Every two years I get Olympic fever. Having been a competitive athlete myself in high school, and continuing to be active ever since (I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007), I love watching people at their physical and mental peak. It gives me such a rush to see an athlete come from behind to win a big race, or overcome huge odds, either personally or in the arena to make a strong finish.
Recently the world of sports is beginning to see a larger number and a more vocal community of vegan athletes, which I find especially exciting and rewarding to watch. Vegan athletes are most visible in sports requiring very lean and strong physiques like ultra-marathon running (Scott Jurek), boxing, cycling (Hyland Fisher) and especially body building made famous by Robert Cheeke. But you can also find stand-out vegan athletes in less obviously vegan-friendly sports like powerlifting, mixed martial arts fighting, and track and field. My favorite, and perhaps the most famous vegan athlete, Carl Lewis, had this to say about going vegan:
“I’ve found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete. In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet.”
Lewis won 10 Olympic medals (9 gold and one silver) in the ’80s and ’90s. He has held the World Record in the indoor long jump since 1984 and is the only man ever to defend an Olympic long jump title. He was also the only man to win gold in the 100m dash in two consecutive Olympics until Usain Bolt did it again yesterday. I remember seeing Lewis win in the 100m at the Olympics on TV as a kid, but I had no idea until recently that he was and is vegan.
Which brings me to the vegan protein myth. If you’re already vegan, you probably already know this, but in case you don’t or you’re contemplating a vegan diet but are concerned about getting enough protein here’s the truth: There is protein in almost everything we eat, not just in animal products, and we actually need a lot less protein then most Americans think we do. So, if you’re a normal adult (not an endurance athlete, pregnant, or a growing child) and you eat a varied, whole-foods plant-based diet you are probably getting enough protein. If you are an endurance athlete, pregnant, or a growing child, you may need an extra vegan protein supplement like Vega which was developed by professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier especially for vegan athletes.
Many new vegans site tiredness or lack of energy as their symptom of not getting enough protein. But, if you’re transitioning from a standard American diet to a vegan diet, most people may not realize that you need to eat more of most plant-based foods to get the same number of calories. So, although I’ve never seen a study to prove it, my guess is that many people who experience low energy after becoming vegan are simply not eating enough vegan calories. For more tips on eating healthfully as a vegan, athlete or not, check out these links:
Who is your favorite vegan athlete?