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Vegetarian Athletes: At the Top of Their Game

By: for gather.com on Feb. 9, 2008
World News
Photo Credits: Blake Little
Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez
David Tyree may have been the star of the Super Bowl, helping the New York Giants beat the previously undefeated New England Patriots, but in my eyes, Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez is the biggest NFL champion. His team may not have made the Super Bowl, but as The Wall Street Journal recently reported, Gonzalez proved that a football player can be powerful without eating heaping helpings of meat, eggs, and dairy products. Gonzalez has acknowledged that the meat-heavy diet typically eaten by football players can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease and cancer, and is promoting plant-based foods.

A number of other professional athletes and Olympic superstars have touted the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets. Four-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl, powerlifting champion Bill Mannetti, 1951 Mr. America Roy Hilligenn, Stan Price, the world-record holder in bench press, and football player and Heisman Trophy-winner Desmond Howard all reportedly did not eat meat. These powerhouses aren't alone—some of the strongest animals, such as apes, elephants, and giraffes, are herbivores.

International Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness Federation and International Natural Bodybuilding Association bodybuilder Robert Cheeke is perhaps the world's most recognized vegan bodybuilder and popular strength trainer Mike Mahler says that "Becoming a vegan had a profound effect on my training. ”¦ [M]y bench press excelled past 315 pounds, and I noticed that I recovered much faster. My body fat also went down, and I put on 10 pounds of lean muscle in a few months."

Other vegetarian athletes, including tennis superstar Martina Navratilova and Dave Scott, a six-time winner of the Ironman triathlon, have repeatedly beaten their carnivorous competitors. Swimmer Murray Rose, a vegetarian since birth, has six Olympic medals. Debbie Lawrence is an Olympic racewalking champ, and discus thrower Al Oerter has won at least four Olympic gold medals. A healthy vegetarian diet helped propel two-time Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses over the hurdles, and Olympian Carl Lewis has said that his best year of track competition was the first year that he ate a vegan diet.

Famed Argentinian soccer goalkeeper Carlos Roa, was nicknamed, "La Lechuga," meaning "The Lettuce," because of his strict vegetarian diet. Bill Walton and Robert Parish, two of the greatest basketball players of all time, were vegetarians, and John Salley, another professional basketball star, is a vegan. So is ultra-marathon man Dom Repta, who has run 100 miles in just under 20 hours.

Australian Cricket superstar Greg Chappel also abstains from animal flesh and animal by-products and fellow cricket superstar Anil Kumble has posed for a PETA advertisement promoting vegetarianism. Says Anil, "Vegetarianism saves animals' lives and can't be beat for maintaining a muscular body and building endurance. Vegetarian food contains all the vitamins and protein you need to be at your best and is free of all the fat, cholesterol and toxins found in meat."
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