I received this question from Zack the other day after my post about my blood work. I thought it was good enough to answer for everyone.
“I’ve heard a lot of information about vegetarian and vegan diets for athletes, could you point me in the direction of a reputable source to help me become a vegan athlete? Thank you for your time.”
This question brings up several topics worth answering.
1) Why should a person be vegetarian, vegan or not?
2) Who can you look to that have done it?
3) Why everyone can learn from this?
To be Vegan or Not to be?
There are some that want everyone in the world to become vegan. The militant vegan who would sooner murder you for eating a hamburger, then the cow. Luckily these people are few and far between. The majority allow you to make your own food choices.
Here is what everyone needs to realize. Any diet only works for a select portion of the population. What would make one person healthy could kill another.
Some people may need to consume meat in order to be healthy.
Others can get by without meat but would fall apart in the long run without dairy or eggs. This is known as a lacto-ovo vegetarian.
There’s also some who consider eating fish or chicken still vegetarian but I don’t. And a vegan is someone who consumes no animal products at all.
A couple decades ago lots of information came out that painted all animal food in a bad light. Just like the myth that cholesterol is bad for you and is going to cause you heart disease. While the factory farming and hormone pumped up cattle are obviously not healthy, animal products are not as a whole unhealthy.
And some people choose not to consume them for spiritual or ethical reasons. I have no qualms with you for doing that. But to say its all unhealthy is not true.
Like the simple fact that there is no real vegetarian source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and many people can’t efficiently convert the short chain versions found in foods like flax, hemp and chia seeds. But some can.
There are many who seemingly thrive on a vegan diet. There is also a whole bunch of people whose health fell apart in the long run and had to go back to an omnivorous diet.
What it comes down to is you’re going to have to experiment and find what works for you whether vegan, vegetarian or not.
Vegan Athlete Role Models?
So that answers question number one. Number two is pretty easy.
Two top people in the strength and fitness world that I have personally met and are testaments to doing it right are Mike Mahler and Jon Hinds. Also if you want to go a step beyond into raw food eating I would look at Peter Ragnar. (I’m sure there are many more notable people, but these came to mind right away.)
You can find plenty of information on their sites and also in this interview series that includes all three of them and about the specifics of what they eat.
Study what they do and use it as the starting point for what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t blindly follow what they say but observe, learn and experiment with it.
The Great Experiment
And now onto question three. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it would be worthwhile for almost everyone to experiment with being vegetarian or vegan for a time.
Even if you have no plans of becoming a life long vegan or vegetarian you can get benefit out of doing this. Without falling back on meat or dairy products you’re going to have to explore new possibilities.
Some people are afraid they can’t get enough protein without these sources. Actually there are plenty of vegan options but you’re to have to try out new things.
I was vegetarian for about 6 months. By doing this experiment you’ll start trying new foods and often a bunch more variety. And when you go back, if you go back, you can take your new options with you.
Before this experiment I ate meat at almost every meal. Nowadays its usually once a day. That works well for me.
You can also find if you feel better or worse when doing this. Now be warned you may feel much better for a period of time, even several years, but then you realize you’re deficient in something that animal foods may provide. Common ones are B12, Omega 3’s, and cholesterol.
Also you may feel worse by being thrown into detox, which is temporary, but will improve your health in the long run.
So I would say this is an experiment worth doing for what you can get out of it.
Have you gone vegan or vegetarian? What are your thoughts? Post your comments below.
P.S. I have some exciting projects on the horizon. Stay tuned for an incredible deal coming soon.
I’ve been vegan for 11 years now, have never had better bloodwork, and have never been stronger (actually, I just deadlifted over twice my bodyweight, and did a knees-up partial deadlift at 285lbs — I’m 103lbs). I agree with you, Logan– it’s not for everyone, and it’s not to be done casually. I went vegan for moral reasons, and I have studied nutrition for years. It’s important to do it right. But never, ever let anyone tell you that you can’t be strong and healthy as a vegan. It’s not only possible, but I am living proof.
I think the longest I have gone without meat is two weeks, but during this time I did still drink milk.
Mostly I only eat meat with my evening meals, the rest of the day is fruit, nuts, seeds etc. I may do a bigger vegetarian experiment in the future, I must admit that I used to feel a lot better when eating a huge salad and vegetables for my evening meal as opposed to a big meaty meal, I may have to re-introduce that.
My biggest problem is that I really love bacon!
