The only research-based guide for connecting a plant-based diet with peak athletic performance, featuring interviews with professional athletes who've made the switch from meat to plants. The Plant-Based Athlete by Matt Frazier and Robert Cheeke reveals the incontrovertible proof that the human body does not need meat, eggs, or dairy to be strong. Instead, research shows that a consciously calibrated plant-based diet offers the greatest possible recovery times, cell oxidation, injury prevention, and restorative sleep, and allows athletes to train more effectively, with better results. However, committing to a plant-based diet as an elite athlete, first-time marathoner, or weekend warrior isn't as simple as swapping vegetables for meat...
Publisher: HarperOne (June 15, 2021) Language: English Hardcover: 352 pages ISBN-10: 0063042010 ISBN-13: 978-0063042018 Dimensions: 6 x 1.13 x 9 inches
Generations of athletes have used exercise combined with animal protein diets to get bigger, stronger, and faster, all in the name of a competitive edge. Unknowingly to most, their efforts to achieve the short-term gain of athletic success have often resulted in the long-term pain of chronic disease. This book demonstrates that today’s athletes, from the top stars to the weekend warriors, are embracing the fact that they can reach their short-term goals without sacrificing their long-term health. Replacing an animal protein diet with a plant-based diet not only protects the heart, battles cancer, defeats diabetes, and stomps out strokes, but it also decreases inflammation, improves recovery time, and can fuel an athlete’s fire to win.
— Dr. Columbus Batiste, interventional cardiologist
Being a plant-based athlete is not a new concept. History is rife with examples, from the Gladiators in ancient Rome to the Tarahumara tribe of Northern Mexico, who run 160-mile races fueled by plants purely for enjoyment. While the research supporting plant-based athletes isn’t new either, it is more compelling than ever today. Take, for instance, the study “Is a Vegan Diet Detrimental to Endurance and Muscle Strength?” that was published in April 2020. Researchers followed two groups of healthy, young, lean, physically active women—a vegan group and the other omnivorous—over a two-year period. They evaluated body composition, estimated maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 Max), a submaximal endurance test, and muscle strength. The results revealed that both groups were comparable for physical activity levels, body mass index, percent body fat, lean body mass, and muscle strength. However, results also showed that the vegans had a significantly higher estimated VO2 Max and submaximal endurance time to exhaustion compared with the omnivores. The conclusion? A vegan diet is not detrimental to endurance and strength, and the vegan group achieved greater endurance. For those who follow the likes of legendary plant-based runners Fiona Oakes, Scott Jurek, and Brendan Brazier, these findings come as no surprise. It is, after all, the scientific evidence that explains the athletic success, not the other way around.
You’ll get your share of success stories from plant-based athletes in this book, such as those of Olympic gold medalists and world champions from seemingly every sports background, and they are all truly inspiring. I’m most interested in the science behind their athletic performance, though. We know a lot of the fundamentals, such as you can get all the protein you need from plants; plant foods contain sixty-four times more antioxidants than animal foods; fiber is only found in plants, and dietary cholesterol is only found in animal foods; and plants have a far superior nutrient density ratio of nutrients per calorie than animal foods. But the story is much deeper than that. Whether we’re discussing the way that nitric oxide in leafy green vegetables may increase blood flow, antioxidants may help muscle tissue repair, plants may improve resting metabolic rate, and avoidance of animal protein may lead to a decreased risk of obesity, the scientific literature makes it abundantly clear that plants have been our preferred fuel source for ages—and now they may be the solution to successful and prolonged active lifestyles.
Robert and Matt are the embodiment of these truths, as are the many athletes profiled in this book. What makes The Plant-Based Athlete a formidable and refreshingly unique resource is that it draws from not only decades of personal experience and world-class success stories, but also from both age-old and cutting-edge research. You would be wise to take heed of the advice in this book, as it is essential for creating a lifestyle—not a diet—to improve your athletic capabilities as well as your overall quality of life. Your opportunity to become your most healthful, happiest, and fittest self may very well be determined by what you choose to put on your plate. Choose thoughtfully and wisely, and discover your best athletic self along the way.
—Michael Greger, MD, FACLM, New York Times
bestselling author of How Not to Die and How
Not to Diet and founder of NutritionFacts.org
Becoming a Plant-Based Athlete
Hidden behind the world-class performances of many of the planet’s elite athletes—the biggest, strongest, and fastest humans on the planet—is a secret weapon. These competitors swear by it, affirming that it helps them work harder, play longer, move faster, perform better, prevent injuries, and recover faster. It’s been credited for winning Olympic medals, World Cup championships, Wimbledon titles, and the Super Bowl, in addition to shattering world records. But it’s not high-tech gear or a grueling training regimen, nor is it access to a dedicated team of trainers or even the athletes’ DNA. On the contrary, it’s something that’s inexpensive, accessible, and available to anyone with the inclination to try it: a plant-based diet. Consider just a sampling of the evidence.
