Olympic vegetarians: the elite athletes who shun meat
Lizzie Armitstead was just 10 years old when she told her parents she wanted to become a vegetarian. Yesterday, she won Great Britain’s first medal of the Olympic Games, taking silver in the gruelling 87-mile road cycling race, no less.
I was brought up as vegetarian from birth and have been a long distance runner for most of my adult life. One of the most common misconceptions I’ve come across is that vegetarians are pallid, gentle creatures who would recoil in a tough sporting arena. Despite the fact I was breaking school records on the track, people still questioned my diet’s ability to make me strong.
I spent six months last year living and training with some of Kenya’s greatest long-distance runners, for my book, Running With the Kenyans. The athletes (from the Rift Valley) were not strictly vegetarian, but ate very little meat, which is usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings or funerals. Although there were occasional non-vegetarian meals served in the athlete training camps, we lived mostly on a diet of rice, beans, ugali (a dough made of maize flour and water) and green vegetables. The list of gold medals the Kenyan athletes have won on the track is almost endless. (On a personal note, I returned home to run a marathon in under three hours.)
However, most nutritionists are still unconvinced of the benefits of a vegetarian diet for elite sportspeople. While it can mean a diet low in saturated fat, which is good, it requires athletes to be more vigilant about their intake of protein, iron and vitamin B12. “It is hard work,” says Linia Patel, a sports nutritionist at the British Dietetic Society. “It can be done, of course, but I take my hat off to those who do it.”
Yet as Armitstead has shown yet again, vegetarians continue to rise to the very top of their sports. She follows a long line of Olympians who have managed to excel without “eating corpses”, as she herself puts it. In honour of her medal, here are a few other great vegetarian Olympians:
To know more about other great Vegetarian Athletes visit
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