Vegetarian Athletes

mac danzig vegan ufcI’m not going to lie to you…I wanted to write an article today about how Mac Danzig, the UFC fighter who follows a vegan diet, won his fight last night…but unfortunately Mac lost.

But that doesn’t take away from the message that athletes can achieve peak performance without high-protein meat-based diets.

We’ll take a look at a few in a second. You’ll be shocked at a few of the names that come up.

Unfortunately the UFC pay-per-view didn’t show Mac’s fight last night, but I tuned in with some friends to watch the rest of the matches. Some guys ordered pizza and wings, but I kept it vegan and ate a bag of pistachios.

(Pistachios are a good “fat loss diet” movie/TV snack because it takes some work to get the little suckers out of their shells. And that way you don’t eat as many as if you were eating peanuts or almonds out of the bag.)

According to the internet, Mac ended up losing a thrilling match in the lightweight division and almost won by submission in the 2nd round but his opponent was saved by the bell. Danzig, who won Season 6 of “The Ultimate Fighter”, has put on a lot of great matches and should get another shot in the UFC. Hopefully he’ll get some PPV action in the future.

As for me, I continued my vegetarian experiment this morning with more vegan eating and another good workout. I started the day with a vegan breakfast bowl of:

  • oat groats (soaked in water overnight)
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tablespoon organic peanut butter
  • some blueberries
  • And 1 apple and 1 pear

After that, I hit the gym. Here’s my workout, you’ll notice it included a lot of bodyweight exercises:ripped abs workout

1A) Overhead Squat – 135x3x5
1B) Pullups – 3×12

2A) DB Chest Press – 90x3x6
2B) Inverted Bodyweight Row – 25,20,20

3A) Pistols – 3×3
3B) Hanging Leg Raises – 3×8
3C) Dips – 3×15

Good and fast. Finished in about 35 minutes.

After my workout I walked home and then blended up a shake/smoothie with…

  • pineapple
  • banana
  • almond milk
  • hemp bliss
  • cacao nibs.

It was okay. Should have added some nut butter.

Then I had lunch which was one of my infamous “big boy salads” and 1 cup of almond milk.

  • Spinach
  • Black beans
  • 1/2 avocado
  • salsa
  • red onion, red and green peppers, and broccoli

Then I hit the park with Bally the Dog. bally-046small

When we got back, I tried another smoothie. The2nd shake attempt featured:

  • Frozen strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tablespoon cashew butter
  • hemp bliss
  • almond milk.

This was much better, although it still could have used more cashew butter. And possibly some chocolate…

So that’s the day in the life of this vegetarian “athlete” for now. As I mentioned before there are many vegetarian athletes, and a couple of them hitting world class performance levels. _38262275_carllewis298

First, I stumbled across this quote from gold-medal winner Carl Lewis.

Can a world-class athlete get enough protein from a vegetarian diet to compete? I’ve found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete. In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet. Moreover, by continuing to eat a vegan diet, my weight is under control, I like the way I look. (I know that sounds vain, but all of us want to like the way we look.) I enjoy eating more, and I feel great.”

But an even better example is Tony Gonzalez, all-pro tight end in the NFL.

Tony is a vegan and has gotten help from my friend, strength coach, and all-around nice guy, Jon Hinds.

Tony’s change in diet has even been featured on the Wall Street Journal’s website.

Here’s a little video of the 247 pound NFL pro-bowler showing you how to make a high protein vegan shake.

Let me know if there are other vegetarian athletes that I’ve missed, or if you are achieving peak performance on a vegetarian diet.

And hey, no matter what diet you use, just remember to…

Stay Strong!

Looking forward to your success,

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS

PS – Got a good shake or smoothie recipe?

Just let me know in the comments section below.

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  • beth

    Carl Lewis is not a Vegan anymore,and Tony Gonzales has added back some chicken and fish and also uses fish oil(this does not sound like a vegan diet to me).I applaud the healthy change in his diet but do not call yourself a vegan when you are a carnivore.

  • scott

    6 time Ironman winner Dave Scott is a vegetarian, he was fueled through the lava fields in Hawaii on a meatless diet.

  • Great post, buddy. And who cares if Carl Lewis is not a vegan anymore? The point was that he said his best year was when he WAS a vegan.

    Also, that Tony Gonzalez myth always get’s thrown around but the story is incorrect. He added meat back in when he first tried the diet because he wasn’t eating any protein at all and lost a ton of size. The team strength coaches demanded that he start eating meat again. So he did.

    But then Dr. T. Colin Campbell got him in touch with Jon Hinds who taught him how to get enough protein on a vegan diet.

    Legendary bodybuilder Bill Pearl was a vegetarian as was the always “Ripped,” Clarence Bass.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Nice, thanks for clearing that up Jay. Had no idea about Clarence Bass. That dude was always ripped.

  • Thanks for posting this. Bill Pearl is an incredible bodybuilder, one who demonstrates what committment and knowledge can accomplish without drugs and regardless of age. I think he has been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since about 1969 and he’s probably about 80 now and last I heard was still stronger than most of the rest of us and looked really great. I don’t think red meat is particularly terrible in reasonable amounts, but some people like Bass and Pearl and many others demonstrate that you can still be very strong and maintain a lot of muscle mass without it if you want to.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      I agree with you Todd, well put!

  • Audrey

    I have been eating a mostly plant based diet for about a year, so I enjoy hearing about your experiments with vegan style eating. I’m not a raw foodist but I have been enjoying Green Smoothies lately. Check out Victoria Boutenko’s “Green For Life”.

  • beth

    Dave Scott is also no longer a vegan.Former NBA player John Salley is a vegan and a spokesperson for PETA.Has anyone seen Food Inc?It is all about where our food comes from and I’ve heard it’s great (hasn’t come to my city yet).

  • Anyone know what type of protein powder Tony dumped in the blender?

  • Jesse

    You’re missing a great current story. Prince Fielder is a vegetarian. You wanna talk about power, he just won the MLB home run derby! He is a large man, no denying that. Here’s a (slightly dated) article about his choice:
    http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080221&content_id=2383789&vkey=spt2008news&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

  • sean

    Ya what kind of protein ! I know how to mix fruits in blender, my challenge is making sure i am getting enough protein, however i dont want to use whey protein!

    wanted to know what kind of protien he is taking!

    • You can use Sun Warrior or other types of vegan protein. There are rice, hemp, and other vegan protein powders.

  • My best special vegan recipe is vegan carbonara. In these days i cooked for my 6 amigos. They really like my vegan meals.

  • Pallav Sethiya

    thanks dear for such an informative article..