The Plant-Based Athlete: A Game-Changing Approach to Peak Performance

I recently made the transition from vegan to wholefoods plant based(WFPB). I read the book The Plant-Based Athlete: A Game-Changing Approach to Peak Performance, a book by Matt Frazier and Robert Cheeke (amazon link), and was convinced to use it as a guide.

For those who don’t know the difference between regular vegan and wholefoods plant based, Vegans abstain from consuming animal products across the board, while a wholefoods plant based removes processed and refined foods from the vegan diet (this is a gross oversimplification). 

I was inspired to ‘go wholefoods plant based’ (as they say) on twitter talking to individuals about their experiences, amongst other reasons. I was also inspired by Robert Cheeke, who’s not just a vegan bodybuilder, but is THE vegan bodybuilder. Meaning, if you google vegan bodybuilders, then you will find Robert Cheeke.

Robert’s been a vegan for 26 years and is an award winning bodybuilder while living vegan. I saw an interview with Robert where he says he consumes about 3100 calories daily. He was successful and still looks jacked. Very similar to my own numbers, and he’s my age of 41. 

Robert is a prime specimen of a person who’s lifestyle was already close to mine (as far as exercise, calorie-intake, & food-content is concerned) made it seem much more attainable to ‘go wholefoods plant based’. For good measure, Robert’s writing partner is marathoner and ultra runner Matt Frazier, cofounder of nomeatathlete.com.

 

‘GOING WHOLEFOODS’

With confirmation bias, any information I’d give is compromised. My individual experience isn’t going to be representative of the whole idea, but the main thing I feel safe in imparting to others is that you can feel your body more distinctly burning through energy, like an engine. 

The gut-mind connection partly dictates your mood, ergo, eating irregularly or unhealthy food would negatively affect your mood as well. In that same way, on a WFPB diet, I can feel this hunger that directly affects my mind, my muscles, and my energy output. There’s a similar gut-muscle connection at work.

What I’ve really taken away that’s valuable health-wise, is that when on WFPB, the human body becomes a more perfect engine for energy production. Starches are the perfect fuel. The crux of the ‘diet’ rests on the premise that the body’s preferred form of energy is carbohydrates, in this case complex carbs. 

The body needs macronutrients in the form of carbohydrates, fat, and protein to survive. The meals you have on this diet contribute to your daily dietary needs or RDI.

You achieve your macros quite literally piecemeal throughout the day. Oats, rice, potatoes, lentils, beans, grains, all have protein, fat, and carbs in small portions. Over the day it adds up to well over your RDI. You’re never deprived of any nutrients if you’re careful.

 

COST & CULTURE

The cost effective nature of this diet can’t be stressed enough either. Most people falsely believe that vegan diets are more expensive. Depending on how you shop this could be true.

Dried foods in the forms of lentils, rice, quinoa, grains, and alternative pasta, as well as plants like sweet potato, oats, beans, and other starchy foods, all can be gotten in bulk for super cheap. If you cook from scratch like I do, you can not only have your own youtube channel, but you’ll save a bunch of money on healthier food and lower doctor bills.

Plant based foods naturally fit into the flora of each region’s culture and anthropological reality by it’s very own ‘nature’ too, to be a bit redundant. There are literally endless examples of cultural methods of food preparation that involve fire systems and even burying food with coals.

Anyone not Caucasian reading this with knowledge of their own culture can think of an example (please comment them below, if you’d like).

A lot of indigenous peoples have plant based cuisines built within their traditions that are both healthy for the environment and nutritious. A lot of First World/Native American people have returned to their traditional diets after having common health issues with an American diet. Some traditional First world agricultural methods have corn, wheat, and beans growing together to feed each other nutrients (some of the things the Native Americans taught the settlers in Charlestown when they were starving).

Even as far out as the Far East, Buddhist monks have complex recipes that they use to mimic meats with plants that go so far as to create a crispy chicken skin to their faux-meats. In their culture, food is religion just as storied as the history of the religion itself. 

There’s an entire universe of foods and cooking I have yet to learn about that go into detail about plant based gastronomy.

