Being an athlete means being on the clock 24/7, because your physical performance is often also your source of income. You've heard the term "my body is a temple," but for these professionals their body may as well be their office, too. So, it's understandable that physical health is an incredible high priority for them. Many people once believed that meat was a crucial dietary staple in a healthy lifestyle, but that is no longer the case. There are many vegan or vegetarian athletes who—even at peak physical performance—have chosen to forgo meat, and that choice will not stop them from working on their passion. There are a huge number of reasons that people choose to go vegetarian, and being an athlete is certainly no excuse not to.
Going vegan or vegetarian may seem like a massive undertaking, but for some it's simply a lifelong state of being. Yes, even athletes. Bode Miller, a five-time Olympic medalist in alpine skiing, was raised as a vegetarian while growing up on an organic farm. That's right, this athlete has never consumed meat in his entire life and managed to make it all the way to the top of his field. Bode may not have chosen the vegetarian life, but he has chosen to maintain it throughout his sporting career with absolutely no detriment to his physical performance.
Another major reason for forgoing meat is the sheer love of animals. This ethical concern has caused many people to turn away from a meat-eating lifestyle. Both concerns for the treatment of animals in the meat industry and the general morality of killing animals for consumption have caused many a person to turn towards plant-based diets. Leading a lifestyle that aligns with a love of animals and supporting a passion for athletics are not mutually exclusive practices. Just take weightlifter Patrik Baboumian, the world's strongest vegan, for example. Baboumian has been weightlifting since 1999 and in 2005 chose to become a vegetarian, stating that because he could not himself kill the animals he was eating, he "better be honest" with himself and just give it all up. Six years later Baboumian went one step further, becoming a vegan, and now, he is a world record breaking strongman—no animal products necessary.
When you imagine the "typical" vegetarian athlete, you're probably thinking about someone with the lithe silhouette of ultramarathon runner, Scott Jurek. Meat equals protein equals muscle… right? Not necessarily. And if Baboumian's bulked-up frame isn't enough to prove that to you, then here are the facts.
Going vegetarian or vegan was once disparaged as a lifestyle that would inevitably lead to protein deficiency. This is roughly as accurate as saying if you eat the seeds a watermelon will grow in your stomach. Yes, meats are generally high in protein. And yes, consuming protein is essential to building muscle. But there are a huge number of viable vegetarian protein sources that would support that muscle just as well as meat. Maybe they won't be as protein-dense, but people can still get the necessary amount of protein from vegetarian sources without trouble. In fact, eating too much protein can actually negatively impact one's health, specifically the kidneys. Keeping a balanced diet is understandably a high priority for many athletes and there is no reason that meat needs to be involved.
With all that in mind, protein is not the end all be all of an athletic diet. Protein may be necessary to build muscle, but without the energy provided by carbohydrates to power those processes you may as well be eating cardboard. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, beans, and vegetables, are truly the key to an athletic lifestyle.
Tennis star Venus Williams has actually been living a completely raw vegan diet, which is incredibly rich in complex carbohydrates. This decision was originally due to her being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, but the diet is recommended to anyone who wants to combat fatigue. The raw vegan way of life has gone so well for Venus that her sister, Serena Williams, decided to adjust her diet as well. Although Serena is more of a "flexitarian," sometimes cheating with chicken or fish. For both of these sporty sisters, meat has been put on the backburner when it comes to their healthy lifestyles and athletic careers.
With all this in mind, there's no reason not to eschew the carnivorous lifestyle for something a little bit greener. You simply do not need meat to be an athlete, and all of the aforementioned examples are proof of that fact. With a balanced diet, a steady intake of vegetarian protein sources, and the continued consumption of healthy complex carbohydrates, these athletes are paving the way to encourage more meateaters to make a change in their lives for the better.
4 min read
One of the few things I remember from grade school biology is the concept of tropism. In plain language, tropism is the reaction of a living thing, like a plant, towards a stimulus like sunlight or heat. You've likely seen this before but just didn't recognize it for what it was. If you've ever seen the leaves of a potted plant bending towards a windowpane, that's tropism in action. The plant is bending towards the sunlight.
If you've ever seen the leaves of a potted plant bending towards a windowpane, that's tropism in action.
In our everyday lives, we are all inundated with stimuli throughout the day. The driver in front of us that stalls at the yellow light and zooms through the red light, leaving us behind to wait. Or the customer service rep that leaves us on hold for an ungodly amount of time, only for the call to prematurely drop. There are so many examples both common and unique to our individual lives. The trouble begins when we form the habit of responding to everything — particularly negative stimuli. By doing this, our mental peace is disrupted and diverted making us slaves to whatever happens to happen. Much like the plant bending towards sunlight, we oftentimes react and lean into whatever is happening around us. Now take that concept and multiply it by the number of things that can happen in a day, week, or month. What happens to you mentally with so many emotional pivots?
For me, the result is: Restlessness. Anxiety. Sleepness. Mindless Eating. Everything besides peace of mind.
Much like the plant bending towards sunlight, we oftentimes react and lean into whatever is happening around us.
Earlier this year, something pretty trivial happened to me. I'm sure this has happened to you at some point in your life also. I was walking through a door and, as I always do, glanced back and held the door longer and wider than normal for the person coming behind me. My gracious gesture was met with silence — no thank you, no smile, not even a nod. I remember being so annoyed at this travesty of justice. How dare they not acknowledge me and thank me for holding the door? After all, I didn't have to do it. I know I spent the next few hours thinking about it and probably even texted a few friends so that they could join in on my rant and tell me how right I was to be upset. In hindsight, I should not have allowed this pretty petty thing to occupy my mind and heart, but I did. I let it shake my peace.
I've since taken some classes on mindfulness and what I've learned (and I'm still learning) is the art of being aware — being aware of the present and my feelings. Recognizing when I'm triggered towards annoyance or anger gives me the opportunity to take a step back to understand why and assess whether it deserves my attention and energy. We're all human and having emotions is part of the deal but as mindful adults, it's critically important to choose what you're going to care about and let everything else pass along. There are several tools on the market to help with this but the Headspace app has really helped me in my mindfulness journey. The lessons are guided and coupled with some pretty cute animations.
Recognizing when I'm triggered towards annoyance or anger gives me the opportunity to take a step back to understand why and assess whether it deserves my attention and energy.
Over the course of the next week, I'd like to challenge you to pay more attention to your reactions. How aware are you of how you allow your environment to affect you? Are you highly reactive? Do you ruminate for hours or even days on events that are insignificant in your life? If so, practicing a bit of mindfulness may be the way to go.