Protein and Performance

Everyone knows that meat is the manliest food. It’s full of protein, which we he-men need for our big muscles. On Father’s Day, we love to make fires and cook that meat like the cavemen did. And we get it – or used to, anyway – by hunting, which is of course the manliest activity there is.

Except for one small problem: it turns out that excessive consumption of animal products – including meat, dairy, and eggs – actually undermines our manliness in several ways.

I’ll spare you the sermon on heart disease, cancer, stroke, type II diabetes, and MS. I’ll leave the lecture on erectile dysfunction being the leading indicator of heart disease for another day. Let’s look on the bright side, and talk about high performance.

The Protein Myth

If you’ve bought into the myth that you need lots of protein to have a strong, fit body, and that animal protein is somehow “higher quality” than plant protein, then we need to talk.

First of all, think about our closest animal relatives, gorillas and chimps. Strong? Check. Muscular? Check. Meat-eaters? Not so much.

Second, there’s tons of scientific research on the ill effects of an animal foods-based diet. That paleo stuff you’ve been seeing all over? Pretty much “Bro Science” fantasy.

Third, let’s look at some counter-examples to the “plant eaters are scrawny and wimpy” stereotype.

Jack LaLanne ate an almost entirely plant-based diet in his later years, and was still working out two hours a day up to the week before he died at the age of 96.

Scott Jurek, one of the world’s dominant ultra-marathon runners, hasn’t consumed animal products since 1999. He credits his clean diet for his performance, and for the remarkably short recovery periods he requires between races.

Gary Player, the South African golf champion, went plant-based 23 years ago, and at the age of 80, is a poster child for fitness at any age. His daily workout begins – begins! – with 1000 sit-ups and push-ups.

I could go on and on. But I’d like to end with the story of a regular guy who went plant-based, with remarkable results.

Rich Roll’s Amazing Plant-based Journey

Rich RollRich Roll was a “desperately unhealthy” 39-year-old lawyer who was 50 pounds overweight in 2006. His gift to himself on his 40th birthday was a new diet – 100% plant-based – so that he might “lose a little weight around the middle” and perhaps interact a little more energetically with his children.

Aside from that, Roll didn’t anticipate that the change to a plant-based diet would do anything other than make him feel “hungry all the time.”

Turns out, the dietary shift changed everything. Roll recalls, “My vitality returned and the weight came off. With energy levels suddenly through the roof, I found myself electrified, returning to fitness with vigor – something I hadn't done in decades.”

How much vigor? Just two years later, Roll found himself performing at a high level in ultra-endurance events, “something that previously seemed unimaginable.”

In fact, in 2009, the 42-year-old Roll was named one of Men’s Fitness magazine’s “25 Fittest Men in the World.” He was only the second “Regular Joe” – i.e. non-professional athlete – ever to make the list.

“Without a doubt, I attribute all of what I have accomplished — not just as an athlete but as a husband, father and human being – to adopting a whole food plant-based diet, proving that our bodies are is far more resilient than you can imagine.”

Read about Rich's transformation in his bestselling book Finding Ultra.

Isn’t that the best news you’ve heard in a long time? No matter how you may have treated your body in the past, shifting to a plant-based diet – which means eating mostly plants in as close to their natural state as possible – can slow the aging process and actually bring us back to the vigor, stamina, and performance levels we thought we’d said goodbye to forever.

And if you get started now, we may never have to have those talks about heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction. Just sayin…

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