 

PLANT BASED SCIENCE 

I’ve always researched the efficacy of the plant based diet by reading studies, and have known for some that a lot of credence was lent to vegan diets from studies done on skin cancer patients in the 90’s

Learning things by doing rhetorical analysis on science is like peeling an onion. I was researching nutrition and kept coming across the same examples that piqued my interest, of the efficacy of plant based diets in comparison to all other diets.

Even the term ‘diet’, in a scientific sense, connotes what a person eats in general, not a special nutritional system meant to help the person lose weight or achieve some other physical goals, which is the traditional common view. In any case, by observing the ‘diets’ people lived with, multiple studies were able to determine the best type of diet, and it was broad and impressive. 

Inflammation, antioxidants, & and angiogenesis were in the conversation five years ago when I first went vegan. I was alone on a laptop researching and proving with some logic that vegan nutrition was safe and real to myself. I even have cronometer records that go to 2015. 

In 2014 I had no idea how to eat vegan and made awful mistakes. The lengths I would go to achieve nutritional balance wasridiculous, and the food options, most of which were processed and tasted abysmal compared to the plethora of choices that grace the grocery shelves now.

The exciting part about science for me was always proving myself wrong. I started out as an omnivore and was excited to learn new things about biology and nutrition. Having access to and being able to learn and understand these things was a privilege that has always been severely marred by the mere presence of other people. Most people have motivations and intentions that are usually emotion-based. I try to choose against that instinct. 

When considering an idea I think might be true, I have to expand my understanding until I can confirm it’s true or until I eventually prove the thing wrong or false. I collect data, organize it, come to understand people’s viewpoints, and make my informed decision from there, which lead me to being vegan, and now going WHOLEFOODS!

 

FAKE MEAT NEWS

The term lie, or fake, never really enters into my way of thinking. I only hear people’s opinions when I go on social media. I’m limiting my exposure there as much as possible too. 

I always had trouble connecting with mainstream view . As a skeptic and empiricist I know I have to do my own research to come to an understanding about the subject in a well-rounded way. 

My understanding of ‘the thing’ would probably be underwhelming afterwards to others. My motivation is sheer betterment and curiosity, not agenda. I’m happy to admit I’m wrong about quinoa being a grain, and also happy that in quinoa I have another carbohydrate food option from a different region, culture, and food source. Quinoa proves natural diversity.

When it comes to science, if I can prove myself wrong, then I feel like I won, as backwards as that might seem. I’ll instantly change how I look at the world in recognition of the things learned, the same way I did with quinoa. It’s frightening at times, but it always works because I’m here doing my homework. 

I connect to the material in the book because it simplifies what has always been so complex for me. It looks beyond agenda, not that it’s political in any way, but when we talk about veganism, it’s impossible to fully parse animal rights from your ‘diet’, and most people don’t want to and I agree.

What I like in this book is seeing the work of collating and explanation of the science and efficacy of a WFPB diet done so well. That’s the satisfying part, the sense of organization to the explaining of the idea. These guys did their homework. Both of them have written multiple books and worked on this subject for years and it shows.

With the rising popularity of WFPB diets, the subject demanded an updated revisiting. A summing up of what our understanding of what WFPB can reasonably claim right now.

It’s refreshing to see a pair of athletes with the same standards and reverence for science, and for annotating fact from fiction. Knowing others value research as well allows me to breathe, even in my limited understanding of the subject at hand.

 

MACROS VERSUS MICROS

Micronutrients are little referred to as a benefit of the whole foods plant based diet, but they’re more central to what makes it so interesting. The mind-gut connection is real in that food affects mood, but the muscle-gut connection is just as real and vital, giving you reserves of energy through the distribution and storing of micronutrients.

Whatever the body doesn’t use as fuel via macronutrients, gets stored as glycogen in the muscles, liver, gastrointestinal tract, et al. This goes against the common American diet and processed and refined foods therein. 

Processed and refined food, on the other hand, when not used by the body right away as fuel, is transformed to and stored as fat. Processed foods and refined foods have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, and colorectal cancers.

