It’s a myth that muscles, strength and endurance require the consumption of large quantities of animal-based foods. This myth began before anyone even talked about protein. During the Olympics, it’s a good time to take a look at some amazing athletes who are champions and vegetarians:
- Charlene Wong is a champion figure skater who represented Canada in the 1988 Calgary Olympics. She began competing at the age of 6 and in 1980 was named to the Canadian Team and represented Canada in the Junior World Championships. She was highlighted in The Vegetarian Sports Nutrition Guide by Lisa Dorfman.
- Paavo Nurmi, a Finnish runner, was a vegetarian since the age of 12. He is often considered the greatest track and field athlete of all time. A long-distance runner, he competed in the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympics, winning 12 Olympic medals.
- Chris Campbell, wrestler, trained for the 1980 Olympics but did not compete as the American team boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. At age 37, he began training again and secured a place on the US team, winning a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics, becoming the oldest American to medal in Olympic wrestling. He says, “I take care of my body. I don’t eat meat, and I do yoga every day. It makes a difference.”
- Carl Lewis, vegan athlete, won 10 Olympic medals, including 9 golds, in a career that spanned from 1979 to 1996, competing for the US. He said, “most athletes have the worst diet in the world, and they compete in spite of it.”
- Surya Bonaly, professional figure skater, represented France in the Olympics of 1992, 1994, and 1998. She is also now a US citizen. A vegetarian, she has appeared in PETA ads protesting Canada’s baby seal hunt and English and French fur trade.
- Debbie Lawrence, vegetarian racewalker, has been a three-time Olympian (1992, 1996, and 2000) and is the world record holder for the women’s 5K racewalk event. She attributes her success to hard work and a vegetarian diet.
- Murray Rose, a vegetarian since birth, has six Olympic medals. He was born in 1939 in Nairn, Scotland, but he moved to Australia with his family at an early age. He was an Olympic champion at age seventeen. He was known for his vegetarianism during his career, earning him the nickname, “The Seaweed Streak.” He competed in the Olympics from 1956 through 1960, winning six medals.
- Al Oerter, discus thrower, won four Olympic gold medals for the US – in 1956, 1960, 1964. He was also an abstract painter.
- Edwin Moses, hurdler for the US, is a gold medalist who went eight years without losing the 400-meter hurdle. Over his career, he won two Olympic gold medals. After retirement from track, he in completed in a 1990 World Cup bobsled race in Germany and won the two-man bronze medal with US Olympian Brian Shimer. Edwin Moses is a vegetarian.
- Leroy Burrell, sprinter, twice set the world record for the 100 meter sprint. He won a gold medal for the US in 1992 in Barcelona. He is a vegetarian.
As stated in “Vegetarian Diets” by the International Center for Sports Nutrition, Olympic Coach Magazine, Winter 1997:
“If care is taken to include a wide variety of foods, vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate to support athletic performance.”
“Whether an individual is a recreational or world-class athlete, being a vegetarian does not diminish natural talent or athletic performance. As far back as the Ancient Games, Greek athletes trained on vegetarian diets and displayed amazing ability in competitive athletics.”
Looking at these 10 vegetarian Olympic athletes, it’s clear that the need to eat meat to be strong and a champion is a myth. A whole foods, plant-based diet will give an athlete all the excellent nutrition he or she needs to be a winner.