Vegan athlete Jaqueline Geihe has won gold at the European Jiu-Jitsu Championships. The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) competition took place on October 30. Geihe won in the Adult blue belt Featherweight (56.5kg) category.
“I feel like it is important to see a vegan athlete winning competitions because even though there are already many amazing famous athletes and Guiness record holders on a plant-based diet, too many people still hold prejudices against individuals following this lifestyle,” Geihe told Plant Based News.
The 25 year-old, from Germany, has been vegan since 2018, when she encountered a Cube of Truth event by Anonymous for the Voiceless. These events involve showing footage of exploited animals and engaging with the public.
“Ever since, I try my absolute best to not contribute any money to this cruel industry,” said Geihe. “I am vegan for environmental and ethical reasons. I want to avoid as much unnecessary harm and cruelty on this earth as possible. The benefits for my athletic performance are just an advantageous and welcome by-product.”
Veganism and Jiu Jitsu
Martial arts, including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), are often dominated by men. Given the deep-seated association between masculinity and eating meat, this can lead to misconceptions about the best nutrition for martial artists.
“Especially in male-dominated environments like martial arts gyms there is still a persistent misconception that eating dead animals or drinking milk that is meant for the animal’s babies is the best way to achieve athletic greatness,” said Geihe. “There’s no room to even try touch upon the environmental or ethical effects this diet has.”
Although she likes to let people see a vegan succeeding in BJJ, she says she tries “not to make my vegan lifestyle too big of a discussion in my training environment, or anywhere I feel like there is no genuine interest … I do not enjoy wasting my energy on mostly uninformed or outdated arguments.”
But there are vegan BJJ practitioners who are male. Geihe’s success comes a year after another vegan Jorge Pastor, won gold in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Santa Cruz International Open. Pastor has said that the philosophy of the BJJ academy where he trains is: “Love animals. Take care of the earth. Help each other.”
David Meyer is an eight-time world champion and one of the first non-Brazilians to reach black belt in the sport. He has been vegan since 2000. Now in his 50s, he attributes a lot of his ongoing success in BJJ to his diet.
Outside of BJJ, Meyer works in animal advocacy. He is co-founder and CEO of Humane America Animal Foundation and founded Adopt-a-Pet.com, the world’s largest non-profit companion animal adoption website. “We assist 15000 animal shelters in North America to help get their pets into good homes,” he told greatveganathletes.com. “It’s just an outgrowth of my love for all animals.”
Geihe says she gets all the nutrition she needs from plant-based foods for her training.
“Leading up to competitions I enjoy eating any well-prepared tofu, tempeh and snacks made with peanut butter,” said Geihe. “If I’m not weight-cutting, I just love preparing a whole lot of lentil soup as it fuels me perfectly and leaves plenty of time to train during the most crucial weeks.”
Fighters following plant-based diets can be found in all kinds of martial arts. Most famously, UFC champions Nick and Nate Diaz (the latter of whom featured in documentary The Game Changers) follow plant-based diets while preparing for fights to improve their performance.
In 2021, plant-based boxer Claressa Shields earned herself the title of GWOAT – Greatest Woman of All Time – after becoming the first female to win an undisputed championship in two weight classes. Former champion boxer Melanie Fraunschiel has been vegan since 2014.
Plant-based diets are increasingly popular among martial artists. Many who cut animal products out of their diets have found that it has reduced inflammation, sped up recovery time, and improved their endurance.
There is scientific evidence for the benefits of healthy plant-based diets for athletic performance, particularly in competitive settings. They help to lower body fat, which can boost strength and power while allowing athletes such as fighters to stay in lower weight classes. Upping your consumption of fruit and vegetables can indeed help with inflammation, allowing muscles to recover faster.