Meet the Vegan Bodybuilder Bucking Stereotypes in and Out of the Gym

Photo courtesy of Dominick Thompson
Photo courtesy of Dominick Thompson

Bodybuilders tend to fit certain stereotypes: bro-ey, tan, not too bright, and, of course, a carnivore. That is until you meet Dominick Thompson, 41, who has no desire to fit into that mold. The vegan bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, animal rights activist, and social entrepreneur began documenting his meat-free, do-no-harm lifestyle on social media in 2012 in an effort to disrupt traditional images of masculinity. Along the way, he’s proving that men can love fluffy animals, care about the well-being of others, and be strong as hell.

“Here I was, a black man, African-American, with size, with a background, assertive, no filter, spoke his mind, and told you like it was about animal agriculture,” the Atlanta-based Thompson says. “There was no representation [like that] in the vegan community.”

Going from a 9-5 healthcare job to vegan influencer isn’t exactly a well-worn path, and Thompson has learned a few things about carving out your own success. Here, he shares five ways you can stop “shoulding” yourself to pursue lifestyle choices that ultimately benefit your mind, body, and soul, whether you want to crush an Ironman Triathlon, shrug off the pressure to follow a fad diet, or pursue a career path despite not seeing people who look like you in it.

Rethink obstacles as opportunities 

Nearly 19 years ago, before Thompson was preaching animal activism on social media, he was a 21-year-old sitting in a prison cell. “There, [I] found myself and adapted this mantra that, ‘if it requires harm, then nah.' It was there, in prison, that I removed meat from my diet and changed my life around, and I never looked back,” he says. Thompson says challenges come in all shapes and sizes -- and they offer a chance to be seen as teaching moments instead of permanent roadblocks. “Transitioning back into civilian life was an emotional roller coaster ride,” he says. “Because I didn’t have access to a gym, I would do a prison workout at home. Working out has been ingrained in me since prison. It really kept my mind on positive things.” After being released in 2005, he persevered through the self-described “hopelessness” by finding a career as a traveling healthcare executive while managing to complete century rides (100-mile bike rides) and compete in 10 triathlons a year. 

Be authentically you 

We've all been there: Maybe you tried a crazy workout fad because it was all over your feed even though it didn't fit your body type, or maybe you ignored an instinct to pursue a dream job in a new field because you thought you weren't qualified. “I think people doubt me all the time without me even knowing, but I am comfortable in my own skin,” Thompson says. He believes anyone can find success and happiness by making sure they are always being themselves -- especially when it comes to locking down life goals. When he moved to NYC in 2012 and started posting on Instagram, he realized his mantra of “do no harm” and his veganism could help change the perception of what strong looks like on social media. “My platform just took off, to the point that I had the largest vegan male account at that time on Instagram,” he says. “I thought, what better way to use this new Insta-fame and this new platform than to do some good?” Despite having no startup capital, he left corporate America and never looked back.

Get familiar with your ‘future lifestyle’

One way to remove the pressure to feel like you need to meet your goals ASAP, according to Thompson, is to put one foot into your future lifestyle, just like he did.  "I was already doing veganism and activism and entrepreneurship on the side," he says. "I didn't just say, 'let me quit my job and start.'” In 2013, his posts began getting thousands of likes, and his line of vegan-centric T-shirts, called Crazies and Weirdos, exploded in popularity. (Miley Cyrus donning his "Saving Animals Is So Gangster" tee in 2016 helped.) Fueled by the online attention and a mountain of DMs inquiring how to both ditch meat and be strong, in 2019, Thompson founded Eat What Elephants Eat, a nutrition program designed for building muscle without meat. “I would get familiar with your future lifestyle in as many capacities as you can,” he advises, “either through parents, friends, loved ones, or anybody, a network of people that's already doing it."

Remember to pace yourself

You're not going to start a business on the side or convert to a new way of thinking about exercise and diet overnight. It took Thompson nearly two decades from when he first set his “do no harm” goal while in prison to making a living as a vegan activist. To remove the "are we there yet?" pressure that stems from seeing influencers living their best life on social media, he reminds everyone to be kind to themselves. "It's OK to go at your pace; self-love is important," he says. "You got to take care of your mental health… and surround yourself with people that are like-minded and empathetic to that." Speaking of pace, remember that the first time you attempt a "marathon," like finally starting a side hustle or hey, actually running a marathon, is going to be the toughest, Thompson cautions. After you’ve done it once, though, it’ll be easier in subsequent attempts because you’ll have the tools and the confidence to succeed. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Besides managing two businesses, Thompson speaks about veganism at universities and conferences across the country. He also finds time to compete in triathlons and Ironman races and is even planning to open a juice & smoothie restaurant in Atlanta next year. He's operating in multiple lanes, and according to him, that's OK -- and you shouldn't feel bad about experimenting, either. "I sometimes think us, in society, we are placed in a bubble where we should only be doing one type of discipline or one type of thing," Thompson says. "It's OK to explore other disciplines. It's OK to switch careers. Find your passion and then passionately be motivated by it and go out there and own it." In other words, don’t worry about whether you “should” you be doing something, if you have an interest, you owe it to yourself to explore it.