Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Vegan Athlete Myth.

It's been a few weeks since the new documentary, "The Game Changers" was released and is now streaming on Netflix. This is another documentary concerning itself with the benefits of plant-based nutrition, but the focus is mostly on athletes who eat a plant-based diet. It centers around former UFC fighter James Wilks and the journey he made switching to a plant-based diet while undergoing rehab for a knee injury he suffered. Throughout the documentary he interviews a variety of athletes who follow a plant-based diet to discover the benefits on athletic performance and recovery.
James Wilks, former UFC fighter, producer and narrator of The Game Changers.
Just like every other documentary in the plant-based and vegan space, the usual suspects are already "debunking" it. One of the biggest anti-vegan proponents is Joe Rogan. Joe is a stand up comedian and commentator for the UFC and has accomplished something I seriously thought was an impossibility, he talks about "vegan" more than vegans talk about "vegan". Kudos Joe!
Joe Rogan, "Those dirty vegan strength athletes use steroids! If they ate meat they would be able to optimize human performance." Also Joe Rogan, "I've been on testosterone since I was 40."
Joe's logic is awesome. Anytime a vegan athlete succeeds it's because they are using steroids/PEDs. Anytime a vegan athlete is beaten it's because of their plant-based diet. And people eat this shit up as he spoon feeds it to him.

Here are some examples.

Joe on vegan strongman competitor Patrick Baboumian. (Note: Patrick, weighing around 255lbs he has bench pressed 474lbs, squatted 816lbs, deadlifted 794lbs, log pressed 408lbs, carried a 1213lb strongman yoke for 10 meters and carried a 1235lb strongman yoke for 28 seconds. -These are just stats I found through a Google search, it's possible he has lifted more, for instance I seem to recall in a video where he stated he deadlifted, possibly for a triple, 800lbs.) 
Vegan strongman Patrick Baboumian performing the yoke lift and carry with 1213lbs for 10 meters.
Joe's comments about Patrick, "Yeah he's strong, he's on steroids." Ok. While I am a healthy skeptic when it comes to strength athletes, if they claim to be drug-free I give people the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. I heard that Patrick claimed to be natural in his interview with Rich Roll. However, I will play devil's advocate here. The majority of all strength athletes at a high level, that I'm aware of, use anabolics and/or other performance enhancers and the vast majority of them are not vegan. Joe, buddy, let this argument go. World class strength athletes use anabolics regardless of diet. World Strongest Man, Hafthor Bjornsson, better known as The Mountain from HBO's Game of Thrones eats a shit ton of meat and uses anabolics. Plus, Mr. Rogan himself has admitted to being on testosterone since he was around 40 years old. If your hunter and gatherer meat-based diet is so optimal, why the need for exogenous testosterone Joe?
Mac Danzig may have never won a UFC belt, but neither did any of the meat eaters he beat.
Joe on former UFC fighter Mac Danzig. "Mac is a great guy, but he never won a championship title." Joe made these comments to "Cowspiracy" producers Kip and Keegan on their episode of the JRE implying Mac's failure to win a UFC Championship belt was due to his vegan diet. Let's think about that for one second and realize how utterly stupid that logic is. While Mac never won a UFC belt he did win Season 6 of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality show that is a gateway for up and coming fighters to enter in to the UFC. He had winning amateur and professional records of 5-1 and 22-12-1 respectively. It is safe to say that every fighter he beat to win TUF 6 and in his amateur and professional career were meat eaters. So using Joe Rogan Logic (JRL for short) those fighters MUST have lost to Mac due to their sub-optimal omnivorous diet, right? Wrong. Mac beat those guys because he was the better fighter when they fought, just as the fighters who beat him were the better fighters in those matches.

Joe also mentioned something about "tons" of athletes who quit being vegan and had to be edited out of The Game Changers. By "tons" of athletes he's referring to one. Tim Shieff an American Ninja Warrior competitor who was vegan for around 6 years but claimed health issues as his reason for switching back to an omnivorous diet. While he blames his health issues on his "vegan" diet I would bet it has something more to do with the extreme 30 day water fasts and drinking his own, and other people's, urine. No athlete, vegan or not, will perform well on water fasts and urine.
Is human piss vegan? Tim thought so. Seriously? Dude drinks piss? Call me insane but I'll stick with oat milk.
It is about skill, not diet.

What Mac, Patrick and all other vegan athletes are proving is that you can compete at the highest levels of your sport while eating a plant-based diet just as you can eating an omnivorous diet.

