The Vegan Edge

runners

The world of sports nutrition is undergoing a revolution, bringing to light the many advantages a fully plant-based diet can offer. Vegan athletes all over the world are demonstrating just how amazing plants are as a sports fuel – and they have top-level results to prove it. Gone are the days of egg white omelettes and mountains of chicken meat!

According to studies examining the impact of diet on our health and athletic performance, a vegan diet not only offers a wealth of health benefits, it can also improve your performance, recovery and stamina (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

As for the health benefits, a vegan diet lowers your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, obesity and kidney disease (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19).

For any kind of sport, a wholesome vegan diet is the best fuel – full of healthy proteins, complex carbohydrates, low in harmful fats and brimming with damage-limiting antioxidants and other health-boosting phytochemicals (20, 21, 22, 23, 24).

References

1 Song M, Fung TT, Hu FB, Willett WC, Longo VD, Chan AT, Giovannucci EL. 2016. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine. 176 (10)1453-1463.

2 Lynch H, Johnston C, Wharton C. 2018. Plant-Based Diets: Considerations for Environmental Impact, Protein Quality, and Exercise Performance. Nutrients. 10 (12). pii: E1841.

3 Wirnitzer K, Boldt P, Lechleitner C, Wirnitzer G, Leitzmann C, Rosemann T, Knechtle B.2018. Health Status of Female and Male Vegetarian and Vegan Endurance Runners Compared to Omnivores-Results from the NURMI Study (Step 2). Nutrients. 11 (1). pii: E29.

4 Barnard ND, Goldman DM, Loomis JF, Kahleova H, Levin SM, Neabore S, Batts TC. 2019. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients. 11 (1). pii: E130.

5 Gazzani D, Zamboni F, Spelta F, Ferrari P, Mattioli V, Cazzoletti L, Zanolin E, Tardivo S, Ferrari M. 2019. Vegetable but not animal protein intake is associated to a better physical performance: a study on a general population sample of adults. Food and Nutrition Research. 63: 3422.

6 Boutros GH, Landry-Duval MA, Garzon M, Karelis AD. 2020. Is a vegan diet detrimental to endurance and muscle strength? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 24]. 10.1038/s41430-020-0639-y.

7 Grant WB. 2013. A Multicountry Ecological Study of Cancer Incidence Rates in 2008 with Respect to Various Risk-Modifying Factors. Nutrients. 6 (1) 163-189.

8 Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G. 2013. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. 2013. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 22 (2): 286-294.

9 Bradbury KE, Crowe FL, Appleby PN, Schmidt JA, Travis RC and Key TJ. 2014. Serum concentrations of cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I and apolipoprotein B in a total of 1694 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 68 (2): 178-183.

10 Le LT, Sabaté J. 2014. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 6(6) 2131-2147.

11 Appleby PN, Key TJ. 2016. The Long-Term Health of Vegetarians and Vegans. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 75 (3) 287-293.

12 Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Rimm EB, Spiegelman D, Chiuve SE, Borgi L, Willett WC, Manson JE, Sun Q, Hu FB. 2016. Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. PLoS Medicine. 13(6): e1002039.

13 Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A, Sofi F. 2017. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 57(17): 3640-3649.

14 Haring B, Selvin E, Liang M, et al. 2017. Dietary Protein Sources and Risk for Incident Chronic Kidney Disease: Results From the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Journal of Renal Nutrition. 27 (4) 233–242.

15 Benatar JR and Stewart RAH, 2018. Cardiometabolic risk factors in vegans; A meta-analysis of observational studies. PLoS One. 13 (12): e0209086.

16 Chen Z, Zuurmond MG, van der Schaft N, Nano J, Wijnhoven HAH, Ikram MA, Franco OH, Voortman T. 2018. Plant versus animal based diets and insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: the Rotterdam Study. European Journal of Epidemiology. doi: 10.1007/s10654-018-0414-8.

17 Kahleova H, Levin S, Barnard ND. 2018. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Cardiovascular Disease. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 61 (1) 54–61.

18 Segovia-Siapco G and Sabaté J. 2018. Health and sustainability outcomes of vegetarian dietary patterns: a revisit of the EPIC-Oxford and the Adventist Health Study-2 cohorts. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi: 10.1038/s41430-018-0310-z.

19 Najjar RS, Feresin RG. 2019. Plant-Based Diets in the Reduction of Body Fat: Physiological Effects and Biochemical Insights. Nutrients. 11 (11) 2712.

20 Rizzo NS, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Sabate J, Fraser GE. 2013. Nutrient profiles of vegetarian and nonvegetarian dietary patterns. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 113 (12) 1610-1619.

21 Clarys P, Deliens T, Huybrechts I, Deriemaeker P, Vanaelst B, De Keyzer W, Hebbelinck M and Mullie P. 2014. Comparison of nutritional quality of the vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diet. Nutrients. 6 (3): 1318-1332.

22 Orlich MJ, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Sabaté J, Fan J, Singh PN and Fraser GE. 2014. Patterns of food consumption among vegetarians and nonvegetarians. British Journal of Nutrition. 112 (10) 1644-1653.

23 Miles FL, Lloren JIC, Haddad E, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Knutsen S, Sabate J, Fraser GE. 2019. Plasma, Urine, and Adipose Tissue Biomarkers of Dietary Intake Differ Between Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Diet Groups in the Adventist Health Study-2. Journal of Nutrition. pii: nxy292.

24 Parker HW, Vadiveloo MK. 2019. Diet quality of vegetarian diets compared with nonvegetarian diets: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews. 77 (3) 144-160.

