Historic thinking on how to best optimize athletic performance via nutrition meant eating several egg whites for breakfast, gulping a large serving of whey protein shake for your post workout and the staple grilled chicken, or fish, with steamed broccoli and boiled brown rice serving for lunch and dinner. This is what we saw the strongest most athletic people eating when we were growing up, so it had to be the best nutritional path forward, right?
Well the old school nutritional approach did have a few things right with it.
Reduction of processed foods – eating real food is something that pretty much everyone can agree on
Removal of sugar from the diet – sugar has a whole host of health issues and is best to keep out of your diet
Inclusion of variety of veggies – athletes have always understood the power of vegetables as a great source for vitamins and food volume
However, that is where the similarities end. There is an abundenec of evidence at this point to show all the health benefits of being vegan – with a focus on a being a plant based vegan, but there are still plenty of critics of the diet.
One of the new arguments is that you can’t be an athlete and be vegan. In the minds of critics, being a vegan and being an athlete are two very different things. Because being a vegan means you are eliminating all the animal based foods from your diet, the thought is immediately that you will be unable to perform at a high level without animal based foods.
So the issue is, can you really become a high-functioning athlete without consuming the typical eggs, meat, chicken and fish? The simplest answer is…yes!
The Vegan Diet Has a Wide Variety of Plant-Based Proteins
If you are a vegan athlete or planning to transition into a vegan diet, your utmost priority should be to focus on plant-based health foods. Why? Because being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean being healthy and you will be surprised to see many unhealthy vegans and vegetarians who casually consume unhealthy vegan foods thinking that because it’s vegan, it won’t really matter.
The great thing about being a vegan athlete is that you don’t necessarily have to depend on animal protein for mass building, endurance, and strength. Plant-based sources are vast in number and when cooked right, tastes absolutely delicious, too.
Moreover, vegan athletes who follow a strict vegan, plant-based diet, tend to avert themselves from the danger of chronic diseases and a longer, much healthier life. With so much saturated fat prevalent in animal proteins, it is no wonder why even the most popular athletes like Venus Williams, David Haye, Jermain Dafoe, and Lewis Hamilton are some of the more well known vegan athletes.
Undoubtedly, if you are an athlete, you need to get your protein intake on point. Carbs are great for endurance sports such as sprinting and racing, however, you need protein for building lean tissue and to help support your body mass in heavy lifting and contact sports.
So What Can Vegan Athletes Eat?
Vegan protein sources are not as limited as many like to believe. You have amazing plant-based proteins such as quinoa, spelt, legumes, beans, hemp seeds, buckwheat, amaranth, and many more to provide you both fulfilling amounts of protein and carbs. One may argue that most of these foods are carb-heavy and not dense in protein. My answer is, aren’t both necessary for endurance, strength and mass building?
If anything, research suggests that following a vegan diet is much more preferred than a carnivore diet as plant-based proteins are excellent candidates for building muscle mass as well as endurance. Soy, for example, is yet another great addition to a vegan diet as it is also known for increasing strength and body mass. Nuts such as peanuts and almonds have also been found to deliver adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats and carbs, and have dramatically improved athletic performance for many athletes.
Why Eating a Plant-Based Diet Improve Your Athletic Performance
If you want further proof as to why a vegan diet is appropriate for athletes, here are the following benefits:
Plant-based diets are lower in fat and higher in fiber, thus aiding any athlete in not only reducing their body fat but also increasing their aerobic capacity. Naturally, the heavier you are, the less likely you can pump oxygen throughout your body during a workout. For this reason, athletes who stick to a vegan diet succeed at increasing their oxygen intake during a vigorous exercise session which, therefore, leads to better athletic performance and endurance.
Not consuming meat means lowering your chances of getting diagnosed with high cholesterol levels and increased inflammation. With that being said, you are less likely to suffer from poor athletic performance because your heart isn’t finding difficult to carry oxygen throughout your system.
Plant-based diets are low in saturated fats – unlike carnivore diets. A diet low in satiurated fats improve the blood’s consistency, thickness, and fluidity. The thinner the blood, the more oxygen reaches the muscle – which is highly necessary during endurance training and performance.
A diet that is rich in plant-based foods allows improved arterial flexibility and better blood flow – something which is rarely witnessed on meat-heavy diets. Animal proteins like meat, eggs, and chicken, are known to disrupt, impair even, arterial function for several hours, and can take days for a body to detox itself from such toxic animal proteins.
People who consume a plant-based diet tend to get a larger supply of antioxidants as opposed to their carnivorous buddies. Following such a diet, therefore, opens their doors in neutralizing free radicals within this system which then stops them from experiencing constant muscle fatigue, disrupted chances for recovery, and a decline in athletic performance.
Final Thoughts – Is The Vegan Diet Recommended For Athletes?
Anyone who has been following a vegan diet will tell you the several benefits they have experienced ever since they started their journey. These benefits will be higher antioxidant consumption, speedier recovery after a grueling workout, and, best of all, a massive reduction in developing chronic diseases.
However, like any diet out there, you must be careful in monitoring how you feel and make sure your quest for being a vegan athlete isn’t depriving you of vital vitamins and minerals needed for recovery and strength. Before you even begin, it is recommended that you stock up on the necessary supplements to ease into a vegan diet.
Don’t take my word for it. Take a moment to watch the short video below to understand how some of the greatest athletes in the world, from a variety of different sports, have adopted the vegan diet and the positive impact it has had on their performance!