08/18/2011 12:29 am ET Updated Oct 17, 2011

What Going Vegan Can Do For An Athlete

For months now, I have been contemplating becoming a vegan. My thoughts have pretty much remained to myself as I am a little bit embarrassed that it may be due to some sort of early mid-life crisis. After years of mindlessly chomping down on succulent, juicy burgers and being a vocal supporter and participant at family barbecues, roasts and other forms of scorching flesh, my carnivorous conscience has finally caught up with me.

Being a farm girl for the first twelve years of my life, I learned about a self-sustaining environment and came face to face with mortality from a very young age -- vivid memories of watching my father ably slaughter a sheep when I believed it was to be "a day of fun working on the farm with Dad." Yet, even that did not seem to tarnish my devotion to eating meat. As an athlete, I was conditioned to believe that meat was a very important part of my diet and without it, iron levels would plummet into anemia and my body's ability to build muscle would be severely diminished.

After discovering there are many successful vegan athletes competing on the world stage, as well as many individuals living contently as vegan devotees, I realized instead of my usual broken record of excuses: "too hard, too expensive, too much inconvenience to others during special occasions, too gosh darn healthy," it was time for a change in mentality and lifestyle. If other people can do it and not whine like a kid who just got their candy swiped -- excuse the reference to a food group that will soon be off limits -- then I can too, and so can others if they feel so inclined.

The source of my inspiration is Brendan Brazier, a former professional triathlete, author, and world-renowned advocate for a one hundred percent plant-based diet. His books "Thrive Fitness: The Vegan-based Training Program for Maximum Strength, Health, and Fitness," (2010) and "Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life," (2009) as well as his website, will be guiding me through the new and somewhat daunting maze of training as a vegan. Brazier created his books to not only assist elite athletes reach their peak performance, but also help anyone who was interested in changing their lifestyles completely to follow an entirely plant-based nutrition and training program to reach their fitness goals.

As we all know, nutrition and fitness are inextricably linked. No matter how perfected your fitness regimen may be, without the appropriate fuel and nutrition your body will not have the ability to recover adequately, muscle strength and endurance will suffer considerably and you will be unable to achieve the level of fitness you desire. Therefore, embarking on Brazier's training program and Thrive diet simultaneously will enable my body to train at the optimum level every day and recover efficiently. Brazier's program purports it can reduce body fat, increase sleep quality and energy levels, prevent sport injuries and sculpt strong lean muscles in 45 minutes, three times a week.

The old adage "you are what you eat" has become even more of a reality in current times. Obesity is currently a national epidemic not only in North America but in many developed countries around the world. Chronic disease rates in America and other countries have reached an all-time high, and according to Brazier, eating the correct food can play an important role in preventing a lot of these illnesses. My family history is rife with stroke, heart disease and cancer. My mother is the survivor of five strokes to date, therefore, my motivation to embark on a vegan lifestyle is not only to improve my quality of life, but to help make a difference in hers as well.

I'm eager to discover if the new program plays a role in my performance as a professional tennis player, reduces stress, improves sleep, increases energy levels, clears up skin problems and leads to an overall feeling of wellbeing. Yes, these factors are all purely subjective, but simply feeling better when we get out of bed in the mornings is something we all strive for at some point in our lives. For argument's sake and peace of mind, regular blood tests will be done to ensure my body is receiving enough nutrients on the vegan diet and if it is in fact contributing to better overall health. Maybe it is naïve to assume that this path will be the answer to all prayers but I am under no illusions that this vegan-based fitness program --although will have its fair share of sweat and maybe a few withdrawal symptom-like tears -- will definitely be eye opening and life-changing.