Around 20,000 elite athletes and fitness aficionados from across the globe competed in a series of challenging obstacle courses held in Beijing over the weekend.
Among the participants inspired by the values of ancient Spartan warriors combining mind, body, and spirit, a team of strongmen (and women) led by Richardson Manzol, a Spartan Ambassador in China, stood out for both their performance and vegan regimen.
The Venezuelan Spartan said he hoped to inspire more people to adopt the healthier, cruelty-free lifestyle of veganism by displaying the plant-powered athletic strength and endurance.
Manzol embraced the vegan lifestyle three years ago while living in China. The Asian country's traditional culinary art with a rich variety of vegetable ingredients and infinite recipes to prepare vegetable-based dishes has made the transition easy.
The conscious vegan way of life and strict animal-free diet makes him "feel more energized, healthier," and as an athlete "lighter, faster, stronger," he told Xinhua.
Along the muddy tracks inside the scenic Qianling Mountain, 30 km southwest of downtown Beijing, the Vegan Spartans dressed in green with green and black face paint jumped over walls, rolled across swamps, climbed ropes and leaped over burning flames.
"I am very proud of you all!" Richardson told his team. Its members come from Chinese mainland, Hong Kong SAR, the United States, Russia, and Singapore, ranging from 10th-graders to professional athletes.
Some of them committed to veganism for its proven health benefits, others over safety concerns regarding questionable practices in intensive industrial farming and/or the ethical-moral rejection of animal exploitation.
The meatless diet is also adopted as a personal effort in fighting global climate change by quitting animal products, given that animal agriculture is one of the main greenhouse gas (GHG) emission contributors worldwide.
A 2014 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicated that total emissions from global livestock were estimated to be 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equivalent per year, representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions.
Or it could be all the reasons above.
Manzol took part in the Spartan Race for the first time in 2016, the same year he decided to become vegan. His team has expanded from eight members in 2016 to 35 in less than three years.
"I've received messages from many people telling me that they are going to try the vegan diet after seeing what I did and feeling inspired," he said. The vegan community has continued to grow, and to a wider range of ages, nationalities, and professions.
VEGAN FITNESS ON THE RISE
"Going plant-based has helped me in many ways, especially with my training," a Vegan Spartan team member, Kava Halafihi, from the South Pacific island of Tonga, told Xinhua.
The college student majoring in physical education adopted the vegan lifestyle 19 months ago in China, where he has been studying and training to pursue his dream - to compete in the Olympic Games as a javelin thrower.
"Being vegan is so satisfying. I've never had a healthier relationship with food than I do now and it isn't a diet at all, it's a lifestyle. It really is what you make of it," he said.
Before what he called "the switch" to veganism, the athlete had severe injuries - he had broken both of his knees doing sports in the past, requiring extensive surgeries.
During his rehabilitation, Kava became vegan and noticed how the plant-based diet's anti-inflammatory effects worked on his body.
Many plant-based athletes have embraced a vegan diet not only for ethical reasons but also for better athletic performance, he pointed out.
From a personal perspective, Kava said a major change after the switch was his increased energy level, as well as faster recovery after each training session.
Vegan fitness and bodybuilding have gained popularity over the years and have arrived in China where a growing number of people have begun to work out as a way to improve their health or to relieve the stress of urban office life, he noted.
The Vegan Spartan chose to reward himself with a bowl of energizing stew of tofu, quinoa, and greens at a posh 24-hour gym-slash-vegan restaurant located northeast of Beijing.
The diversity of Chinese cuisine has made it easy to be vegetarian (lacto- and/or ovo-vetegarian) or vegan, he said.
"It's healthy if you choose to be, plus it's a bonus for animals and the planet. It is a win-win for everyone. You become healthy and save the world," he said.
CHINESE JOIN WORLD NO-DAIRY CHALLENGE
Since last week, many Chinese families around the country have accepted the 7-day no-dairy challenge in celebrating the second "World Plant Milk Day," which will conclude on Wednesday.
A large number of participating families have found the task easier than they had thought.
In China, the traditional non-dairy beverage of soy milk has been around for decades and favored by the people as an important source of protein, minerals, and vitamins, and has become a popular milk substitute worldwide, said Grace He, a World Plant Milk Day campaigner in China.
Other plant-based dairy alternative beverages brewed from oats, rice, almonds, coconut, cashews, etc., have been recommended by health researchers as healthier and safer choices.
For example, 100 ml of soy milk has 40 calories, almost zero saturated fat, and a similar amount of protein, calcium and riboflavin compared with 100 ml of whole milk and a higher content of vitamin D, while the same quantity of milk has 66,000 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat, according to "Plant-Based News", co-founder of the World Plant Milk Day.
On the other side, health researchers have been warning of the negative effects of dairy, as hormones like estrogen and bovine growth hormones in dairy can promote cancer, while antibiotics given to cows to avoid infection increase bacterial resistance in humans, warned Hala Qarqout, Syrian medical intern at China Capital Medical University and specialist on nutrition and public health.
She warned of higher health risks posed by consuming dairy from industrialized farming.
"Dairy for strong bones" has already been proven wrong by research, and evidence shows that countries that consume the most amount of dairy have the highest rates of bone fractures. Acne and other inflammatory diseases in the body are worsened by consuming dairy, she said.
Qarqout finds it fascinating that the Chinese snack on healthy ingredients such as fruits, carrots, cucumber, and seeds. "The meat and dairy wave in China is a Western influence which I think should be undone," she opined.
She, too, adopted a vegan lifestyle in China.
For one thing, cholesterol comes solely from animal products, she said, while according to numerous studies by the American Heart Association and the UK-based Vegan Society, a proper vegan or vegetarian diet could lower risks of heart disease, hypertension, and type II diabetes.