Plant-Based Super Athletes
25 Apr 2017
This article is aimed at fit individuals in their 20s and 30s who are attracted to plant based diets but are worried that leaving out meat and dairy will trigger loss in muscle mass and endurance. Fortunately, the truth is actually the opposite!

Did you know that several world champions switched from meat based diets to plant based diets in the middle of their careers? By browsing through the videos and articles below, you will notice some common patterns: everybody says that they feel more energetic and that their recovery times are shorter. They all report increases in strength and stamina. Many of them report positive changes in mental outlook as well: they feel calmer, more grounded, more focused and more patient.

"Where do you get your protein from?" is the most common question posed to plant based athletes. Dr John McDougall offers a long and technical answer: When Friends Ask: Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Enjoy the videos and links below! :)

Patrik Baboumian

Patrik Baboumian (Wikipedia) (born 1979) is a 'gentle, playful giant'. He became vegetarian in 2005 at the age of 26. In 2011, he turned vegan out of compassion for animals. Since then, he started calling himself 'The Vegan Badass' :)

In an interview in 2013 (Who is the Vegan Badass?), Patrik explained:

"Myself, being led to this lifestyle by ethical reasons, I was expecting a decrease in my performances actually. And I was completely surprised by the fact that the exact opposite happened! My numbers went up. My recovery got better. And everything was perfect!"

Patrik can lift pretty heavy objecs and carry them around. For example, this video shows him setting a world record for carrying 555 lbs over a distance of 10 meters. And this video shows him lifting logs weighing over 200 lbs &overhead — check out his expressions in the middle and at the end of the video :)

In Where do you get your protein? (YouTube, 2015), Patrik answers the #1 question that vegan athletes get asked. Many other videos are available at YouTube Channel and Facebook Page.

Tia Blanco

Tia Blanco (born 1997) is a professional surfer who won the Gold medal in the Womn's World Surfing Championship in 2015. She has been vegan since 2013. Tia's YouTube channel has several videos on veganism. In this video and this video, Tia shares her blood test results after 4 and 2 years of veganism, respectively.

Carl Lewis
(Track and Field)

Carl Lewis (wikipedia) (born 1961) won 9 Olympic gold medals in 100m, 200m, relays and long jump. In 1990, he switched to plant based diet after coming in touch with Jay Cordich ("The Juiceman") and Dr John McDougall at a TV talk show. Carl was almost 30 and people thought that he should retire. However, all of his personal best performances occurred after he switched to a plant based diet. See Taped interview with Carl Lewis (YouTube) and a long article by Dr McDougall: Building Your Own High-Performance Athletic Body, 2003. In his Biography, Carl Lewis attributes his performance in 1991 to his change of diet.

Who is Dr John McDougall? He has been an advocate of Plant Based Diets for over four decades now. Dr McDougall has an extensive website and written several books. He has a clinic in Santa Rosa where he offers 10-day Live-In Program.

Scott Jurek
(Ultra Running)

Scott Jurek (born 1973) is an ultra running legend with various world records to his credit. The list of his accomplishments is too long — see his Wikipedia page :) For example, in 2015, he ran the 2200-mile Appalachian trail in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes, breaking the old record by 3 hours.

The video above is a 44-minute talk by Scott Jurek. It is titled "Food as Fuel: Plant-based Food for Endurance Athlete".

Scott turned vegetarian in 1997 and vegan in 1999 at the age of 26. He cites his diet as the key to his superior athletic performance and recovery.

His book Eat and Run (288 pages, 2013) explains his journey, especially the role of his vegan diet in his career. The book available in audio format here (YouTube).

Fiona Oakes
(Ultra Running)

Fiona Oakes has been vegan since she was 6 years old. She holds a bunch of world records in long distance running. She has finished the Marathon Des Sables three times — this is a grueling 156-mile race completed in 6 days (an average of 26 miles per day) in the Sahara desert. This news report describes her 2016 participation.

Fiona Oakes runs the Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, home to over 400 rescued animals. In the video above, she narrates how the sanctuary came into being. An excerpt from the video:

"I went vegan when I was six years old. It was a natural progression from going vegetarian when I was three. And the decision to go vegan was made when I was able to ask my mom, "Why does the chicken decide to give us her eggs?", "Why does the cow decide to give us her milk, doesn't her baby want it?" And my mom had to just answer honestly. And when she told me, when she explained to me, I decided from that point, I was going to be vegan. And it's something I've done and never regretted in almost 40 years."
David Meyer
(Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)

David Meyer has won a number of awards in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; see biography at BJJ America, a martial arts training organization that he co-founded.

In the video above, David compares human anatomy to those of carnivores and herbivores. He makes a case that we are closer to herbivores in terms of physical structures like teeth and intestines. Next, he compares our natural inborn reaction towards other living beings and towards fruits and vegetables when we are hungry. David says that we are more like herbivores, less like carnivores.

David Meyer runs two websites:

(a) FuelForTheFighter: See List of Plant-Based Fighters and brief biographies of each fighter. Also see What to Eat?.

(b) Adopt A Pet was co-founded by him. It is the largest non-profit pet adoption website in North America. David has authored two pet-care books: The Total Dog Manual (256 pages, 2015) and The Total Cat Manual (224 pages, 2016).

Rich Roll

Rich Roll (born 1965) was a competitive athlete in his school days. He went on to become an attorney. However, his career was cut short by drugs and alcoholism, which alienated him from near and dear ones, landed him in jails, institutions and rehab in his 30s. Eventually, at the age of 40, he had an 'aha!' moment that inspired him to take care of his health. Rich turned vegan and started exercising. Very soon, he was competing in triathlons!

