Via some marriage of evolution and marketing, we’ve been led to believe that red meat is linked to strength, skinless chicken makes you healthy, and that to really make it in this life you should probably channel Rocky Balboa and down a dozen raw eggs before work.

On the other hand, there is an argument that we should be cutting out animal products altogether. Coach went in search of three successful sporting vegans to find out why they decided to drop meat and dairy from their lives.

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The Iron Man

Manuel Comandini (pictured above), Iron Man athlete, 29, vegan since 2012

What inspired you to go vegan?

There wasn’t one particular factor that prompted this choice. Before going vegan I viewed myself as a defender of animal rights – I took part in protests, I was against animal testing and I viewed bullfighting as a horror show. Then I saw some PETA videos and other documentaries, and I learned more about what happens to animals in factory farms, zoos, fur farms and so-called “research” facilities. I essentially went vegan overnight.

What effects has it had on you?

After just a few months of vegan life, I noticed that my usual pollen allergy symptoms were missing. I had suffered from this allergy since I was six years old, and every doctor that I talked to had said that I’d have to live with this problem for the rest of my life. After turning to a plant-based diet, I found that this allergy completely disappeared. In my four years of being vegan, I’ve never taken medicine.

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Wow…

I know! And aside from the almost-complete disappearance of all illnesses, I’ve also noticed an incredible increase in energy: by eating a plant-based diet, with the bulk of it coming from fruit and vegetables, my physical and mental vitality has shot up.

How has it helped your performance in the Ironman races?

The main thing that I’ve noticed is the recovery speed. As an omnivore, it took me much longer to get my energy back after a race. Now, when preparing for Ironman races, I mainly eat fruit – mostly dates, which I can easily take with me anywhere – and I have lots of energy. They are rich in carbs, and I don’t feel the need to take gels or supplements – I’m not aware of the exact contents of these products, so I prefer not to have them.

So you get your energy from fresh fruit?

Yes preferably organic and Fair Trade certified. In my opinion, fruit should make up at least 70% of our meals. It’s rich in simple carbohydrates, it’s easy to digest – it contains vitamins, mineral salts, antioxidants, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and so much more. I always eat fruit the way it should be eaten – on an empty stomach, to avoid fermentation.

What do you miss most about your pre-vegan diet?

Nothing! Going vegan doesn’t mean giving anything up. You can still find delicious food. There’s ice cream made from lupine seeds, soya, rice or almonds. You can find croissants, pastry and cakes made in a cruelty-free way. There are steaks and burgers made from soya, seitan, tempeh, vegan cheeses. Being vegan is nothing to do with missing out on the things you like – it means saying “no” to the suffering and killing of billions of animals each year.

How have people reacted to your choice?

Lots of people think I’m a crazy extremist, some said I’d always feel weak, that I’d miss out on crucial nutrients that plants don’t offer. Someone told me that I’d get sick more often. None of this is true. When going vegan, my main goal was to set a concrete example for myself and others, to show people that I could be vegan and an athlete.

What’s the most stupid question you’ve been asked?

There are really so many, I can’t even choose one. I’d like to ask a question though – what’s more revolutionary and peaceful than a switch to a vegan lifestyle?