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April 2005
Athletes Get Active
By Bradley Saul


Bradley Saul. Photo courtesy of the author

My kind, loving parents planted the seeds of a compassionate life in me, and a childhood spent traipsing about in the forest and caring for animals nurtured a kind heart. I loved the outdoors and held a deep regard for the natural environment and all its beings. This upbringing led me to plant a few seeds of my own.

In my late teens, I started racing bicycles. I have always believed that athletes have a responsibility to be role models in our society, and I did my best to share my respect and love for the natural world in a competitive arena. As an aspiring pro cyclist, I had a keen interest in preserving the global ecology, optimizing the micro-ecology of my own body, and showing others how to become healthy.

As I learned more about the benefits of an organic, plant-based diet for health and performance on both personal and planetary levels, I made the choice to become vegan. My recovery times dropped and my general health improved. Why, I wondered, aren’t more athletes living vegetarian lifestyles and being role models for a healthy, compassionate way of life? Through my racing career, I met only a handful of vegetarian cyclists, and in the world of professional sports I can still only name a few. The problem, I believe, is education. In sports circles, the myth of the necessity of animal products in the diet runs strong. In mainstream books and articles on sports nutrition, the subject of vegetarian and vegan diets generally focuses on an apparent lack of nutrition; it’s about what you’re missing from meat. In actuality, a plant-based diet can be superior nutritionally to a meat-based diet.

Dr. Douglas Graham, author of On Nutrition and Physical Performance, puts it straight: “We are, literally, built to consume plant foods. In exactly the same fashion that a car will run best when supplied with the fuel for which it is designed, so too will humans be able to reach their fullest performance potential when utilizing the diet for which we are best built to accommodate.” A few authors and athletes like Graham actively promote plant-based diets for athletes, but information explaining this diet and its benefits is mostly hidden at the back of the pack. In order to move to the front of the field, I think vegetarian athletes need to organize.

And that’s why I founded OrganicAthlete, a nonprofit organization promoting plant-based diets and health through sports. Like a good sports team, the vegetarian and environmental movements need a plan to inform athletes about plant-based diets and channel the influence of athletes as role models towards constructive goals. OrganicAthlete’s three strategies of information sharing, community building and athletic example comprise a positive feedback loop that educates, connects and fosters athletes to promote healthy, plant-based living. Whether someone is considering a vegetarian diet or already is a committed vegan, OrganicAthlete provides the knowledge, community support and motivation for athletes to lead the way in creating a better world.

OrganicAthlete’s first strategy, education, uses our website, newsletter, other publications, and events to share information about the health and performance benefits of an organic, plant-based diet. Our second strategy, community building, creates a grassroots network of athletes committed to creating a better world through sport. As more athletes become interested in vegetarianism and environmental issues, OrganicAthlete is a place to meet teammates to train, compete, and make a positive difference in the world. We currently have regional cycling clubs all over the country and we’re organizing running and triathlon clubs in a similar vein. Our third strategy, athletic example, develops and supports role models who motivate and inspire the world community to examine healthy, ecological habits and lifestyles.

Plotting OrganicAthlete’s strategy also presents a great challenge. The world of elite and professional athletics today is tainted with drug scandals and the endorsements of junk foods and other unhealthy products. Sport, it would seem, has become less about health, fitness, fun and games and more about money, exploitation and greed. Like a pulp mill company that clear cuts a forest for quick profits, athletes are sacrificing their health and integrity for quick riches and fame.

Luckily, there are a few top athletes who care deeply not only about their health and performance but also about the health of the planet, and have joined with OrganicAthlete as members of our “Pro-Activist” team. From bodybuilder Kenneth Williams to dancer Tonya Kay, mountain biker Jason Sager to surfer Katie Coryell, the Pro-Activist team includes professional athletes from many different sports who live and support a vegan diet and lifestyle. For these athletes, veganism is not just an ethical choice. For someone like professional triathlete Brendan Brazier, author of Thrive: A Guide to Optimal Health and Performance Through Plant-Based Whole Foods, a vegan diet is a secret weapon in optimal performance.

As OrganicAthlete’s mission is heard by more people, pro athletes, amateur athletes and fitness buffs who want to create a better world have the opportunity to be pro-active instead of just warming the bench. At local 5K races, professional cycling races, youth soccer clubs, and athletic gatherings worldwide, OrganicAthlete is bringing activism to the athlete, not in placards and protests, but in flexing muscles and pounding hearts.

While not all of us have the desire to run a mile in under four minutes or bench press 300 pounds, great athletic feats always inspire and impress us. And in the race to sustain life on earth, each of us has the capacity to perform great feats daily. By eating a plant-based diet and exercising with hearts of compassion, we grow stronger and healthier and sow the seeds of inspiration and serve as examples of a healthy life for others. And while we can’t expect the seeds to sprout overnight, I believe that one day we will taste the fruits of our efforts.

Bradley Saul, founder and President of OrganicAthlete, is a former professional cyclist with a passion for organic foods, healthy living, and ecological sanity. To learn more visit www.organicathlete.org.

 

 



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