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Vegan Athletes: Driving the Change

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The vegan lifestyle is now attracting people from all backgrounds and professions. One of the more interesting developments is the fact that many athletes have recently joined the tribe and are now eating vegan for their own personal health and fitness, proving that a vegan diet is indeed nutritionally adequate even for those with the highest nutrient requirements among us.

With the rise of this new generation of plant-eating competitors, it is becoming increasingly well-known that professional athletes can improve their performance by adopting a plant based diet, and as a result, there is now a growing herd of vegan athletes from Olympians to triathlon runners.

One of the major reasons athletes are taking the leap now is because it is finally being accepted that a plant based diet is far from inferior, but actually seems to be a superior source of nutrition, including plenty of protein for everything from maintaining body organ functions, to developing muscle strength and even body building.

Not only do many dietitians and health institutions agree that the amount of protein we need in our diet has been over emphasized, but because protein is found in all plant foods, especially legumes, grains and nuts, it’s a lot easier than we once assumed to get the recommended amount on a plant based diet.

Bodyweight trainer Frank Medrano and Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris are two indisputable examples of the power of vegan muscle. Farris, who is the only male weightlifter from the US team to qualify for the Rio Olympics, has moved up a weight class and claimed an American record after lifting a total of 377kg (831 pounds) at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in May since adopting his plant-based diet.

Ultra marathoner Matt Fraizer became vegetarian for ethical reasons: “I got faster immediately, and six months later, I qualified for Boston. Once that happened, I went vegan. I kept getting faster, and after that, I started to run longer distances of 50 and 100 miles.”

For NFL player David Carter, it was high blood pressure and nerve damage that triggered the change. On Feb. 14, 2014, his attitude suddenly changed: “I was drinking a milkshake and watching [the documentary] Forks Over Knives. And I just thought to myself, ‘That’s it, I’m done.’ I got up, threw out the milkshake and went vegan.”

The career of tennis star Venus Williams almost came to a halt after she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an immune-system disorder that caused her joint pain, fatigue and shortness of breath. But thanks to proper treatment and a drastic diet change, Williams was able to step back onto the court with newfound strength. She began following a raw vegan diet, which typically involves eliminating all animal products and foods cooked above 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

Vegan athletes are changing the negative stereotypes, proving that plant-based protein can not only build strong muscles, but can keep a vegan healthy enough to be a professional athlete. Now we’ve come a long way from the days of ‘where do you get your protein?’