“So what do you eat, rabbit food?”
Vegetarians are faced with plenty of questions regarding their diets. Why don’t you eat meat? But where do you get your protein? Are you ever tempted to eat meat, though? The general population can’t seem to understand the motivation to be fueled by “rabbit food.”
Throw in athlete to the traits of a vegetarian, and whoa, things get even more perplexing. However, this dietary ideology even dates back to the Roman ages. John McDougall, M.D., performed research on the bones of high-performing Roman gladiators, unearthed at a burial site in Turkey. Conclusions revealed that the gladiators ate an exclusively plant-based diet, and were even labeled as “vegan.” Considering the Roman gladiators were reputable as the strongest and toughest competitors of all time, the plants must have been treating them right.
But who cares what the gladiators ate? Where do modern vegetarian-athletes get their protein? Physically active individuals specifically need more protein than the average human in order to repair small (but natural) exercise-induced muscle tears. Therefore, it is popularly believed that vegetarian athletes face many limitations when it comes to attaining sufficient nutrient intake to maintain energy levels for optimal athletic performance.
But protein and nutrient options available to vegetarians are quite diverse. Dr. Enette Larson-Meyers, Ph.D., R.D., and author of Vegetarian Sports Nutrition says, “the trick for athletes is to think about protein-rich plant foods at every meal.” Soy products, beans, legumes, nuts, and whole grains provide vegetarians with plenty of choices for protein. Along with this, “super foods” such as quinoa and kale are rich in fiber, antioxidants, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. A colorful, plant-based diet is a surefire way for vegetarian athletes to remain on top of their nutritional games.
Vegetarians aren’t so limited after all. As long as meals are diligently planned, there really are no downfalls to obliterating meat from an athlete’s diet.
Now the next question is brought to the table. Are there any benefits to being an athlete on a vegetarian diet? Abso-freakin-lutely. Just look at the professionals. Scott Jurek, ultramarathoner: Vegan. Joe Namath, legendary quarterback: Vegetarian. Robert Parish, one of the greatest NBA players of all time: Vegetarian. Dave Scott, record holder for the most Iron Man World Championship victories: Vegetarian. Carl Lewis, nine-time gold medal-winning Olympic track star: Vegan. Even Mike Tyson is a vegan, despite the legendary bite he took out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. The stats don’t lie. “Rabbit food” is aiding in the success of some of the greatest athletes of all time.
Matt Frazier, founder of No Meat Athlete, a blogging community for fit veg-heads, and author of No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self, shows that the potential benefits of a plant-based diet are enormous. In his book, he demonstrates that vegetarianism can lead to “weight loss, easier digestion, and faster recovery after workouts, improved energy levels, and a reduced impact on the planet.” These aspects are not only great for a person’s general health, but they lead to significant improvements in athletic performance.
Dr. Larsen-Myers, mentioned previously, states that “people may avoid meat for environmental, religious, or animal-rights reasons, but many are runners who stock their fridges with an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables because of their nutrients and weight-loss benefits.”
Athletes experience increased speed, drastically reduced sluggishness, and improved metabolism in comparison to meat-eaters. Lexi Johnson, 19-year-old competitive rock climber and trail runner, says that transitioning to a vegetarian diet “has definitely affected my overall health and athletic performance in the best way possible. I thought I’d be lacking in energy, but I experienced quite the opposite effect. I feel much lighter and peppy, shedding unnecessary body weight is exponentially easier, and I developed increased stamina and endurance at a much faster rate.”
The evidence is plain and simple: Vegetarianism notably benefits high performing athletes and shows a striking absence of downfalls. The stereotypes that carnivores are better athletes and vegetarians struggle to receive sufficient nutrients both have no meat to them. If there hasn’t been enough scientific proof provided thus far, then just take it from Albert Einstein himself: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” Sure, they run on rabbit food, but there is a reason vegetarians are crossing the finish line first.