No Meat Athlete? - Page 2
Increased Athletic Performance
Professional Ironman triathlete, and two-time Canadian 50K Ultra Marathon Champ Brendan Brazier of North Vancouver, British Columbia, has been vegan—someone who eats an animal-product-free diet, including all meat and dairy—for 21 years. When Brazier began eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, he says, “It made a huge difference. I was able to train more and recover faster.”
Scott Jurek, an elite ultrarunner and the former U.S. 24-hour record-holder, who has been a vegan since 1999, agrees. “A balanced plant-based diet provides my body with an abundance of anti-oxidants, phytonutrients, enzymes, whole unprocessed macronutrients and micronutrients, which are critical for repair and recovery,” says Jurek. “Recovery is faster too, minimizing injuries and optimizing performance.”
Jurek and Brazier’s improved recovery claims match up with academic research. A 1995 study in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found that vegetarians had significantly higher plasma levels of essential antioxidants including vitamin C, beta-carotene and vitamin A.
Enough Protein? No problem
Susan Levin, director of nutrition education at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, claims that most Americans consume about 110 grams of protein per day, roughly twice the federal government’s recommendation. Of those 110 grams, about 75 come from animal proteins. Such high protein intakes have been associated with chronic diseases like osteoporosis, cancer and coronary artery disease.
What’s more, many nutritionists suggest that endurance athletes would be fine consuming just 30 grams of vegetable protein per day. “Athletes need only slightly more protein than someone who is sedentary,” says Levin. Good sources of plant-based protein are tofu, beans (kidney, black, garbanzo, soy, adzuki), legumes, hemp seeds and soy.
Small Changes, Big Benefits
Matt Frazier, vegan ultrarunner and author of the blog “No Meat Athlete,” encourages athletes to transition to a plant-based diet at a pace they are comfortable with, rather than going cold turkey off meat. “I recommend gradually reducing the number of legs you eat. I first cut out four-legged animals like pigs and cows. … Then I cut out two-legged animals like chickens and turkeys. And then I was down to fish, the zero-legged animal,” he says with a laugh. “Finally I went vegan and cut out dairy products too. But you can stop anywhere along that continuum that you’re comfortable.”
To eat better without being 100-percent vegetarian, Frazier suggests no-meat Mondays, or being a six-days-a-week-vegetarian or a vegan until dinner.