There has been a real "boom" of athletes adopting plant-based diet. Approximately one on three people in the UK cut down their meat consumption in the last twelve months. For athletes, who follow a plant-based diet have noticed numerous health benefits. Some of them can lead to longevity and improvement in chronic diseases. Most important benefit for plant-based athletes is the enhancement of their physical performance.
From a health perspective, various studies have proven that people, who consume less meat tend to have less cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes, or fewer incidents of cancerous diseases and most importantly have an extented life span.
Moreover, some cross-section studies suggest that many of the aforementioned health benefits are attributable to having lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower BMI or lower body weight.
Certainly, there is a link between diet and chronic diseases.
People who eat more plants are consuming more fibre, more of plant nutrients and more anti-oxidants. All of these things improve gut health, which is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases. Plant-based diets mainly are lower in saturated fat, added sugars and processed foods.
Today, there is an increasing level of high-profile vegan athletes, such as Lewis Hamilton, Alex Morgan, Morgan Mitchell, Venus Williams or Novak Djokovic.
All those athletes are advocating that the diet enables them to be more energetic and helps them recover much quicker after exercise sessions. Studies suggest that the athlete, who consumes a well planned plant-based diet can improve their athletic performance significantly.
Plant-based diets have a positive impact on boosting the immune system, reducing oxidative stress in the body and reducing inflammation. These are the key factors for athletic performance and recovery.
It is not necessarily the absence of meat that is helping athletes to perform or recover better. On the contrary, it is the higher intake of plant nutrients and lower content of processed foods, which tend to provoke inflammation.
However, vegan diets are not always healthy diets. Anyone, who eats a diet full of biscuits, sweets or meat alternatives they are not necessarily healthy. Therefore, it is very important for an athlete to research about plant-based diets and find how to obtain all the important nutrients.
The number one question is: "From where do you get your protein from?", but there are nutrients which are equally important on the plant-based diet; Iron, vitamin B12 or Omega 3.
To get enough iron, athletes have to make sure to include in their diet wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B12 can be found in most of the plant-milks which are fortified with it, nutritional yeast or yeast extracts (most of our dishes contain nutritional yeast!).
Omega 3 (short chain Omega 3) are found in certain plants, which can be converted in the body into long chain Omega 3. Flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds are all widely available in healthy stores. However, supplementation with Omega 3 made from algae oil can be an easier solution.
Coming back to protein, it is a myth that you can not get enough protein by following a plant-based diet. When it comes to athletes, people assume that they will start losing muscle mass and strength.
The answer is that you can easily get protein from plant sources. There are many categories of plant proteins. Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas and peanuts), soya (tempeh, tofu, soya products), or grains, nuts and seeds.
We know that athletes need more protein than the general population, so official guidelines suggest for athletes to consume daily 1.2g-2g per kilogram of their body weight, which is around 20g per meal. This can be easily achieved by having bigger portion of plant foods and consume variety of plant protein sources during the day.
To summarise, well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of their life cycle and for athletes. Main benefits of a plant-based diet for athletes are general health and wellbeing, which can provide advantages related to athletic performance.
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