Black belt Anne-Marie Campbell doesn’t need meat to win.
Campbell, 35, is a Torontonian vegan athlete. She has been a gymnast from a very young age and holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and also an Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competitor.
“I started off by trying vegetarian for a month. After that, I realized I was eating mostly vegan already, and that it really wasn’t as overwhelming or hard as a lot of people believe it to be,” said Campbell.
Questioning athletes wonder whether or not they will be able to build the same amount of muscle while keeping up with their training.
“I’ve considered it many times,” said Sergio Mijango, a second-year Police Foundations student at Seneca’s King Campus.
Mijango said he’d start off as a vegetarian but would give it up for grilled chicken every time he tried.
Jason Melhado, a Humber Athletics Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, said his wife is vegan and he knows a women’s basketball player who is vegetarian.
Melhado said the diet can be done but it’s really hard because vegans must make up for low protein content.
While some vegan friendly foods such as quinoa, beans and nuts have protein elements, they are not complete proteins.
“Obviously if they are not getting red meat, they need to find it from alternative sources,” said Chris DeZorzi, a Humber Athletic Therapist.
Melhado said protein levels aren’t the only issue, because sources of iron are also limited.
“It is possible to build up the same amount of muscles in the same time but it will be a lot harder,” said Melhado.
Campbell said she found that her transition into the vegan lifestyle in 2011 has allowed her body to build and keep muscle with less effort.
“I attribute that to the protein and nutrients in plant foods being easier for my body to digest and absorb,” said Campbell. “Our bodies thrive on whole foods.”
To maintain her muscles while staying on the same training cycle, Campbell said she’s always searching for the best meal before training or competition to provide her with the best energy.
“It wasn’t until I became vegan that I finally discovered the meals that gave me the best energy for training,” she said.
Campbell said there is nothing challenging in being a vegan athlete in her eyes.
“As an athlete, you can’t worry about calories, or restrictions. I don’t count calories, and I don’t restrict myself. I eat what my body asks for, and my performance has benefited. Give your body what it needs and it will thrive,” said Campbell.
“It is possible to still be strong, workout and meet the demands of your sport as a vegan athlete,” said Melhado.
DeZorzi said with a good diet your body is using the vitamins, minerals and nutrients to help with everyday bodily processes.
“Diet does play an important role. If you are seriously deficient in any of them, it can definitely play a toll in body generation,” said DeZorzi.
Campbell said athletes should not be restricting themselves.
Anyone interested in the transition to veganism should do their research, check out which vegan foods have sufficent amounts of protein, calcium, B12 and omega fatty acids Cambell said.
“Keep your meals simple before training or competition and you will feel the difference,” said Campbell.
She said that some examples of excellent food choices are, beans, chickpeas, lentils, raw spinach, raw mushrooms, cucumbers, brown rice, quinoa, a variety of veggies, and tofu or tempeh.
Cambell started a website, that answers questions about veganism, being a vegan athlete and shares recipes that gets her through her training cycles.