Get the Competitive Edge by Going Vegan
by Dani Taylor
Every day, you hear more about elite athletes making the switch to a plant-based diet. They may have ethical reasoning as well, but there is no denying the fact that plant-powered athletes have a performance advantage in many ways.
The complex carbohydrates that are found in many vegan staples like legumes, vegetables, and grains are the fuel that endurance athletes need for long-haul events. Optimal nutrition, combined with smart training and recovery, leads to optimal performance. To get better results, sometimes a change is necessary.
Consider football player Tom Brady. After years in the NFL, dealing with injuries and slow recovery, he changed his lifestyle and started to see changes. Along with alternative bodywork, he switched to a mostly plant-based diet and started seeing less inflammation and faster recovery times. Serena Williams is another example. An autoimmune issue was starting to affect her game so she decided vegan was the way to go. She was amazed at how her tennis game changed after switching up her diet.
Can making these diet changes really help endurance athletes perform better and for longer? What about all the protein we are used to hearing about? The truth is that your body can get all the nutrition it needs on a clean, well-planned vegan diet. Yes, even the protein.
Some of the benefits you can expect to enjoy as a vegan athlete include:
Optimal Body Composition
Foods high in fiber and low in fat tend to make up a majority of the typical vegan diet. Athletes, in particular, can benefit from lean body composition. Low body fat makes it easier to improve speed and agility and protect against certain diseases. An optimal strength to mass ratio can provide an advantage, depending on the activity.
While a “perfect” body is not possible, the advantage of a lower-body mass for endurance athletes is evident. Too much mass, whether fat or muscle, can hinder oxygen intake and overall performance. For this reason, choosing a plant-based diet may be the best thing you can do to fuel your body for optimal performance in your specific sport.
Improved Overall Health
The risks associated with diets high in animal products are clear. High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic illness are constant concerns. Switching to a vegan diet lowers these risk factors and provides additional benefits. Some of these include increased energy, healthy body weight, and Improved mood and sense of well-being. Healthy skin and hair are byproducts of all your body’s nutritional needs being met.
Health benefits specific to endurance athletes are numerous as well. For example, improved blood flow can boost performance. A stable heart rate is necessary to maintain high levels of exercise. A vegan diet helps prevent your arteries from clogging because it is low in saturated fat. The easier that oxygenated blood can flow to muscles, the better your body will feel, translating to better performance.
As an endurance athlete, you need to make the most of the fuel you put in your body. Muscles use glycogen, which is a carbohydrate. It just so happens that vegan diets are rich in carbohydrates. These carbs contain glucose which your body needs to perform at its best.
Fatigue can make it difficult to compete without the necessary fuel, let alone train for an endurance event. While a balanced diet is essential, the carbohydrates found in a plant-based diet provide most of the energy needed for performance.
Athletes participating in grueling events such as marathons understand that muscle inflammation comes with the territory. It becomes a bigger problem when recovery time becomes extensive and negatively affects your performance ability. A diet that includes animal products exacerbates inflammation and hinders recovery.
Fortunately, the anti-inflammatory properties found in a vegan diet can fight inflammation faster and help the body heal itself. Antioxidants pack a powerful punch, aiding muscle soreness, reducing permanent damage, and supporting recovery. Acute injuries aren’t the only issues improved through reduced inflammation. Immunity is boosted, and joint and gut health are likely to improve as an added benefit.
Our bodies can only hold onto fuel for so long before it needs to be replenished. Endurance athletes tend to push the envelope when it comes to this. Fortunately, plants contain plenty of nitrates that make muscles work efficiently and keep muscles fueled for longer. The increased stamina can make a huge difference in an endurance event.
The stamina factor extends beyond a single event. Longevity as an athlete is an enviable trait. Doing what you love for longer is not only possible but probable by eating a clean plant-based diet. Athletes that are able to continue competing in endurance events are there because they take care of their bodies and fuel them properly.
Each individual body has unique nutritional needs. Working with a nutritionist to calculate macros may be a wise decision to get started. Here is an example of a day in the life of a vegan athlete:
Quinoa breakfast bowl- almond milk, chia seeds, dried fruit, chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, fresh fruit, and natural sweetener of choice
Veggie and Bean Burger-cooked beans, onions, carrot, flaxseed, spices
Sweet potato and black bean chili- chipotle chili, onions, peppers, sweet potato, tomato, black beans, and spices
Peanut butter brownies
Hummus and vegetables
As you can see there are delicious foods to enjoy that will also fuel your performance and recovery as an endurance athlete. Try different foods and spice levels to find the perfect fit for you. There are even vegan meal delivery services like Purple Carrot that make eating vegan a breeze.