Friday, 5 February 2010

Vegan fitness

Do you need meat to be healthy? Can a vegan be an athlete?

In the Winter 08 issue of PETA Animal Times, p21, Neal Barnard, M.D., answered the question "Do athletes need to eat meat?" His answer was:

"Absolutely not. Some of nature's strongest "athletes" - stallions, bulls, gorillas, and elephants are vegans. Whether you're an on-field pro or a weekend athlete, going vegan will give your health and energy a boost.

Studies show that vegetarians and vegans are less likely to be overweight than meat-eaters and also less prone to developing heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses that can leave you on the sidelines. That's not surprising: Plant foods are not only free of animal fat and cholesterol but also naturally rich in antioxidants, which can inhibit heart disease, as well as cancer-fighting vitamins, phytochemicals, and fiber.

The protein and other nutrients that athletes need can be found in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, and soy foods - without the artery-clogging fat and cholesterol found in animal products. Carl Lewis, named "Olympian of the Century" by Spore Illustrated magazine, says that his best year of track competition came when he switched to a vegan diet. After Atlanta Hawks guard Salim Stoudamire went vegan in 2007, he told reporters, "I lost 3 pounds, and 1/m in better condition. My endurance has gone up, and I haven't gotten tired at all during the whole season."

Six-time Ironman Triathlon winner Dave Scott and four-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl have also excelled on a rneatfree diet and Kansas City Chiefs tightend Tony Gonzalez has touted vegetarianism since he read Dr. T. Colin Campbell's book The China Study. When Gonzalez added high-protein plant foods to his diet, he discovered that he had more energy on the field - he even had a record-breaking season in 2007. Vegan runner Scott Jurek has won the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run seven years in a row, setting a course record. Champion triathlete Brandon Brazier found that a vegan diet reduced his recovery time, giving him a competitive edge.

Vegans and vegetarians should take a multivitamin or B-12 -supplement, and if you're looking for extra protein, you'll find it in lentils beans, chickpeas, quinoa, faux meats, and nuts. For more tips, visit and the "Optimal Vegan Nutrition" section of"

If you want a particular example, look no further than the Winter 08 issue if The Vegan (p40, 'Runs in the Jungle'). Stefania Licari writes about her gruelling and inspiring experience:

"A random search on Google connects me to the Jungle Marathon, a 200km setf-sufficient foot-race across the Amazon in Brazil October 2007. I apply on impulse. From this point on my life would never be the same again.

The months fly by and before I realise I am at Heathrow ready to take off. My colleagues think I am crazy and they are frightened I might die.

As soon as I arrive in Brazil, I group with the other racers, few of whom are world-class athletes. I am not the stereotype of an adventure woman in my skinny jeans and working bag at the baggage reclaim. Their perplexity turns into terror when they see what I have planned to eat - dates, dates and dates. I am a proud Raw Vegan.

Some racers offer me their extra food. They think I am not going to survive, not only am I inexperienced, but also "How on earth I am going to push beyond the limits of endurance on dates?"

The race comprises a series of stages varying in length from an intense initial 16km first day to the long overnight 83km stage. It is set within the Floresta National de Tapaios, which is part of the Brazilian state of Para. The extreme humidity, the heat and the brutal terrain create an adventure where survival becomes the real victory.

The runners are challenged on jungle tracks, dirt roads, sandy beaches, with numerous river crossings and swamps.

You might encounter snakes, jaguars, wild pigs, scorpions, and the river life of caimans, piranhas and eels.

The combined sights, smells and sounds of the jungle are like a mental assault. The rainforest roof creates a canopy that filters the sunlight and locks in the thick aroma of the pheromones released by the creatures. The constant noise varies from the calming birdsong to the alarming sounds of screeches and shrills.

The athlete drop out rate is around 40% mostly due to exhaustion, dehydration, heat stroke, injuries, blisters or "losing the mind" in the claustrophobic jungle.

The way I sunvived was by keeping going no matter what and trusting my healthy vegan body. My mantra was "I am making for home" and I did make it home. After 2 kg a day of dates I did not want to see dates for the following few months.

Next, I will be running 1,000 miles acres Morocco with Graeme Waterworth, followed by a support crew and a camera man. For more information, please visit"

So next time you wonder about vegetarian and vegan athletes, there are plenty of inspirational examples above!

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