In his own words, Josh LaJaunie grew up hunting, fishing, drinking, eating playing football and getting fat. As he tipped the scales at 400lbs (180kg) in 2011, he decided to change his life after he read about a vegan ultra-marathon runner.
Between 2011 and 2014, the 38-year-old from South Louisiana, lost 200lbs (90kg) and became a committed vegan. In 2013, he ran his first 10k race under one hour. Half a decade after the life of vegan runner Scott Jurek flicked a switch in his brain, he appeared on the cover of the US magazine Runner’s World December 2016 Reader’s Issue.
“I had always been a big guy, tall guy, and wasn't sure that plants alone could adequately nourish me,” LaJaunie, a property manager, tells The Independent, describing the 10k as a “big achievement” which had taken “a lot of commitment and training.”
In September 2016, he finished third at the Wildcat 100-mile marathon in Florida – his longest to date – and ran the New York City marathon in November. Looking to the future, he hopes to run a 10k in under 40minutes.
As a teenager and a promising lineman in his high school American football team, LaJaunie was promised a scholarship at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and his coaches encouraged him to gain weight. But instead of hitting the gym, LaJaunie ate himself heavier. Among his meals were traditional Cajun fare, including gumbo, jambalaya, pot-fried rabbit or squirrel cooked in that gravy, crawfish, or deer chilli. In other words, about as far from veganism as possible.
“I came upon the concept of a vegan diet in the book Born To Run when I learned of Scott Jurek. After reading his book, I went on to Rich Roll's book Finding Ultra. From there I watched Forks Over Knives, and that really sealed the deal for me.”
Motivational quotes from Plant Built vegan athletes - in pictures
Motivational quotes from Plant Built vegan athletes - in pictures
Christine Crumbley is a 30-year-old research scientist from Houston, Texas, who specialises in studying how lifestyle and disease intersect. "Take the time to learn how to cook vegan food, including learning how to press tofu, how to combine different spices to create different flavors, and how to prepare vegetables in new and interesting ways. The best approach for us is weekly meal prep. I reheat food, and all the ingredients for lunches is already prepared. I save money by not going out to eat every time I'm tired."
Erin Fergus, 33, is Plant Built's women's bodybuilding team captain and the Academic Program Director of the Personal Training Department at Greenville Technical College. "Most people not only don’t know just how many non-animal protein sources exist, but they also think that they need more than they actually do and/or don’t understand its function in our bodies (hint: it’s doesn’t give you energy, fuel or power.)"
Jason Patton is a 33-year-old powerlifter from Portland, Oregon. He is a project specialist for the Oregon Pediatric Society. "Going vegan is a behavioral change. Like all behavioral changes it is not instantaneous, and it can be extremely easy to get side-tracked. It is important to create a social life where you are engaged with other vegans. Secondly, educate yourself, and receive the education others try to teach you. Learn how to make healthy life choices within your veganism."
Jason Morgan is 35-years-old, and lives in Dayton, Ohio. He is a diet technician. "Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. I was too old, a vegan, and had too many kids when I started lifting at the age of 31, but it hasn’t stopped me from competing in the sports that I value, Strongman and powerlifting. I’ve competed in USA Powerlifting, and North American Strongman as a 105kg/231kg drug free competitor in the open classes."
Scott Green is a 40-year-old personal trainer, kettlebell sports coach and martial arts instructor in Los Angeles. "I grew up in the punk and hardcore subculture. At age 14, I made a lifelong commitment to being straightedge, which means abstaining from drugs and alcohol. That exposed me to vegan straightedge bands. When I went vegetarian, it was more about trying to be healthier, but when I went vegan, it was for the animals. Trying to do less harm in the world brings peace within myself. I've never looked back."
Carolyn Napier, 30, is a CrossFit trainer and realtor from Oklahoma. "Being vegan isn't hard nor is it more expensive. I think those are the two biggest misconceptions. It is all really simple and there are so many companies these days that make faux meats, cheeses and desserts that it makes some of those comfort foods really accessible without causing any harm to the animals."
LaJaunie is therefore familiar with the confusion and protests that vegans often face from baffled meat-eaters who wonder how he survives without bacon or rib-eye steaks.
But he stresses that neither weight loss nor marathon running is the key to taking the plunge and committing to veganism.
“Change is your goal. Not weight loss, not a marathon. Change. If you can be open to big change you're well your way to having a more authentic human existence.”
Nowdays, he sticks to a diet of whole plant foods, avoiding too much fat and added sugar and sweeteners.
“I don't calculate or do any accounting with respect to calories. I just eat. When I train and race, I eat a tad more because I'm a little hungrier.”
“I cycle through the same three meals all the time. Either a big baked potato smashed in to a kale salad, a big bowl of steamed greens with beans du jour, or a bowl of oats with frozen cherries with a touch of almond milk.”
“As far as snacks, I love apples. I usually want calorie dilute foods.
“When I'm choosing what I'm going to consume on race day, I actually look for calorie density so I can get calories without bulk,” meaning he opts for protein bars for a short period of time. “The only adjustment I make is I'll have a fast five days out, then have a very clean potato-rich couples days, then back to normal portions of my normal diet for the day leading up to the race, with nothing much at all in the final 12 hours before the start.
Since transforming his health, LaJaunie is resolute veganism is the lifestyle that suits him best. “I think strict whole foods centered veganism is the healthiest way of existing as a human. I also think that over time us humans have developed ability to eat meat in times of starvation or opportunity. But by no means does this mean the human being is now an obligate carnivores.”
"But most of the people I know would entertain less meat before they would ever entertain ‘no meat’, so not making it an all or nothing proposition is important to the overall growth of the movement, in my opinion."
As for those who shun veganism as unhealthy, LaJaunie has two words: “Prove it.”