Interview with Personal Trainer Darian Williams: Vegan Diets & Active Lifestyles


Can You Get Enough Protein to Build Muscle on a Plant-Based Diet?

When you live an active lifestyle, it’s important to make sure your body has the proper nutrients it needs in order to function. Most people are generally concerned about getting enough protein consumption, so we decided to chat with Jacksonville personal trainer Darian Williams to get his take on plant-based protein for an active lifestyle.

The Great Protein Debate

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that “protein from a variety of plant foods, eaten during the course of a day, supplies enough of all indispensable (essential) amino acids when caloric requirements are met.” This may come as a surprise to many people that believe meat is the only real protein source.

How Much Protein Do I Actually Need?

On average, most active people should aim toward 0.36–0.6 grams per pound (0.8–1.3 gram per kg) for their protein intake; or 56-91 grams per day for the average male, and 46-75 grams per day for the average female. Everyone’s dietary needs are different depending on his or her lifestyle.

Where Can I Get Plant-Based Protein?

You can meet your daily protein requirements by consuming a variety of plant-based foods such as tofu, legumes, whole grains, protein powders, leafy greens and much more.

An Inside Look at an Active Plant-Based Lifestyle

We interviewed Jacksonville personal trainer Darian Williams to debunk the myths and display the truth behind what it means to live an active, plant-based lifestyle while building muscle and optimizing workouts.

Darian Plant-Based Trainer

Where are you a personal trainer at in Jax?

I train at Momentum Wellness studio in Ponte Vedra Beach as well as provide out calls to homes and businesses.

How long have you been a personal trainer/fitness advocate?

I began training others in 1990 and receive my first Personal trainer certification in 1996. Since then I’ve gone on to higher education courses involving joint integrity and neuromuscular function.   

Is there a reason or backstory you chose fitness as your life profession?

As a child I had an intense interest in biology and ecology. The structure, function an interplay between different organisms fascinated me. I marveled at the extreme diversity within a single species as well as the complex interplay among different animals, insects and plants. I did not know it at the time but my continuous observations of nature was revealing to me that physics and biochemistry was at the heart of every living thing. And It was clear that the structure of all things dictated their function. I finally began to apply this knowledge to people in my freshman year of high school, as a result of taking weightlifting as an elective class. This knowledge help me to excel very quickly, and the second semester I took the class again, and the teacher made it clear to the other students to come to me if they had any questions. And so my journey began. 

How long have you had a plant-based diet, and why did you choose this lifestyle?

I became at vegan approximately 25 years ago and it was prompted by two events. I was born and raised in Detroit, and a high-fiber plant-centered diet was not the standard. In my late teens, my brother and I were dating two sisters in Windsor, Canada. His girlfriend worked in a cafe that served bran muffins, spinach salads and the like. At this point I had never had a bran muffin and the only spinach I had ever eaten was the frozen boxed version. The food was free and like any teenage boy, I wasn’t turning down free food. 

After three days of this fresh, whole plant-based eating, nature called while I was at work. So I went in expecting to have the then, typical magazine/newspaper reading time. To my utter surprise, no sooner than I sat down the deed was done. I had never experienced such an expedient, grimace free restroom visit in my life. So I sat there for a while, trying to process what just happened. When I finally accepted the reality and decided to leave, I was even more shocked that there was nothing to wipe. Between the bran muffins and the naturally low-fat clean plant rich meals for three days, there was simply nothing to cleanup. I was basically sold from that point.

The only thing left was to apply my knowledge of diet specificity of other animals to humans. An animal’s diet is based on its physiology. Not culture, traditions or opinions. Just plain-old anatomy, biology and biochemistry. Whether an animal stays healthy or gets sick over its life span is dependent upon acquiring the food it is designed to eat.

Some animals are flexible if they don't have their main food source. For example, black bears are physiologically carnivores, but have adapted to consume many types of plant material. Other animals, like snakes simply cannot adapt to alternative food sources. A snake will not eat an apple, orange or pear even if it starving. If it did it would die because it does not have the physiology or microbiota to process plant material. I have many opinions about human diet but my opinion won't change human physiology. 

How has a plant-based diet affected your workouts and day-to-day training?

Plant Based Personal Trainer Jacksonville

Most notable was an improvement in stamina with no loss and strength. I also had a dramatic reduction in post-workout soreness.

In the beginning I did not understand that exercise in and of itself is an inflammatory event. Nor did I understand the chemistry behind inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods.

