Can a plant based diet improve athletic performance - let’s be honest, there are a few negative reactions that many of us have when we hear the phrase plant based diet. We think about having to eat salad after unexciting salad. We imagine feeling tired and hungry all the time. And, we surely don’t associate a plant based diet with high athletic performance? Do we?
Before you put to rest the idea of trying out a plant-based diet, let us dish up some of the recent studies that show eating a diet consisting of fruits and vegetables doesn’t deserve a bad rap.
For one, this diet can lower the risk for obesity, animal-fat related cancer, strokes and heart disease.
Second, those of us concerned about our athletic performance will be happy to hear that when done right, a plant based diet has been shown to be no different than meat-based diets for muscle growth and endurance. Some studies have even suggested that a plant based diet is even better for recovery.
Of course, the key here is planning. It’s not a great idea to start drinking green smoothies three times a day and assume you’re doing the best for your body. Instead, consider the following:
- Be rich in protein - We want to tackle this issue right away because it’s often what keeps athletes from wanting to try a plant-based diet. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not difficult to get the amount of protein necessary for muscle repair and growth. It's really simple. As long as you make sure that you’re eating a variety of protein-rich food daily, you won't have any problems. This could be as simple as eating oatmeal in the morning, having a quinoa bowl at lunch, and adding beans or lentils to your dinner.
- You can eat more than you’re used to - And, in fact, you should. Because plants are more fibrous than meat, and can make you feel fuller faster, it’s important not to deprive yourself of the calories you’ll need during your workout. So, you can either add a little bit more goodness to your plate or make a conscious effort to eat higher caloric foods like nuts and avocados (and on a side point, read our blog on why crash diets never work).
- Don’t skimp on the nutrients - There are some nutrients that can be tricky (but not impossible) to find in a plant-based diet. Vitamins B-12 and D, riboflavin, calcium, iron and zinc are all necessary for peak performance but can be difficult to absorb from vegan ingredients if you cannot access a full range of foods locally. While these nutrients can be found in foods like nuts, dark leafy greens (kale anyone?!?), legumes and nutritional yeast, many athletes avoid the challenge of under-absorption by taking supplement forms.
These are just a few basic considerations for the meatless athlete, but once you start on a plant based diet, you’ll want to cater it to how your body feels. The best way to ensure that your diet is most effective for your active lifestyle is to eat new fruits and vegetables of all different colors all the time. Even think of eating a different cuisine a day to help mix it up and fuel those recipe ideas.
Have fun, keep learning, explore, and exercise!
PS ever wondered if tumeric latte is actually good for you?