16 May 2006

Can vegan diet fuel an athlete?

Opinion by Jennifer Duffy
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 05.16.2006

What did you eat yesterday? Bradley Saul, a former pro-cyclist and founder of Organic Athlete, stopped in Tucson last week to talk about his organization and told me what he had munched on that day: half of a case of strawberries, two heads of lettuce chopped into a salad, some oranges and about 50 small dates.
The tall and lean but strong-looking cyclist is a vegan, and a raw foodist. He promotes organic living for athletes to ensure personal and environmental health. (Being a raw foodist who eats only whole foods, he doesn't touch things like whole wheat bread or tofu, but will eat some brown rice in a pinch, he says.)
Chowing down on a few heads of lettuce for lunch and avoiding all cooked and processed foods sounds a little extreme, but the principles of his vegan raw food diet are based on eating whole, organic foods that provide the vitamins, minerals and fiber that we all strive for in our diets.
Everyone's first question: Where do you get your protein?
"Where don't you get protein if you're eating whole foods?" said Saul, who started Organic Athlete when he was living in Tucson in 2003 and now resides in California.
"Human mother's milk has only 5 to 6 percent of its calories from protein. And that's for babies growing at a much more rapid rate than we are. We get enough protein if we eat whole foods, fruits and vegetables." He eats nuts and seeds in small amounts because they're high in fat.
Fruits and vegetables have a bit of protein per calorie — some more than others — so as long as you're eating whole foods, you can't not get enough protein, Saul says. These foods aren't as high in protein as meat, of course, but that protein is more difficult to digest, according to Saul.
But this guy isn't just munching on heads of lettuce and lounging on the couch — he's an athlete. Doesn't he need supplements or a chicken breast once in awhile?
He doesn't use supplements when he races, and when he recently ran a marathon he just ate dates for fuel during the 26.2-mile race. "I was fine."
I can't even imagine a long run without chocolate energy gel, but Saul's minimalism is inspiring.
Celery blended up in water provides the precious electrolytes athletes are always fretting over, although Saul says he really doesn't worry about whether he gets enough electrolytes.
"I used to come out of a race all covered in salt. I'm not like that anymore," he said. "Since I've started this, I can say my recovery times are better. I wake up in the morning ready for the day, and I don't need stimulants or caffeine to keep me going."
He says he went through a transition period for a few months, moving from vegetarianism to veganism (no animal products at all), to eating raw, organic foods.
"I had always known fruits and vegetables were the healthiest food and I ate a lot of them, but I had never heard of people that just ate them," Saul said with a laugh.
Now he does, although he was raised on "traditional American food — but all made from scratch," and his mother still eats the way she did when he was growing up.
"We had homemade birthday cakes, meat and potatoes. His friends were eating a lot of processed foods, but I just made everything from scratch. It wasn't necessarily healthy, though," said Molly Savitz.
"I'm surprised at how simple what he does is," said Savitz, of South Carolina, who will prepare food for as many as 700 cyclists at one of the Tour d'Organics race, put on by her son, this year.
I'm a vegetarian, and Saul's principles of eating lots of fruit and veggies appeal to me — but I'm not giving up my organic tofu any time soon. What I am going to glean from his purist lifestyle is a focus on organic produce, locally grown foods and choosing nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables over processed snacks.

"I wake up in the morning ready for the day, and I don't need stimulants or caffeine to keep me going." Bradley Saul founder of Organic Athlete



cindylou said...

Thanks for the great article. I am currently vegan and people always ask "where do you get your protein." I think Saul puts it best, when you eat whole foods, you don't need additional protein sources. Many fruits and vegetables have protein in them and quinoa is considered to be a complete protein. The need for meat sources of protein is just propaganda by the meat industry. In regards to dairy, the dairy industry wanted to put on milk labels that it prevented bone loss and osteoporosis, but the FDA wouldn't let them, because they simply had no proof. Some studies have shown that animal fats actually interfer in the the absorption of calcium, so milk more do more harm than good.

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