Whenever Mitch’s copy of Men’s Journal arrives, I am always anxious to open it to the middle where I can find some interesting health and fitness info and that’s exactly what I did this month. Sure, I noticed the picture of Michael Douglas on the front cover with with the text “Return of a Fighter,” beneath it, but how could I have missed THE headline at the very top of the cover? Sitting on the floor of my bathroom, Mitch having regained custody of “his magazine,” there it was: THE RISE OF THE POWER VEGAN DIET. Wow, veganism the top story in a magazine for “real” men.
What a great article by Kevin Gray who opens his story with this hook; “The once fringe food movement is taking hold in some surprising places. Top talent in the NFL, the business world and adventure sports are saying that going animal-free not only works, it gives them their edge.” Ok, this line really caught my attention. For the many, many years I was a vegetarian, I was sure that I needed the fish and dairy to get my protein, so I ate it. Just this year, I began to really question how much protein I REALLY needed to keep my body healthy. Having nothing to do with skill, and everything to do with the quantity of time I spend working out (some days up to 6 hours), I consider my lifestyle and nutritional needs like that of an athlete. Would I start to feel sore, lose muscle mass, decrease my strength and or endurance living on a plant-based diet? These were the questions that always haunted me.
After reading The Kind Diet, I finally said “what do I have to really lose?” If this doesn’t work, I can always keep tweaking things. Then I read The China Study, and Dr. Campbell seemed to answer all my questions. Additionally, his discovery of the consistent link between animal-based proteins and disease, confirmed many of the theories that I believed. The big news, for me, is in reading that there is actually a link between a plant-based diet and superior athleticism.
Ultra-marathoner, Scott Jurek eats about 5,500 calories a day and only about 80 grams of protein. Neither a Teva wearing hippie or an animal activist, Jurek turned to a plant-based diet in the late 90s and then won the first of 7 c0nsecutive 100 mile endurance runs, setting a record in 2004. What he discovered (this is big) is that eating a plant-based diet allowed his muscles to heal faster between training sessions. The quicker you heal, the more you can train. The more you can train, the better you are. Actually makes a lot of sense!
But ok, we might say, sure…runners…they just run and run. They are lean and lanky and probably don’t need much protein, so big deal about Scott Jurek. But what about Tony Gonzalez, tight end for the the Atlanta Falcons? Surely football players can’t live on lettuce! But apparently, this guy who’s teammates used to tease him and call him “China Study,” is holding his own on an almost entirely plant-based diet. Eating about 3,500 calories a day, he aims for 180 grams of protein. After he injured his foot and was told by doctors that he would be arthritic the rest of his life, but is actually living pain-free, his teammates stopped razzing him and starting asking him for advice, instead. Gonzalez, who adopted this diet strictly in hopes of beating the horrific stats on NFL players lifespans, has been convinced to occasionally boost his protein intake with fish, chicken and even grass-fed meat, but as a rule finds most all the protein he needs in nuts, seeds, rice and says a favorite dinner is a veggie burger with avocado, lettuce and tomato on a multi-grain bun that he buys at a bakery, reminding us that most store bought breads have too many preservatives. His lifestyle squelches the myth that “you can’t build muscle” on a plant-based diet. In fact, Dr. Campbell (who wrote THE CHINA STUDY) says that “when we build muscle on an animal protein, we get what animals get when we fatten them up; marbling and layers of fat inside the tissue, which means its a weaker muscle than what you get from plant protein.”
The article goes on to talk about some heavy-hitter non-athletes who need sharp, sharp brains. People like Biz Stone, the Co-founder of Twitter and John Mackey the co-CEO of Whole Foods, find that they have improved productivity for many reasons, stating no post-lunch slump as a big bonus. In fact, actor Woody Harrelson, a vegan since 24 years of age, worries about others having that post-lunch malaise on the set. Not wanting to preach, he does admit that when others are curious he loves to share his experience. He suggests going one week without dairy to see what its like to have NO mucus at all.
I, like many other vegans, do want to spread the word, but know that preaching about ANYTHING is not the way. Many years into being meat and poultry free and 6 months into living on a completely plant-based diet, all I can say is I feel great and am more at peace with my entire being than I have ever been before. The fact that I might, in fact, be stronger and have better endurance as a result is like icing on the cake…the egg and milk free cake, of course!
Wishing you the same peace, in whatever way YOU might find it.