Psychological studies show that men from Western cultures associate consuming meat with masculinity, virility, high testosterone levels/libido, power and physical strength. The belief that meat is a superior masculine food permeates most gyms, athletic events and bodybuilding websites. Yet despite the growing evidence supporting plant-based nutrition and how it enhances athletic performance, shortens recovery time, boosts stamina and agility, most men are unwilling to forgo eating meat due to the fear of losing their strength and masculinity.
Carnivorous skeptics think eating plants is "wimpy" because real men hunt, kill and eat meat for its presumed "superior" (muscle building) protein. On the contrary, a plant-based diet boosts virility/fertility, enhances athletic performance, and supports optimal health and a youthful physique. Body builders can also achieve the same results as their meat-eating counterparts in the gym without the adverse health effects that come from consuming meat. Many elite athletes have given up meat to reach their goals and gain competitive advantage over their opponent. These athletes have learned that consuming meat is not associated with better performance, and because they recover from their injuries faster, their careers are extended.
One such exceptional athlete, David Carter (The 300 Pound Vegan), is an NFL Defensive Lineman. Rich Roll's interview with David Carter explains how adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet has not only improved Carter's athletic performance, it helped him overcome persistent chronic injuries, challenge stereotypes and break paradigms.
Roll points out in his article that many slender endurance athletes thrive on a plant-based diet, but "What about sports that place a premium on size, speed, agility, power, quickness and just plain brute force? Is it possible to compete at the highest level of the NFL...as a defensive lineman – a position where only the absolute biggest, baddest, strongest and fastest survive?" The answer is definately YES!
Looking back, Carter says that he grew up eating a lot of meat and embraced the belief system of other athletes that eating muscle builds muscle, and the more you eat the stronger you become. Several years into Carter's career, he suffered from persistent injuries which included tendonitis, nerve damage, arthritis, and chronic muscle fatigue. Carter was overcome and devastated with these chronic afflictions, leaving him sidelined even though he had the best rehab and sports medicine resources available to him.
So that he could continue to play, Carter took his health into his own hands. Researching alternative methods to resolve his conditions led him to view the documentary Forks Over Knives. Along with his wife Paige's encouraging holistic lifestyle practices, this documentary influenced him to make the "radical and controversial" decision to adopt a pure whole-food, plant-based diet in February of 2014.
Carter's decision resulted in a great deal of criticism. Coaches, friends, trainers and teammates told him that it was "impossible to maintain his weight and strength without meat." However, due to his extensive research on plant-based nutrition, Carter was confident he had made the right decision. All of Carter's persistent health injuries "mysteriously corrected themselves and ultimately vanished altogether" which surprised those that were criticizing him. Roll writes, "Eating entirely plant-based, David experienced more energy. His recovery time was profoundly accelerated. His stamina went through the roof. All his numbers in the weight room actually went up – this is a guy who can bench 470 and squat 660. Amazingly, he found himself quicker, more agile and responsive than ever. And perhaps most important to Carter, no living thing had to die in order for him to thrive."
According to Carter's The 300 Pound Vegan website, Carter states, "As a professional athlete what I put in my body for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, are some of the most important decisions I make every day. I must ensure I'm consuming sufficient calories to keep full and have the energy to perform at my peak while not overloading and slowing my body down. My career depends on it. So many people are shocked when they learn that I fuel my body with a plant-based -- vegan -- diet. I'm just shocked that it took me 26 years to gain the wisdom to do it!" Wholesome natural plant food such as lentil soup, bean chili, sweet potatoes, vegetable pot-pies and legumes fuels his 300 pound muscle-bound frame. He adds that plant-based nutrition is endorsed by Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, which published a "Plant-Based Diet" guide that states "Any movement toward more plants and fewer animal products can improve your health." Similarly, the American Institute for Cancer Research reports, "The research shows one thing very clearly: we all need to eat more plants and less meat."
