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Athletes and Veganism (With / Video)…

18 February 2016

Let’s start with a partial list of well known (and successful) vegan athletes:

  • David Carter, 28 year old, 300 pound NFL defensive lineman.
  • John Joseph, 53, Ironman champion and rockstar.
  • Venus and Serena Williams, 35 and 36 respectively, tennis ace sisters and Olympic tennis champions.
  • Scott Jurek, 32 year old American ultramarathoner.
  • Nick and Nate Diaz, 32 and 30 respectively, UFC (ultimate fight champions) brothers.
  • David Smith, 37 year old, gold medal winning Olympic rower.
  • Timothy Shieff, 27 year old free-running ninja and World Freerun Championship winner.
  • Tia Blanco, 18, American pro surfer, yogi, and winner of the women’s final 2015 ISA World Surfing Games (WSG).
  • Brendan Brazier, 40, former professional Ironman triathlete, a bestselling author and magazine editor.

And to further destroy the myth that a plant-based diet lacks the necessary protein to build large muscles, watch this YouTube video…


There are plenty of highly opinionated viewpoints when considering whether veganism can fully sustain a weekly regimen of athletic training (swimming, cycling, running, weight lifting, sports etc.). Two common and opposing viewpoints are the questions; if a plant-based diet does not give the body all the nutrition it needs, could it actually be dangerous for a highly active athlete’s brain and/or body? And, on the other hand: if a plant-based diet is actually nutritionally sufficient, then could meat-eaters be engaging in unnecessary or unethical consumption of excessive and potentially metabolically damaging protein sources?

The plant-based diet community claims that one of the primary advantages is the acid-forming properties of meat and dairy products, compared to the relatively non-acidic (or alkaline) forming properties of whole plant-based foods. The logic seems sound: an excessively acidic blood pH results in inflammation, and thus impairs recovery. Additionally, this Inflammation is linked to cancer, heart disease, and strokes.

One reason for the increased acidity of a meat-based diet is that animal protein is richer in sulfur-containing amino acids that increase production and excretion of sulfuric acid during their metabolism. When this acidity reaches a certain point the body can actually leach calcium from the bones to neutralize the acidic condition.

Lemons, limes and grapefruits are all acidic, but when they’re broken down in the body, what remains are buffering alkaline minerals. Perhaps more readily available than in any other food, the minerals found in freshly extracted green vegetable juice travels quickly throughout the body and offers a buffering effect against acids. Many healthy vegan diets include large amounts of juicing and/or blending, primarily due to the nutritional density and ease of digestion of blended slurries of vegetables, fruits or nuts. Since these foods are easily digested and absorbed, they consume less energy to produce more energy, and this may allow for a healthier gastrointestinal state in the exercising athlete. Indeed, many athletes who switch to a plant-based diet feel an immediate surge in energy.

It is more than possible for an athlete to thrive on a plant-based diet. In fact, anecdotal evidence confirms that eating in such a manner will improve athletic performance, taking you to new levels. Both professional and amateur athletes know the key to performance is to make sure that they eat enough calories with plenty of protein and carbohydrates to keep performing at peak levels. This is entirely possible, and in some ways easier, with a plant-based diet.

The foundation of any healthy and successful diet is consistency. Vegan athletes need to train hard and stick to a solid nutrient-dense, plant-based diet at least 90–95% of the time to get the results they want. The best way to keep up this consistency is to choose nutritious foods that you can look forward to eating every day, when you enjoy your diet, you will have no problem sticking with it.

Doing it right or doing it wrong?

Probably the most cited disadvantage of a vegan diet is the potential for certain nutritional deficits, and one common mistake for athletes who make the switch is not eating a wide enough variety of colors in whole plant foods. When athletes initiate a vegan lifestyle, they need to make sure they are getting adequate sources certain nutrients not commonly found on a plant-based diet. Obviously, based on the great success of athletes that consume a plant-based diet, it seems to be quite possible to do it right and avoid the deficiencies and risks of un-intelligent shopping and eating habits. This will be the subject of the next article. So, stay tuned…coming soon; “Problems Athletes May Have on a Vegan Diet and Solutions”

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500

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