Is A Plant-Based Diet Good For Athletes?

Vegan Diet
Vegan Diet
Diet For Athletes
Diet For Athletes

Athletes going vegan has become more of a trend now. This trend is challenging the long-standing belief that animal foods are unavoidable in an athlete’s diet. What could be the factor that is inspiring many sportspersons to go plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan? Let us find out the answers through this article.

Plant-Based Endurance Enhancing Diet For Athletes

Endurance athletes have to repeat a series of muscular motion over and over again. A vegetarian or vegan diet for endurance athletes differs from a normal diet because it does not have meat or any animal products. Vegan and vegetarian diets are not the same. Vegetarians avoid animal foods that are obtained by killing animals while vegans avoid all types of foods that are obtained by harming animals in one or the other way. How far you should go is your choice. Some vegan and vegetarian athletes choose to avoid all processed foods and gluten-containing foods from their diet for greater energy gains.

Plant-based diets contribute to endurance but expecting it to improve sports skills is not reasonable. A vegan diet will possibly help a sportsperson if the sport he/she is involved in takes more than one hour. And that happens only if they were following a high-fat low carb diet before they switched to the vegan diet.

A study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition analyzed the exercise capacity of 76 recreational runners for 6 months. The participants belonged to the 18-35 years age group. Out of the 76 runners, 26 were vegetarians, 24 were vegans and 26 followed a diet that included plant foods and animal foods. The results of the study concluded that there is no difference between the exercise capacity of vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous recreational runners. The study concludes that all kinds of diets that are properly balanced can contribute to athletic performance.

How Do Vegan Athletes Get Protein? 

This is one of the common questions that all vegans are asked frequently. There is no denying that animal foods are excellent sources of protein but it has to be noted that they aren’t the exclusive source of protein. Several plant foods can provide the necessary levels of proteins to vegan athletes. Nuts, seeds, legumes, soybeans, tofu, and tempeh are some common plant foods known for their high protein content.

Foods That Should Be Included In Vegetarian Diets Of Endurance Athletes 

Given below are some common foods that should be included in the diet of vegetarian endurance athletes.

  • Vegetable sprouts
  • Raw and cooked vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta
  • Hummus
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts, nut butters, and nut milk: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, almond butter, sunflower seed butter, and hazelnut milk
  • Starchy vegetables including potato and sweet potato

How Much To Eat?

The answer is simple. Eat what is required to make you feel full but not stuffed. Athletes can generally eat more calories than others because their heavy workout sessions will burn a lot of calories. No wonder the calorie requirement of athletes is higher than others.

What Supplements Should Plant-Based Athletes Take?

Although plant-based diets are rich in various nutrients, some individuals may become deficient in some nutrients. To compensate for the deficiency, they will have to take supplements. Plant-based diets are generally lower in vitamin B12, although plant foods are generally known for being rich in vitamins. Vitamin D and calcium are two other nutrients that plant-based diets may sometimes lack. Vitamin D is essential for facilitating the absorption of calcium in our body. The vitamin can be obtained from the sunlight but people who live in areas that do not get much sun or people who do not go out often may not find this as an easy option. Taking vitamin D and calcium supplements is an effective way to address the deficiencies.

Athletes may also need to take omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and FPA). It is wrong to assume that you do not need to take DHA and FPA supplements because you get omega-3 fatty acids from plant foods like flaxseeds and walnuts. Most plant foods that are known as omega-3 fatty acid sources provide ALA which can be converted to DHA and FPA by some people alone. Iodine, zinc, selenium, and vitamin K2 are found in plant foods but not in plenty. Hence you will need to take these supplements too.

Vegan Pre-Training Meals 

If you are setting off for a sports competition, you can try some vegan meals that will boost your energy levels. You can try:

  • A toast spread with cashew or almond yogurt topped with berries.
  • A smoothie made with almond milk (or some other nut milk), berries, and banana.
  • Banana and water.

A plant-based diet does not harm the performance of an athlete. The only thing that has to be kept in mind is that you must have a well-balanced diet at all times – a diet that is not missing out on any of the important vitamins.