I’ve trained with Jon Hinds, and I must say that man is very passionate about what he puts in his body…the dude’s just an amazing individual. That being said, I’ve tried the Vegan approach, but it got too expensive after awhile; however, I really respect the folks that can pull it off…anyway I came to the conclusion that Vegan and Paleo diets are too extreme for me and sticking to a well balanced diet fits my needs…nice write up, Logan.
Hey Logan. At 51 years old, I started a fruit & vegetable juice fast 37 days ago. First 3 days, just juice from my juicer, then raw & cooked veggies & fruits only. The exception was I consumed 2-4 hard boiled eggs throughout the day. I have lost over 24 lbs. (Started at 220 @ 5′ 8″) and began running after the first 7 days of what I call Rebooting my life. I detoxed and began healing on the inside. 30 days later I was able to run a 10K ad not need any pain meds the next morning! I was a low carb guy for several years, but nothing has given me the energy and new definition I am witnessing over my whole body! I can comfortably tie my shoes, nice! I will consider tuna, lean steak or fish with 1 or 2 meals a week, but I have not lost any muscle mass or strength. On the contrary, my endurance in lifting has skyrocketed. I am on no meds for anything ad want to purchase a 53 lb. Kettlebell as soon as money permits. I have not felt this great since my 20’s, which was a heck of a long time ago! Keep up the great articles. Jim Gravante
With bad kidney problems from eating to much meat protein I have been trying Vegetarian diet for about six months during which time my kidney function has improved by about thirty percent, to the great surprise of my renal doctor.
The 1 1/2 to 2 grams of protean per pound of body weight can and often does cause very serious kidney problems an the fools who recommend this diet should be shot! At leastbetter informed to the serious health health this diet causes. Wish I had known better I would not be taking so much blood pressure medication.
I am still working out at close to 69 years old, have gotten to 16 pullups, 375 squats, 215 bench and 415 deadlift at about 190.
@steve: Sorry to hear about your kidney problems. I think what you’re saying though will depend on the person, as there are some people that do consume massive amounts of protein and don’t have problems. Glad to hear you’re getting better and have great strength at your age.
@Jim Gravante: Wow Jim. Congratulations on your awesome results. Doing a fast/detoxing diet and changing the way you eat can completely transform your body. I’d love to hear even more.
@Bryan: Healthy food no matter which way you do it will cost more than unhealthy options. The way I like to do it is eat perfectly about 80-90% of the time and have the freedom to eat less than the best food ever the other time.
@Kris Wragg: If you feel better one way then another that’s a good sing its worth experimenting in that area. One area that I’ve looked a lot in myself is what food and meals cause gas.
@Melody: I definitely thought of you when writing this post Melody. You would be another person worth modelling. I’m glad to hear you’re keeping up with the partials.
Maybe I missed it in your article but what do people classify as meat? Is that red meat only, or chicken and fish as well?
@Maurice: I personally consider the flesh of any mammal, bird or fish as meat, but maybe that’s just me.
I’m with you on that Logan. I get confused as to how some people classify themselves as vegetarian but eat fish.
It’s great to hear about so many people’s success with this!
I usually eat meat 3 or 4 times a week. I also eat a lot of eggs and dairy, especially Greek yogurt. I agree with you that a vegetarian diet is something everyone should try, even if it’s only for a short time, and I think it’s even more important for everyone to eat at least one meal a day of just fruit and veggies, preferably just veggies, and raw if your body can handle it (some people can’t due to immune issues).
I would like to learn more about vegan sources of protein. I know they must be out there, but most vegans seem to swear by soy, and I just can’t seem to digest it in any form. I like various kinds of nuts, but again, too much upsets my stomach. And I am one of those people who need lots of protein. I can tell if I’m not getting enough because my hair and skin get dull, I heal slowly, etc. and as soon as I correct my protein balance those symptoms vanish.
I probably will always use some animal proteins for these reasons, but any more info or insight is always appreciated.
@Julia: lentis are good, quinoa, amaranth, different nuts mixed, etc. And from the soy family just avoid anything that is not the bean itself (occasionally) and miso or temph both fermented soy foods
I’m a life long vegetarian, bodyweight enthusiast, and martial artist/martial sport competitor, originally for religious reasons, now for ethical reasons, my view is that even if its not healthy (which it certainly is if done correctly) I would still refuse meat, as my phillosophy of life is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I regard animals as a life form like any other, maybe not as capable of abstract thought as us, but they still feel fear, pain, happyness and pleasure, why should I take from them what is not necessary for my survival.
