When we think about how athletes build and maintain muscle and fitness levels in order to stay on top of their game and gains, a diet that is packed with protein is often what comes to mind first, and usually we think of that protein to be animal protein. However, more and more sportspeople are choosing to cut down or ditch the meat and dairy – and they are breaking world records at the same time.
There are plenty of strong athletes who swear by a plant-based diet, including rugby star Anthony Mullally; Novak Djokovic, arguably one of the greatest tennis player of all time; world-renowned ultramarathon runner, Scott Jurek, who broke the record for the Appalachian trail – completing the 3522kms in 46 days, eight hours and seven minutes; the famous Williams sisters, holding a combined 30 Grand Slam wins; MMA fighter and winner of The Ultimate Fighter 5, Nate Diaz; Olympic-medal winning track star, Carl Lewis; England striker, Jermaine Defoe; and Patrik Baboumian, a strongman competitor who holds several world records, including carrying a yoke loaded with just over 550 kilograms – the heaviest load ever carried. Additionally, the Gloucestershire football team, Forest Green Rovers, made sporting history this year by becoming the world’s first and only vegan football club.
The global movement towards adopting a plant-based diet has come about with a greater prevalence of information available online and growing scientific evidence about its benefits. Armed with this knowledge, more and more athletes are looking for that competitive edge to improve performance – not just in their sports performance but to maintain a general healthy and happy lifestyle – and it’s coming in the form of plant-based nutrition.
Why Plant-Based Nutrition Improves Health and Performance
Athletes who choose to go meat-free are able to eat a variety of healthy and abundant dishes, rich in alkaline, colourful and energizing plant-based foods. When eating a balanced diet that includes carbs, protein and fats, a plant-based diet is healthier – for both physical and mental performance – than an animal-based diet.
Eat Green to Get Protein
The myth that vegans lack protein is highlighted in the all too common question, “But where do you get your protein?”
This misconception has come from the fact that we have overemphasized the amount of protein that we need in order to maintain a healthy diet, as well as the lack of knowledge that plant food can provide all the essential amino acids.
Rather than focusing on simply protein, which is just one macronutrient, we need to switch our focus to our entire diet. When athletes train, they don’t concentrate on a single movement; they focus on fitness, strength, flexibility and recovery so they can achieve great overall performance.
Like focusing on a macronutrient, some athletes have a specific position in a team sport or a signature move that they need to work on consistently. If we think about protein as thatspecific task that an athlete needs to perfect, we can’t ignore the other aspects of his or her diet (or training) that result in such sporting achievements to be met.
Thus, the focus should rather be on consuming wide variety of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day. As protein is found in varying amounts in plants such as soy products, legumes, grains and nuts, it’s possible to get to the recommended amount. Most athletes don’t necessarily require a different diet; they just need more calories.
Eat Green to Train Mean
Muscle inflammation is extremely common with athletes. They train hard for hours at a time, day after day, and in order to keep going, their muscles, bones, and tissues need to be repaired with proper foods. Choosing to eat plant-based foods before, during and after exercising helps to replenish and nourish the body, heal inflammation, and assist in preventing it altogether. This allows the top athletes to play at their best on the field, recovery quickly off the field and avoid injury. A vegan diet is alkaline, and high in antioxidants and anti-inflammation compounds compared to an acidic animal-based diet.
Eat Green to Stay Lean
Overwhelming scientific evidence links the consumption of meat and other animal products to numerous diseases, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and arthritis. The World Health Organisation even categorised red meat as a class one carcinogenic, placing it in the saem category as smoking cigarettes. These diseases are often caused by the cholesterol, saturated fat and trans-fats that are found in animal protein. A vegan diet is naturally cholesterol-free and is significantly lower in saturated fat and trans-fats. When one reduces the amount of fat in one’s diet, athletes can easily maintain a leaner build without having to restrict calories.
Switching to a plant-based diet may be easier than you think. If you would like to try a plant-based diet a try, or want to reduce the amount of meat you consume, how about switching the animal protein with a high-protein, meat alternative option, like those from Fry Family Food Co. They have a variety of meat-free products such as Burgers, Schnitzels and Sausages, that are convenient, easy to prepare, free from cholesterol, and high in protein. Some of us are already eating them, proving that they can still get their gains without having to compromise on taste or texture! [link to the YT video?]