As a vegetarian, I can certainly imagine a life without bacon sandwiches. But a life without egg mayonnaise or a nice slice of brie? That's quite a bit harder. Nevertheless, the British Vegan Society estimates that there are 150,000 vegans in the UK, while the US boasts some two million vegans out of a total population of 313 million. While vegetarian athletes can still eat eggs and replace the creatine that meat provides by drinking enhanced milk products, vegans don't eat any product that has come from an animal, so meat, fish, cheese, eggs, milk- and even honey- are off the table.
With the Commonwealth Games in full swing, it seems like a good time to take a look at the link between veganism- often considered a very restrictive diet- and athletic success. Can you excel as a world class athlete without meat, eggs or milk? These five athletes certainly seem to prove that it's possible. What's more, many of them view veganism as the secret to their success.
1. Jason P. Lester
If you're looking for cast iron evidence that veganism doesn't lead to decreased performance, then Arizona based Jason P. Lester is it. Lester is an endurance and ultramarathon runner, as well as the first disabled athlete ever to qualify for the Ultraman World Championship; a 320 mile (515-km) annual endurance race held on the island of Hawaii. Lester was severely injured as a child when he was hit by a car travelling at 70mph. As well as breaking 21 bones, he also lost the use of his right arm but fought back to reach the top of his profession. When people ask him how he manages to run hundreds of kilometers at a time on just the calories offered by a vegan diet, Jason explains that he owes it all to avocados. The calorie, fat and nutrient dense fruit is a crucial source of energy.
2. Catherine Johnson
Catherine Johnson is a UK based Cyclocross champion who has been vegan since the age of 22 (she's now 37). She explains that she became vegan because "I did not want to cause suffering to animals. I knew that animals often lived under horrible conditions on factory farms. I understood that by merely making the choice to not eat meat and dairy I could contribute to helping animals suffer less." Her decision to become vegan certainly didn't cause her performance to suffer. Since becoming vegan in 1998 she has run several marathons and won the Boulder Cyclocross Series in 2005. She explains that she uses rice based protein powder to replace meat, and feels that the positive feeling she gets from not harming animals helps improve her performance: "having a clear conscience helps you find power, strength and peace within yourself."
3. Patrik Baboumian
If you see a skinny, pale, ascetic-looking person in your mind's eye when you think of vegans, it might be time to revise that view, because Patrick Baboumian is a monster of a man. The 34 year old is an Armenian-German strongman and bodybuilder who became vegan in 2011 after several years of vegetarianism. In the same year, Baboumian also won the title of Germany's Strongest Man. Shortly afterwards, he was recruited by animal rights group PETA to be the face of a new animal welfare campaign advocating a vegan diet. He explained his decision to go vegan by saying "I just found myself thinking that if I would have to kill the animals I ate with my own hands, I couldn't. I was fooling myself eating meat considering my inability to kill an animal. I just thought I'd better be honest to myself and stop eating meat."
4. Brendan Brazier
The second runner on our list is Brendan Brazier, a professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion who swears by a vegan diet. On his YouTube channel, he talks about how his whole food diet includes plenty of fruit, grains, nuts and greens and no refined carbs like sugar. "Through good nutrition we can thrive in life without the need for stimulants, sugars and pharmaceuticals, and vegetarian, vegan and raw plant based whole food choices are the best." Brendan is so convinced that a vegan diet is the most sensible choice for athletes that he even founded his own supplement range for vegan and veggie athletes called- but of course- Vega.
5. Venus Williams
Last, but by no means least, we have international tennis star Venus Williams. Williams decided to go vegan two years ago after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren's Syndrome that attacks the body's secretion glands. She credits a vegan diet with restoring her health and has continued with it since returning to the court. In fact, she's so happy with the results and her performance that she's even managed to convince sister Serena to adopt a raw vegan diet too. The primarily raw, sugar free diet is designed to help keep the illness in check by not overloading her body with excess calories while still providing it with enough nutrients to keep her doing what she does best: winning tennis tournaments.
Instead of being detrimental to athletic performance, these five stories seem to show that a vegan diet can actually boost athletes' health and increase their winning potential. What do you think? Do you have a favourite vegan athlete, or do you think that it's a bad idea to go meat and dairy free when training for sporting events? Let us know in the comments.