By: Plant-Based Ultra-Athlete Rich Roll
At thirty-nine, I was a fat, out-of-shape couch potato hurdling into middle age, depressed and unenthusiastic about my life. It was only in the wake of a health scare on the eve of my fortieth birthday that I realized not only that I needed to change, but that I wanted to change. That change ultimately took the form of a plant-based diet, a decision that permanently changed the trajectory of my life—transforming me into a middle-aged ultra endurance athlete, one of Men’s Fitness’ “25 Fittest Men in the World” and the respected wellness advocate I have today become.
By eating nothing but plants close to their natural state, I lost weight quickly and responsibly. My vitality and enthusiasm for life restored, I went on to accomplish athletic feats I could have never previously dreamed possible, including top finishes at the Ultraman World Championships and becoming the first person to complete EPIC5: five Ironman-distance triathlons on five Hawaiian Islands in under a week. I can say without reservation that these achievements became possible only because I put animal products in the rear view. Wellness begins with what we put on our plate. But that’s just first base. True health is far more comprehensive—extending beyond our personal physical well-being to the collective, sustainable health of all living beings and the places they call home.
Here are my top 10 reasons why going plant-based is the best way to live healthier and more responsibly so together we can all thrive.
1. It prevents (and can reverse) chronic disease. A whole food, plant-based diet has been proven to prevent and even reverse a litany of food and lifestyle-borne illnesses, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes—modern plagues on the developed world.
2. It conserves water. More than half of all water consumed in the U.S. is used for animal agriculture. In fact, it takes about 660 gallons of water to produce just one quarter-pound hamburger. Dairy isn’t much better, requiring 1,000 gallons of water to produce just one gallon of milk. This is not only wasteful and inefficient, it is emblematic of a broken system of food production that is simply unsustainable.
3. It cuts greenhouse gas emissions. When it comes to global climate change, we tend to focus on the impact of fossil fuel use and hot-button issues like fracking. But the elephant in the room is animal agriculture, which is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the exhaust from all transportation combined.
4. It conserves land. Livestock covers 45% of the Earth’s total land. In other words, a meat eater requires 18 times the amount of land necessary to feed someone eating plant-based. You do the math.
5. It helps prevent species extinction. Animal agriculture is also a leading cause of species extinction. More than a hundred animal and insect species are lost every day from rain forest destruction—a crucial, irreparable blow to the biodiversity essential to maintaining our planet’s healthy ecology.
6. It reduces waste pollution. Every minute, seven million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the U.S. In fact, a farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 41,000 people.
7. It helps prevent marine life destruction. As many as 40% (63 billion pounds) of fish caught globally every year are thrown out, and some scientists say we could see fishless oceans by 2048. Moreover, the waste runoff from animal agriculture can cause ocean dead zones—giant algal blooms so oxygen-deprived that no animal or plant life can survive.
8. It stops deforestation. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction, and one to two acres of rain forest are cleared every minute for grazing and growing feed for livestock. The impact is a cancer on our planet’s precious lungs, responsible for providing us with the oxygen we need to survive.
9. It helps alleviate world hunger. We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people, and the U.S. alone could feed 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat. Hunger isn’t a scarcity issue, it’s an allocation and distribution issue.
10. It boosts athletic performance. I truly believe that eating plant-based is my secret weapon for maximizing athletic performance by expediting my recovery—the holy grail when it comes actualizing performance potential. If I could do what I've done athletically on nothing but plants, I assure you that you can, too. It’s time for a food system reboot. The good news is that version 2.0 has been staring us in the face all along. Adopting a plant-based diet isn’t just a good idea, it’s the ultimate planetary life hack.