Vegan athletes used to be unheard of; they’re still niche, but a handful of impressive, outspoken advocates (Brendan Brazier, Rich Roll, and Scott Jurek) are pushing a plant-based, super-active lifestyle into the spotlight, at least among the health-obsessed. But now Lance Armstrong is on board, and we’re pretty sure this could launch it into a full-blown trend.
Armstrong’s recent interview with Huffington Post Canada is the first time he’s discussed switching to a plant-based diet publicly; that’s probably because he only started it about a month ago, inspired by his swimming buddy Rip Esselstyn:
I started swimming again, and I swim with a guy who started basically a food program called the Engine 2 Diet, which is a plant-based, 100% natural, organic diet. His dad was a famous cardiologist who did Forks Over Knives, and was President Clinton’s doctor. Clinton has gone to a completely vegan diet and he’s essentially erased his heart disease.
Now, he says he’s not strictly vegan, but is feeling great benefits from eating a vegan-’till-dinner diet (a la Mark Bittman):
It’s basically whole grains, different types of beans, kale salad with creative alternatives for dressing. They’ll bring out something that looks like a brownie, but it’s not a brownie … though it tastes a bit like a brownie. So I did it for one day, then two days. Then I branched out and started doing it at breakfast and lunch. I still insist that I get to do whatever I want for dinner. But it’s made a significant difference in just in a month.
Armstrong says he’s most impressed with his energy levels now that he’s eating a mostly plant-based diet:
Even when you’re training really hard, it’s normal that you would have certain things for lunch or certain things for breakfast, and then have this dip, or almost like a food coma … I don’t experience that anymore. My energy level has never been this consistent, and not just consistent, but high. I’m a big napper — I couldn’t even take a nap these days if I wanted to.
The other thing — I expected to get rid of that dip, but I didn’t expect the mental side of it, and the sharpness and the focus that I’ve noticed. And I was the biggest non-believer, I was like ‘whatever man’, and I’m in. I’m not doing dinners yet, but breakfast and lunch, I’m in.
Veganism itself has already become trendy, with plenty of celebrities vouching for the health, beaut and weight-loss benefits of ditching meat and dairy. But convincing serious athletes (and their trainers) that they don’t need several servings of lean animal protein to stay strong is still fairly uncharted territory; for the most part, the recommendation for anyone trying to build strength and stamina is a meal plan heavy in chicken breast and whey protein shakes. Getting protein from a vegan, whole-foods diet is possible, but doing it has remained pretty fringe–but Armstrong’s stamp of approval could bring it into the mainstream.
After all, if he can travel and train for triathlons on little to no meat, then most of us could probably swing a marathon training program that includes a few more vegan meals, at the very least.
It’s harder when you get on the road, of course — I mean, you walk out that door and breakfast is sitting there. None of that [muffins, croissants, etc.] is on the Engine 2 diet. So it gets harder and harder. But you can even travel with stuff. Breakfast is not hard, you bring your cereal and then you go to the store and buy almond milk, you buy bananas to put on top of it. If you plan, then it’s possible.
Cue the articles, tips and vegan recipes in Runner’s World and Outside magazine.