When Alex Morgan catapulted the US women’s soccer team to a World Cup championship and into the limelight in the summer of 2019, she credited a plant-based diet for her strength and endurance. Also in the summer of 2019, Novak Djokovic, the world’s number-one–ranked men’s tennis player, outlasted Roger Federer in epic fashion to capture his fifth Wimbledon title. When asked about his performance, Djokovic was quick to proclaim the benefits of a plant-based diet for his energy, stamina, and overall performance. When professional tennis icon Venus Williams discovered she was suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease, which caused her to withdraw from the US Open (and later from competitive tennis entirely) because of fatigue and joint pain, she turned to a plant-based diet for help. The very next year, after adopting a plant-based diet, she won a Wimbledon title and an Olympic gold medal. Her sister Serena —who has dominated women’s tennis for years—has at times embraced a fully plant-based diet and currently follows more of a plant-centered diet (mostly plants, some animal-based foods).
When National Basketball Association all-star Kyrie Irving was traded from Cleveland to Boston in 2017, it represented an opportunity for him to finally emerge from the shadow of LeBron James. After his new team got off to an unexpectedly slow start, he adopted a plant-based diet. The Celtics went on to win the next thirteen games and Irving never looked back, becoming the leader of his team and a perennial all-star. He is now one of the faces of the Brooklyn Nets franchise, where he has a fresh start for putting his plant-based stamp on the NBA. Kyrie set an NBA record in his first game of the 2019–2020 season by scoring 50 points in his debut with a new team. And he’s not alone in looking to a plant-based diet as a competitive advantage in the NBA: fellow all-star Damian Lillard, also one of the NBA’s top 10, adopted a plant-based diet to both drop weight and improve his speed. He accomplished those two goals and catapulted himself from a second-tier all-star to one of the league’s very best players. NBA stars Chris Paul, JaVale McGee, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, and others throughout the association have adopted a plant-based diet for improved performance.
Chris Paul’s renaissance season in 2019–2020 speaks volumes about the personal benefits he has experienced after more than a full year of following a plant-based diet, having had one of his best seasons relatively late in his career. In the Women’s National Basketball Association, the plant-based diet is catching fire, and some of the greatest female basketball players in the world, including Diana Taurasi —considered by many to be the greatest of all time—have embraced a plant-based diet for energy, performance, and longevity. Fellow WNBA stars Liz Cambage, Rebekkah Brunson, and Nneka Ogwumike have also leaned on plants to elevate their game.
In 2017, National Football League linebacker Derrick Morgan adopted a plant-based diet, along with the rest of the starting defensive line of the Tennessee Titans, and led his team to the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Not to be outdone, the starting offensive line for the Washington Football Team implemented a plant-based diet for part of their 2017 season as well. More recently, former NFL MVP Cam Newton adopted a plant-based diet for its athletic benefits. He has been featured in a Vegan Strong campaign on major media outlets, proclaiming the positive results he has experienced with a plant-based diet on his recovery after injuries, which helped him fuel his comeback as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Mike Tyson’s epic comeback to boxing at age fifty-four comes on the heels of a decade of following a plant-based diet, in which he reclaimed his health and his athletic youthfulness, power, and strength. Ultimate fighters Nate Diaz, Nick Diaz, Mac Danzig, James Wilks, and many others have embraced the power of plants to boost their endurance and aid their recovery in their grueling sport, just as renowned national and world champions in boxing Timothy Bradley, David Haye, Cam Awesome, Ünsal Arik, and Yuri Foreman incorporated a plant-based diet for endurance to last the intense rounds in one of the world’s toughest sports and for the ability to recover quickly and have constant improvement.
Olympic medalists Heather Mitts, Rebecca Soni, Meagan Duhamel, and Dotsie Bausch know the healing and performance-enhancing power of plants and embrace a plant-based diet to this day while encouraging others to do the same. One of the greatest Olympic athletes in history, track-and-field legend Carl Lewis, credited his best all-time performances to a vegan lifestyle and plant-based diet. He won ten Olympic medals, including nine gold medals, paving the way for the amazing world-class plant-based athletes who would follow in his footsteps on their own way to Olympic glory.
Cricket icon Virat Kohli not only is one of the best cricketers in the world, with a massively impressive résumé of awards and titles, but also ranked seventh in ESPN’s list of the one hundred most famous athletes, made the Forbes list of the top 100 highest-paid athletes, and was on TIME magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people. He’s in good company—among the top 21 most influential athletes in the world are these plant-based household names: Lionel and Lewis Hamilton.
Speaking of Lewis Hamilton, a six-time Formula One world champion and perhaps the most famous race-car driver in the world, he is one of the most outspoken about his plant-based diet, whereas some other leading plant-based athletes tend to keep their vegan lifestyle to themselves. Lewis not only follows a plant-based diet but also promotes the lifestyle frequently to his massive audience, encouraging his millions of followers to embrace a plant-based diet for their health and for the health of the environment. He set records in 2019 and 2020, making him one of the most consistent champions in any sport and one of the most recognized athletes in the world today.
And then there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, as synonymous with power, strength, and masculinity as it gets, who has acknowledged that you don’t need meat to build muscle. In fact, he follows a mostly plant-based diet himself these days while encouraging others to do the same.
A plant-based diet isn’t a fringe topic for athletes anymore. Consider the headlines in recent years:
USA Today: Plant-Based Diets Take Over Sports World
CNBC: Why NFL Players and Other Athletes Are Going Vegan
U.S. News & World Report: Athletes Can Thrive on Plant-Based Diets
Forbes: Five Reasons Why Sport Is Going Vegan
New York Times: Lewis Hamilton Changed His Diet, and It’s Been Off to the Races Since