In 2010, Rich Roll became the first person to finish the EPIC 5 challenge: 5 triathlons in 5 successive days on the 5 islands of Hawaii. He was 45 years old.

Rich then wrote Finding Ultra (288 pages, 2013), a book that chronicles his personal life experiences. Rich is a huge advocate of plant based foods. He has also written The Plantpower Way (336 pages, 2015) with his wife Julie Piatt. This book has 120 recipes and plenty of advice for enjoying a plant-based lifestyle.

Rich Roll was also the subject of a CNN Documentary by Dr Sanjay Gupta: Human Factor: Rich Roll's 'experiment' in fitness (October 2010).

Meagan Duhamel
(Figure Skating)

Meagan Duhamel (born 1985) is a pair skater who turned vegan in 2008, aged 23. With partner Eric Radford, she is a two-time world champion (2015, 2016), an Olympic silver medalist in the team event, two-time Four Continents Champion (2013, 2015) and six-time Canadian national champion (2012-2017). This video shows her in action in 2016 World Championships.

The article Olympian Meagan Duhamel explains why she went vegan narrates her personal story. Her transition to plant based lifestyle was quite sudden. She happened to pick up a copy of Skinny Bitch (224 pages, 2005) at the airport and she couldn't keep it down until she finished reading it. The very next day, she cleared her fridge of all animal products and decided to step into the world of fruits, vegetables and whole foods! She hasn't looked back since.

An excerpt from the video above:

"Six years ago, I became a vegan. I've noticed nothing but positive benefits. First of all, my energy is higher. I sleep better at night. My skin is better. I feel stronger. I feel like my body is in peak condition at all times. It was essentially done for health purposes, for diet purposes. But as time went on, I became a lot more compassionate, interested in animal rights."

The article Meagan Duhamel's vegan diet helps her train, focus, recover is also a great read. Two more short videos where Meagan explains how she felt after the change: first (0:49) and second (1:49).

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova (born 1961) is a tennis legend. She won a total of 59 Grand Slam titles: 18 Singles, 31 Doubles and 10 Mixed Doubles; see her career statistics. Most tennis stars retire in their late 20s or early 30s. However, Navratilova continued to compete at the highest levels into her late 40s. She won her last Grand Slam title when she was one month short of her 50th birthday.

In the fast paced video above, Martina summarizes what she eats and why. Her book Shape Your Self (288 pages, 2006) describes her diet as well.

From the video, we can infer that Navratilova's diet was plant based in her 40s; not sure when she got started.

Kendrick Farris

Kendrick Farris (Wikipedia) was the only male weightlifter to represent USA in 2016 Olympics. He became vegan in late 2014. During the Olympic trials in May 2016, Farris broke the US record by lifting a total of 831 pounds (377 kg) — 370 pounds (168 kg) in the snatch and 461 pounds (209 kg) in the clean and jerk.

In the video above, Kendrick explains the changes he experienced:

"I still feel the same — you know what I'm saying — like my body moves well; my body feels great. So I feel the same in the sense of, like, how I can train and how I feel on the platform… but I can't even describe — you know what I'm saying — like how I actually feel… like today… versus 8 years ago. I just know I'm not the same person. Mentally, I am a lot more clear. And I wanna, like, really turn it on and focus. I'm (now) able to do it!"
Tim Shieff

Tim Shieff (born 1988) is a freerunner. See this video to understand what that means. Check out some of his Ninja Warrior UK videos: Semi-Final of Ninja Warrior UK in 2:32 and Ninja Warrior UK - Last Man Standing.

Tim turned vegan in 2014 when he was 26 years old. He's a vocal advocate of veganism with dozens of YouTube videos. Check out his Playlist with Vegan Recipes. A couple of short videos: Vegan Breakfast and How to be Vegan at Nandos (a restaurant in England). In this video, Tim explains at length that a vegan diet has all the nutrients to be strong and healthy.

Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei
(Spiritual Walks for Multiple Years)

The documentary about Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei was made by Christopher Jayden in 2002 (details). These monks perform extraordinary feats of human endurance which are well described in the article The Spiritual Athlete's Path to Enlightenment by Holly A Schmid in Ultra Marathon Running, December 1996.

To become a monk in Mount Hiei, it is common practice to complete a term of 100 days as a gyoja, "a spiritual athlete who practices gyo with a mind set of the Path of Buddha". As a gyoja, a monk runs 40km (25 miles) a day for 100 consecutive days. In between, there is one day with 54km (32 miles).

If the gyoja successfully completes the 100-day term, he can petition to try a 1000-day term which takes seven years to complete. See Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei for details of the super-challenging feats they accomplish during this 1000-day journey.

The monks eat little. Their meals consist of mostly vegetables, tofu and miso soup. Not sure if they are 100% vegan.

Joshua Knox

Joshua Knox is a personal friend who has been building his body for almost 20 years now. In the video above, he describes why he changed, how he lost weight but gained strength, how his cholesterol numbers improved, and how he felt mentally after making changes to his diet.

I usually pause the video at the 6-second mark to show Joshua's physique to my friends. Most are astonished to learn that he's a vegan!

Josh is not a 'super athlete' or an Olympian. However, I added his video to this article for a reason: In case you're in the bay area, California, then Joshua is somebody you could meet in flesh and blood. He switched to plant based diet after 10+ years of serious bodybuilding and found it beneficial.

© Copyright 2008—2018, Gurmeet Manku.