Vegan Diets for Athletes: The Power of Plants

NDDespite what you may have learned in school, plants are loaded with power and can fuel you to a supercharged physique! In fact, an increasing number of athletes attribute their success in part to their healthy vegan diet, which they consider the ultimate “performance enhancer.”

Just ask UFC Fighter Nate Diaz (seen here), who recently conquered the formerly undefeated Conor McGregor in a hotly anticipated, two-round match-up! Think this vegan champ is protein-deficient? Nope. Not even close.

And Diaz isn’t the only sports star touting the many benefits of packing your plate with plants. Vegan diets are all the rage among athletes. More and more elites have joined “Team Vegan’s” roster, from tennis player Serena Williams, to NFL defensive end David Carter, to ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek. In the words of 10-time Olympic medalist (nine Gold!) Carl Lewis, “I’ve found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete. In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet.”

So how, exactly, does eating veg offer a competitive edge to athletes (amateurs and pros alike)?

Leads to faster recovery times.
Because whole-food, plant-based vegan diets include lots of antioxidants, they naturally fight inflammation and oxidative stress (an exercise-induced process that can damage cell structure). On the other hand, meat contains arachidonic acid, a pro-inflammatory fatty acid, as well as cortisol and c-reactive protein — both dietary bad guys. Instead, load up on superfoods with a variety of colorful fruits and veggies like leafy greens, sweet potatoes, blueberries, and other rainbow-hued plants.

Boosts energy.
Plants pack an excellent energy punch; just ask former Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier, who now works with elite athletes on implementing plant-based nutrition programs. Animal products are heavy and difficult for our bodies to digest, and can lead to sluggishness and fatigue. Plants are nutrient-dense, lower in fat, and give you more calorie bang for your buck.

Offers a source of higher quality protein.
Though some athletes have long believed that more is better when it comes to protein, it turns out that over-consumption of protein is linked to osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers. It was also once widely believed that meat is the only source of “complete” protein (containing all nine essential amino acids), but that myth turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of bologna. Some plants (like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, chia seeds and soybeans, to name a few) have all nine; all the rest possess some. Either way, if you eat a diet of beans, grains, and veggies you’ll get all the protein and amino acids you need (and better performance along with them).

Provides fuel.
Carbs can sometimes get a bad reputation, but they’re fuel for high-intensity exercise. For athletes, evidence suggests that carbohydrate availability boosts endurance and performance, and whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are healthy go-tos for carbs. Plus, plants are rich in fiber, so they balance blood sugar and help keep you regular. Because these foods have less fat, and are easier on digestion, they’ll help you be a quicker, leaner, and stronger you.

According to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, a healthy diet for athletes serves up grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits. Combine these magic four, and you’ll hit the ultimate dietary home run. Are you ready to be plant-strong? Start today!

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