“If you are going to build muscle, you have to eat more meat.” If you are an athlete, the odds are you have heard some version of this statement at some point in your lifetime.
For most, meat = protein = muscle = athletic success. In contrast, the highly visible success of athletes in 2018 (and prior) who shun animal products is challenging this belief as the number of athletes following a vegan diet is growing at a rapid pace. Many athletes are claiming that they are lighter, stronger, more successful, and healing faster with a plant diet providing an impetus, if not the tipping point, for the rest of us.
Global elite sports stars that have gone vegan include Venus Williams, Lewis Hamilton, David Haye, Mike Tyson, Tia Blanco, Jermain Defoe, Steph Davis, and UFC star Nate Diaz - just to name a handful. Certainly, more and more elite athletes are turning to veganism in a bid to improve performance levels.
So, how does a plant-based diet help improve performance?
Fueled by Plants
Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and his colleagues have examined the science behind the advantages a plant-based diet provides to athletes. In a new review, he published these interesting claims for the performance-boosting power of a plant-based diet:
- A plant-based diet keeps athletes’ hearts strong by reversing plaque, bringing down blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing weight.
- Meat consumption and high cholesterol levels exacerbate inflammation, which can result in pain and impair athletic performance and recovery. A plant-based diet may have an anti-inflammatory effect.
- A plant-based diet, which is low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol, helps improve blood viscosity. That helps more oxygen reach the muscles, which improves athletic performance.
- Plant-based diets improve arterial flexibility and diameter, leading to better blood flow.
- Compared with meat-eaters, people eating a plant-based diet get more antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals. Free radicals lead to muscle fatigue, reduced athletic performance, and impaired recovery.
- Plant-based diets, which are typically low in fat and high in fiber, can reduce body fat. Reduced body fat is associated with increased aerobic capacity – or the ability to use oxygen to fuel exercise. Studies show that athletes on a plant-based diet increase the maximum amount of oxygen they can use during intense exercise – leading to better endurance.
With claims like these, it is no wonder why more athletes are currently pursuing a vegan lifestyle. Let’s look at what some have to say about going vegan.
Vegan Football Player: David Carter
David Carter is a former NFL Defensive Linebacker and vegan activist. On his website, The 300 Pound Vegan, he explains how going vegan is better for his long-term health. “Converting to a whole foods-based lifestyle was the best decision I could have made for my body, mind and spirit.” He thought about how the average life span of a professional football player is only fifty-six due in part to excessive consumption of anial products. Red meat contains a lot of saturated fat, which is a known risk factor in the development of several chronic illnesses including heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers.
“By making this one small change not only have I saved my own life but the countless lives of voiceless and defenseless animals everywhere. Not to mention veganism is great for our planet as well. Becoming vegan has given me a greater purpose, something bigger than myself to fight for, and fight I will.”
Vegan Pro Bodybuilder: Julia Hubbard
Julia Hubbard is a former masters 200m world champion, current British indoor 200m champion, and in bodybuilding, 3 x NPA British Champion, 3 x World Champion, Universe Champion, and former Olympia Champion.
“In 2015, the same year I switched to a vegan lifestyle, I won British World & Universe titles, along with winning my pro cards with four federations, and making my Pro debut in the USA. I am fitter, I am stronger, and I also find it easier to stay leaner year-round (since going vegan). I think being a positive role model is the best way to help others think about the issue. I try to inspire others to go meat-free, by trying to be the best example I can be of how you can really thrive on a plant-based diet.”
Vegan Strongman: Patrik Baboumian
Germany’s Strongest Man, Patrik Baboumian, is a vegan who holds world strength records. Patrik turned vegan in 2011 after several years of being vegetarian. In 2013 he set a world record in yoke walk by carrying a 550kg yoke at a Toronto Veg Fest.
After the amazing feat he told the audience, “This is a message to all those out there who think that you need animal products to be fit and strong. Almost two years after becoming vegan I am stronger than ever before, and I am still improving day by day. Don’t listen to those self-proclaimed nutrition gurus and the supplement industry trying to tell you that you need meat, eggs, and dairy to get enough protein. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources and your body is going to thank you for stopping to feed it with dead-food. Go vegan and feel the power!”
Vegan Rock Climber: Steph Davis
Steph Davis is a world-leading professional climber, skydiver, and base-jumper. She is the only woman to have climbed a 5.11 grade route without safety equipment, and the first woman to summit the 2685m icy peak of Torre Egger in Argentina. Following a plant-based diet and remaining at the highest level of performance is not something that traditional climbers had previously believed possible.
“Twelve years ago, people were generally very negative and unsupportive of veganism in general, and especially relative to climbing. Now it seems like most people know about the health and athletic benefits of veganism. There are a lot of vegan climbers and athletes demonstrating the advantages of eating plant-based. I have found that eating a vegan diet gives me optimum physical and mental awareness.”
Ultramarathon Runner: Scott Jurek
Scott Jurek is described in Chris McDougall’s Book Born to Run as “the top ultrarunner in the country, maybe in the world, arguably of all time”. Scott is an American ultramarathon runner who has run many of the most prestigious endurance races in the world. In his book, ‘Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness’, he explains how adopting a vegan diet improved his performance.
“It’s not like you wake up the next morning and feel ten times better. The changes are more gradual, and you can see them better once you continue down the path for a while and then look back. In regard to competing and training, I noticed my recovery times had shortened, that I was less injury prone, and had a higher level of energy.”
Insight for Supplement Companies
These testimonials show that athletes can get the nutrition needed from a solely, plant-based diet. Plant-based ingredients can be incorporated into their diet to ensure they are getting the essential nutrients their body needs. However, out of the handful of nutrients lacking in a vegan diet, omega-3’s may require more research to find a plant-based source (non-fish).
What would be our recommendation, you ask? Definitely, Ahiflower Oil. It is the best omega value from a single, sustainable and traceable plant. Ahiflower Oil is a balanced combination of omega-3, 6, 9 essential for health, vitality, and wellness, and it is vegan friendly with no fishy taste. Unlike fish and flax, Ahiflower contains GLA, an omega-6 associated with skin health, hormonal balance and a healthy inflammatory response.
With the rapid growth of athletes going vegan, it would serve the supplement industry well to tap into vegan friendly ingredients to help replenish nutrients lacking in a plant-based diet. We believe Ahiflower could be a profitable supplement option for your formulation team to look into.
Contact Stratum Nutrition to help formulate your finished product (without the fishy taste).