A common question that those on a plant-based diet get asked is “Can you be successful as a plant-based athlete?” The answer to this question is very simple: yes. A misconception that many individuals have is that those who eat a plant-based diet cannot thrive as athletes due to a lack of protein in the diet. This is simply not true. A well-planned plant-based diet can provide every single amino acid needed to thrive and aid in muscle growth. Athletes who are looking for great sources of protein should consider tofu and tempeh, as they are versatile plant-based protein sources that can be used in a variety of dishes, such as stir-fries, salads, and sandwiches. They are also rich in calcium, iron, and magnesium. In particular, magnesium for athletes is especially helpful for recovery, making these foods a great addition to any vegan athlete's diet. Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans, provide plenty of protein, iron, and fiber. Protein powders, such as pea protein, rice protein, or soy protein are also a great addition to athletic individuals who may need extra protein to support their growth.
Not only can athletes fulfill their protein needs on a plant-based diet, but a typical plant-based diet also comprises a wide range of antioxidant-rich foods (e.g. fruit and vegetables), so it is plausible that the consumption of these foods will result in an enhanced antioxidant system capable of reducing exercise-induced oxidative stress. Plant-based athletes also have higher intakes of fiber and phytochemicals that improve gut health. Consuming more fiber and polyphenols means that you’re feeding the billions of microbes in your gut. This can result in numerous health benefits, including increased immunity, less oxidative stress, and lower inflammation, all key factors necessary for optimal performance and recovery.
A plant-based diet may also be especially beneficial to endurance athletes. Since a plant-based diet is associated with increased carbohydrate consumption, it can provide endurance athletes with the extra energy they need to thrive. Plant-based diets also tend to have a healthier balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. These omega 3s found in flax, hemp, chia, and sunflower seeds contribute to a stronger immune system, as well as reducing inflammation in muscles and joints. In theory, this should allow runners on a vegan diet to run further, faster, and for longer periods of time
In conclusion, more and more athletes are turning to a vegan diet in an attempt to improve their health and, most importantly, their athletic performance. Theoretically, a well-planned plant-based diet can provide all the necessary nutrients, protein, and energy for athletes to perform at their best. A vegan athlete's diet should be well-portioned, consisting of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, lots of fruits and vegetables, and essential proteins.