Noah Hannibal is a Chinese American powerlifter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia. We filmed this video of him in which he talks about his journey with vegan strength, shares some high protein recipes, and shows that you can be strong and compassionate at the same time. The recipes he discusses can be found on our site: (1) seitan steak and (2) gorilla strength protein shake.
Please share your vegan story and whether you encountered any challenges along the way.
I was lucky enough to have a vegetarian mother so have never eaten meat, even though the nurse in the maternity ward told my mother she thought having a vegetarian baby was child abuse (I think she also thought the name “Hannibal” was a form of child abuse). From about the age of 10 I tried going vegan many times, but it was a different world back then and most people didn’t even know what the word meant. It was hard enough being vegetarian, I was the only one in my school of about a thousand kids. Finally when I turned 15 years old I realised I was a hypocrite for continuing to eat animal products like milk and eggs that were responsible for just as much suffering as meat, so I finally went fully vegan.
What inspired you to become a powerlifter and how long have you been lifting competitively?
I started lifting weights around twenty years ago after meeting a massive bodybuilder who was mocking vegans as weaklings, saying that it was impossible to get strong without meat. I couldn’t let that pass so I challenged him to an arm wrestle, which was the source of much mockery at the time given that I was a fairly typical slender vegan. I was given three months to train and that started my strength journey. On the day of the arm wrestle everyone was laughing and said I had no hope, but to the surprise of everyone, myself included, I slammed his hand to the table and he had to eat his words that vegans can’t be strong. Since then I gradually got more serious about powerlifting and have won two Australian Bench Press Championships in the heavyweight category and represented Australia internationally, winning the Oceania Heavyweight Bench Press Championship.
What is the attitude towards veganism in powerlifting at the elite level? Is there a difference to it now compared to when you first started training?
It’s definitely changing. I can remember about a decade ago going out to dinner with some powerlifters after a competition, a waiter came to our table and said “who ordered the vegan burger?” Immediately someone said ‘which [homophobic term] ordered that?’. Times have thankfully changed, and that would never happen today. At the last powerlifting dinner I went to they went out of their way to make sure there were vegan options. I also think seeing vegans get monster strong and winning competitions has been very instrumental in changing attitudes.
What type of training do you do in preparation for a competition?
For bench training I tend to respond well to short 4-6 week programs heavy on volume and intensity, and fatigue! Smolov Jr is a well known brutal bench program that often does me well, and that has been known to destroy many. I feel like being vegan has huge benefits in terms of recovering from savage training sessions.
Do you have any training tips for top level lifting?
Make sure your basics are covered, get good sleep in terms of quality and quantity (something I struggle with), make sure you’re hydrated and your nutrition is dialled in. It’s critical to get enough protein to support muscle protein synthesis. To get enough protein you almost definitely need to include protein shakes in your diet (this goes for vegan and non vegan athletes). There is a very good article discussing the protein requirement of vegan athletes on the Vegan Easy Fitness website by accredited sports dietitian Leah Higl.
When preparing for a comp, do you follow a certain meal plan? Or do you eat what you normally eat day-to-day?
Usually when I’m preparing for a comp I’m trying to make weight, so I’m in a bit of a calorie deficit. I will focus on low carb, high protein foods (seitan is perfect for this), as well as several protein shakes a day (I love the combination of cacao, soy protein and raspberries, just like a chocolate milkshake, only bitter), oats with blueberries and my own patented protein milk (which is basically water, vanilla protein powder and half a banana in a blender), and tempeh salads with a lot of avocado, broccoli, spinach, kale, red cabbage, sauerkraut, etc.
What advice would you give to those who are vegan curious or new to veganism who would like to gain more strength or even compete as powerlifters?
It’s one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Almost nobody actually wants to cause unnecessary suffering to animals, and by going vegan you’ll be living in alignment with your values. You can be optimally strong as a vegan, it’s just a matter of training and eating intelligently. If people are interested in getting stronger or competing in powerlifting they are welcome to contact me via my instagram with any questions they have.
What’s next for Noah in terms of future lifting and goals
My current goal is to get the Australian Masters record for Bench Press. Actually, I would have gotten it easily in August this year at the National Championships, but because we are the most locked down city in the world, that has had to wait! I also want to do all I can to promote veganism as the rational and compassionate way of life that it is, and break down those stereotypes that prevent people, especially men, from going vegan.
Are there any lifters or other vegan athletes you admire that you’d like to mention?
There are so many, I have listed a lot of them in this article – the strongest vegans in the world. People like Oliver Zamzow and Patrik Baboumian are trailblazers who really helped shatter myths about vegan strength, and more recently world class athletes like Ryan J Stills have been incredibly inspiring.
Can you recommend any lifting groups/clubs that people could join if they’re interested in taking up the sport?
For people in Melbourne we have monthly strength training sessions, at least when we’re not in lockdown, as part of Melbourne Vegan Strength. All are welcome.
What has been your favourite lifting experience so far?
That would have to be finally smashing a 200kg bench press at the Australian National Championships last year, it’s been a goal of mine ever since I started powerlifting.
What is your favourite vegan food to eat?
After living the majority of my life as a junk food vegan, I’ve strangely been getting into healthy foods recently. I’m currently loving a good lightly fried tofu breakfast, loaded with avocado, broccoli sprouts, spinach, kale, sauerkraut, nutritional yeast, a drizzle of olive oil and tamari, and a sprinkling of pepper and smoked paprika, with a side of walnuts, almonds and brazil nuts. Who am I?
What’s your favourite meal to make?
I do love rustling up a good big vegan brekky on the weekend. Good options are scrambled tofu on sourdough with vegan sausages, ‘cheesy’ baked beans, avocado, fried mushrooms and spinach or kale.