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Vegan Athletes in the Mainstream Press

Can Athletes Perform Well on a Vegan Diet? – NYTimes.com

Of course they can!

Elsewhere on-site, an inspiring story by an amateur athlete that I can relate to well:

My Vegan Marathon – NYTimes.com

With recent plant based athletes like Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, and Rich Roll sharing their success stories, it’s a great time to represent this lifestyle. While none of them follow the starch based McDougall diet that I feel is best, they all attribute nearly all their success to their nutrition.

But it is interesting to see  more exposure and discussion of plant based lifestyles and high level sport. What was mocked by many, including so-called “experts” a few years ago now gets fairly balanced coverage. I thought the interview article with professionals was good. It explains that just because a diet is vegetarian or vegan does not necessarily make it healthier. There are plenty of plant based junk foods, and basing your caloric intake on oil, refined flour, sugar, fake meats and cheeses will not promote health.

Here are few quotes I found particularly interesting:

“You do have to be diligent about protein intake if you’re vegan. I have clients, especially women, who say, ‘Oh, I put a few chickpeas in my salad.’ But that’s not going to do it.”

Perhaps. If you’re not eating enough whole plant foods, I can see this happening. But that’s not a healthy diet. If you’re eating intact starches and vegetables with enough calories, protein will not be a problem. Look at the Kenyans. The comment also reflects a bias many of us have where we pigeon-hole certain nutrients into certain foods and forget about the big picture. In this case it’s beans for protein. Whole starches average 10% of calories from protein, and green vegetables have more protein per calorie than most animal foods. I will concede that some research indicates that an absolute value of protein of 1.2g/kg of body weight maximizes recovery. For some, that may take a little extra effort.

“The one issue is vitamin B12, which is found only in meat; B12 is important for endurance athletes, since it affects red blood cell production. “

True. But we already know that, and it’s easy to fix. And it’s probably not nearly as dangerous as people think, especially when it also affects omnivores as well. Dr. McDougall explains the research quite well in his article.

“My feeling is that hard training trumps everything. Diet, if it’s healthy, isn’t going to make that much difference.”

Yes and no. Consistent training is the most important thing. The body adapts gradually. Time out due to injury, illness, or overtraining stall progress. But I firmly believe only a healthy diet allows for that long term progress. Without proper nutrition, the body won’t recover well.

Diet is certainly key fro me. I have raced the last three weekends consecutively for 4-8 hours each time. With plenty of time for reflection at the back of the pack, I realized that 10 yrs ago, eating the Standard American Gourmet Foodie Diet, there was no way I could have done even one of my recent races. Now I love racing, and as soon as my legs aren’t sore, I’ll be back training for the next one. Without my whole foods, starch based diet, I can’t be active.

John McDougall: Still Fighting the Good Fight

Despite the trends in recent years of high protein diets, low-carb diets, and emphasizing the so-called “healthy fats”, Dr. John McDougall is still championing his high-carb, very low-fat diet that has been the foundation of healthy human populations for thousands of years. Oh, and still helping people at his live-in clinic lose weight, regain health, and reverse chronic diseases. His new book The Starch Solution is out, and at first glance he appears to have summed up what’s new in the last twenty years since his last general explanation, while staying true to his core message that a diet of unrefined plant food is the key to health and happiness.  And of course there are plenty of Mary’s recipes that have all been tested by the thousands of paying patients over the years. While finishing the book and comparing it to his previous explanations for a future review, I found this nice article in his local paper describing his work. The article lists a few Sonoma county restaurants that have McDougall menus, and they are on my list to support during my next visit.