Stamina

Research shows that plant-based diets increase athletes’ aerobic capacity, which leads to a greater time to exhaustion and to performance improvement (1, 2) – which is helpful for both strength and endurance training. Other studies have revealed that runners fuelled by plants have better-quality diets overall and increased stamina when compared to their meat-eating counterparts (3, 4).

All the complex carbohydrates from plants help to maintain glycogen (energy) stores in your muscles whilst also providing sustained energy release. At the same time, the lack of hard-to-digest animal protein makes you less tired. A healthy vegan diet is the best diet to help you improve your performance.

References

1 Lynch HM, Wharton CM, Johnston CS. 2016. Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Peak Torque Differences between Vegetarian and Omnivore Endurance Athletes: A Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients. 8 (11). pii: E726.

2 Boutros GH, Landry-Duval MA, Garzon M, Karelis AD. 2020. Is a vegan diet detrimental to endurance and muscle strength? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 24]. 10.1038/s41430-020-0639-y.

3 Turner-McGrievy GM, Moore WJ, Barr-Anderson D. 2016. The Interconnectedness of Diet Choice and Distance Running: Results of the Research Understanding the Nutrition of Endurance Runners (RUNNER) Study. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 26 (3) 205-211.

4 Wirnitzer K, Boldt P, Lechleitner C, Wirnitzer G, Leitzmann C, Rosemann T, Knechtle B.2018. Health Status of Female and Male Vegetarian and Vegan Endurance Runners Compared to Omnivores-Results from the NURMI Study (Step 2). Nutrients. 11 (1). pii: E29.

Blood flow and oxygen supply

One of the important mechanisms of how plant-based diets make your body work better is by improving your blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles. This happens because:

  • Your blood vessels are healthier when you eat plant foods naturally low in saturated fats, and high in antioxidants and fibre. They contract and relax better and faster, regulating blood flow more precisely.
  • Your blood flows more smoothly because it’s slightly less thick (viscous) than that of meat-eaters, leading to a better exchange of oxygen and nutrients between the blood and body tissues.
  • The natural nitrates from vegetables slightly widen your blood vessels, meaning more blood supply to the performing muscles, improving the athletic endeavour. They also stimulate faster energetic recharging of your muscles and delay fatigue. Vegetable or beetroot juice nitrates are better than a supplement or other sources in achieving this advantage.

(1, 2, 3)

References

1 Kerley CP. 2018. A Review of Plant-based Diets to Prevent and Treat Heart Failure. Cardiac Failure Review. 4(1): 54-61.

2 Domínguez R, Maté-Muñoz JL, Cuenca E, et al. 2018. Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on intermittent high-intensity exercise efforts. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 15:2.

3 Barnard ND, Goldman DM, Loomis JF, Kahleova H, Levin SM, Neabore S, Batts TC. 2019. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients. 11 (1). pii: E130.

Recovery

Wholesome vegan diets significantly lower the levels of inflammation in the body which is important for recovery (1). The micro damage that naturally happens in the muscles and other tissues when you’re physically active is being constantly repaired – but any damage within the body also triggers small inflammatory reactions. A plant-based diet, with its antioxidants, phenols, polyunsaturated fats and fibre, lowers these inflammatory reactions, limits damage and helps a faster recovery (2). Many meat-eating athletes take antioxidant supplements but when you go vegan, you don’t need any extra help!

Plant foods can also aid athletic recovery by facilitating better sleep, leading to improved muscle regeneration. Complex carbs are one of the cornerstones of plant-based diets and science shows that a carb-rich dinner makes you sleep better – you fall asleep faster and wake up less often in the night (3). Certain plant foods containing the amino acid tryptophan can also help to improve the quality of your sleep – pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, peas, beans, soya beans (eg tofu and tempeh), buckwheat, oats, dates, peanuts and leafy green vegetables – and the result is a more efficient repair of your body tissues. Some animal products contain tryptophan too but less of it is absorbed. The carbohydrates and antioxidants in plant foods increase tryptophan’s absorption and transport in the body (3).

References

1 Sutliffe JT, Wilson LD, de Heer HD, Foster RL, Carnot MJ. 2015. C-reactive protein response to a vegan lifestyle intervention. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 23(1) 32-37.

2 Barnard ND, Goldman DM, Loomis JF, Kahleova H, Levin SM, Neabore S, Batts TC. 2019. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients. 11 (1). pii: E130.

3 Doherty R, Madigan S, Warrington G, Ellis J. 2019. Sleep and Nutrition Interactions: Implications for Athletes. Nutrients.11 (4). pii: E822.

Higher metabolic efficiency

Plant foods are easier for us to digest than animal foods so your body works better when it runs on plants and has more energy to direct at nourishing and repairing muscles.

Plant wholefoods also help to regulate our blood sugar thanks to the complex carbs they contain, providing long-lasting energy. Research suggests that vegans have better insulin sensitivity than meat-eaters, which helps to prevent type 2 diabetes (1).

References

1 Cui X, Wang B, Wu Y, Xie L, Xun P, Tang Q, Cai W, Shen X. 2019. Vegetarians have a lower fasting insulin level and higher insulin sensitivity than matched omnivores: A cross-sectional study. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 29 (5) 467–473.


No wonder so many athletes choose a vegan diet to be the best they can be! Want to know who they are? See the impressive list, including world champions and Olympians.

Want to know what and how to eat to improve your performance? See Nutrition Basics, Fuelling your Performance and Meal Plans.

 

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