Kendrick Farris is Team USA’s only male weightlifter at the Rio Olympics. With a combined personal best of 377kg in the snatch and the clean and jerk, the 29-year-old Louisiana native also holds the 94kg American record.
So when we reported that Farris follows a vegan diet, it was met with some surprise.
After all, a vegan diet is unusual enough among elite athletes—and that’s especially the case for weightlifters, who need lots of protein to stack on lean muscle and heft such huge weights. No way, said the comments on our initial story about Farris' diet. How can he do that?
So we asked him.
“When people think about particular diets, they often think about it in terms of what they can’t eat,” Farris says from Rio, where he’s preparing for the final competition in the 94kg lifting class. “People ask me, ‘Do you walk around and eat salads all day?’ I actually don’t even eat salads that often. But I like to think of it as having a lot of options. There are a lot of things you can eat.”
Instead of strict limitations, Farris follows a few simple rules: He eats when he’s hungry. He eats what makes his body feel good in training. And he aims for a broad range of vegan-friendly foods.
As he prepares for the finals—“I think it’ll go really well, and I feel really good,” he says—Farris spoke with Men’s Fitness about his go-to foods, what defines his “cheat day,” and how a vegan diet has him feeling stronger and lighter than ever.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.
Men’s Fitness: What inspired you to start eating vegan?
Kendrick Farris: I was doing some research and wanted to know more about my ancestry, and I traced it back to one of the tribes of Israel. Their diet was a kosher diet, but I wasn’t sure about the process of animal preparation. So I made up my mind to try a vegan diet. I let my wife know—she does all the cooking—and I made the switch from there.
When was that?
In 2014, before my son was born. He’s my second child, and for me it was a time of reflection—on the things I want to teach him, and the example I want to set for him. It was like a light bulb went off.
What did you eat before becoming vegan?
I ate whatever I wanted. I was obsessed with knowing how much protein I was getting. “How much protein is in this? How much is in that?” That was my mindset. A lot of burgers. I was not thinking according to the Biblical commandments I subscribe to now.
After you switched over, did you notice a change in how you felt?
Now, my body recovers a lot faster. I feel lighter. My mind is a lot more clear. I feel I can focus a lot better—not that I wasn’t a focused individual before, but now I feel like I’m totally locked in.
What are your go-to foods?
Black beans. I like to make a trail mix with almonds, cashews, and pistachios. I drink a lot of water with some lime mixed in. I eat a wide variety of fruit—grapefruit is one of my favorites, and I love blackberries and blueberries.
I love avocados. Those are my favorite. My wife makes avocado “quesadillas,” which I’m a fan of. And guacamole—I love guacamole.
She also makes a spinach lasagna that’s really good. If she makes a pan, I’ll eat the whole pan.
Any quinoa or lentils—those kinds of popular vegetarian protein options?
I actually don’t eat too much quinoa or lentils. But I’m not opposed to eating any type of food if we have it and it’s an option.
Any supplements? Plant-based protein, anything like that?
I do have some, but I don’t have any go-to supplements. I’ll use them here and there. But I like to see how my body feels. I’m excited to keep an eye out for new plant-based proteins.
How much food do you eat every day?
I don’t actually eat that much. Honestly, I just eat when I’m hungry. I don’t count calories. I don’t do any of that stuff.
Do you track your protein intake?
Not really. I’m not certain how much I get every day. It’s more important for my body to feel good. If I feel good, then I can do whatever workout I set out to do. So my job is to gauge how I feel.
You could say to yourself, “Well, I get X amount of protein.” But the real question is how you feel when you consume that, because training and recovery have to be at the top of the list. Sometimes we focus so much on training that we overlook the recovery, and that’s how you overtrain or, in some cases, undertrain. It’s about finding balance.
Do you have a set schedule for when you eat? Or is the timing by feel, too?
I think it’d be hard for me to stick to an eating schedule. I could make a schedule, but it would be hard. “Eat this at 2 p.m., eat that at 4 p.m.”—that’s not me.
I’m a snacker at heart. I can really snack away. So I don’t force big meals.
So you don’t go into each day with any set plan?
No, not really. My only real rule is to eat when I’m hungry. This morning, I drank some lime water—I drink a lot of that—but I hadn’t eaten even by 1 pm Rio time. Maybe I’ll eat in the next hour. Most likely, I’ll have some grilled vegetables, vegan bread, pasta, maybe see what they have in the salad bar.
I’ll eat anything I can get my hands on, as long as it’s vegan. For example: I’m a burger guy. So when I’m at home, I’ll make patties with mushrooms and rice patties. It comes down to flavor and texture, and what people are accustomed to. Honestly, if I grill up those, they have that familiar flavor and texture like beef patties. You can replace it, and it can taste amazing, and be better for your body—it’ll help with recovery, reduce stress and inflammation in the body.
We shouldn’t get so caught up with "protein, protein, protein." Because you can get an excess of protein, and most of it just gets passed through the body.
Do you vary your diet according to your training and competition cycles?
Oh yeah. My training weight is a few kilos above my competition weight. Training is a little bit of a “survival” mentality. It can really put you into the ground. Training can make you tired, and it can give you the feeling that you’re having negative days.
But with competition, I get a lot of rest days, so there’s no need for me to pile up the food. Number one, I don’t have the desire to eat that much, and number two, I don’t want to put too much weight on me.
Do you ever have cheat days? Vegan chocolate cake or anything like that?
I don’t like sweets too much. What’s sweet for me is really trail mix, fruit, stuff like that. To me, a cheat day is eating a lot of food. Eating that whole pan of lasagna? Oh man, that’s a cheat day for me. Maybe some cereal. I can put that down with some almond milk.