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Dumbbells on dal
If you thought that Mr Indias have to bulk up those muscles on a diet loaded with meat protein, chew on this: Varinder Singh Ghuman managed to do it on just dairy and dal.
There is a scene in the recent Punjabi film Kabaddi Once Again in which the hero, overcome by love, pushes the heroine away before quickly pulling her back toward himself. When Varinder Singh Ghuman executed this scripted impulse for the first time, he ended up pushing actress Sudeepa Singh out of the frame altogether.
Even when the camera isn't rolling, Ghuman's mere presence is enough to make Sudeepa feel nudged out of the picture. During press conferences, the actress often accuses him of grabbing attention. "Everyone only looks at you, " she complains. To this, the six-foot-three-inches tall, 130 kg-heavy Punjabi bodybuilder, also known as the Arnold Schwarzenegger of India, flashes a boyish, dimpled smile in apology.
The Jalandhar-based father of two, who plays the captain of a national kabaddi team in the film, is, in fact, the captain of the Indian bodybuilding team. An IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness) pro champ and former Mr India, Ghuman was spotted by director Sukhminder Dhanjal at a bodybuilding championship in Punjab in 2010. Here, as he does on various local and international platforms, Ghuman stood in silky underwear, his long brown hair punished into a tight pony tail and oil-laden muscles flexing so that his web-like network of arteries and veins surface. His body was now a road map. "As most major Punjabi actors are actually singers, they could not do justice to the role in terms of physique. So, I was chosen to play the character, " says the beefy 28-year-old with 21-inch biceps.
Many find it hard to believe that Ghuman, who has also participated in Arnold Classic, a bodybuilding tournament held by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Ohio, is a vegetarian. Or that his biceps owe nothing to animal protein and egg white. After all bodybuilding is perceived to be the prerogative of vein-popping men thriving off meat and artificial enhancements. "Everyone had asked me to eat eggs and meat in order to gain muscle mass, but as I am a vegetarian for religious reasons, I decided to stick to my diet and rely on hard work instead, " recalls Ghuman, a Gurusikh whose staple diet consists of yellow dal, chapattis, green salad, curd and lassi.
Though he does not discount the role of genetics in the sculpting of his broad, moviescreen-wide body, he believes his rippling body owes a lot to his intensive research on vegetarian nutritional sources.
The belief that skinless chicken breasts and egg whites are central ingredients for building mass is widespread in the world of bodybuilding. But this is a myth, argues Ghuman who, has built quite a reputations, as the first Indian vegetarian bodybuilder.
Ghuman says he learnt during his research that colostrum, the milk produced by mammals in late pregnancy and early lactation, is a good source of protein, growth hormones and antibodies. Since Ghuman's father owns a large dairy farm, access to colostrum was easy. That along with whey protein shakes and small meals through the day helped him sculpt his body.
While bodybuilding isn't known for its herbivores, there are enough examples, both internationally and closer home, who prove the notion wrong. Hiralal Dhillan, a head constable in the Punjab police force who won the Mr Universe crown last year in Mumbai, says he owes his 18-inch biceps and a fit 65-kg body weight exclusively to the pious platter of soya beans, dal, lassi and dahi. "The trick is to eat eight small meals a day instead of three big ones, " says 34-year-old Dhillan, who interestingly wasn't always a vegetarian. It was in 1997 that he decided to shun meat for spiritual reasons. "I lost fat and my weight improved. I gained 10 kgs, " recalls Dhillan.
"That you need meat to build body mass is a misconception, " says Dr Randhir Hastir, who is a trainer at the National School of Bodybuilding and Fitness and has coached, besides Ghuman, many greats such as Prem Chand, Hira Lal, Dalip Khali, Jagjit Singh, Manjit Singh, Nawal Kapoor. "Each individual only needs 1. 5 grams of protein per kg of body weight and this is easily available in a vegetarian diet, " he says, adding that lassi, nuts, chana, dalia and khichdi are good sources of protein for vegetarians. "Most vegetarian animals you will notice are bigger in size, " he says.
Derek Tresize, an international vegan bodybuilder, used a similar argument in his piece for the website One Green Planet: "If plants have no protein and you need protein to grow big and strong, how on earth do animals like elephants, gorillas and oxen get so big and strong eating only plants?"
While these success stories have inspired many budding talents to follow the green route, foreign visits can sometimes turn out to be excruciating. In countries where plant-based food is not always easy to come by, they feel lost. Two years ago, during the Mr Asia championship in Dubai, Dhillan, for instance, survived on a uniform platter of rice (" which smelled like chicken" ) and potatoes for six days. Daljit Singh, who is a Commonwealth silver medalist and ranks no 4 in the world, on the other hand, found that nobody comprehended vegetarianism in Hong Kong. "As we are used to combining a liquid diet with solid meals during the course of the day, it was especially tough. In the end, they had to arrange for a special vegetarian meal just for me, " says the 44-year-old Singh.
But vegetarianism has paid off in other ways too. Ghuman will soon be seen endorsing a line of food supplements launched by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Besides, he has also landed a host of Bollywood offers. This will, in all probability, involve more dancing as well as dumbbells.
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