Ask a random person off the street what they picture in their head when they think of a vegan. Chances are you will get something describing a waifish hippie with translucent skin and sunken eyes. But the truth is, most vegans are probably the healthiest people to walk this earth. When it comes to sports, vegan athletes are just as strong, fast and healthy as any other athlete, and some would even argue that they are even more so.
Lately, more and more athletes have been proving this point by choosing a cruelty-free diet and in turn, blowing away the competition. This progressive movement is turning away from heaping plates of flesh and whey protein shakes, and towards nutrient dense vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. The result is a healthier, happier herbivore – that can kick your ass.
What makes for a healthy vegan?
It is true that vegans, just like any other person, can be terribly unhealthy. If you eat a diet consisting mostly of processed, packaged, high calorie, and nutrition-less foods – whether they originate from an animal or not – you are going to be unhealthy. However if you take the time out to consider the nutrition factor of what you are eating, and love your body enough to fill it with the best things for it, then you will be healthy. Now the question of what is healthy gets mighty confusing when it comes down to the nitty gritty of omnivores vs. herbivores. The meat and dairy industry have spent many years and billions of dollars to make us believe that meat and dairy is mandatory for a healthy existence. Unfortunately, this is not true. There have been many studies that show quite the contrary.
There is abundant evidence that vegetarian diets are more healthful than the average American diet, especially for preventing, treating or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer.1 Research has shown a low-fat vegetarian diet is the single most effective way to stop progression of coronary artery disease or prevent it altogether. Several other health conditions, such as diabetes,2 obesity,3 gallstones,4 and kidney stones,5 are much less common in vegetarians. The health benefits of a vegetarian diet may be linked to the fact that vegetarians tend to eat less animal fat, protein and cholesterol and more fiber and antioxidants.6 Simply put, the fewer animal foods and the more varied, whole plantfoods consumed, the healthier the individual will be compared to the general population.
1. Key TJA, Thorogood M, Appleby PN, et al. Dietary habits and mortality in 11,000 vegetarians and health conscious people: results of a 17 year follow up. BMJ 1996;313:775–79.
2. Snowdon DA, Phillips RL. Does a vegetarian diet reduce the occurrence of diabetes? Am J Public Health 1985;75:507-12.
3. Key T. Prevalence of obesity is low in people who do not eat meat. BMJ 1996;313:816.
4. Pixley F, Wilson D, McPherson K, et al. Effect of vegetarianism on development of gall stones in women. BMJ 1985;291:11-12.
5. Robertson WG, Peacock M, Marshall DH. Prevalence of urinary stone disease in vegetarians. Eur Urol 1982;8:334-339.
6. Krajcovicova-Kudlackova M, Simoncic R, Babinska K, et al. Selected vitamins and trace elements in blood of vegetarians. Ann Nutr Metab 1995;39:334–39.
The Protein Myth
The most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said to me would be “You can’t get big muscles without animal protein.” -What? I have lovely muscles thankyouverymuch, and I did not get them by shoving rotten carcass down my throat.
Unfortunately that is the thought process of most people who spend most of their time in gyms, training to add that extra inch onto their biceps. These people live off bacon cheeseburgers sans bun, whey protein shakes and various other powders and gels found in big plastic tubs with pictures of overly-tanned greased up abs on the label. There is a reason why they are called “meatheads”. They have a whole lot of poor, cholesterol-laden or synthetic protein in their lives. And nothing else. They may have rippling abs and Bruce Lee lats, but they are the prime candidate for a heart attack, high blood pressure, and they are going to age very, very quickly.
This might be an extreme example (or maybe just a bitter rant from too much time spent in gyms), but you get my point. Protein is obviously necessary for a strong and healthy physique, but animal protein is most definitely NOT the only source. I often get the question (as i’m sure you have more times than you would like to think about) “Where do you get your protein?” To that I always reply, “Everything I eat has protein in it.” Veg staples like beans, lentils, nuts, veggies, soy, and grains all contain ample amounts of protein and other lovely treats such as fiber, carbs, and a vast cornucopia of vitamins and minerals, all mandatory ingredients in an athlete’s diet. The result? More nutritional bang for your buck.
Believe it or not, humans do not need as much protein as we have been led to believe. Most American’s eat a diet consisting of about 20-30% animal protein. This is a whole lot. We actually only need about 10% of our calories to come from protein and that protein does not have to come from an animal – it is actually more efficient if it doesn’t.
To learn more about our protein needs check out theproteinmyth.com.
Eye of the Tiger : Training Advantages
There is no special rule to vegan fitness training. We workout like everyone else. However we do have a few advantages up our sleeves.
First of all, we are totally in tune with our body. I assume it has something to do with the clear mind and digestive tract that come with vegan living. The moment something is off with our bodies, be it a slight cold or food that is not sitting right, we know it right away. We know how our bodies like to move and what limits we can push it to. One thing that is important while training athletically is to listen to what your body is telling you. If you are genuinely tired, take a break. If something is hurting or very sore, don’t use that muscle for a while. These things sound very obvious, but you would be amazed how often athletes ignore what their body is telling them and continue to over-train until they hurt themselves or develop serious imbalances. I find that being vegan has helped me listen to and respect my body more. This prevents me from inflicting pain upon it for unnecessary reasons.
We have energy, and lots of it! Meat and dairy take a lot of energy to digest. They make you sluggish, and many times they can make you sick. Plant based foods however, digest quickly, giving our bodies the opportunity to spread the energy around to our muscles and brain.
Our diet naturally contains healthy amounts of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and healthy fats – all needed to fuel hard workouts and build muscle. We don’t have to worry about trying to cram these foods into our daily meal plan because they are in everything we eat!
We smell better! Vegans naturally have less offensive body odor and better smelling breath. (It probably has something to do with the lack of decaying flesh in our digestive tracts.) So we can get gross and sweaty and not worry so much. We also make for better workout partners.