One common misconception about a vegan diet is it makes a person weak. This belief is so widespread that it is reportedly the reason no NFL team has offered a contract this off-season (as of the time this was written) to ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a vegan by ideology. Never mind that Tom Brady, still the NFL’s biggest name at 39 years old, improved his longevity by eating only veggies and grains for all but the winter months. Or, that the following athletes conquered their respective sports on vegan diets.
Lewis was arguably the greatest athlete of the 20th century. He won nine gold medals as a sprinter and long jumper. He is one of only three people to have won the same event at four consecutive Olympics, with long jump gold at every Games from Los Angeles to Barcelona. He was even drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984, the same year as Michael Jordan, because they considered him the best athlete available. Lewis wasn’t vegan to begin, but giving up meat, dairy and eggs gave him his edge beyond 30 – and he won his last three Olympic golds after this transition. Lewis himself has said becoming vegan was what propelled him to his best year as an athlete in 1991.
This ultra-vegan adopted a plant-based diet early in his ultra-marathon career. In his book, Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, Jurek reveals how he initially worried that his vegan diet “might fail me”. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. After moving from the diet of a typical “Minnesota red-neck, hunter and fisherman” to a vegetarian and ultimately vegan diet in 1999, Jurek’s recovery time shortened and he suffered less soreness. His accomplishments are too long to mention, but they include: a then-US record for 24-hour distance of 165.7 miles (266.01 km), set in 2010; twice winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon, “the world’s toughest footrace” along a 135-mile course from Death Valley up into the Sierra Nevada; and the speed record for completing the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail: 46 days, eight hours, seven minutes. Each chapter of Eat & Run ends with a recipe for vegan treats such as “long-run pizza bread” and “strawberry anti-inflammatory smoothie”.
Long before Michael Phelps, there was Murray Rose. The Australian won three Olympic golds on home soil as a 17-year-old in Melbourne in 1956, and backed it up with another three in Rome in 1960. At one time, he held the world records for the 400-meter, 800-meter and 1,500-meter freestyle. He likely would have won more gold in 1964 had Australian swimming officials not stopped him from competing. Their reason? Rose skipped Australian nationals to be on the set of “Ride the Wild Surf”, the first of two Hollywood films in which he appeared. As the New York Times noted after his death in 2012, “Rose was a vegan at a time when shunning meat and fish was decidedly an oddity. His diet included sunflower seeds, sesame, unpolished rice, dates, cashew nuts and carrot juice. His mother prepared his meals.”
“The Vegan Badass” once lifted a 165-kg log (364 lb), a world record for the 105-kg weight class. In 2013, he broke the world record for a yoke walk, carrying a 555-kg metal frame with a crossbar in front of around a thousand other vegans at Toronto’s Veg Food Fest. He broke his own record two years later by carrying 560 kg. In 2011, the year he became vegan, Baboumian won the title of Germany’s Strongest Man. Two years later, he declared himself stronger than ever before, and said: “Don't listen to those self-proclaimed nutrition gurus and the supplement industry trying to tell you that you need meat, eggs and dairy to get enough protein. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources and your body is going to thank you for stopping feeding it with dead-food. Go vegan and feel the power!”
And these three deserve a mention… Serena and Venus Williams, and Novak Djokovic
None of these tennis stars are 100% vegan, but all three abstain from consuming animal products in-season. Serena and Venus have followed a mostly raw vegan diet for the past few years, although they occasionally enjoy sushi when not preparing for a tournament. Djokovic who is vegan with “a little bit of fish here and there”, owns a vegan restaurant in Monaco. All three have taken up their almost-vegan diets to give themselves an edge. And they would know what it takes, having won 42 grand slam singles titles between them (Serena 23, Venus 7, Djokovic 12). Serena Williams is arguably the greatest sportswoman of all time, so it’s nice to know a vegan diet has played a small part!
Main Image: Patrick Baboumian, Wikimedia Commons; Inset: Vegan T-Shirt from Sunray Clothing via Phloem.market
Secondary Image: Carl Lewis, Wikimedia Commons