Does Vegan Diet Improve Athletic Performance?
With the growth of social media as a platform to share information, veganism is becoming more visible and could be becoming more accepted in sports and in the health and fitness industry. First of all, we need to understand the difference between Vegan and Vegetarian. The main difference between vegan and vegetarian is the number of animal products that are eliminated from the diet.
Vegetarians do eat mostly plants but may allow some dairy, or eggs in their diets. Vegans, on the other hand, eliminate all animal products from the diet. They may also avoid supplements from animal sources or even clothing made from leather or animal products. The primary motivation for many people in adopting these types of eating habits may be health, but ethics and religion can also be a motivating factor.
There is the potential for a well-planned vegan diet to be highly beneficial to help with faster recovery for athletes from the antioxidants in plant-based foods. But, there are several specific considerations that must be made to maintain nutritional adequacy and meet the naturally high nutrient needs of high-performance athletes.
A high level of physical performance puts athletes at risk for increased oxidative stress, leading to the formation of free radicals which can cause long-term damage to the body increasing the risk of disease. Most fruits and vegetables contain a high amount of antioxidants, therefore eating a diet high in plants will help attenuate the damage caused by intense physical exercise.
Yes, Athletes recover faster on the Vegan Diet because it has been found that the inflammation markers (ESR and C – reactive protein) in the blood are comparatively lower in Vegan athletes due to the immune-boosting properties of these foods, which means the heart rate can be recovered faster which intern helps in faster recovery.
Vegans tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease as studies have shown health benefits linked with vegan diets, which have less saturated fat and cholesterol and more fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals than non-vegetarian diets. Therefore a good drop in fat percentage has been observed in the vegan athletes.
Drop-in Muscle percentage has also been observed in some cases as, the protein in the diet is not being well managed or maybe because of the inadequate intake as a result of which muscle metabolism gets disturbed and Basal metabolic rate decreases. Athletes do have special nutrition needs in order to support a high level of performance. The biggest concern in terms of nutrition for vegan athletes may get enough protein.
Though protein sources are extremely varied and rich across the plant kingdom, such as quinoa, buckwheat and soy contain what is known as a complete amino acid profile – meaning they contain all the essential amino acids, but the protein requirement of an athlete is significantly more than a non-athlete as exercise causes muscle breakdown and therefore some replenishment of protein is necessary after physical activity to rebuild muscles. A vegan athlete might want to include a plant-based protein supplementation so that he doesn’t lose muscles and recover faster.
There are several benefits of following a vegan diet, in terms of antioxidant content, faster recovery after exercise, and the potential for a reduced risk of chronic disease. But, there are some special considerations that must be made for athletes because of the potential for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Therefore, if you are an athlete considering a vegan diet, be sure to give special care to hit all the important vitamins and minerals. It’s definitely doable!
Veganism creates challenges that need to be accounted for when designing a nutritious diet. This included the sufficiency of energy and protein; the adequacy of vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, and vitamin D; and the lack of the long-chain n=3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in most plant-based sources. However, via the strategic management of food and appropriate supplementation, it is possible to design a nutritive Vegan diet to achieve the dietary needs of most athletes satisfactorily and enhance their performance.
Further, it has been noticed that creatine and β-alanine supplementation might be of particular use to vegan athletes, owing to vegetarian diets promoting lower muscle creatine and lower muscle carnosine levels in consumers. So, a poorly constructed vegan diet will predispose an athlete to macronutrient and micronutrient deficiencies. So in order to ensure that vegan diets meet both health and performance needs, basic dietary requirements have to be met and sport-specific diet-related objectives need to be achieved.