Healthy Hacks

Benefits of a Vegan Diet on Sport Performance

From tennis and cycling, to bodybuilding and football, to runners and swimmers, athletes of all kinds are making the switch to a plant-based diet. Buy why? In short, because a plant-based diet may improve an athlete’s performance and recovery. Here’s a closer look at 6 of the top reasons some athletes like Tennis champion Venus Williams or NFL player Dennis Williams are choosing a plant-based diet.

 Plant-Based Diets are High in Nutrients (both macro- and micro- ) and antioxidants which increase performance, recovery and reduces fatigue. Plant-based diets are also typically high in unrefined carbohydrates which provide our brain with its primary source of energy, glucose as well as glycogen to muscles. (1)

Plant-Based Diets Promote Fat Loss as they are high in fiber and low it fat. (2) Studies show that people who eat more soluble fiber have reduced appetite and belly fat. (3,4) Reduced body fat is associated with increased aerobic capacity. i.e. the less you weigh the faster you can run, cycle, swim, etc thus improving athletic performance. (3,4)

Plant-Based Diets are Anti-Inflammatory. Plant foods such as fruit and vegetables are high in antioxidants which can support the decrease of both acute and chronic inflammation. In fact, plants have about 64 times the amount of antioxidants that animal foods do, which is why measures of inflammation can be reduced by as much as 29% in just three weeks on a plant-based diet! (5,6)

Studies also show that the anti-inflammatory nature of plant-based foods help reduce soreness, muscle damage and support recovery (see below) all of which contribute to improved athletic performance. (7,8,9,10,11)

Plant-Based Diets Improve Blood Flow. Research has shown that arteries can constrict by as much as 40% just two hours after eating a high-fat animal-based meal! (12) This is in part due to the nitric oxide found in plant foods like spinach, lettuce, carrots and beets which helps the blood vessels to dilate allowing better blood flow to the brain, muscles and other body parts. (13)

Plant-Based Diets Increase Oxygen in the Body.  A single high-fat animal-based meal (the study used a sausage and egg breakfast sandwich on an english muffin) can quickly thicken the blood (just as it can constrict the arteries) slowing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients in the blood to muscles during exercise as well as the brain and other areas of the body. (2,12) This decreases the body’s ability to recover and effects overall athletic performance. 

 

Studies show that athletes on a plant-based diet may be able to increase their VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use during exercise. Increasing VO2 max means athletes can increase performance, especially during aerobic exercise such as running. (2)

Plant-Based Diets Speed Up Recovery. Intense exercise often leads to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which causes stiffness in the muscles. (14) The increased blood flow to the muscles from nitric oxide helps those tired muscles to recover faster. (15) As any athlete can attest, the faster you can recover the more you can train/workout which means you can make gains and improvements in performance faster. 

But you don’t have to be a professional or competitive athlete to reap these amazing benefits from a plant-based foods. Whether you run half-marathons or just after your kids, eating more plant foods can improve your health to help you feel and perform your best. 


 

 

  1. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Mar;48(3):543-68.
  2. Nutrients 2019, 11(1), 130; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11010130
  3. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Nov;90(5):1160-6. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28133. Epub 2009 Sep 30.  
  4. Parikh S, Pollock NK, Bhagatwala J, et al. Adolescent fiber consumption is associated with visceral fat and inflammatory markers. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012;97(8):E1451–E1457. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-1784
  5. Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, Bøhn SK, Dragland S, Sampson L, Willey C, Senoo H, Umezono Y, Sanada C, Barikmo I, Berhe N, Willett WC, Phillips KM, Jacobs DR Jr, Blomhoff R. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J. 2010 Jan;9:3.
  6. Sutliffe JT, Wilson LD, de Heer HD, Foster RL, Carnot MJ. C-reactive protein response to a vegan lifestyle intervention. Complement Ther Med. 2015 Feb;23(1):32-7.
  7. Tarazona-Díaz MP, Alacid F, Carrasco M, Martínez I, Aguayo E. Watermelon juice: potential functional drink for sore muscle relief in athletes. J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Aug 7;61(31):7522-8.
  8. Trombold JR, Reinfeld AS, Casler JR, Coyle EF. The effect of pomegranate juice supplementation on strength and soreness after eccentric exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):1782-8.
  9. Hutchison AT, Flieller EB, Dillon KJ, Leverett BD. Black currant nectar reduces muscle damage and inflammation following a bout of high-intensity eccentric contractions. J Diet Suppl. 2016 Aug;13(1):1-15.
  10. Bowtell JL, Sumners DP, Dyer A, Fox P, Mileva KN. Montmorency cherry juice reduces muscle damage caused by intensive strength exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Aug;43(8):1544-51.
  11. Howatson G, McHugh MP, Hill JA, Brouner J, Jewell AP, van Someren KA, Shave RE, Howatson SA. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Dec;20(6):843-52.
  12. Bae JH, Bassenge E, Kim KB, Kim YN, Kim KS, Lee HJ, Moon KC, Lee MS, Park KY, Schwemmer M. Postprandial hypertriglyceridemia impairs endothelial function by enhanced oxidant stress. Atherosclerosis. 2001 Apr;155(2):517-23.
  13. Domínguez R, Cuenca E, Maté-Muñoz JL, García-Fernández P, Serra-Paya N, Estevan MC, Herreros PV, Garnacho-Castaño MV. Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. A systematic review. Nutrients. 2017 Jan;9(1):43.
  14. Zickl, D. (2019, March 11). New Research Shows a Plant-Based Diet Can Improve Your Recovery Time. Retrieved from https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a25797700/plant-based-diet-recovery/ 
  15. Naghedi-Baghdar H, Nazari SM, Taghipour A, Nematy M, Shokri S, Mehri MR, Molkara T, Javan R. Effect of diet on blood viscosity in healthy humans: a systematic review. Electron Physician. 2018 Mar;10(3):6563-70.


Amy Huber

Amy Huber

Writer and expert


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