Why being a meat-free athlete is just common sense

Athletes across the globe are shaking up misconceptions about the ultimate diet for health and fitness - and they aren't doing it quietly.

Everywhere you look, documentaries and media articles are detailing the undeniable proof that plant-based eating can power you to peak performance.

Elite sports stars are reporting they recover faster, drop unnecessary body fat, lower their cholesterol, and find themselves at the top of their game. But eating plant-based for improved performance is nothing new for those looking to be the best-of-the-best in their chosen sport: meat-free mavericks including Morgan Mitchel, Carl Lewis, and Novak Djokovic have all reported that plant-based eating helped make them world class athletes.

And the benefits of following a plant-based lifestyle haven't been overlooked by our homegrown cricketers. Adam Zampa, Peter Siddle, Nick Maddinson, and Kane Richardson are all batting for veganism - and that's just naming a few.

The reason for going vegan among the health conscious is obvious - diets high in cholesterol and animal fat are deadly. Consuming animal-derived foods is linked to an increased risk of obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Australia's Adam Zampa knows the benefit of a plant-based diet. Picture: AAP/Dean Lewins
Australia's Adam Zampa knows the benefit of a plant-based diet. Picture: AAP/Dean Lewins


But going plant-based doesn't just benefit elite athletes and health nuts. For many, it is the lift in conscience that has them making the switch, leading athletes and couch potatoes alike to adopt plant-based lifestyles for a range of other reasons including animal protection, global disease risks, and tackling the climate emergency.

Every year, around half a billion animals in Australia endure unthinkable cruelty in the animal agribusiness industry.

Hens in the egg industry are caged together so tightly they can't even turn around, pigs are still being confined in crates, and meat chickens are bred to grow so fast many are in chronic pain in their last days of life.

In a world that is beginning to recognise the sentience of animals, many are questioning the entire animal agribusiness industry. Australians are taking this sentiment even further, increasingly questioning the ethics of slaughterhouses and the notion that it is ever acceptable to take the life of an animal who did not want to die.

And while animal protection has been a leading cause for diet change, in these troubling times, it's the issue of zoonotic disease outbreaks that have taken centre stage in the vegan debate.

The confinement, slaughter and consumption of animals has been linked to a range of serious diseases including swine-flu, SARS and MERS. Even the current COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have spread to humans from 'wet markets', where animals are bought live and slaughtered on the spot for human consumption.


COVID-19 not only put wet markets and wild animal slaughter on the health agenda, it's led to increased public awareness of the animal agribusiness industry here in Australia and its capacity to easily produce animal viruses that mutate into a "novel" form that could be deadly to humans.

The revolting conditions animals are subjected to in this industry has left us sitting on a ticking time bomb for the next pandemic.

Dr. Michael Greger, author of How Not To Die, warns that the next global zoonotic killer will likely come from the intensive chicken farming industry, warning that this industry could create a pandemic that wipes out half of the global population.

And if you still require food for thought, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has reported that livestock farming is the leading cause of climate change, creating roughly 7,516 million tons of CO2 emissions per year.

According to research at John Hopkins University, "If global trends in meat and dairy intake continue, global mean temperature rise will more than likely exceed 2 degrees Celsius, even with dramatic emissions reductions across non-agricultural sectors".

It is therefore no wonder that leading a plant-based lifestyle has become the go-to for environmentalists who recognise it is the single biggest action any individual can do to lessen their impact on the climate emergency.

No matter how you spin it, meat, eggs and dairy are no longer considered part of a healthy or ethical lifestyle. But the ball's in your court. Let's use the growing popularity of veganism among game changing athletes as motivation to make the switch - for the animals, human health, and for the environment.

Emma Hurst MLC is a member of the NSW Animal Justice Party.

Originally published as Why being a meat-free athlete is just common sense