I’ve been vegan for almost 7 years now. I think that most people, especially Americans, would benefit from switching to a whole foods vegan diet and in the least drastically cutting back on meat consumption. Logan you said that you used to eat meat 3 times a day and cut back to 1 that’s pretty drastic, 66%. It’s easy to make sweeping notions and say that all animal products are bad for you, but I will say this, that muscle meats of many animals are hard to digest and the raw organ meats are much more abundant in vitamins and minerals BUT should be eaten in moderation(a few times a week).
As for protein, not a problem. Fats, not a problem. Zinc and magnesium(which are both getting rarer and rarer in everyones food today right?), I get through supplementation. I commonly get asked about B12 and other B vitamins, there has been research to show that the liver creates B12. Also, B12 and other B vitamins will die out if they are heated above 110F(give or take a few degrees) and are really only found in raw organ meats and fermented food products(which by the way the probiotics are long dead if you buy these foods in a supermarket). So nutritionally I dont think that there is really a problem with being vegan but a lot of people who are vegan do make nutritionally unsound choices in their dietary habits.
People to look to: Many of the old time strongmen were either vegetarian or vegan. Here are a list of people that I can just name off of the top of my head; Joe Rollino, Mac Danzig, Rob Bigwood, Maxick(i think).
Great presentation of a topic that is a real gray area. I have been a vegetarian for about a dozen years but I eat eggs and the odd dairy product. That works for me but not for everyone. It’s true, experimentation is the only way to figure it out.
@Steph: Yeah that works for more people than straight vegan. If you look back historically very few people have done vegan, but many people from India for a long time have done a vegetarian diet like yours.
@Matt: I’ve been eating organ meats, and raw meats, recently and will talk more about that in the future. Vegan can certainly be done if its done right, but you have to keep on top of deficiencies. It seems some people don’t have problems but others do run into them.
@Kanhai: I understand your point of view. But recent research has shown plants show pain when hooked up to a polygraph type machine. You have to eat something. Now I won’t say an animals life is no more important than a plant just like I won’t say a human isn’t more important than a cow. It’s an individual choice people must decide for themselves.
@Julia: Yes raw fruits and veggies are great. By going vegetarian you tend to consume more and different varieties than most people start out eating.
As for the protein my best choice is a quality whey protein. Get it cold processed from grass fed cows and its a health food too with some great benefit for the immune system too. As for vegan sources of protein powders you can go with pea, hemp or rice. All those are pretty good (depending on the source of course). I try to avoid soy completely due to my research on its negative hormonal effects, unless its fermented.
I think that when most people go vegan they’re trying to eat the exact same things as when they were via soy burgers, french fries, potato chips, cake! These are obviously not the best of options. I think that people in general are kept in the dark about the diet that they’re eating and if you look at the general populous there are nutritional deficiencies across the board; omnivore and herbivores alike!
But yeah I totally agree, if a someone wants to make the change then they need to do the research.
However, in response to the reply to Steph: You have to think of this… the term vegan wasn’t termed until 1944 so many cultures that were vegetarian may have very well been vegan by definiton. Some were just vegetarian, but milk and eggs weren’t really integrated into their diets.
I have been vegetarian for about 9 years and I won’t switch back. I have been, a bad vegetarian (cookies, cereal and white bread!), ultra strict vegan (the ones that don’t even drink liquids with meals to improve digeston) and lacto-ovo vegetarian (now). As you just said vegetarianism may not be for everyone. Actually I think everyone can make it work but some people should be way more attentive and they may not take or have the time/will to educate themselves for this. Lacto-ovo vegetarian is way more “user friendly” approach.
That being said, I find vegetarianism very convenient as an approach to evade most common western diseases. A lot of people from strength training community still mock vegetarianism… some even call it a gay way of eating. In another website (kettlebell oriented one) I recently read an article that used the old saying abut a person eating vegetables then someone comes and said: “that’s not food, that’s what food eats”. Right! just go toward a big male elk at the wrong time without your hunting gun and say him the same thing… then run for your life! There are a lot of good vegetarian athletes as well and they are strong as hell.
Some times the very same people that says that vegetarianism is all wrong are junk eaters and people with just one side of the story. Meat (organic grass fed) can be nutritious for sure, but if you look at the evidences, meat is more like a supplement, but the base should always be green vegetables and fruits of all kinds! Even a lot of paleo guys said the greatest income of food si from greens and fruits.
