Monday, June 11, 2012

The Vegan Champion

Congratulations to Timothy Bradley for his victory over boxing legend Manny Pacquiao this weekend, making him the undisputed vegan world champion. While there are a number of celebrated endurance vegan athletes, notable vegan power athletes (like Mike Tyson and Carl Lewis) have up-until-now been retired. Power sports have long been a carnivore’s domain but there’s a new sheriff in town and, with him, a modern template for addressing performance nutrition.

“Dude, I swear it’s the most unbelievable feeling ever,” Bradley said, praising the diet he believes would give him a definite advantage in the ring.

“The reason I love it so much is I feel connected to the world. My thoughts are clearer, crisp. I am sharp. Everything is working perfectly. I feel clean. It’s a weird feeling, man, it’s just a weird feeling.”

Bradley was already a champion but moving up in weight and beating Pacquiao will make him a household name. He isn’t a full-time vegan but that shouldn’t discourage his testament to nutrition because he gets strict when he’s training for a fight, which is where most vegan detractors stake the foundations of their rationale; at the pinnacle of performance. In fact training is exactly where our diet should be tested because what works for the highest-levels of performance is the template we want to use as a base. In the below video he talks about where he gets protein, stating “I don’t really take that much protein,” busting a popular notion of what it takes to be ripped. In the great HBO 24/7 (top video) series he talks about having stores of excess energy, so much that he doesn’t need much sleep even though he’s training 5 or 6 hours per day.

bradley talking about getting protein as a vegan

The main knock on veganism and power sports has always been that you need animal proteins for absolute strength. And while it might be true that the amino acid profiles of meat make this easier to get the proper amino acid ratios the science isn't valid because you can do it without meat and dairy. All that’s been lacking for the public has been a real life role model.

If you’ve followed Beahbody’s diet plans you know we tend to begin with high protein (or low carbs) and graduate towards much less protein/more carbs as you get fitter. This is more as a personal training tool than anything else (though not totally as restricting carbs on an exercise program teaches your body to metabolize fat as fuel more efficiently) because most people eat too many bad carbs and once you learn the relationship with carbs and energy in your diet how to eat becomes much easier. The fact is that your body does not utilize protein very efficiently and beyond a certain amount you’re not utilizing it as protein anyway. It’s vital, and you absolutely need it all day long, but healthy vegans eat mainly whole foods and the beauty of nature is that in their natural state most foods have a solid balance of proteins, fats, and carbs. The more your diet is based on whole foods the less you need to worry about macronutrients because nature will do that for you. A whole food vegan would likely have little need for our basic plans, which is why you currently only find a vegan option to the high-end nutrition plans like P90X2.

The science-based detractors of veganism are losing steam all the time. In an article on Bradley’s diet the Philippine Daily Inquirer interviewed some professionals trying to poke holes in his plan. Nutrition coach Jeaneth Aro stated:

“A well-planned vegan diet can provide all the protein requirements of an athlete in much the same way as a regular diet. However, the major consideration for the vegan athlete is the availability of energy during high intensity exercise. Plant-based protein sources are also high in fiber. Fiber delays the digestion of food, hence the absorption of nutrients."

And while it sounds intriguing there’s not much logic to it unless Bradley is munching on carrots in between rounds, the only time when delaying the timing of nutrient delivery would be a hindrance. With modern food prepping, such as juicing (or vegan Shakeology), arguments like this hold virtually no meaning. Certainly there are nutritional considerations you must address when you’re vegan, especially if you eat a lot of packaged and convenience foods that are stripped of whole food nutrition. But that’s not as much a condemnation of veganism as it is about the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Granted, Bradley didn’t exactly mop the floor with Pacquiao. The result is one of the most disputed in boxing history and most observers seem to think Pacquiao won. But all that means is that they'll fight again, which is more focus, scientific scrutiny, and popularity for vegan eating. So all I have to say about the rematch is bring it on.

if you don’t watch to watch the entire series, the vegan clip is at 6:35 here in part 3


George Plimpton said...

The fix was in.

Norman Mailer said...

I think the Succubus got him.

Brent said...

Hey Steve,

Results aside, I think this proves more of what endurance athletes need versus the method of eating that it takes to get there. What I've learned from looking at all things is that there is no perfect eating plan for human performance. For every vegan post with great results, I've read a paleo post with great results. And for every vegan study published, there has been a study on its data poking holes (The China Study has had quite a few lengthy write-ups about the flawed data analysis). The same holds true in reverse. I've seen info against paleo/primal eating. Again, no perfect plan.

I think the overall comment you made sums it up, though: Eating whole foods takes care of it all. Does not matter how you eat, just eat whole foods. I tend to lean more paleo/primal, that is just what I like. I've read the pros/cons, but I find this way of eating easiest for me to get whole foods into my body and keep junk cravings out.

Anonymous said...

Le Beef would not agree!

Willis said...

The meat eater really won, so...?

Willis said...

The meat eater really won, so...?

Steve Edwards said...

The point isn't the W, it's that you can perform at the highest level without eating animal products. It's something that we've been able to theorize for a long time that only now has a real world example. Win or lose, it's hard to argue Bradley's fitness.