By Bradley Saul
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
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
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.