Animal flesh inside human physiology creates inflammation and oxidation. Generally, plants do the opposite. So as a teenager, a heavy leg workout would be followed up by chicken and biscuits leaving me extremely sore for three days. On a plant-based diet the identical workout would produce only mild soreness for a day if at all.

Do you feel you receive an adequate amount of protein to fuel your training through a plant-based diet? How? 

Ahh, “protein” the mythical elephant in the room. The short answer is yes, I receive enough protein. And the short explanation is that “all” plants have all 20+ amino acids to build the bare minimum of 26,000+ types of proteins that make up the human body.

The myth that plants contain incomplete proteins was propagated by a book author in the 1970s, who has since revised this notion in later books. But this idea stuck and still persist to date.

Biologically, the only way to be protein deficient is basically through some form of starvation where baseline calorie requirements are not being met. And biochemically, animal proteins are literally recycled plant proteins. So eating plants, cuts out the middleman. You need only to eat enough plant foods to meet your minimum amount of calories to satisfy protein requirements. 

What would you say to someone who is considering a plant-based diet that has an active lifestyle such as yourself?

I find people with active lifestyles often have two challenges: Lack of consistent energy and unwanted downtime due to muscle soreness from high activity. A plant-based diet easily solves both of these problems. Biologically, getting energy from meat creates an energy loss compared to plants. It’s a simple formula called Trophic Efficiency.

Secondly, plants generally contain properties that are anti-oxidizers and anti-inflammatory. Thus, animal tissues generally create the opposite, causing oxidation and inflammation. So you never see advertisements for shrimp, chicken and cheese as an antioxidant-rich food or anti-inflammatory.  Where as broccoli, blueberries and ginger are promoted to such all day. So, I would say if you want to feel better, recover faster, perform longer, prevent, halt, or slow disease, plant-base is the way to go.

Do you have a favorite dish at House of Leaf & Bean?

My favorite dish would have to be Lucky Bites. It’s very simple but flavorful.

Anything you would like to add?

The amount of unnecessary confusion around the subject of food is staggering. So when it comes to the question of what humans should eat, I typically ask one question: Name me one animal or animal byproduct that if not consumed, would cause a decline in health to a lesser or greater degree over time? Now apply that same question to plants and you will have your answer. How it actually works is highly complex but it's application is not complicated.

Ready to Get Cooking? Get the Recipes!

Organic Low-Carb Guilt-free Crispy Tofu Bites (1 serving size)


homemade tofu Jacksonville

7 oz organic freshly made Tofu by House of Leaf & Bean

1 tsp tapioca powder

¼ tsp salt and pepper

1 tbsp organic vegan ranch made by House of Leaf & Bean

1 tsp organic sriracha sauce


Cut tofu into strips, season them with salt and pepper, toss in tapioca, then pan fried to perfection. Topped with the organic vegan ranch and the organic sriracha sauce. Yum!

Nutrition Facts:

  • Calories:  170

  • Total Fat: 9g

  • Saturated Fat  1g

  • Trans Fat  0g

  • Cholesterol:  0mg

  • Sodium:  480g

  • Total Carbohydrate:  10g

  • Protein:  18g

Organic Vegan Sandwich (6 serving size)


tofu sandwich leaf and bean

16oz organic freshly made Tofu by House of Leaf & Bean

½ cup organic celery finely chopped

¼ cup organic green onions finely chopped 

¼ cup organic Dijon mustard

2 tbsp organic fresh lemon juice

3 tbsp organic sweet cucumber pickle juice

½ tsp organic paprika

1/8 tsp organic turmeric

¼ tsp salt and pepper

1tsp organic vegan ranch made by House of Leaf & Bean

1tsp organic sriracha sauce

6 organic romaine lettuce leaves

Organic whole grain sandwich thins (12)


1.    In a medium bowl, crumble tofu using fork or your hands, add celery and green onions. 

2.    In a small bowl, mix mustard, lemon juice, pickle juice, paprika or cayenne pepper, turmeric, salt & pepper.  Add the mixture to the tofu crumbles and mix thoroughly. 

3.    Spread the organic vegan ranch on the slice of bread and add the tofu mixture topped with the organic lettuce, tomato slice, and /or cucumber slice / avocado slice.  Topped with the organic vegan ranch and the organic sriracha sauce (optional). Yum!

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 200

Total Fat: 6g

Saturated Fat: 1g

Trans Fat: 0g

Cholesterol: 0mg

Sodium: 490g

Total Carbohydrate: 26g

Protein: 13g