Now, a lot of people just mock grains as well. Wrong! grains are not the problem. The problem is that we tend to over eat them or eat them in processed way. Also, we move way less! Without grains we would hardly develop any big societies. But then the paleo police would say that they developed arthritis and diabetes and cancer, but again they focus on one variable alone and not other factors.
To recap: 1. diet should be an individual ever-growing personal experiment 2. trying vegan can expand your possibilities and choices 3. don’t let other’s experiences dictate what’s on your plate.
finally 2 personal tip: 1) eat less! and try just eating 2 times a day with at least 5 hours between. you may have more energy. 2) eat just 3 main ingredients/components (spices condiments and the like not count) per meal and not lots of different things (example: a root, vegetables, nuts)
@Abdiel Rodriguez: I agree with you for the most part. Most people would do well to eat lots more fruits and vegetables, however not everyone does and they can still get healthy. In northern areas especially in winter there isn’t much in the way of fruits or vegetables. Yet many peoples have thrived on high meat diets there.
@Matt: Too true. You can be unhealthy no matter what way you eat.
@Jim Gravante: Thanks for the more info. I’ll check out that documentary.
@Logan: Good point I admit! I was actually talking in a very general way, because green vegetables are the least (at least in my mind) of the dietary articles that will interfere in a negative way in your system. Not the same with grains, because we have people with intolerances, the same with dairy and meat. As an example I tend to feel sluggish if I eat too many eggs. And about those northern people you mention, its true and their main energy source is fat. Interesting that in an interview Mike Mahler said he was high fat vegetarian. And – and I say this not to invalidate your point ’cause I’m with you when you say vegetarianism is not for everyone – maybe a portion of those who say that tried vegetarianism and did not worked, just needed to adjust macronutrient ratios from high carb/low fat to high fat/low carb maybe even high fat/somewhat high protein/low starch. Who knows! Good post Logan.
Hey Logan. For more info about Rebooting your life, check out http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com. A documentary by an Austrailian named Joe Cross (download it on Netflicks) came to the US 100 lbs. overweight and suffering from an autoimmune disorder. He spent 60 on a fruit & vegetable juice Fast and within 6 months lost that 100 plus pounds and healed himself off of all Steriod meds. he was on for 9 years! He now eats mostly micro nutrients and in the best shape of his life. It had inspired me to follow in his footsteps (my family history is loaded with Cancer & Diabetes) so I can enjoy the rest of my life living in optimum health, free from disease and allow my body to utilize these power packed nutrients to new levels of strength, endurance, and fitness I have never experienced! I have so much energy its scaring my wife! She just started Rebooting her life (many pounds to lose) and her sugar addiction has caused a painful detox over the last week & a half. She will succeed because she sees what a transformtion has occurred in my life. Everyone can benefit from a Detox and cleansing like this, I just know that animal based protein is not absolutely essential in the quantities I had eaten before. I now experience true hunger, which is far extended throughout the day because of a micro nutrient diet. Our country is filled with very sick people for one main reason…what they choose to put in their mouth. ‘Nuff said. Juice On!
Joe Cross spent 60 DAYS on his juice fast…sorry about that!
I am not a true vegan, even though for two years I was. I didnt know what I was doing at firstand dropped from 212 to 185 quickly. Not enough protein due to lack of variety and bonehead research. I figured it out and was around 195 for quite a while. I now do eat turkey rarely (due to seafood allergies). I prefer turkey as it is lean and I heard the meat is better for digestion than chicken. I do alot of salads, legumes, and fruits. I do supplement with a vegan protein powder that I use almond milk and bananas for a nice filling shake. I am 6’0″, 36 yrs old and carrying 197lbs nowadays. I am stronger than I have been. working towards improving in my deadlift(425lb right now). I use kettlebells, bodyweight, bands, and good old free weights. When going vegan makesure you dont become a rice and potatohead and miss the green stuff. That along with fruit in moderation is key. I have met alot of out of shape so-called vegans who eat way to many simple carbs (breads, desserts, rice, etc). That’s my 2 cents. 🙂
I’ve been lacto-ovo vegetarian since 1960 (I’m 79). I stopped drinking milk due to the casein content but use whey protein (what’s left when casein is removed). Originally mine was a moral choice, and related to effects on my meditation practice, but now nutritional and ecological as well. I don’t argue against meat as It doesn’t really bother me what others eat. One of our favourite restaurants is all vegan and the meal choices are both delicious and varied. Anything that you put in your mouth and stomach has an effect on psyche and health so should be carefully thought out and not just chosen due to taste, habit or tradition.
