Vegan Diet and Sports Performance: What Does Science Say?
Don’t eat meat?! Learn all about the relationship between a vegan diet and sports performance and get tips for a balanced diet.
In constant growth worldwide, veganism is an increasingly popular dietary choice for people who want to avoid consuming meat, whether for religious, ethical, or health reasons.
In addition to promising various health and environmental benefits, many people also believe that a vegan diet can even enhance sports performance. But is that true?
Veganism and Its Variations
In this section, we will briefly discuss what vegan diets are and their variations. If you are already familiar with the topic, feel free to skip to the next section where we talk about whether a vegan diet is better for athletes or not.
Veganism is a lifestyle that aims to eliminate animal exploitation in all areas, including food, clothing, entertainment, and cosmetics.
The main characteristic of veganism is the choice not to consume animal-derived foods such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, as well as avoiding the use of animal-derived products such as leather, silk, and wool.
Vegetarians exclude meat, fish, and seafood, but unlike vegans, they may consume eggs, dairy products, and honey, which are not considered animal cruelty or exploitation by vegetarians.
Pescetarians consume fish and seafood but exclude red meat and poultry.
Flexitarians follow a predominantly plant-based diet but occasionally consume meat, fish, and dairy products.
The key difference between flexitarianism and conventional diets – without specific food restrictions – is that flexitarians seek to reduce and control the consumption of animal-derived foods in a more conscious and sustainable manner, although not completely.
Is a Vegan/Vegetarian Diet Better than Conventional Diets for Those Who Train?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question in the scientific community because the effectiveness of a vegan diet versus a conventional diet for sports performance can vary depending on various factors such as genetics, age, level of physical activity, and dietary choices.
However, it is worth noting that it is perfectly possible to perform well on a meat-free diet as long as the diet is well-balanced and includes measures to ensure nutritional needs are met, especially for proteins, the essential nutrient for muscle gain and maintenance.
Keep reading to discover the indispensable nutrients for vegan and vegetarian athletes.
Benefits of a Vegan Diet for Health
Discussing vegan and vegetarian diets is always a bit complicated because there are many myths and debates on the subject.
While one side strongly advocates for avoiding animal-derived products in general, the other believes that only meat can provide good physical and mental health.
Finally, some studies indicate that a well-planned meat-restricted diet can bring numerous health benefits. Let’s explore some of them:
Reduction of Chronic Disease Risk:
A vegan diet is rich in essential nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, which, combined with the avoidance of meat, help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
A vegan diet is higher in fiber compared to a conventional diet, which helps improve digestion and gut health.
Studies suggest that people who follow a vegan/vegetarian diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to those who consume animal-derived foods, which can help prevent obesity.
Essential Nutrients for Sports Performance in a Vegan and Vegetarian Diet
Contrary to popular belief, meat is not the only source of protein for the body. In a well-plannedvegan or vegetarian diet, it is possible to obtain not only the necessary proteins but also all other essential nutrients for optimal performance.
Here are some key nutritional tips for a meat-restricted diet:
Consume a wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds to ensure you are obtaining a variety of nutrients from different sources.
Consume Plant-Based Protein:
Make sure to include plant-based protein sources in your diet. Some of the main sources include beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products such as tofu and tempeh.
Don’t Forget Iron:
While red meat is an important source of iron, vegans and vegetarians can obtain it from foods such as spinach, Swiss chard, lentils, and quinoa.
Consuming foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, also aids in iron absorption, allowing the body to utilize iron from plant-based sources more effectively.
Calcium for Strong Bones:
Calcium is crucial for bone health and can be found in foods like broccoli, kale, Chinese cabbage, fortified soy milk, plain yogurt, and tofu.
Carbohydrates for Energy:
Carbohydrates, which are a vital source of energy, can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and root vegetables.
Sweet potatoes, for example, are widely used by athletes as an excellent source of complex carbohydrates that provide long-lasting energy for the body.
Some nutrients require special attention, such as vitamin B12, which is primarily found in animal-derived products.
Although vegans can obtain vitamin B12 through supplements or fortified foods, it is important to undergo regular medical examinations to evaluate whether their nutritional needs are being met.
The Importance of Protein Supplementation
For vegan or vegetarian athletes, as mentioned in the previous section, obtaining sufficient protein solely from natural food sources can be more challenging.
In such cases, protein supplements are a great option to help meet the body’s daily protein requirements.
The beauty of protein supplements is that they come in various sources, apart from milk-based ones like Whey Protein. One example is soy and rice protein.
Performance and Health without Meat
While some people believe that the absence of meat hinders physical performance, studies show that these diets can provide all the necessary nutrients to meet the body’s demands. This is as long as they are accompanied by professional healthcare guidance and a commitment to replenish all nutrients.
Furthermore, a well-planned vegan diet can also offer additional benefits, such as a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Nevertheless, it is important to have a well-planned diet and for vegan athletes to regularly monitor their essential nutrient levels, such as protein, vitamin B12, and iron, to ensure they are receiving everything they need.
In summary, with a balanced vegan diet and appropriate guidance, athletes can achieve positive results in their physical training without consuming meat.
Count on us: Sooro Renner – Nutrition that generates results.