Friday, 15 August 2008

A vegan elite athlete- is it possible?

I think Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU,
said it best in response to a report that Tony Gonzalez, the 247-pound Kansas City Chiefs’ football player, had switched to a vegan diet:

“Why anyone is surprised that people can do well on vegetarian and vegan diets is beyond me. Plant foods have plenty of protein and calories if you eat enough of them... I just don’t see this as any big deal”.

There are many examples of successful elite vegan athletes. Here are just a few:

Brendan Brazier is a 2-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion and professional ironman and has been vegan for over 6 years. Brazier has authored the book The Thrive Diet and also markets a popular vegan athletic supplement called Vega.

Carl Lewis, 10-time Olympic track and field medal winner, was vegan during his best years.

Christine Vardaros, American world class cyclo-cross and road cyclist.

Dave Scott, 6-time ironman winner was vegan during these wins (he reintroduced fish and poultry back into his diet in the early 90s). According to Scott, it’s a “ridiculous fallacy” to think that athletes need animal protein.

Dave Shishkoff, Canadian competitive cyclist needs at least 3000 calories per day.

Kara Lang plays forward for the Canadian soccer team and, at only 21, is already Canada’s 4th-leading all-time international women’s goal scorer. She has been vegan for 5 years.

Kenneth G. Williams, professional bodybuilder, placed 3rd at the 2004 Natural Olympia.

Mac Danzig is a professional mixed martial arts fighter, winner of The Ultimate Fighter 6, and long-time vegan.

Martina Navalitova, Czech tennis superstar and former World No.1 Woman’s Player.

Murray Rose , aka the Seaweed Streak, is a retired swimmer and 6-time Olympic medalist (4 golds!).

Salim Stoudamire, basketball player and shooting guard for the Atlanta Hawks.

Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek is 7-time winner of the Western States 100-mile Endurance run and was selected as UltraRunning Magazine’s North American Male Ultrarunner of the Year in 2003-2005 and 2007. Jurek evidently burns a lot of calories and makes sure he eats 6000-8000 calories a day.

Let’s see what a 4000 calorie vegan diet looks like:


1 cup cereal with 1 cup fortified soymilk
3 slices whole grain bread with 3T sesame Tahini and jam
1.5 cups orange juice

Snack 1:

Basic Shake: 1 banana + ½ cup berries + 1 cup fortified soymilk


2 vegan burgers: 2 buns, 2 veggie patties, lettuce and tomato slices
2 fruits

Snack 2:

1 vegan power bar


2 cups noodles or brown rice with 4 cups veggies (including leafy greens like spinach or kale) and ¼ cup cashews and ¼ cup calcium-set tofu stir-fried.

Snack 3

1 cup granola cereal with dried raisins and walnuts and 1 cup fortified soymilk or soy yogourt.


“Can a big guy play football”

“The 247 lbs vegan”.

“Vegan athletes flex their muscles”

“Carl Lewis: Olympic medals through the vegan diet”.

“Dave Scott (triathelete)”.

“Vegetarian diet for athletes”

“Who says you have to eat meat to be a successful athlete?”

“Canada’s Olympic Women Eat to Compete”.

“Kara Lang”

“Famous Vegetarians”

“Elite Isalnd athletes who are vegetarians”

Davis B, Vesanto M. Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet. Tenn: Book Publishing Company, 2000.

“Vegan Food Guide picture”


Jme said...

Great research!

PEANUT said...

THanks for including me in your list! For endurance athletes the food intake ratio is more like 70% carbs, 15-20% fats,and 10-15% protein. Carbs is the most common deficiency found in our diets.
Thanks again for writing about a vegan diet!

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks guys for your comments and thanks Christine for the information
(and congratulations on all your athletic achievements)!