By Kiran Ahuja
This National Nutrition Week (September 1-7), there’s no denying that a growing number of professional athletes are choosing to fuel their bodies with healthy vegan foods. From tennis legend Novak Djokovic to Formula 1 champ Lewis Hamilton, elite sports stars are opting for vegetables, fruits, pulses, grains, and other plant-based foods instead of animal-derived ones.
Former Australian cricketer Jason Gillespie stays in top shape by eating vegan, and our very own national football captain Sunil Chhetri has also stopped consuming animals’ flesh, eggs, and milk. He says that eating vegan food helps with recovery and that he’s experiencing other health benefits. “It’s been a few months since I’ve turned vegan now and I feel as healthy as I will ever be.”
From Ironman tri-athletes and record-breaking runners to “America’s strongest weightlifter”, athletes excel when they eat vegan. Vegan strongman Patrik Baboumian broke the world record for the most weight ever carried by a human and holds multiple weightlifting world records. Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel is an Olympic bronze, silver and gold medallist who also holds two world championship titles — and she’s vegan. US women’s national soccer team star Alex Morgan went vegan because of her dog and says it makes her “stronger and helps with fatigue and recovery”.
Many professional basketball and American football players including DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, Kyle Kuzma, Jahlil Okafor, Colin Kaepernick, and Malcolm Jenkins are vegan and they credit their animal-free meal plans for improving their recovery time, energy levels, weight loss, strength and more.
Venus Williams, the most decorated tennis player in Olympic history, is meat-free while professional surfer Tia Blanco went vegan at age 16. Athlete Dana Glowacka powers up with vegan food and holds the women’s world record for the longest abdominal plank which she held for over four hours.
Some of the toughest athletes on the planet are vegan because they know that humans don’t need to eat animals to be strong. In fact, a study revealing that Roman gladiators were predominantly vegetarian inspired the upcoming documentary ‘The Game Changers’, which features professional athletes — including executive producer Hamilton — sharing how turning vegan optimises their health and builds strength. Arnold Schwarzenegger — who’s been dairy-free for over 40 years — and Djokovic are also executive producers. When the tennis player stopped eating animal flesh, he said, “(It) hasn’t just changed my game, it’s changed my life, my wellbeing.”
Vegan mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor Abel Trujillo credits his Kundalini yoga practice for inspiring him to go vegan and explained: “Not only is eating an animal energetically bad for raising the Kundalini aka being in your higher-self, but also spiritually and physically.”
Eating vegan foods that are low in fat and rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants benefits athletes’ performance, endurance, recovery, and more. These foods keep their hearts strong, body weight and inflammation down, and saturated fat and cholesterol levels low, which prevents pain, increases aerobic capacity (the ability to use oxygen to fuel exercise) and improves blood viscosity so that more oxygen reaches the muscles, thereby improving athletic performance. The US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics confirms that vegan foods are appropriate for athletes and reduce their risk of suffering from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and obesity.
Many professional athletes choose to build and maintain body tissue with vegan protein sources such as beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh and non-dairy milks — because unlike animal-derived sources of protein, they also contain fibre and complex carbohydrates which are the primary fuel used during high-intensity exercise. For example, Trujillo loves eating sweet potatoes before competitions because they provide the complex carbohydrates and energy he needs for fight night.
Athletes are also choosing to fuel up on vegan foods to protect animals from the intense suffering caused by imprisonment in cramped, waste-covered cages, sheds, or warehouses; genetic modification and drug regimens that result in chronic pain and crippling deformities; abject abuse; and slaughter by the billions.
Sports stars who eat vegan foods also score big for the environment and prevent the waste of precious resources. Raising animals for meat, eggs and dairy is responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than the world’s transportation sector and more water pollution than all other industrial sources combined and it sucks up one-third of the world’s freshwater resources and global cropland for animal feed.
Let’s all be winners for our health, animals, and the planet by going vegan.
(Dr. Kiran Ahuja is Nutritionist. The opinion expressed are personal.) (IANS)