Are vegan athletes the new cream of the crop for future strength and power sports? It may be so considering that well known athletes like Carl Lewis, Mike Tyson, Kendrick Farris and Venus Williams are all vegan. It should be of no surprise to anyone that a plant based diet is good for you. The problem therein lies in the perception that the public has about a vegan diet. Many people will bet their life that you can’t be a successful athlete on a vegan diet because you don’t get enough protein. This is simply not true.
Protein And Vegan Athletes
If you are in fact a vegan athlete, the first question asked usually is: how do you get your protein? To which I always answer: protein isn’t really all that important. That’s right! Protein is not the be all end all of athletics. In fact if anything most athletes are eating too much protein and too little carbs.
The entire protein myth about eating a high protein/low carb diet and being able to both lose weight and pack on muscle at the same time is a complete fantasy. High protein diets are a myth made up by the meat and dairy industry to sell you more of their products. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine even warns that Americans eat too much protein in their diets. In their article they cited kidney stones, osteoporosis and cancer as major diseases that can be attributed to a high protein diet.
As far as athletes are concerned, most really don’t need much protein. In fact, according to Nancy Clark, RD, most athletes need just slightly more protein than the general public. In her book, Sports Nutrition Guidebook, the general public needs about 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Most strength athletes actually require protein in quantities similar to that of endurance athletes, about 1.3-1.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. The only time to eat more is when you are burning a ridiculous amount of calories from training, or you are an athlete trying to cut down in weight without loosing too much muscle mass. Otherwise, most of your diet should be from carbs and some fat.
Athletes Vs. Vegan Athletes
Now that we have answered the protein question, lets cover some of the other benefits that a vegan athlete will have over a typical athlete. Vegan athletes typically have faster recovery rates than a normal athlete, assuming PEDs are not used. The reason being is vegan athletes tend to keep their bodies in a more alkaline state than a typical athlete.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) should be renamed to the highly acidic diet. Most process foods as well as meat and dairy foods are very acidic. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains are mostly alkaline. The human body likes to remain alkaline. In fact the bloods pH is supposed to remain between 7.35-7.45. If too many acidic foods are consumed in the diet, than the body will go on a full scale alert. It will start to strip calcium from the bones to try and buffer the blood (hence osteoporosis). All of that calcium in the blood will be sent to the kidneys to be filtered out (hence Kidney Stones). As the final kicker an acidic environment is an environment that cancer thrives in. So with all of this chaos going on combined with weight training, your body will take a long time to recover from workouts.
This is why most professional athletes careers are short lived. In their youth they can get away with a crappy diet, poor mechanics and little sleep and still bounce back between training sessions just because they are young. However once their past a certain age, their bodies can’t take all of these stresses anymore. Vegan athletes realize that proper diet is also part of your training and it should not be taken for granted.
Switching To A Vegan Diet
Switching to a vegan diet can be a little rough if you are not used to plant based foods. So to make the switch to a vegan diet, we need to make sure that you don’t go completely cold turkey. Doing so would absolutely set you up for failure. The human body has cravings, one of them being processed sugar. To cut that off would elicit a withdrawal response from the brain. This would cause you to feel tired and lethargic all of the time.
The best way to switch to a vegan diet is to slowly incorporate more vegan foods into your diet without eliminating any of your old meals. Just take the time to get your body used to those types of foods. Once that is established, the next step is to start eliminating SOME of your old foods from your diet. Finally, as time goes on you can make the full switch to going completely vegan.
Take your time and don’t rush it. Good things come to those who wait. Just accept the fact that progress doesn’t just magically happen overnight. It is a long process and you are in for the long haul. All that maters at this present moment is that you understand this and you are starting to take steps in the right direction.
Staying The Course
Once the switch is made you can be assured that you are on the right track to making gains. One of the first things that most people notice after switching to a vegan diet is how much weight they seem to lose. Don’t be concerned. This is not muscle that is being lost, but inflammation and body fat. Turning vegan makes your body operate more efficiently, which turns you into a fat burning machine.
The temptation to eat bad foods will always stay with you throughout the rest of your life, but the question is will you give in. I can already answer some of this for you. Yes you will give in. I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing. I just consider it to be a part of our learning process. Giving in means that you temporarily give up and go backwards instead of forwards. But I think that this is just your bodies way of getting a running start to jump forward again. If your body is craving junk food that means that is still hasn’t fully adjusted to a vegan diet and still needs some time.
As time goes on you will start to crave the junk food less and less and crave the vegan foods more and more. Then when you start lifting and competing and you will notice how much quicker your body recovers from workouts. You will also feel more alive and awake without the need for stimulants. Overall, it is not a quick or easy way to live as a lifter. But the rewards are well worth it. I think that is satisfaction in and of itself.