Can Athletes Truly be Vegan?

By Anna Ganser

Though the number of vegans in the U.S. has gone up significantly in the past ten years, many still believe that veganism is only for thin women and wealthy celebrities.

In the public eye, vegan diets get a bad rap for not being able to give enough protein or carbohydrates in order to sustain a highly active lifestyle. However, the health benefits of veganism stretch across all different kinds of people from all walks of life — even professional athletes and weightlifters.

The truth about veganism

In May 2016, Pew Research Center conducted a survey that revealed that nine percent of U.S. adults are strictly vegan, 79 percent of which are women. These statistics seem to highlight the implication that veganism is just some new fad diet for women, but as a matter of fact, restricting meat and animal products is a growing trend among men too.

In 2014, defensive lineman David Carter acted as a catalyst as he became the first vegan in the NFL. Nicknamed the 300-pound vegan, Carter initially went vegan to keep his “health concerns” at bay. He now credits his reduction of high blood-pressure and tendonitis to his vegan diet. He crushed any kind of vegan stereotype simply by being a 300-pound linebacker for the NFL and now works on the staff of Vegan Outreach.

He told people he is vegan for the first time, saying, “People ask me if I want to get a steak and I tell them I actually don’t eat that, or any meat or dairy. They’re usually thinking, ‘Wait, you’re supposed to be small and weak.’ But of course, they can’t say that when they’re looking at me.”

And Carter isn’t the only vegan athlete that has been successful. World record marathon runner Fiona Oakes has been vegan since she was six years old. She now has the fastest female aggregate marathon time across all seven continents. Another example is bodybuilder Patrik Baboumian, world record holder for those under 105kg log-lift. His record log-lift is 165 kgs. He has also won the German record for the log-lift four times consecutively.

“They’re usually thinking, ‘Wait, you’re supposed to be small and weak.’ But of course, they can’t say that when they’re looking at me.”

Americans who are holding a strict vegan diet tend to continue their healthy ways, as well. As opposed to fad diets and cutting out carbohydrates or sugar, the largest percentage of vegans in the U.S. have been vegan for multiple years. Thirty-five percent of vegans have been restricting meat for two to five years, as opposed to the nine percent that have only been vegan for less than a year. Furthermore, the longer they have been vegan, the less they think and worry about their diet. In a panel study by Imaner Consultants, 62 percent indicated they hardly ever worry about their nutrition.

How to carry out a vegan lifestyle

On the contrary to the misconceptions of veganism, carrying out a meatless diet actually has a very large spectrum of foods that are not affiliated with any kind of animal cruelty. These foods, nutritional sciences Professor Nancy Rodriguez says, are “a more complete nutrient package.” There are many high-protein high-carb foods that are easily accessible to vegans, including tofu, spelt, nuts and edamame. Low-budget foods such as beans, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and lentils also fit into the vegan diet.

A study conducted by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that competitive athletes (specifically bodybuilders) need to pay more attention to their intakes of certain micronutrients, which are not found in meats. VP Marketing and Co-Owner of Growing Natural, Kay Abadee, comments, “This study is sending a shock wave through the fitness industry, hopefully toppling long-held ideas that animal-based whey protein is necessary for serious athletes. Basically, we are finding that animals are no longer needed to get our protein.”

“[vegan foods are] a more complete nutrient package.”

Being vegan and an athlete aren’t mutually exclusive as they have been in the past. Not only are there many athletes out there with strict vegan diets, but vegan foods are full of the nutrients your body needs in order to sustain itself. Even if you’re not necessarily a professional athlete, just keep moving forward. With your diet and just in general.


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