From the typical “bro jock” who always had a passion for the environment, Zack Belknap connected the dots about the hypocrisy of what he ate and being an environmentalist when he watched the movies Dominion and Cowspiracy.
Growing up, Zack was a hunter and fisherman. Yet, it never sat right with him. He found he had to shut down in order to do hunt and fish.
“When I was very young, my dad and I were hunting. On one trip, my dad skinned a squirrel for us to eat. It hit me hard. I just knew something wasn’t right,” Zack says with a strong hint of deep-seated pain.
The Vegan Challenge
Having been into sports most of his life, Zack began lifting weights in high school. Referring to himself as a casual, lay back lifter, Zack had no intention of going pro. Nor did he have any intention of going vegan until he met a hardcore bodybuilder after he moved to Oregon.
Becoming fast friends and workout partners, his friend continuously encouraged him to give up animal products. Fearful of losing his gains, he resisted going vegan until he got honest about the fact his friend was bigger than him.
With enough encouragement, Zack accepted the challenge several years ago. He’s never looked back.
“My friend encouraged me to watch the documentaries Dominion and Cowspiracy. That was the final push to making the switch to becoming vegan. How could I continue calling myself an environmentalist when I learned of the impact of the factory farming industry? I could not keep supporting the industry. That’s when my journey of veganism started,” Zack reveals.
Bodybuilding continued to be a casual sport to him, still with no intention of going pro. That is until he started training on both sides of the metal at Genuine Fitness. Located on West 6th Avenue in Eugene, Oregon, Zack became fast friends with owner and professional bodybuilder, Aaron Orton.
With a keen eye for raw talent, Aaron encouraged Zack to compete. It was Aaron’s passion for the sport, encouragement, and willingness to go the distance with Zack that got him to commit 100% to a competition.
Vegan for two years by this point, Zack was determined to see what a plant-based diet could do for his own muscle gains. Obviously, it worked.
Winning his first competition, Zack won several other competitions within a short period of time. He was hooked.
In that his body fat is relatively low due to being plant-based, the dieting down for a competition, although tough, has never been unmanageable.
“When it comes time to start dieting for a show, I just reduce the carbs a With Aaron as my coach, he works with me on macro-nutrients. It’s pretty much a simple reduction in carbohydrates. And I just repeat, repeat, repeat all the way through.”
Voice for the Voiceless
With more and more people curious about his eating protocol and his success as an athlete, it became apparent that Zack could be a voice for the voiceless by using his bodybuilding platform as a vehicle for his advocacy work for the animals.
The longer he goes without meat, the more compassion he feels for animals.
“Going vegan has opened a part of my heart that I didn’t know existed. That’s when I really made the connection. I “feel” the animals.”
Fitness Trainer by Profession
Zack Belknap is a pro-card holding bodybuilder and NASM certified personal trainer who is a favorite among his clients.
Bringing a tough as nails philosophy from his competitive weight training and the compassion of an animal advocate to the experience, Zack’s clients know he doesn’t mess around.
He’s serious about his commitment to their health and helping them achieve the gains they want. Whether it’s training for a competition, or simply getting in shape, they know Zack will go the distance with them.
Yet, he never imposes veganism on his clients. But if they ask, he’s more than willing to answer any question they have about what it means to be a vegan athlete.
COVID-19 and Health
With the current COVID-19 situation, Zack sees this as a great opportunity to help people prioritize their health goals. Now more than ever, Zack sees this as an opportunity to educate people on the connection of what they eat and their risk factors.
Inflammation is the Culprit
One of Zack’s greatest passions is helping people incorporate a healthy eating protocol and enjoyable exercise routine. Yet, people often find it difficult to start, and stick to, an exercise routine due to inflammation.
With a change in their eating to a more plant-based diet, inflammation is reduced. By changing their eating, they minimize inflammation, which increases the chances they’ll stick with an exercise protocol.
“The greatest benefit of a whole food, plant-based diet, is that it dramatically reduces all your inflammation. The science supports this fact.”
Healthy Eating First
Encouraging people to put healthy eating at the forefront of what they do, Zack encourages others to participate in some form of exercise they’ll enjoy. Whether it be running, biking, rock climbing, weight training or any other form of movement, it must be something they’ll stick with.
Obviously, his passion resides in the gym. Yet, when not pumping iron, training clients, or preparing for his next competition, Zack can be found among the animals.
For this pro bodybuilder, veganism is the right answer for health, the environment, and the animals. There’s no two ways about it.
Pandemics Give Rise to Awareness
Not missing an opportunity to raise awareness about the rise in disease, Zack is quick to point out that most pandemics can be traced to the scale at which factory farming has escalated. The greatest fear Zack has with the current pandemic is that of people wanting to go back to the “way things were” when, it’s the way things were that got us where we’re at.
“Some people want it to be business as usual, even though business as usual was a disaster,” Zack points out.
A man who lives by example of what’s possible, Zack will be the first to admit you cannot force change on anyone. Rather than push his beliefs on people, Zack looks for opportunities to educate.
If he could change anything, it would be the subsidization of the meat industry and put the money into healthier food supply. He also sees a desperate need for the education system in schools to change.
One thing is for sure, Zack Belknap is a force to be reckoned with. His powerful combination of extreme health, compassion for animals and a love of the environment is a combination he hopes will influence others to at least give plant-based eating and the lifestyle a try.
Your health, the animals and the environment will benefit greatly when you do.