Jim Morris, 76-Year-Old Vegan Bodybuilder

At age 76, Jim Morris is a striking example of the power of a vegan diet, exercise and a positive mental outlook. 

A former Mr. America and Mr. U.S.A, Jim has been bodybuilding and training people since 1954. He has been a vegetarian for 26 years, and a vegan for 11 years. In 1996 at the age of 61, Jim celebrated his 30th year of competition by entering the Mr. Olympia Masters and winning the over 60 class.

Jim's Life Timeline:
  • Jim has trained people for over 50 years and started designing fitness programs in 1954 at the Central Queens YMCA in New York. He had just gained 35 lbs of pure muscle in 3 months and people wanted to know how he did it. He was very successful and started an Olympic weightlifting team that won state competitions.
  • Jim joined the Air Force in 1961 where he ran the 5Bx fitness program and held workout classes for 4 years.
  • He then joined the New York Fire Brigade as fireman, which allowed him to start training for bodybuilding competition. Jim won every major competition at the East Coast including Mr. Jr USA, his first national title.
  • In 1969 he moved to LA to learn from Bill Pearl, the 4-time Mr. Universe and bodybuilding legend who taught him the mechanism of training himself and training others.
  • Jim won Mr. California in 1970.
  • In 1973 he won Mr. America at age 37.
  • Also in 1973 Jim met Elton John at a party in Hollywood, and this encounter led Jim to become Elton John's personal bodyguard for the next 15 years.
  • Jim was inducted into the "Physical Fitness Hall of Fame" on Sept 9, 1978 along with Bill Pearl, Sergio Oliva and Jack LaLanne.
  • From 1978 to 1985 Jim ran his own gym in West Hollywood and attracted many competing bodybuilders including Larry Jackson, James Joseph, and Bob Paris to train at his gym.
  • He later sold the gym and resumed personal training, which he continues until today at Gold's Gym in Venice.
  • Jim retired from competition after the Mr. Universe contest in 1977.
  • In 1985 he decided to become vegetarian at age 50.
  • In 1996 he came out of retirement to compete in the Mr. Olympia Masters and won in the 60s age group when he was 61. He was looking back on a 30 year competitive career at that point.
  • In 2000 at age 65 Jim Morris became vegan.
  • Today, at age 76 and as vegan bodybuilder, Jim still retains his amazing physique and trains regularly.
Interview with Jim


Jim you are now 76 years old and look amazing! I know that the great photos of you are not retouched because I saw you with your shirt off during our Vegans in Vegas event! You gave an inspiring presentation and everyone was awestruck by your accomplishments - as vegan bodybuilder and beyond. Tell us about your daily fitness routine and how you keep in that great shape.

Jim: When I am "in Training" I rise at 3 am. I work-out from 4 - 5 am at Gold's Gym in Venice, CA. 

My workout consists of a split routine:
  • Sunday and Thursday I do legs - 5 or 6 sets of some sort of squatting or leg press movement and 5 or 6 sets of thigh extensions.
  • Monday and Friday - 5 sets of lat pulldowns, 5 sets of cable flyes, and 5 sets of dipping machine.
  • Tuesday and Saturday - 5 sets of dumbbell side laterals and 5 sets of forward laterals on low pulley; 5 sets triceps pushdown on high pulley and 5 sets straight dumbbell curls.
  • Wednesday is off
I live just 5 minutes from the gym and I train a maximum of three clients a day at Gold's Gym between the hours of 7 am and 10 am. Some days I have only or two clients.

Can you share your vegan nutrition plan that gives you the energy and the nutrients that you need to keep in such great physical shape as vegan bodybuilder?

Jim: Since I am a vegan bodybuilder I ALWAYS have either a large pot of bean soup or grains in the refrigerator. I ALWAYS have a variety of fruits in the house. I ALWAYS have a variety of nuts in the house.
I ALWAYS have a vegetable drink in the house.
The drink contains watermelon, water, collard greens, broccoli, red, yellow and green bell peppers, beets with the tops, carrots with the tops, yams, radishes and parsley.
Please do not try to duplicate my drink. It's better if you make up your own with the vegetables you like. Look-up the nutritional value of the vegetables and start with something you like; then add to those other vegetables with nutrients you want to include.
I don't follow any regular nutrition schedule as vegan bodybuilder: some days I have a drink around 10 am and some days I do not have a drink at all. There are days when I don't eat anything until 3-4 pm and then it might be peanuts and grapes, or whatever nuts appeal to me and whatever fruit might be in the house. Some days I might have some soup and some not.

I go to bed between 6 - 7pm.


At Vegans in Vegas, you described your personal advice for creating a firm abdominal musculature without constant crunches and sit-ups. Can you elaborate on this again for Belsandia readers?