Carter says that for many years, he had heard about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, but he didn't consider it because he didn't think he could maintain his weight for football. After watching the Forks Over Knives documentary he realized that all the foods that he had been consuming to put on weight and become strong for his professional career were actually killing him. "I learned consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy are directly linked to the top killers of Americans. The very things we've been hearing since we were kids do our bodies good are clogging our arteries, giving us diabetes, making us obese, and are putting the current generation of kids on the path toward a host of chronic, preventable diseases that will end up youthful physique and causing untold suffering."
"I'm not alone in this awakening" Carter writes, "Professional athletes from an array of sports are fueling with fruits and vegetables. Ten-time Olympic medal winner Carl Lewis proudly stated 'My best performances were when I was 30 years old and I was a vegan.' Smash hitter Venus Williams eats a raw vegan diet. And baseball legend Tony LaRussa loves animals so much he not only started his own animal rescue organization, but leaves them off his plate."
Carter reiterates that his new way of eating resolved all of the injuries he had been plagued with before and that his recovery time and endurance improved resulting in him being able to train even more. "My entire body changed. Every lingering injury that had been nagging me from college went away. Scar tissue, excruciating pain from tendonitis, numbness, and occasional high blood pressure all started to disappear. Football is a rough sport that demands a lot from your body. They say that one practice is equivalent to a 60 mph car accident. Small injuries always occur and never have the opportunity to heal. Before being vegan I suffered from tendonitis, arthritis, a dislocated finger from college that never healed correctly, nerve damage to my right hand and arm, muscle fatigue in my right arm. In just two months of a plant-based diet all of those small injuries have gone away."
Switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet also enhanced his athletic ability. "My strength went through the roof, my bench press numbers shot up. I went from benching an unusually low three hundred fifteen pounds due to intense shoulder pain to pressing four hundred fifty in just around four month's time. My energy doubled, and most impressively my recovery time got cut in half! Going vegan gave me a motor better than I’ve ever had. I couldn’t believe it when my trainer showed me clocking seven-minute miles at two hundred ninety pounds! My body was thanking me."
However, within the first few months maintaining his 300 pound frame was a major concern. He had lost 40 pounds the first two months, which wasn't very reassuring. His teammates, family and trainers all thought that his new diet was crazy. Yet Carter's knowledge regarding the adverse health effects from consuming meat and dairy kept him from returning to his previous diet. Researching plant-based nutrition became his favorite past time. He also sought the help of other plant-based athletes like the Plant-Built Team. With the help of his conditioning coach, his weight returned within 3-4 months, this time replacing fat with muscle weight.
Cravings and withdrawal symptoms are commonly experienced in those that switch to a plant-based diet all at once. Information regarding withdrawal symptoms, food addictions and toxic hunger can be found here. Carter says that he was fortunate that he didn't experience cravings and withdrawal because his wife had been steadily encouraging him to eat more plant foods before making the change to a 100% plant-centered diet.
Carter's interest in healthy eating has inspired him to become more involved with living a compassionate lifestyle. "My original intention for going vegan wasn’t ethical at all. I had no real connection to my food like most people. I was merely an athlete looking for a healthier way to heal myself. The ethical vegan was born when I realized that I was healthier and stronger with a cruelty-free body than when I was on the standard American dead food diet. I learned that you don’t need to take a life to gain muscle or survive so anything else is cruel and unnecessary punishment to animals, the planet, and the body as well. It was then that I went public with my veganism and started using my voice to speak for the animals without one." Seeing how a whole-food, plant-based diet has enhanced Carter's strength and athletic performance, hundreds of people have contacted him, telling him that his passion has encouraged them to make the transition to a plant-centered diet.
Carter sums it up by saying "I can honestly say that being vegan is not only the most efficient way to be full-body strong, it's also the most humane; everyone wins. I hope everyone will join me in eating delicious plant-based meals that can help you feel great, help the planet and make a world of difference for animals. By making this one small change not only have I saved my own life but the countless lives of voiceless and defenseless animals everywhere...it's great for our planet as well. Becoming vegan has given me a greater purpose, something bigger than myself to fight for, and fight I will."
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