Can A Plant-Based Diet Help You Hit Peak Performance? Khailee Ng Says Yes
500 Startups managing partner Khailee Ng went from overweight and unhappy to a Men’s Health cover star. Here's how changing his diet changed his life
On New Year’s Day 2016, Khailee Ng decided to change his life. He went to war with the bad habits he had built up over 31 years, including excessive shopping, the need for external validation and distraction, adult films and, as he describes it, "onanism".
But mostly he changed his diet, throwing out refined sugar and unhealthy oils. As a result, the Men’s Health cover star lost half his body fat in six months. After that, he decided to go one step further and go vegan, which he remains to this day.
“I lived my early adulthood feeling like I had no limits, that anything was possible,” he says. “I believed that I was capable of getting everything I dreamt of. Sounds like a pretty positive mindset, right? It certainly helped me build and sell two companies before the age of 30 and build my startup investment practice. However, something was missing.”
Khailee sold his first company to Groupon only five months after launching the startup; the second he exited after selling to one of Malaysia's largest media conglomerates. He then went on to become managing partner at legendary Silicon Valley-based early-stage venture fund 500 Startups after establishing its Southeast Asia division, 500 Durians, which has since seeded 16 unicorns.
“By mid-2015, I was physically at an all-time low,” he continues. “Mentally, I was plagued with internal conflict and dissatisfaction. I kept comparing myself to Mark Zuckerberg and felt shitty about my own achievements. I didn’t feel I had ‘enough’. I was at my most distant from friends and family. A long-term relationship came to an end. I doubled down on work, partying, and ‘living it up’. I started writing out even bigger goals for myself. Taking on more new projects, more things, more experiences.”
Ng found himself lost in a fog of unhappiness. But it was from paring back everything in his life and transforming his diet that he found an entirely new lease of life.
Statistics support his experience. Having the energy to make it through a long week in the office is crucial to being a successful leader, as is an optimistic outlook. Healthy eating is linked to both those factors and to lower rates of depression—adults who report eating well are 30 percent less likely to feel unhappy.
Eating well also keeps energy levels up throughout the day. Green leafy vegetables, unrefined carbohydrates and whole grains are great for maintaining energy levels over long periods of time, and they’ll help you avoid the dreaded midday energy crash caused by eating too much meat, refined sugar and white starches.
“I used to get sleepy and sluggish after having meat. Now I just keep lucid,” says Ng. “Also, veganism for me is a reminder that I have control over my habits and my body. A cupcake or a steak is not going to run my life.”
Understanding this push is helped by viewing Netflix documentary, The Game Changers. It follows British UFC fighter James Wilks as he travels around the world to discover the optimal diet for human performance, focusing mostly on plant-based eating and interviewing scientists, special ops soldiers, action stars and some of the biggest names in sport along the way.
“When I made the switch to a plant-based diet, I qualified for my third Olympic team and I broke two American records,” said weightlifter Kendrick Farris in the documentary. ”I was like man, I should have done this a long while ago!”
Ng couldn't agree more, even if his focus is in the boardroom rather than in the gym. “It's more important than ever to pay attention to how we feel,” he says. “’Do you feel good about what you eat?’ is a question you should ask every day. If you feel good about eating junk and stuff that's proven to be linked to cancer, or to further slow you down, then think about that for a moment. Maybe eating something that isn’t harmful to your body will make you feel even better. It's important to notice what makes us makes us feel happy and energised —and then think about its impact on our bodies.”
He credits some of his investment success over the last three years to his new, improved diet, but says it is essential to stay flexible and listen to your body. “Veganism can be full of junk (oil, salt and processed sugar), and so can an omnivore diet, so it is not a one-fix-all solution," he says. "A whole food, plant-based diet works for me and making the smart choice for my body has changed my life. It's about playing the long game of peak performance. Throw in saving lives and reducing suffering through cutting out animal products, and what could be a better deal than that?”
Coming from a man who makes smart bets for a living, it sounds like advice worth following.