Jim: The abdominal muscles are voluntary, in that they will only flex when you flex them deliberately. In other words, they will not tighten or contract on their own - which makes it so hard for most people to obtain strong and firm abdominal muscles.
Begin by emptying your stomach and intestines, because the abdominals cannot fully contract against the pressure of a full stomach. Then get in front of a mirror and learn to flex the muscles of the torso. Once you can flex all the muscles of the torso, increase your ability to flex them until you can make them cramp. At that point, flex them regularly during the day for as long as you can. Then train them to stay flexed by holding them in all the time.
Eventually, your abdominal muscles will stay contracted without any more effort on your part.

You have a long and storied career in successful bodybuilding competition. Did you eat a traditional meat-based diet at first, and what prompted you to change that and turn vegetarian in 1985, at age 50?

Jim: I ate a meat-based diet during the entirety of my competitive career with the exception of the Masters Mr. Olympia in 1996. I was a vegetarian for 10 years at that time.
I became vegetarian because my mentor and coach was vegetarian. Bill Pearl, a 4-time Mr Universe and 1953 Mr America was a vegetarian in 1969 when I met him, and seeing how muscular and healthy he was caused me to become interested in learning more about vegetarianism.

Did you ever consider becoming vegetarian before that time?

Jim: Yes, but I was afraid to change what had been a winning formula for contests.

Similarly, what sparked your move to become a vegan bodybuilder in 2000 at age 65?

Jim: Curiosity. I wondered what would happen if I did all of the things I knew were right and stopped doing all of the things I knew were wrong.
We have all heard them, and even said them, "Yeah I know I should..., but, or "Yes, I know I shouldn't..., but." I decided to eliminate "the buts" and live as I knew I should.

Obviously embracing a pure plant-based diet has not adversely affected your strength and great physique. Did you feel a difference in your performance when you became a vegan bodybuilder and athlete?

Jim: The change was part of a complete philosophical change and a complete change in my lifestyle and goals, so I cannot say for sure what part the diet played.

What three main myths would you like to bust for bodybuilders who still believe they need to get protein from meat, eggs, and dairy products?

Jim: I would like to bust the following myths about vegan bodybuilding, as they are total nonsense:
1. "It is impossible to be muscular and grow with vegetable proteins"
2. "Vegetable proteins are incomplete"
3. "You have to eat enormous amount of vegetables in order to get enough protein"

What is your recommendation for health-conscious people who want to become a vegan bodybuilder for a more compassionate lifestyle, but are afraid of losing muscle mass or stamina? 
Jim: The only way to know for yourself is to try being a vegan bodybuilder for 6 months - that is a timeframe when you have fully adjusted to your new lifestyle and can tell the difference.

Do you use or recommend any supplements for vegan athletes?

Jim: I only use a vitamin B12 supplement - nothing else.

You mention that your vegan diet is very simple, consisting of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. You eat most of them raw and cook the beans and grains. You also mention that you don’t consume anything that is processed. What is the most common mistake people make, in your opinion, when they try to shape up on a vegan diet?

Jim: They try to combine foods so as to create complete proteins. The body will do that on its own and it is not necessary to analyze and manipulate the foods to get the best protein intake from your vegan diet.

Another thing that sparked my interest was the article you wrote about hypnotherapy on your website. Can you explain what you did, how it helped you, and if you would recommend it to others?

Jim: By sheer coincidence I happened to be working at the main branch of the New York Public Library at 5th Ave and 42nd St when I was introduced to what was called "lifting weights" in 1954 by a coworker. The library had and still has every magazine on the subject.
Obsessed, I read every magazine. Without realizing it I was hypnotizing myself. I would go from the magazines to other books in the library on any subject mentioned in the magazines I was not familiar with and study: kinesiology, skeletal structure, etc. 
In one of the “Iron Man” issues they spoke about how to set goals, short term and long term. I set a goal of gaining 30 lbs between Labor Day and Thanksgiving Day (about 80 days). Only in retrospect did I realize and remember that on Labor Day, I went into a trance-like state which lasted until Thanksgiving Day. I had gained 35 lbs. I have used this in my training many times since.
I definitely would recommend that you try to get a professional to teach you to self hypnotize - it can do wonders for you.

Have you thought about a book or speaking tour to spread your wisdom about health and fitness as a vegan bodybuilder and an older athlete any further?

Jim: I'm thinking about it is as far as I have gotten as vegan bodybuilder. What I have to offer is better to show visually than in writing. I think it will be better suited for an eBook or something which can be downloaded.

I have read the quote that describes your philosophy: "The adventure you get is the one you are ready for". Please tell us more about what drives you and what advice you would like to give our readers on the way.

Jim: My motivation constantly changes as my body and circumstances change. Motivation comes from within. At the moment it is a matter of health for me. 

Visit Jim’s website at www.gymmorris.com.

Thanks for reading! What do you think? 

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