Growing up on buffalo’s milk

Bulging muscles struggling to break from the grasps of the skin.

It was enough to peel the eyes of tourists and Singaporeans alike away from the Singapore River façade to marvel at the 1.93m tall, 140kg human wonder in front of them – the 2009 Mr India, Varinder Singh Ghuman.

The 40-year-old was in Singapore for the first time from Jan 31 to Feb 6 for a social media shoot.

“Singapore is a beautiful and culturally rich country, and people love to see beautiful locations on social media, so we came here,” said Ghuman.

He explored several tourist spots, including Sentosa, Orchard Road, Arab Street and Marina Bay Sands, posing for photos with astounded members of the public along the way.

Ghuman is a rare breed among bodybuilders as he is a lacto-vegetarian, who has not even touched an egg in his life for religious reasons.

As a youth growing up in Gurdaspur, Punjab, Ghuman got his protein from buffalo’s milk that was available on his father’s farm. These days he takes supplements for that purpose.

Media outlets like The Times of India have reported that Ghuman is the world’s first vegetarian bodybuilder and that he was the first Indian bodybuilder to secure a pro card from the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) when he won gold at the Australian Grand Prix in 2011.

He captained the Indian amateur bodybuilding team at the World Championships and the Asian Bodybuilding Championships in 2010 and 2011. He has won four national gold medals, and finished second in the Mr Asia contest in 2009.

Ghuman said his good genes were evident from his college days when he started getting results faster than others from the strength training he did as a discus and shot put thrower.

However, he had to work harder to make a mark on the world stage.

The turning point came in 2004, when he went to a bodybuilding event, where then Mr India Manjit Singh was the chief guest.

Seeing Manjit flex his muscles, Ghuman decided to become a bodybuilder, and duly hit the gym.

Ghuman’s resolve to become a champion was further strengthened when he shared the stage with American high-profile bodybuilder, actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Arnold Classics in the United States in 2010.

His ripped muscles drew the attention of Schwarzenegger, who appointed him as brand ambassador for his health supplements and gyms in Asia. Shortly after, Schwarzenegger described Ghuman as “an amazing talent” in a Facebook post.

Ghuman’s bodybuilding efforts also paved the way for an acting career. After starring in a music video for a Punjabi song in the late 2000s, he got to play the lead in the 2012 Punjabi film Kabaddi Once Again.

He also acted in the 2014 film Roar: Tigers Of The Sundarbans and the 2019 Hindi venture Marjaavaan.

His action sequences caught the eye of Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, who helped him get cast for Tiger 3 last year.

“Salman Khan set a bodybuilding era in Bollywood,” said Ghuman. “I am his big fan.”

This year, Ghuman looks forward to the release of He Man, a superhero film in which he plays the lead role. In November, he plans to compete in the Romanian Muscle Fest Pro in Bucharest.

His lifetime dream, though, is to qualify for Mr Olympia, the ultimate professional men’s bodybuilding contest.

“Some coaches have suggested that I eat non-vegetarian food, but my inner soul will never allow me to eat meat,” said Ghuman. “If you have good knowledge, you can get as much protein from a vegetarian diet.

“I don’t want to be a vegan too. We are Punjabi – we love milk-based products like cottage cheese and curd. It will be difficult to go without those foods.”

Bodybuilder and actor Varinder Singh Ghuman striking a pose against the backdrop of the Merlion and Esplanade. PHOTO: Tamil Pasanga Photography
Bodybuilder and actor Varinder Singh Ghuman striking a pose against the backdrop of the Merlion and Esplanade. PHOTO: Tamil Pasanga Photography
“Some coaches have suggested that I eat non-vegetarian food, but my inner soul will never allow me to eat meat.”
Bodybuilder and actor Varinder Singh Ghuman
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