BY KONNER METZ
Bradie Crandall has spent the past few years rising in the ranks of powerlifting. By winning competitions, receiving invites to national events and attracting sponsors, Crandall’s stock in weightlifting and strongman competitions is only going up.
The 26-year-old is studying to obtain a doctoral degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the university, meaning he is balancing a loaded schedule inside and outside the lab.
Just this summer, Crandall won his weight class in the U.S. Powerlifting Association National Championships in Las Vegas, which included squats, bench press and deadlifts. Now, he’s focusing on an upcoming strongman competition, which requires competitors to lift and pull unique objects, such as vehicles.
Crandall does it all while sticking to a plant-based vegan diet, consuming no meat or eggs. The process began around five years ago, which is when he began to dip his toes into competitive weightlifting.
“I really did this in steps, incrementally,” Crandall said. “I kept pushing it further and further, all the way, until I was fully vegan.”
How did he go vegan?
Crandall’s background as a football player impacts his life to this day, despite no longer playing. He first enrolled as an undergraduate at John Carroll University to play linebacker in his home state of Ohio.
But after suffering a fractured vertebrae, his football career was over. He transferred to the University of South Carolina and studied chemical engineering before making his way to Newark to pursue a doctoral degree.
His studies in chemical engineering center around designing reactors called “electrolyzers,” which run on renewable electricity to convert carbon dioxide emissions into food such as alternative proteins. His research is well-aligned with his views on climate change, sustainability and the avoidance of animal product consumption.
“Ethics is sort of at the heart of everything I do,” Crandall said. “Both in the lab and with my diet. I hit it from an aspect of sustainability and animal ethics.”
With ethics as a main motivator to make the switch from a meat-based diet, Crandall had a push to go vegan. But the ability and discipline to make the lifestyle change partly came from his background in football and the structure that he followed during his playing days.
Crandall took a step-by-step approach to shifting his diet, cutting out red meats, then dairy and then all meats. In the gym, he did not see any slips in his performance or weightlifting.
Despite the low profile of vegan athletes – which were rare to come by five to 10 years ago – Crandall felt success as a powerlifter was possible without the typical foods that most athletes in strength sports rely on so heavily.
Turns out, he was right.
Hitting a stride
With two years remaining toward his degree at the university, Crandall feels like he is in a prime spot physically. It took him a while to get strong, as most lifters can continue until around the age of 35.
“I feel like this year’s my big breakout year where I’m starting to be taken more seriously and getting sponsors,” he said.
Part of that includes his membership in the Vegan Strong PlantBuilt Team, a group set on displaying the lifestyle and success of vegan athletes. Through his own experience and learning about others, his message to other athletes is that going vegan is truly attainable.
“If you’re considering going vegan but you’re afraid that it could affect your performance in the gym or athletics, that simply isn’t true,” Crandall said. “You can absolutely go vegan and maintain your performance, or even improve your performance.”
Athletes from the Vegan Strong PlantBuilt Team are heading to a strongman competition this October in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Crandall is one of them.
There, he will compete in the strongman side of the sport in the Mr. America Strongman Clash of the Tridents event. If he finishes in the top three, he will qualify for the strongman nationals.
Compared to his powerlifting victory earlier this summer, strongman requires a much different approach, he says. Crandall has experience in pulling a fire truck, one of the most unique objects he has been tasked with in the sport.
“Picking up an Atlas stone [made of concrete], you have to do things that seem counterintuitive to what you’re taught,” Crandall said of the difficulties of strongman competitions. “Things you feel like you shouldn’t be doing, but actually are safe and work.”
Right now, he is laser-focused on the October competition before he decides which national events to enter.
Balancing school and weightlifting
While most student-athletes balance life, sport and pursuing a four-year degree, Crandall takes it one step further as a graduate student. His priority is his research and work in the chemical engineering lab en route to a Ph.D.
“I view powerlifting and strongman as more of a hobby, but there are times when I can put more energy into that,” Crandall said.
Crandall’s typical day begins by waking up around 6 a.m and training from 7 to 8:30 a.m. Then, he is at his desk or conducting research in Colburn Lab every day, typically from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In terms of meals, Crandall uses structure to his advantage, too, planning out what he will eat a week in advance.
For breakfast, he typically eats avocado toast, blueberries and cereal with soy milk. Lunch includes a protein shake with a mock chicken taco, while dinner consists of stir-fry, broccoli, a smoothie and sometimes a banana.
Currently, Crandall is in the process of cutting weight, so he is eating around 2,500 calories a day. Otherwise, a typical calorie intake hovers around 3,000 to 3,500 per day.
He has also found time to advocate within campus as part of the university’s Graduate Student Government. Crandall wrote legislation that improves student access to plant-based foods in dining halls, which passed.
A message for other vegan athletes
Crandall’s impact on the vegan athlete community and the vegan community as a whole does not stop there. Often fielding so many questions about how he maintains strength and muscle mass with a vegan diet, Crandall wrote a book titled “The Living Machine: Engineering Strength with a Plant-Based Diet.”
In it, he discusses some of the potential benefits of going vegan and cutting out meat from his diet, along with challenging some of the stereotypical expectations of strength athletes, particularly men.
“Men have been so overwhelmed with marketing strategy towards feeling like they need to consume animal products to maintain their masculinity,” he said. “The more you think about it, you realize that tying your diet to your feelings of self-worth and your gender doesn’t make much sense to do.”
The most difficult part about the switch to veganism was social acceptance, Crandall said. But despite that, he is not confrontational with his veganism and instead hopes to lead by actions and not words.
Crandall’s goal is to show athletes and non-athletes that cutting or reducing meat intake is practical and will have a significant positive impact on the environment.
“I feel like the bigger wins are convincing people that they just don’t need to eat a ton of meat to be strong,” Crandall said. “If I can convince more people to just reduce their meat intake, that has a much larger impact.”