Vegan Olympians living a plant-based lifestyle serve as a huge inspiration for many just entering into this way of living. Often, one of the largest hurdles we face when converting from a Standard American Diet to a whole foods, plant-based diet is that motivation can be difficult to come by in the early stages, especially when you are "going it alone." As with anything in life, having a role model to look up to and a story to connect with will help make the journey far easier. Early on in my conversion from the SAD to my plant-based diet (of 3+ years now) was Dr. John McDougall and his book The Starch Solution. As we are entering a time where the 2016 Summer Olympic Games will be kicking off in just a few months in Rio, I thought it would be great to share some stories of plant-based Olympians to educate and inspire you to live a better life for yourself.
1). Very Vegetarian by Jannequin Bennett (forward by Carl Lewis)
Carl Lewis was one of the first vegan Olympians. His performance in the Games was well regarded. He has personally attributed his vegan diet as a benefit to his athletic lifestyle. This runs contrary to popular belief that athletes need to consume meat for protein and other nutrients. As he has depicted in the introduction to Very Vegetarian, protein is readily available in plant-based foods and, as a runner, a higher caloric intake based in healthy fruits, vegetables, and starches were the key to success. For more about Carl Lewis as a vegan athlete, check out his self-written autobiography Inside Track as well!
2). Mastering Snowboarding by Hannah Teter
I like to think that the food we eat ultimately impacts our lifestyles, whether we are actively talking about this food or just living life with it in the background. Hannah Teter is a professional snowboarder who participates in this high energy extreme sport during the Winter Olympic Games. While her book Mastering Snowboarding does not go into detail about her vegetarian diet, it exists as a representation of what she is able to output into the world as a result of a plant-based diet. Her skills and performance can be traced back to a few simple things: practice, genetics, exercise, and a plant-based diet. This book is interesting when read with the consideration that diet has largely influenced this athletes performance.
3). Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun by Bode Miller
Bode Miller is another Winter Olympics competitor. He is a professional skier, and was won an assortment of medals in various contests around the world. His story is certainly unique as he was born and raised "off the grid" in New Hampshire. The absence of things most of us take for granted and consider basic necessities of modern life such as electricity and indoor plumbing has shaped him as an individual. In terms of diet, Bode has noted that he has been a "vegetarian since birth," a result of this lifestyle. His fascinating backstory is only matched by his athletic abilities. He certainly sticks out as a staple of what a plant-based diet can do. From the opening Prologue and throughout, Bode provides a lot of inspiration in Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun.
4). My Fight/Your Fight by Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey is a mixed martial arts fighter that has performed in countless fighting matches, including those held during the Olympics. Her autobiography My Fight/Your Fight stands as a testament to what a person can accomplish in life, even when we are faced with significant challenges. From a near death experience at birth to the current day as a champion of her sport, "Rowdy Ronda" has endured. The vegan diet appears to be a new lifestyle choice, but one I am glad to hear she has decided to change to after an off again-on again relationship with her dietary choices. I can only imagine what the future will hold if she maintains a plant-based lifestyle.
The plant-based diet is powerful. This is no better exemplified by seeing the words and actions of professional athletes who have endured significant tests of their skills during the Olympic Games. It is a challenge of skill, might, endurance. A challenge of physical and psychological abilities. All these things are interconnected to diet and practice. These are individuals who are self-made and advanced their passion for sports to heights most could only dream to attain. These plant-based Olympians have a lot to teach us as well, both about the whole foods, plant-based lifestyle and about other areas of life as well.
For more on the Olympics, check out The Top 12 Olympic Athletes Who Are Plant-Based Vegans and Vegetarians!