Plant-Based Is The Optimal Diet For Athletes, These Winners Say So!

Sterling Classic Bike Race from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Clara S., Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I wrote about one plant-based athlete here (Tim Shieff), but I think it’s important to know just how many are out there; how well they are doing, and how they ALL report better performance, fewer injuries and quicker recovery times since ditching the meat and dairy.

It’s an old myth that you need boatloads of protein for intense physical activity; it’s also a myth that the protein you DO need has to come from an animal.

If you are someone who trains and competes hard, whether at professional or amateur level, and NO MATTER what your sport or activity of choice – carbs are where it’s at baby.

I’ll let the docs elaborate on this.

From Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

Because of its high carbohydrate and low-fat content, a plant-based diet is an optimal sports diet……In general, carbohydrates are the primary fuel utilized during high-intensity exercise. On a per-calorie basis, carbohydrate needs for athletes are similar to those for anyone else (at least 55 percent of total daily intake of calories). Specific recommendations for athletes are based on weight and range from 6 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. An abundance of evidence shows that carbohydrate availability boosts endurance and performance. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates. Depending on how strenuous the exercise, carbohydrates should be consumed during recovery, between 30 minutes and two hours post activity, when carbohydrate (glycogen) synthesis is at its maximum. Carbohydrate-rich foods with a moderate to high glycemic index provide a readily available source for glycogenproduction.

I strongly advise you to read the rest of this page if you are an athlete or anyone who regularly enjoys intensive sporting activity. It lays out exactly WHY it’s carbs you need for fuel, and not as much protein as you think.

Now let’s see exactly who a plant-based diet is working very nicely for. These are just a handful of the MANY vegan athletes out there:


Scott Jurek

What do you need to know about him? Oh yeah, this man has run a lot more 100+ mile races than you. He is also the FASTEST PERSON EVER to run the equivalent of 6.5 marathons in one day. Yes, 6.5, you read right. 165.7 miles, to be exact.

He starts talking all things plant-based at 24:33

Scott says:

My performance wasn’t the only thing that improved.

When I went vegan, my blood pressure and triglycerides levels dropped to all time lows, and my HDL, or “good” cholesterol shot up to an all-time high. I had virtually no joint inflammation, even after miles of pounding trails and roads, and on the rare occasions I sprained an ankle or fell and whacked my elbow or wrist, the soreness left faster than it ever had before.

Rich Roll

This guy is an inspiration. Rich had a wake-up call one day when he realised he had chest pains just walking upstairs. With everything to live for (lots of kids!) he made a choice to change his lifestyle from one that was unhealthy, workaholic and unmindful; to one that was plant-powered, considered and fully conscious.

After a mere two years on this path eating whole, plant foods, he found himself 50 pounds lighter, and competing – as the first vegan ever – in the Ultraman World Championships. This is a 320 mile endurance event that you need to be fit enough to merit an invitation to take part in. He was a top finisher in these championships in both 2008 and 2009.

In 2010, he and a colleague completed the EPIC Challenge – 5 ironman distance (140 miles approx.) triathlons in under a week. This was in his words ‘an unprecedented feat of staggering endurance many said was not possible.’

Men’s Fitness Magazine has named Rich as one of the 25 Fittest Men in the World.

Rich says

 …That said, I am well aware that not everyone’s goal is to compete in the Ultraman.  And I admit to some genetic predisposition to excel in this arena.  But the point is that a whole food plant-based diet is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to taking your life back.  Not just towards a healthier “you” per se, but a positive quantum leap forward when it comes to achieving the best and most actualized version of yourself – the person you are meant to be

Frank Medrano

Calisthenics expert and bodybuilder Frank Medrano had been training for around six years, when he happened to hear that two bodybuilding friends of his were vegan. He was understandably intrigued, and thought he’d try it for himself.

His two friends answered his questions on veganism and helped him practically with meal plans etc, and within a few months he felt the many healthful effects of his new diet. He has called the feeling engendered by a plant-based diet ‘super wellness.’

Frank says:

I thought I was healthy and strong before, but [after adopting a plant-based diet] I started to feel energetic and I was having quicker recovery after training.

Brendan Brazier

I’m getting exhausted just writing the achievements of these guys!

Brendan is a 7-time Ironman triathlete and a champion twice over of the Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon.

He now gives talks all over the US on topics like how to boost athletic performance on a plant-based diet, how a plant-based diet reduces stress, and how the diet reduces carbon footprint significantly.

Here’s a TED talk from him on optimal performance enhancing nutrition for athletes:

Brendan says:

…in my opinion, it’s the best nutrition program for energy, for mental clarity, for physical performance, mental performance, everything really. And less sleep—you simply don’t need to sleep as much, which of course leads to greater productivity; you’ve got more waking time. Things like that are valuable to anyone, really.

Christine Vardaros

Professional cyclist Christine Vardaros has competed against the world’s best in cyclocross, road and mountain biking, winning many events in all three sports. She has represented the US three times in World Championships and been placed top ten in several cyclocross World Cups. She has been vegan since 2000.

Christine says:

A plant-based diet is certainly the key to getting the most out of our bodies. It also feels great to know that no animal had to suffer for my successes.

Tarahumara tribe

In a very isolated part of Northern Mexico in the canyons of the Sierra Madre Occidental live a tribe of indigenous people called the Tarahumara. Their name for themselves is ‘Raramuri,’ which approximately translated means ‘running people.’ They are known – the men and women alike – for their ability to run IMMENSE distances, running up to 72 hours!

The Tarahumara are at least 95% (probably more) vegan. They eat meat very rarely.

So how do they fuel runs of this length? Largely with ‘las tres hermanas’ (the three sisters). The three sisters are corn, squash and beans. The Tarahumara are not the only tribe to use this system of nourishment. Native North American tribes also used to use this. These three plants, when grown together, all contribute to each other. Beans provide nitrogen to the soil, corn naturally provides a climbing structure for the beans, and squash blocks sunlight by spreading along the ground, thereby preventing weeds from growing.

There is also low incidence of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes amongst the Tarahumara, largely attributable to their plant-based diet.

This documentary about them was made recently.