Carl Lewis has been named “Sportsman of the Century” and “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated Magazine and The International Olympic Committee. Throughout his career, Lewis won 10 Olympic Medals, 9 of which were Gold, and 10 World Championship Medals, of which 8 were Gold. At the height of his athletic career, Lewis made the switch to a Vegan Diet and has been an advocate for a plant-based diet to athletes around the world.
Check out an excerpt of the introduction Carl Lewis gave to the book Very Vegetarian, by Jannequin Bennett.
Can a world-class athlete get enough protein from a vegetarian diet to compete? I’ve found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete. In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet. Moreover, by continuing to eat a vegan diet, my weight is under control, I like the way I look. (I know that sounds vain, but all of us want to like the way we look.) I enjoy eating more, and I feel great. Here’s my story.
When I grew up in New Jersey, I always enjoyed eating vegetables and was influenced by my mother, who believed in the importance of a healthy diet even though we ate meat regularly because my father wanted it. At the University of Houston I ate meat and tried to control my weight the wrong way–by skipping meals. Frequently I would skip breakfast, eat a light lunch, and then have my fill at dinner–just before I went to bed. Not only is skipping meals the wrong way to diet, but the way I did it is the worst way because your body needs four hours to digest its food before you go to sleep.
In May of 1990 I decided to change the way I ate when I realized that controlling my weight by skipping meals was not good for me. Within the space of a few weeks, I met two men who changed my way of thinking and eating. The first was Jay Cordich, the Juice Man, whom I met at the Houston radio station where I worked in the early morning. He was there to talk about his juicer, which makes fresh juice from fruits and vegetables. He said that drinking at least sixteen ounces of freshly squeezed juice each day will increase a person’s energy, strengthen the immune system, and reduce the risk of disease. A few weeks later while doing publicity for a meet in Minneapolis, I met Dr. John McDougall, a medical doctor who teaches about the link between good nutrition and good health and was promoting his latest book. Dr. McDougall challenged me to make a commitment to eating a vegetarian diet and then to just do it.
I remember vividly making the decision in July of 1990 to become a vegan. I was competing in Europe and ate a meal of Spanish sausage on a Saturday and on the following Monday started eating vegan. The hardest thing for me was changing my eating habits from skipping meals to eating throughout the day–which is much healthier. I also missed salt and so substituted lemon juice for flavor.