Abdiel, interesting that you mentioned northern people. The Innuit in the North of Canada traditionally ate what they could catch which obviously wasn’t vegetable matter. When they moved out of igloos and tents to heated houses due to the approach of civilization their diet changed and many became diabetic. Now as their winters have become shorter and wild game harder to find they have to rely on imported food.
When populations moved closer to the equator people ate more plants, nuts and fruit. At a Yoga ashram where I stayed the people in the kitchen noticed that in the summer the guests naturally ate lighter foods and more salads.
@Bob White: Bob, Ori Hofmekler have said the same you say but about arab people. Arab nomads tend to look like rocks! Ripped, wiry lean with endurance. But if they step in america they’ll likely grab our mainstream lifestyle and then get fat diabetic and depressed! A few decades ago, some doctors and researchers said it was because of our high fat. A few years later, paleo guys (with their doctors and researchers again) said it was starches and cholesterol deficiencies. I think both are right and wrong in some way. If something works then continue to do so! Innuit had their way, arab nomads have their way. But there are certain principles that hold true for many people. You mention climate change and calorie density as factors that can be matched to modulate our diet. I live in Puerto Rico and it is so hot here almost year round that it may appear an eternal summer for some of you. We don’t need calories to maintain temperature so we can eat lighter… actually we should.
Interesting. I tried being vegetarian for about 2 weeks, that turned into 5.
I don’t consume milk or milk-related products (except some cheese every now and then) but eat egg whites and an occasional whole egg.
The vegetarian period was great, I did find myself eating more to have the same level of energy but overall I felt very well, much “lighter” and my energy levels felt cleaner. I do try to find alternatives to the staple of vegetarians: soy. Soy increases estrogen and it seems like to easy a way out. So I looked for whole salads with beans, lentils and garbanzos; TVG (Saitan, etc) and other forms of proteins. I use avocados for my good fats, nothing like HAVING to eat guacamole!!
I have no ethical qualms about eating meat, but I personally find US meat horrible (I was born and raised in Argentina and have 2 farms there, we raised cattle for many, many years) and since I travel a lot for work I find some doubtful meat in other countries ehem*china*ehem. I try to eat grass-fed meats when I can and if not I’ll either stick to vegetarian meals or a salad.
The main issue I can forsee and experienced was that many times vegetarian meals are incredibly unhealthy. They’re either pasta (which I limit to 1 day a week) or covered in cream, cheese and butter to make it have some taste. No point eating them since you’re better off with a bit of meat and some salad nutrition-wise.
As for performance: my job is incredibly physical and has very long hours, sometimes 20 hours a day. I do Muay Chaiya, barefoot running and am starting to teach myself Capoeira. I use a lot of energy when I’m active!
@Inaki: There is one difference for me. I know that beans and lentils do not work good for my body. So this staple food of many vegetarians that works for them doesn’t for me.
@Abdiel Rodriguez: I personally like a lot of fat in my diet too. If not from meat I eat lots of coconut oil, avocados and nuts. Yes a good portion of the people probably dovegetarianism wrong and that’s why they fail, but I still think certain people’s do much better with certain animal products.
@Bob White: Yeah I’ve heard from numerous sources that a vegan diet aids in spiritual and meditative practices. And the climate around you is a big consideration in what you eat.
@David Graham: Yeah. If you go vegan you must be smart about it or you’ll just go to crappy foods in greater consumption.
I tried a vegetarian diet for 6 months under the watchful eye of my then girlfriend who was nutrionist and body builder.
I got weak, my hair fell out and my skin flaked off. It was horrible.
I’m meant to eat vegetarians.
Hey thanks for the information! I tried being vegan for three weeks for performance and ecological reasons, but with no supplements I started feeling dizzy since I wasn’t getting enough B12, B5, zinc, and calcium. For now I eat fish and eggs about once or twice a week since my resources are limited being a college student. Also about the Innuit people, the diabetes may be caused by a vitamin D deficiency.
My 2 cents:
exception given to females, soy is counterproductive for males, not to mention strength athletes (phytoestrogens).
People belonging to 0Rh blood type avoiding meat are committing muscle/strength suicide.
When I say meat please understand grass fed meat.
Wild fish not mercury poisoned is Mother Nature present.
Grain fed chicken is a ill animal. Let it die and do not consume the carcass.
Omega 3 whole enriched eggs are human present.
Do not tell me please you are not dairy consumer if you consume shakes.
As your mother told you and Dan John always remind us, eat your vegetables.