Who was the last natural professional bodybuilder

Karl Ess: "It took me around 10 attempts to become a vegan!"

BeatYesterday (BY): You say you are a "natural bodybuilder". What is meant by this?

Karl Ess (KE): On the one hand someone who does the sport very naturally, i.e. without steroids. "Bodybuilding" means: building up the body. Think of it like building a house. You know beforehand what it should look like in the end. Bodybuilding also starts with an idea of ​​what my body should look like. How is it supposed to work? How should he have strength? With nutrition and training, we then naturally build up the body step by step.

BY: You have been vegan for a good seven years. How difficult was the transition for you at the beginning?

KE: It took me around ten attempts. It was really difficult for me. The whole concept was actually totally clear to me, but we are simply addicted to certain foods, and the social component also plays a role. For example, when you are invited to dinner with friends and they do not even know that you are vegan. Or whatever, what 'vegan' means. The biggest relapses were always when I said: Wow, I need some ice cream now. Or a cheese pizza. Luckily, giving up meat wasn't a problem at all.

Cheese is the only thing that can't be substituted for.

Karl Ess, has been vegan for seven years

BY: Who struggled more with the change, your body or your head?

KE: It's all a matter of the head. Sure, there is a certain physical addiction, but the mental aspect is much stronger. Imagine that you are addicted to heroin and go into withdrawal, and then you have massive physical problems. But that has nothing to do with the switch to being vegan. If you stop stuffing animal products overnight, you may have to struggle with it in your head, but the side effects are minimal for the body.

BY: What did you put into yourself in large quantities beforehand?

KE: The very classic bodybuilder food. I ate five to six times a day: eggs with bacon in the morning and a really fat shake with quark and protein powder. Then at school a white bread baguette with meat loaf and 200 grams of turkey breast ham. Additionally on top! At home there was rice or noodles with meat and salad for lunch. I always slept after dinner, just like all my bodybuilder friends, because we were all completely exhausted. The next protein shake came later after training. On the way home, I quickly bought a 500 gram pack of pickled fish in the supermarket. I dragged it into myself completely. With potatoes! In the evening there was then again meat or fish. And skimmed quark before going to bed, because that's where the long-chain casein protein is. I did that almost every day for about four years and put in 300 grams of protein every day.

BE: What difference did you notice when you changed your diet?

KE: I felt a little lighter after a few days, and I was no longer completely screwed. I also cut my meals, only ate two or three times a day. I wasn't so tired either. Then slowly the physical changes began, such as the radiant complexion or the more pleasant body odor. Animal products are very acidic. Those who eat vegan also develop a much finer sensory system. Comparable to someone who eats an apple for the first time after Lent - it tastes really great and sweet again. You suddenly smell yourself and other people much finer.

BY: What exactly could a nutrition plan look like? Assuming I ride my bike to work and exercise 3-4 times a week, my body uses up a lot of energy.

KE: Most people are familiar with the phenomenon: there is toast, pastries or muesli in the morning - and afterwards they feel tired again, even though they have only just slept. You also get fluctuations in concentration and hunger quite quickly from it. When we consume starch in food, we release serotonin and just get tired. That's just the way it is.

For breakfast I therefore recommend as much raw vegetables as possible, i.e. fruit or vegetable sticks such as peppers, carrots or tomatoes. Then nuts, chia or flax seeds as a healthy source of fat. Beans or lentils, any legume, are also excellent sources of protein. I always prefer to combine this in the form of a smoothie: two to three bananas, chopped or frozen mango, berries, one and two dates. Spinach, romaine lettuce or kale are also included. Then half a spoonful of grains or seeds and half a can of white beans. Sounds strange, but you can hardly taste it in the crowd. You have all the micronutrients, the insulin level is stabilized, you are awake and fit - it's just brutally good.

At lunchtime there is potatoes, rice, whole wheat pasta with steamed vegetables. When I'm out and about, I like to eat pasta arrabiatta, lentil curry or rice with tofu.

In the evening I eat a lot of carbohydrates, like a Shaolin monk. Great vegetable soup or sweet potatoes with rice.

The biggest relapses were always when I said: Wow, I need some ice cream now. Or a cheese pizza. Luckily, giving up meat wasn't a problem at all.

Karl Ess, needed ten attempts to change his diet

BY: In all honesty: Are you missing anything from the omnivorous food supply?

KE: Of course - cheese. That's the only thing for which there is no awesome substitute. There are great vegan brownies and almost everything anyway, but unfortunately there is no such thing as cheese. It's still tough for me: My uncle works in the cheese business, and I used to go to the "Cheese Olympics" in Oberstdorf. There used to be nothing better for me than bread with cheese and raspberry jam. Or pizza with Gorgonzola, raclette, cheese fondue. Or baked pasta bake with cheese. So really good: cheese spaetzle.

BY: Going to sport requires a certain amount of discipline. Becoming a vegan takes even more discipline. What can I do if I notice at the beginning: I'm having problems pulling this off in such a concrete way?

KE: A difficult question. My most important tip from the strategic side is that in three weeks you can leave out three different things and find replacement products. It often helps if you approach this in a group, encourage each other and turn it into a challenge or a little adventure. You can also cook together or go to a vegan restaurant. The focus must be: 'Hey, let's try new things now' instead of 'We are now foregoing XYZ'.

About Karl Ess


The 28-year-old is one of the defining figures in the German bodybuilder scene. For seven years he has strictly followed a vegan diet, proving that you can do without animal or artificial products to build muscle.

Almost 719,000 people follow him on Facebook, and he has a reach of 165,000 subscribers via Instagram.

BY: There are critics who claim that such a one-sided diet is actually not possible for bodybuilders. Which allegations do you sometimes have to contend with?

KE: It is often said that as a vegan you cannot get enough protein. Take a look at the packaging of lentils, there is just as much protein in it as there is in beef. However, all the prejudices have decreased significantly in recent years. When I look around, I'm hardly confronted with it anymore because there are now many high-performance athletes who also follow a vegan diet.

BY: You polarize very strongly in the scene. To what extent is that additional motivation for you?

KE: Definitely in the beginning. I really wanted to show that you can also be brutally strong as a vegan. In the meantime there is also scientific evidence that as a bodybuilder you can do without animal products. Those who speak against it are mostly either uninformed or just a fool.

My most important tip from the strategic side is that in three weeks you can leave out three different things and find replacement products.

Karl Ess recognized early on that as a bodybuilder you can do without animal products

BY: What would the effects be for the international bodybuilder scene if all athletes started eating vegan from tomorrow?

KE: All athletes would probably live a few years longer, spend less money and have a massively positive impact on our environment. And by that I also mean dealing with other people. There is a book called Peacefood, which says: If you can do without killing an animal, then it will be harder for you to kill a person. Sounds martial, but there would definitely be fewer wars or no modern slavery if more people followed a vegan diet.

BY: Does that mean that vegans are automatically non-violent people?

KE: Not necessarily. There are also vegans who have such a strong connection to animals that they look at them almost like family members and have a lot of hatred and anger in them. Then it happens that a grandma in a fur coat is pelted with bags of paint by activists. At least I've seen it on a demo.

BY: Last question: What was your personal # BeatYesterday moment?

KE: When I first saw Baywatch on TV when I was 14 years old. Sorry, it's just the way it is! I saw the guys on the beach and thought to myself: Wouldn't I feel a lot cooler and better if I looked like this? If I look back now and think of David Hasselhoff and the others, then I know: No, they weren't that blatant.

Karl, thank you for the interview.

Focus on vegan nutrition