Vegan athletes make rivals eat their dust
On August 5, a few hours before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil officially kicked off, Dr. Neal D. Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) announced the roster of participating US athletes who, in a way, already had a foot on the medal podium. He mentioned the names of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, beach volleyball’s gold medal-favorite April Ross, and weightlifter Kendrick Farris.
What was common among them, he said, was that these athletes were powered entirely with plant-based foods, shunning animal products (including pigs, cows, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, poultry, cheese, and eggs).
Barnard wrote in his blog: “More and more athletes are finding that a plant-based diet can easily provide all of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and yes—even protein—to fuel a medal-winning performance.”
Power of plant-based eating
He then quoted Venus Williams as saying: “I believe in the power of plant-based eating, and as an athlete, I always need to feel my best.” Williams specifies green smoothies, brown rice, quinoa, large quantities of fresh vegetables, and even vegan pizza as among her diet staples before and during competition.
Barnard also cited Australian sprinter Morgan Mitchell, who made the switch to a vegan diet two years before she made the trip to Rio—much to the dismay of her coaches and teammates. After hurdling the challenge of a steep learning curve, Morgan reported that she began to feel “lighter and cleaner,” and it showed in the marked improvement of her sprint times.
PCRM had recently teamed up with ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll, named among the “25 fittest men in the world” by Men’s Fitness, to show just how powerful plant-based nutrition could be for athletes. Roll, on a vegan diet, became the first athlete to complete five Ironman-distance triathlons on five Hawaiian islands in less than a week.
Health expert Neil Nedley, MD has cited classic studies performed in the late 1960s when the Scandinavian researcher, Dr. Per-Olof Astrand, studied 9 highly trained athletes. During the study, Astrand changed the diets of these athletes every three days. At the end of each three-day period, he had each athlete pedal a bicycle at high speed to exhaustion. Those who ate the high-meat diet (high in both protein and fat) became exhausted after about an hour. When on a mixed diet, lower in meat, fat and protein, and higher in plant foods, they could pedal at high speed for almost twice as long—for a total of 1.9 hours. When on a vegetarian diet, they went for 2.78 hours until exhaustion set in.
Johann Kim T. Mañez, MD, lifestyle medicine consultant and complete health improvement program facilitator at Adventist Medical Center Manila, stressed: “It’s a no-brainer. The food athletes need to optimally perform should be low in fat and cholesterol, high in complex carbohydrates, contain adequate amounts of protein and essential amino acids and packed with phytochemicals, micronutrients and antioxidants to help maintain tissue structure and metabolic processes. It cannot be overemphasized that adequate hydration with nothing more than potable water is essential to allow these processes to happen. Knowing that, the best diet to answer the needs of athletic performance is a well-balanced, plant-based, whole-foods diet.
“Athletes who went plant-based know the difference and improvement in performance when they switched diets. You can exercise all you want. If you’re on a diet rich in processed, animal-based foods, high in fat and cholesterol, the probability of you ending up with chronic diseases that kill 68 percent of the world’s population is extremely high,” said Manez.
“My experience with athletes who consult regarding dietary needs have outperformed their own personal best upon switching to a plant-based, whole-foods diet,” Manez revealed.
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