Vegans aren’t better athletes, but Diaz proves they can be just as good
UFC 196 has brought a fun debate forward; did Nate Diaz beat Conor McGregor because he’s vegan? With many looking at Diaz’s diet before, during, and following the fight, I’m not surprised that vegans have stepped up to claim his victory. However, I think it’s important that we recognize that eating a plant-based diet, like Diaz has, doesn’t make you a better athlete, but that it should be celebrated for showing us that you can be just as good an athlete while vegan. For everyone who thinks animal protein is the only way to the belt, podium, or medal, Diaz can be an example that it’s not.
Most of the buzz around the fight actually followed the prejudice of the non-vegans involved, on the sidelines. Fear Factor host turned fight commentator Joe Rogan, and McGregor’s movement coach Ido Portal, have had a lot to say to vegans before UFC 196 entered the picture. For Rogan, stand up comedy acts, twitter feuds, and podcasts have approached the subject from his abrasive brand of humour. Popularizing a hashtag, #lifeeatslife, he is quick to argue so many stereotypical meathead vegan attacks, it’s hard to keep track. He calls vegans who avoid honey extreme, tries to make us consider the feelings of plants, and advises people starve to death if they want to eat ethically. So understandably, vegans took to his social media platforms to see if following Diaz’s win, the comedian had anything to say while his foot was in his mouth. The thing is, we wouldn’t want Joe turning around and doing the same thing if Diaz lost, right? Not because we’re sore losers, but because we know that the performance of one vegan doesn’t prove the performance of all. After all, some of us are eating vegan ice cream right now. We should be excited that some attention can be brought to the benefits of a vegan diet, but we can’t ignore that 99% of athletes in the spotlight, abs and all, are getting there as carnivores. Rogan has shown that aggression can be met with aggression, congratulating Diaz in one post, and hash tagging his meaty dinner as vegan in the next. Do I think he’s uneducated on the subject? Absolutely. But most people with strict fitness goals in mind are.
Ido has seen the same response as Joe. In an interview, he once said “I can’t view vegan diets as something healthy. I’ve never met a vegan who was able to perform with the same energy levels as I see with someone with a more carnivorous diet. I actually refuse to work with vegans.” So watching one of his own fall to an unlikely hero, fans were left questioning the typical ideologies that surround animal protein and athletic gains. People are basically emphatically screaming you’re wrong, when they should be saying but look at this. I don’t think this is a situation where we can say veganism is the only way – although we can continue to argue that it’s the only ethical way. Instead of just arguing about creatine, protein, and about whether vegans can hit the caloric intakes of an athlete eating meat, we should be arguing that it’s possible to be our best, physically, without taking the lives of others.
Diaz, who boasted in a pre-interview that he’s also working on eating mostly raw foods, uses the underdog diet as part of his schtick. He didn’t speak about veganism when he won, and he’s not campaigning that everyone should abandon their diets for his. He answered questions as they were given to him, and it was inquisitive meat-eaters that steered towards his vegan eating. Diaz’s animal-free athleticism can serve as a positive example of how it’s possible to attain your fitness goals without contributing to the suffering of others, it’s not an argument that people who eat meat can’t fight. That would discount the hard work Diaz does outside of the kitchen.
In a NY Time Piece called “Can Athletes Perform Well on A Vegan Diet,” my same argument is made. In it, they talk about how anecdotally, vegan athletes (like Diaz) do well, but that there’s not enough evidence to support it’ll make someone a better athlete. Although the doctors interviewed argue that it’s a great choice for lowering our risk of heart disease and obesity, it’s not going to turn you into a UFC champion overnight. Diet is one small part of what’s required to become high ranked in the sport, and Diaz is keeping up without having to follow what people assume to be the only methods of eating for getting there.
This reflects a shift in the perspective of vegan health. Although McGregor predictably teased Diaz in the pre-fight weigh-in, saying “how can a fat guy be so skinny at the same time?”, Diaz proved that endurance and strength are not comprised by eliminating animal products, and that appearances aren’t everything. The message I hope people are able to take from the fight is that we don’t need meat to thrive in the world of sports. Someone shouldn’t aspire to cut out all animal products in hopes of reaching first place, because the opposite has seen those results many more times. However, going vegan is the right thing to do for the animals, the planet, your health, and on top of that, won’t get in the way of your aspirations for athleticism. When paired with the right nutritional and training education, practice, and performance, saying no to meat won’t keep you from winning the fight.
Photo from MMAFighting.com