Fitness for Vegans
Contributed by William Santoro.Vegan fitness looks and sounds a lot like fitness for non-vegans. That’s just the point: Eating meat, dairy, fish or other animal protein is not necessary for building up muscle and achieving a high level of fitness and energy. Not convinced? There are dozens of famous vegan athletes to prove it, more and more ultra-class, notably Brendan Brazier*, Scott Jurek,* and Rich Roll*, whose achievements are heroic and inspiring by any standards.
It is no coincidence that many elite athletes are becoming vegan, as they learn more, experiment, and realize the benefits of a plant-based diet for improving their performance. While some got where they are before becoming vegan, others actually attribute their success to adopting a plant-based diet.
In his book, Finding Ultra*, Roll says: “I can say with full confidence that my rapid transformation from middle-aged couch potato to Ultraman — to, in fact everything that I’ve accomplished as an endurance athlete–begins and ends with my PlantPower diet…an alkaline, plant-based whole food diet is the most rapid recovery tool available to the athlete, and a crucial component in my success.”
If you want to improve your fitness, you need to consider and incorporate a balance of cardio-vascular, strength, and flexibility exercises, in addition to a healthy plant-based diet (such as Rip Esselstyn’s Engine 2*), to achieve fitness and health. Having a varied exercise routine (many experts recommend “changing it up” every 2-3 months) is very important to maintain motivation, while consistency and structure is important to achieving results.
Belonging to a sports club provides you with access to a variety of equipment for cardio training, including treadmill, Stairmaster, elliptical machines, and stationery bicycles. Personally, I prefer jogging/running most of all because it burns a lot of calories, and you can do it almost anywhere with no investment in equipment or a gym membership that you may not use. Running on a treadmill is certainly easier on your joints, but many people (me included) find it incredibly boring.
For strength training, you can use weight machines at the gym or home gym equipment. There are plenty of vegan bodybuilders, too, if you’re into that. Check out Mike Mahler’s site below, for example.
That being said, you can do a lot with a stability ball and resistance training at home, too (refer to Core Workouts for runners and Engine 2 Diet links below). And for flexibility, try doing Yoga Sun Salutations every morning (ABC-of-Yoga.com has an easy to follow animated guide).
I’ve purchased several Yoga and Tai-Chi DVDs, and the one I find most beneficial is Rodney Yee’s “Power Yoga Total Body”.* At first, it was really difficult just to keep pace with Yee, much less do the Yoga poses. I used to dread the “upward bow” (three times in a row with little rest was brutal!), but now I actually look forward to it.
If you’re new to Yoga, you may want to start with beginner DVDs * instead. Other DVDs have short workouts that can be fit into a 20-minute slot in the morning or evening. Whichever you choose, you’ve just got to give it time to work, and alternate with other kinds of exercises to avoid injury and maintain motivation, too.
Thanks to the combination of regular yoga and running (and of course a plant-based diet), I’m now in the best physical shape of my life, running the Tokyo marathon in 2009 and now training for my third Honolulu marathon this December. I never thought I could have completed a marathon before becoming vegan, yet I am now aiming for a triathlon!
Below is a URL to a marathon training program I used for my first marathon, which I highly recommend to you for its clarity. There are training programs for half-marathon and beginning runners as well! Be sure to allow the timetable recommended to avoid injuries.
Incidentally, although I had done cardio training, working out 3-4 times/week for most of my adult life (consistently for over 10 years before becoming vegan), my body fat dropped from 22% to around 12% within a few months of going on a pure plant-based diet!
Attention Vegan Runners:
Several months back, I began incorporating the core workouts below from Runner’s World magazine into my workouts on an alternating basis with my cardio training. I’ve made visible progress on my abs! My running has also benefited by faster speed, my balance has improved, and my back seems stronger as well (bye-bye, chiropractor!).
More recently, I’ve started mixing in resistance exercises from Rip Esseltyn’s The Engine 2 Diet*. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do yourself a favor. But don’t expect it be easy (see my article “Why Engine 2 Diet is ‘The Whole Shebang’”).
Without a doubt, exercise is important, and I would suggest that exercising at least 4 days a week (which often means planning on exercising 5 times/week) is incredibly beneficial to your physical and mental well-being. But exercise alone can only do so much for you. Think about how many more opportunities you have in any given day to eat than you do to exercise! That’s why adopting a plant-based diet is the healthiest thing you’ll ever do.
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