One of the stigmas behind vegetarianism is that people who follow the diet are all skinny and weak. Other than Popeye, we don’t usually associate hardcore athletes with plant based diets.
Rocky Balboa eats raw eggs for protein, not a three bean salad. To become strong and gain muscle, the traditional advice is to consume animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and cheese to get all of the complete proteins to form the muscle. The myth is that plant proteins must be combined at every meal to match up to the complete proteins found in animal products. What many people do not know is that plant foods also contain protein, and all the proteins our body needs can be found in plant foods. Plants can be consumed throughout the day to form complete proteins; soy and quinoa actually have many of the essential complete proteins (Position 2). What many people are discovering is that it is possible to be a strong athlete and even excel as an athlete on a plant based diet.
In his blog post, “the Skinny Vegan’s Guide to Gaining Muscle,” Matt Frazier documents his experience of bulking up with muscle on a vegan diet. A vegan diet includes absolutely no animal products; not even eggs, milk, or cheese are allowed. To many this may seem a futile feat, but Frazier set his goal. He wanted to gain 20 pounds (of muscle) in 30 days. He explains that he has done this type of rapid bulking twice in the past, but with chicken breast and milk as a huge staple in his diet. Alas, he only gained 17 pounds in 6 weeks. That is a 13% weight increase for his body going from 132 to 149. For me personally, I see this as a success already, but he gives reasons for not reaching his goal. Frazier says he would have reached his goal, but he had two interruptions to his training regimen. He had to travel a lot, interrupting many weight lifting sessions and “vegan fat shake” meal opportunities. He also injured himself at the end of the six weeks with a careless mistake while lifting weights.
The “vegan fat shake” he relied on the most for weight gain consisted of:
12 ounces raw, homemade almond milk
2-3 tablespoons raw, homemade almond butter
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon flax seed oil
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 scoops soy-free veggie protein powder (about 22 grams of protein)
1 teaspoon maca powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon wheat grass powder
This shake is packed with protein and fat and other various vitamins and minerals contained in plant foods. I would say this is probably more appetizing than a glass of raw eggs, with many more nutrients that eggs don’t contain.
Matt Frazier founded his website, No Meat Athlete, in 2009 when he first became vegetarian. He qualified for the Boston Marathon that same year, and in 2010 ran his first 50 mile ultra marathon. He still avidly participates in ultras and marathons every year while sticking to a vegetarian diet. His website has appeared as a resource for vegetarians and runners in many books and websites like WebMD and the New York Times. Being an avid runner and healthy vegetarian, he has a lot of personal experience with diet and fitness. Running his blog also requires him to constantly be on top of the newest information on running and vegetarianism. His readers constantly ask questions on diet and fitness, requiring him to give educated and safe advice, or else the readers will discredit him and lash back at any false or easily refuted information.
Frazier is not the only athlete on a vegetarian diet. In his blog post on “The Vegetarian Athlete Diet” he refers to the vegetarian running icon Bart Yasso, the vegan ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, the vegan pro Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier, and the vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke.
Many other people in the comments of his blogs also claim to have experienced greater energy and success in their workouts while following vegetarian diets. This is particularly seen in the comments on the “Could Going Vegan Help with Exercise-Induced Asthma?” post. It is claimed that dairy products produce an allergic reaction in the lungs, causing something similar to exercise-induced asthma in many people. The comments are mostly from people telling stories about how cutting dairy from their diets helped improve their breathing during workouts.
From personal experience I have realized that plant foods provide me with much greater and cleaner energy than dairy products. I do have exercise induced asthma and dairy products only promote phlegm production, which adds unneeded blockages to my already constricted airways. I have been a vegetarian for longer than I have been running, so I cannot compare my workouts pre and post transition to vegetarianism, but seeing the difference the diet makes for other athletes only makes sense.
In our day and age, vegetarian diets are gaining popularity and the people following them are breaking many stereotypes. Athletes are experiencing much success on plant based diets, sometimes even more than athletes on diets that include animal products. Vegetarian diets are not only helping prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, but they are also providing athletes with more effective fuel.
Frazier M. “The Skinny Vegan’s Guide to Gaining Muscle.” No Meat Athlete. http://www.nomeatathlete.com/gain-weight-vegan/. 5 Oct. 2011. Accessed 28 June 2013.
Frazier M. “The Vegetarian Athlete Diet.” No Meat Athlete. http://www.nomeatathlete.com/vegetarian-diet-athletes/. 31 May 2010. Accessed 28 June 2013.
Lacke S. “Could Going Vegan Help With Exercise-Induced Asthma?” No Meat Athlete. http://www.nomeatathlete.com/exercise-induced-asthma/. 24 July 2012. Accessed 28 June 2013.
“Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109.7 (2009): 1266-1282. ScienceDirect. Web. Accessed 20 June 2013.