Speaking of strong plant-based athletes, in 2016 the ONLY US male weightlifter to qualify for the Rio Olympics was Kendrick Farris, a vegan featured in "The Game Changers" documentary. So using JRL the other weightlifters couldn't qualify for the Olympic team due to their meat eating diet, right?
Vegan athlete Kendrick Farris was the only male weightlifter to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
On the topic of vegan weightlifters, check out Clarence Kennedy. Clarence is a monster weightlifter who only weighs 207lbs/94kg and has posted lifts of 407lbs in the snatch, 485lbs in the clean and jerk, 661lbs in the squat, 440lbs in the bench press, and 749lbs in the deadlift. Here is a video of Clarence performing some big lifts and discussing what he eats:

Speaking of strong vegan lifters, I have to mention my friend Ali a vegan powerlifter who is literally one of a handful of women to break the 500lb bench press barrier. In addition she owns a few blocks of real estate on the legendary Westside Barbell Club Record Board.
Catching up with my friend and 500lb bench presser Ali Crowdus at the legendary Westside Barbell Club.
In the social media news lately I've seen Cam Newton coming under fire for being injured due to his vegan diet. More nonsense. Football is a sport where athletes regularly experience high speed collisions with other athletes. Your chances of experiencing an injury in football are 100%. Look at the NFL's injured reserve list which at the time of this writing has 258 players on it. The majority of those players eat meat. Is their diet to blame for their injuries? Sorry folks, this is not a one way topic.
Wait, you mean to tell me a vegan diet does not create an invisible force-field around you to prevent taking hits? I guess Cam's vegan diet is definitely to blame for the defense doing their job.
Outside of athletic performance, something else that drives me nuts is the notion that somehow a vegan diet is less ethical than an omnivorous diet due to mono-cropping of soy and corn. The majority of mono-cropped soy and corn goes to feed factory farmed animals. I met a couple at a workshop I attended recently in California (not a vegan couple BTW) who told me that the town they live in in the mid-west is the highest producer of soy in the country and their town is considered a food desert. So all that soy is going to feed farmed animals, not humans. 95% of the mono-cropped corn goes to feed farm animals, ethanol production and industry. Sorry guys, it's not vegans and vegetarians consuming all that soy and corn.

Oh, and the combine harvesters killing more animals and wildlife than farming practices? Please. If I walk towards a wild animal it turns and disappears in the blink of an eye. I'm pretty sure a massive, loud farm machine isn't going to sneak up on wild animals when they aren't expecting it.
Chipmunks, deer fawns and moles see me coming from 100 yards away trying to get a picture with my cell phone and get the hell out of Dodge, but a farmer driving this "stealthy" machine has no problem sneaking up on and obliterating wildlife. Makes perfect sense.
Here are a handful of points that I've learned about plant-based/vegan athletes:
  • A whole food plant based diet that incorporates a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains can offer athletes a tremendous benefit by reducing inflammation and promoting recovery.
  • All athletes need to eat more protein than the average person but not as much as protein manufacturers want you to think.
  • Animals used for food get their protein/amino acids from plants. Thus their muscle tissue when consumed by humans is simply a delivery system for the plant's amino acids.
  • All plant-based foods contain all of the essential amino acids, just in varying amounts. Eating a wide variety of foods is important regardless of the type of diet you follow.
  • There is no reason to worry about combining foods as long as you are eating your calories from a wide variety of plant-based foods daily.
  • If an athlete consumes the requisite number of calories to sustain their activity and performance level, and those calories come mostly from whole plant-based foods, they will get all the protein, carbohydrates and fats they need along with tons of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
  • Everyone supplements, not just vegans. Go to any vitamin store or GNC and you'll see the majority of protein powders are whey and animal-based.
  • B12 deficiency is an everyone thing not just a vegan thing. I know many omnivores who require B12 supplements or even shots.
  • A diet does not make the athlete; skill, training and performance do. On top of that their diet simply needs to contain enough calories to sustain their performance. I've seen elite athletes perform well on junk food diets and I've seen elite athletes perform well on healthier diets. I'd rather look at those athletes in 20-30 years and see which are doing better.
  • Your diet will not protect you from an injury, especially if you participate in a combat sport or a sport that exposes you to collisions and contact. However, a healthy diet will be much better for recovery and restoration than an unhealthy diet.
  • To say that you cannot get stronger, build more muscle and perform optimally on a plant-based diet is complete and utter nonsense. I worked with a hip hop artist who put on 20lbs of muscle in 2.5 months eating a whole food plant-based diet, no supplements, pills or powders!
The vegan athlete is not a myth. I don't know why people have such a hard time accepting the fact that athletes can perform at the highest level eating a plant-based diet. Especially now that we are seeing so many athletes from all sports and levels of competition doing it. Not only are we seeing great athletic achievements there is plenty of research showing the health benefits of plant-based eating as well. 

Personally I dramatically improved my health when I switched from a heavy meat-based diet to a completely plant-based diet. I've been vegan for 7 years now and have no intention on going back to an omnivorous diet. There is nothing you need to get from animal-based foods that you can't get from plant-based foods. Please don't take my word for it, and don't take the advice of a stand up comedian who's biggest podcast sponsor is a meat company. You alone are responsible for your health, fitness, and performance. Do your own research, read everything you can, experiment and draw your own conclusions. 

Stay Strong AND Healthy!

-Scott

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