The Rio 2016 summer Olympic Games have seen an unprecedented number of plant-based athletes.
Most people don’t know this, but McDonald’s is one of the Olympic Games biggest sponsors and has been for a very long time. In the Rio 2016 olympic village, there’s a McDonald’s restaurant where athletes can eat for free, every day.
While a lot of olympic athletes, including top contenders, partake in the cholesterol-laden, deep-fried fast foods, a handful of competitors at Rio 2016 abstain from this and stand out at the other end of the spectrum by their exceptional diet and lifestyle choices. At this year’s edition of the Olympics, several athletes are outspoken vegans, strong supporters of a plant-based diet for athletic performance. This is the story of 3 of them.
21 year-old Morgan Mitchell is an Australian sprinter specialized in the 400 m distance. In 2014, Morgan had already won a national title and made her way to the Commonwealth’s semi-finals, when she watched a documentary on animal cruelty and the impact of the animal industry on the environment.
“I thought ‘God, I don’t want to contribute to that’. I love animals, so watching them get taken from their mothers made me really sad.”
said Mitchell, and it didn’t take her long to make the connection with food so she went vegan shortly after seeing the film.
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Morgan Mitchell faced disapproval and concern in her entourage but after sitting down with her dietician, she learned that she could cover all her dietary needs with plant-based foods.
“A lot of people are uneducated about veganism as a diet.”
Since the beginning of the 2016 season, Mitchell has stepped up her performance with a uninterrupted string of 12 victories on the Australian circuit, leading to her winning the national title and making the olympic team with a qualifying time of 51.84 seconds.
In Rio, Morgan Mitchell made the women’s 400 m semifinals and ranked 8th, while also ranking 8th in the women’s 4 x 400 m relay, which you can watch below:
The only American to compete in men’s weightlifting at Rio 2016, Kendrick Farris lifted a combined 357 kg (787 lbs). Motivated by his distrust in processed foods and the cruel practises of the animal industry, he moved to a vegan diet in 2014 with hopes of maintaining his performance and setting a positive example for his second son.
“Now, my body recovers a lot faster. I feel lighter. My mind is a lot more clear. I feel I can focus a lot better”, says Kendrick.
For his first Olympic Games as a vegan, his new-found focus led him to news heights. He finished 3rd in the men’s 94 kg final, by combining a 209-kg clean-and-jerk and a 168-kg snatch to set a new American record.
Professional beach volley player April Ross used to be one of those athletes who fear they might become weaker if they don’t eat meat. Most people would find it understandable, given her weekly schedule of 6 days spent training on the sand plus a couple lifting.
Well, again, most people are generally wrong. When she began experimenting with a plant-based diet last year, she found out that not only she didn’t miss meat but she felt better.
“I am at my strongest. […] My power-to-weight ratio is the highest it’s ever been.”
Said Ross last April, in an interview she gave Beyond Meat, a successful brand that produces convincing meat alternatives, such as a very juicy burger, and for which Ross is now an ambassador.
On top of feeling better as a vegan volley player, April Ross managed a bronze medal alongside K. Walsh Jennings against Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics women’s volley bronze medal match.
More Vegan Athletes at Rio 2016
A lot more athletes follow a plant-based diet in a less open manner, for various reasons namely the pressure exerted by constraining sponsorship deals with nutrition and supplement brands.
Among athletes, the most common factor motivating a switch to a plant-based diet remains its positive impact on athletic performance. When, unlike Mitchell or Farris, athletes are not sensitive to the moral and emotional issues of eating animals, the vegan diet remains a means to an end. Venus and Serena Williams, for instance, stick to a plant-based diet in preparation of and during major events, but do not mind a “cheat day”, when they indulge on less than optimal options, both nutritionally and ethically.
Regardless of the motives behind an athlete’s plant-based diet, the fact that high-profile performers openly chose to adopt it sends a clear message in favor of vegan diets. If olympic athletes can easily meet their nutritional requirements while eating a vegan diet, it is a great signal for the world that anyone can do it.