The danger of the American diet, and the danger of processed and refined foods is a fact stated ad nauseum by the book and all nutritionists. The greater nutritional community at large will readily admit this fact, the connection of an American diet to chronic illness.

The link to heart disease, colorectal cancers, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses due to a traditional American diet can’t possibly be understated enough. It is the most well-researched and understood nutritional fact on earth. If you eat red meat, you have a much greater risk of getting those diseases.

 

Cleaning Up the Mess

When people go vegan to be more healthy, the bodies aren’t stuck static in their polluted states either, like a computer that’s been unplugged once it caught malware. That plaque buildup in the arteries and the damage done to arteries and organs can be removed and reversed over time.

The ear wax thing was really funny to me. In some way, it makes some kind of crazy sense. Reaching a level of homeostasis by purifying the fuel might somehow… push out ear wax? That’s a bit of a leap. 

Plaque buildup in the arteries of someone on an average American diet is the result of cholesterol. BAD CHOLESTEROL; LDL cholesterol, is common in American diets and has numerous negative effects on health.

Adversely, Plant-based diets have GOOD CHOLESTEROL; HDL cholesterol, which eliminates the negative LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. Over time that plaque buildup can be cleaned up. When it comes to a WFPB diet, it’s virtually the same reversal at work for soy milk versus dairy milk as well. 

Soy has no feminizing effects, but the hormonal effects dairy has on people are well studied. The same high cholesterol, heart diseases, diabetes, and batteries of chronic illnesses are commonly linked to dairy consumption as well as to red meat and cholesterol. 

Estrogen is more common in dairy milk than soy milk by a long shot, and can have the same feminizing effects that Americans fear in soy milk. While soy milk, adversely, has what’s known as phytoestrogens, also known as isoflavones. 

Isoflavones are compounds that help rid the bloodstream of occurrences of estrogen. Just as with cholesterol, access estrogen is cleaned up, it’s presence decreased by a WFPB diet, not increased as is popularly believed.

Here’s another fun fact: most Americans are lactose intolerant and are not even aware of it. After you get over the morphine-based addiction from the opioid-based effect of casein, your body won’t miss the cow milk cheese sludge that America produces.

 

INSPIRING OTHERS


When I think about the most productive way of inspiring others, I know I have a few options. On twitter, for example, a lot of vegan post photos of animal slaughter and torture, which personally pains me to see. I don’t have the stomach for that imagery.

Instead I post recipes, endless recipes meant to recreate the unhealthy American diet of my youth but with healthy wholefoods alternatives instead. I feel like, even just reaching a few people, I’ve succeeded.

From a more practical standpoint though, if I can get people to replace animal-based meals with plant-based ones, then I’m making a tangible difference. Every meal not consuming animals is a win for me.

In ‘going wholefoods’, I have an advantage because I’m a cook, but with a well organized meal prep each Sunday, anyone is five to ten minutes away from an amazingly delicious and nutritious meal fit for a competitive plant based athlete. 

Living in this lifestyle and achieving the utmost in evolutionary potential in a practical and affordable manner is easily possible. This is an easily attainable and reachable goal for anyone who’s curious about trying it.

Five years ago, I was alone in my understanding on my journey, but now I feel a part of a community that wants to help people to safely live as vegan athletes. I engage with people on all my social media about veganism and this amazing food, and all the groups and communities are very welcoming. 

Most of the people I speak with are lovely, ethical, spiritual people for whom health, fitness, ethics, the environment, and animal rights are concerns that are more front and center than most other Americans.

As someone who’s at home in the kitchen, I feel that I have a good relationship with the material as well because not only is it not much of an adjustment to make my recipes wholefoods, the challenge is welcome. I’m learning new recipes and facts about WFPB diets all the time with no end to that progression in sight. 

I’ve been training my whole life to be whole plant based. It wasn’t until recently that I was personally ready, but I hope if anyone reading this is on the fence, know that I fully endorse that they try a wholefoods plant based lifestyle, and it’s way more easily attainable than you would imagine.

 

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