Athletes say vegan diets help improve performance while benefiting environment

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
April 20, 2018, 10:18:08 AM EDT

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When most people think of veganism, they tend to think it is only for an animal rights activist or someone who is a bit of a hippie at heart. However, as vegan diets become more popular, many people, including athletes, are learning the health and environmental benefits.

Usually we associate athletes, football players and bodybuilders with diets consisting of a lot of meat and animal products to get protein. What most don't know, however, is that all protein originates from plants.

Cows get their protein from plants, then the cow, which is later turned into steak, is consumed for protein.

It all comes down to the fact that we can either feed the animals the food we could have eaten or we can eat that food directly, which saves resources and reduces emissions during production.

An assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicated the contribution of the livestock sector to global greenhouse gas emissions exceeds that of transportation.

A recent report's results suggest that livestock methane emissions, while not the dominant overall source of global methane emissions, may be a major contributor to the observed annual emissions increases over the 2000s to 2010s.

Football players and other athletes are going vegan not only for health and recovery reasons, but for environmental reasons too.

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"I know [veganism] can help the environment, with the increase in animal agriculture, we are destroying more land for farming," Professional Bodybuilder and National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Coach Torre Washington said.


Torre Washington lifting weights in the gym. (Image via Torre Washington)

Washington said although he believes in abundance, resources can be overused. A study published in the science journal Nature found that, by 2050, a projected 80 percent increase in global greenhouse gas emissions from food production can be avoided if the global diet is an equal-parts mixture of the Mediterranean, pescetarian and vegetarian diets.

"My reason for going vegan was one based off of my integrity than anything related to animals or health," Washington said.

He turned vegan in 1998 after realizing that the Rastafarian lifestyle preached being strictly 'Ital' which is considered being 'natural' by eating and living off the land.

Living off the land is much more environmentally friendly. The livestock sector also is a huge source of water pollution. Pollutants come in the form of animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides and sediments from eroded pastures.

Washington said his recovery has improved and he can train more often if he chooses to.

"After having been vegan for some time, I did notice that my swollen look changed and my recovery greatly improved as well as my energy and immune system got much better," Washington said.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dietary protein derived from plant sources built muscle just as well as protein from meat sources. The catch is that unlike plant sources, meat comes with additional components that can be harmful to our health.

Some of these harmful components include antibiotic residue, trans fats, hormones, saturated fat, endotoxins, cholesterol, Neu5Gc, heterocyclic amines and contaminants such as high levels of metals including copper and arsenic.

These harmful elements increase inflammation and promote various diseases.

"Veganism has helped me improve my ability to continue to build muscle, sprint and remain youthful in a time where people are aging rapidly due to the foods they consume," Washington said.

Washington said veganism is becoming more popular within the sports community and definitely, within the sport of bodybuilding. According to a report, six percent of the U.S. population now identifies as vegan, compared to one percent in 2014.

"I am always hit with emails involving competitors wanting to make the switch. So I believe it will only grow bigger from there," Washington said.

Famous athletes such as tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, NFL quarterback Tom Brady, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson and many more have made the switch to a plant-based diet.

Venus and Serena Williams follow a healthy, balanced raw vegan diet during the tennis season. Raw means uncooked, unprocessed and often organic foods. When Venus was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, she decided to switch to a raw vegan diet to take control of her body and health. Her sister Serena joined her shortly after.

In 2013, Tyson went vegan and said doing so gave him another opportunity to live a healthy life.

Germany's Strongest Man, Patrik Baboumian, is a vegan who holds world strength records.

Former NFL player David Carter, also known as the 300 pound vegan, said he is grateful for all the benefits that he has discovered on a plant-based diet.

“It’s not just about our bodies. It’s not just about our health. It’s about humanity," Carter said.

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