocol is as follows:
- Morning: Multivitamin, 1000mgs vitamin C, 15ml flaxseed oil
- Pre workout supplement before training
- Intra-workout: A combination of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), l-glutamine, creatine and carbohydrates while training.
- Post-workout: High quality muscle gainer
I may add in additional protein shakes with meals if required. I am currently a sponsored athlete for Fully Dosed so they take care of my supplement needs.
Give us a brief description of your philosophy on your training schedule, how many times a week do you workout for and how long are your training sessions?
I’ve always been a fan of the split training system and it has always worked for me. Split training programs basically entail training body parts individually.
My current regimen is as follows (5 day split):
- Monday: Legs (Quads/Hamstrings/Calves)
- Tuesday: Chest & Abs
- Wednesday: Back & Calves
- Thursday: Shoulders & Abs
- Friday: Arms & Calves
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
My sessions usually last between 1,5 hrs – 2 hrs depending on the body part I train.
What are some of the common training mistakes you see guys making when trying to pick up size?
Most of the guys that find it difficult to gain size have to deal with a very fast metabolism. This basically means their bodies require a lot of energy just to maintain its basic chemical functions.
One of the biggest mistakes is they fail to consume enough food. You need to initially determine the amount of calories required to maintain your size and then constantly increase your calories as you keep gaining size.
If your daily calorie intake is always the same your weight will always stay constant. In addition to that, since all calories are not created the same the quality of food that you consume will determine if the size you gain is mainly muscle or body fat.
Another common mistake is failing to progressively overload the muscle. If you are constantly training the same way, using the same weights and keeping your training intensity the same your body adapts to this giving your muscle no stimulus for growth.
You can increase intensity by making the following changes:
- Increasing the weights you train with.
- Decreasing the rest periods between sets.
- Increasing overall workout volume (doing more sets and reps).
- Performing reps at a slower speed (eccentric loading).
What are your top tips for getting shredded?
Firstly ensure that you are in a calorie deficit while consuming sufficient protein. A common mistake people make is drastically reducing calories, especially protein, which will eventually lead to muscle wastage.
The goal is to maintain as much muscle as you can whilst dropping body fat. Try to get into the habit of having smaller meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism firing.
Do not sacrifice your weight training for more cardio. Your overall fat burning capabilities from weight training exceeds performing cardio only. Lastly look into using a good fat burning supplement that gives you energy to workout harder as well as assists in suppressing your appetite while controlling cravings.
What are your three favourite exercises and why?
What are some of your best arm exercises and training tips?
In order to create a proportionate arm you need to look at the anatomy of the arm. Your bicep has two heads while your triceps three, so your bicep should contribute to 40% of your arm and triceps 60%. Ensure that you train each of these muscles, including forearms, to avoid any muscle imbalance as it could lead to other injuries.
My favourite arm exercises are EZ bar curls, concentration curls, triceps extensions and machine dips.
Do you include much cardio into your training routines? And closer to competitions?
I do include light cardio a few times a week but mainly from the viewpoint of maintaining a healthy heart and not as a tool for fat burning. You actually burn more calories during weight training than cardio and for this reason I rely on weight training and dieting to get me ready for a competition.
Favorite Influential bodybuilders:
- Ronnie Coleman
- Roelly Winklaar
- Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay.
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it.” ~ Muhammad Ali
“The hands that serve are holier than the lips that prey.” ~ Sathya Sai Baba
Best piece of advice you ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received is to live an authentic life. I was told that to wish I was someone else is to waste the person that I am. I’ve learnt that living life on my own terms and in my own way has led to my ultimate joy and success.
What advice would you give to someone unsure, thinking about competing for the first time?
- Firstly consider your motive behind getting on stage. Your motive has to be far greater than just wanting to impress people for you to last long in this sport.
- Secondly it’s always an excellent idea to attend a competition to get an insight as to what goes on at these competitions as there are various different categories with different judging criteria.
- Lastly invest in a good coach to guide you through the process. While prepping you go through different phases, mentally and physically, and it definitely helps to have someone explaining to you what changes need to be made in order for you to peak at the right time.
Where can people get hold of you?
- Instagram: the_vegetarian_bodybuilder
- Email: prishsiv[at]yahoo.com