We’ve all seen them- for some of us they flood our Facebook news feeds. Vegan memes. My bet is everyone reading this will know at least one person who lives the vegan lifestyle. And despite the negative stigma, we have to commend their efforts- no vegan is passive about it that’s for sure. But I’m interested in Vegan athletes.
Over the past couple of months, I have been thoroughly researching the vegan lifestyle and how this affects athletes. Protein in particular is a vital part of muscle recovery and strength. Yet vegans don’t eat high protein food such as eggs, meat, and milk.
I was amazed when I sat down with one of Wellington’s top body-builder’s John Dearaza and his wife and aspiring nutritionist Ahava. John who trains eight-10 clients a day as a Les Mills personal trainer also fits in at least eight trainings a week. And the icing on the cake he lives a whole-food plant based, oil and supplement-free lifestyle.
It sounds intense but it’s pretty simple. Veganism is where someone removes all animal products from their diet including meat and dairy. This life-style is usually adopted for environmental and ethical purposes.
A whole-food plant-based diet on the other hand, also removes processed foods such as potato chips, oreos, and dried fruits. This life-style is usually adopted for health reasons but can also be for environmental and ethical purposes. ‘
“You can still be a very unhealthy vegan,” Ahava says. The couple don’t cook with oil as it has zero health benefits. Instead, they use water and vegetable stock, or broths.
What on earth do they eat? Black rice, red potatoes, kumara, lots of leafy greens and a plethora of other veggies. “Eat the rainbow,” is Ahava’s motto.
One of the biggest myths is that people who cut meat and diary from their diets don’t get enough dairy. What most don’t realise is protein is in beans, grains, and many vegetables. Dearaza's success is testimony to the fact that a winning body-builder doesn’t have to consume meat, dairy, or supplements.
It’s all well and good being an “environmentalist hippie” as Dearaza says. But as an athlete what really matters to him is his health.
“I’d starve myself of nutrients leading up to big competitions, then after winning I’d go to Burger Fuel and get the biggest burger and large fries.”
“I made the change 10months ago to go plant-based and feed all my muscles including my heart and brain- they’re the most important muscles you have.”
And Dearaza isn’t alone in this movement. Athletes such as Venus Williams, UFC fighter Nate Diaz, and surfer Tia Blanco are all plant-based athletes. Even 70-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger is a vegan advocate stressing that removing animal products from your diet is proven to reduce and reverse diseases such as heart disease.
It’s a personal choice and one that requires plenty of research.
Over the few months I’ve given the whole-food plant-based lifestyle a go and so far I’m loving it. Call it placebo but I genuinely feel more focused, energised, I’m sleeping better, and my skin has cleared up.
I, like Dearaza, was one of those people who would roll my eyes at the idea of veganism- but when you look at food as fuel all that changes. I’m no eco-warrior or activist, but there’s no denying vegan and plant-based lifestyles are a growing trend, even amongst the world’s biggest athletes.
Pass or play
A mix between basketball and netball, Korfball is a Dutch, eight-a-side sport Interestingly, the game is mixed-gendered which caused much controversy when it originated in 1920. Korfball is played all over the world but is popular in Belgium and Taiwan. The New Zealand national Korfball team is nicknamed The Korus. There aren’t many Korfball clubs regionally. However, Canterbury have a well-established Korfball club, and the sport is starting to appear in University leagues.
The average golf ball has 336 dimples