There are many different diets out there, from a high-fat ketogenic diet to a high-carb vegan diet. Some diet changes can improve or worsen athletic performance. Have you ever wondered how the food you eat will impact your training or exercise routine? In this article, we’ll look at how following a plant-based diet affects athletic performance, endurance, and recovery.
Does a Plant-Based Diet Improve Athletic Performance?
Yes! A well-planned plant-based diet can improve aspects of athletic performance. Plant-based diets are high in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also low in saturated fat and cholesterol. These components of a healthy diet contribute to improved athletic performance and health. Let’s look further into why this is possible.
How Does a Plant-Based Diet Affect the Endurance Athlete?
Without intentionally restricting meal size or amount of food eaten, following a plant-based diet reduces body fat. Plant-based eaters naturally consume meals high in fibre and low in fat. This keeps the calorie content of meals down leading to changes in body composition, which can be favourable for athletes. Eating plant-based has also been shown to increase the energy used after a meal. By decreasing body fat, a plant-based diet helps to improve athletic endurance.
Studies have shown that with a modest amount of weight loss, athletes improve their cardiovascular fitness. Even without weight loss, vegetarian diets have been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness and decrease organ fat.
Researchers found that vegetarians had higher levels of VO2 max (a measure of cardiovascular fitness), and stamina compared to non-vegetarians.
For moderate and high-intensity aerobic exercise, carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source. It is important to choose high carbohydrate meals and snacks when training. However, many athletes are not consuming enough carbohydrates to fuel their fitness levels.
Eating a plant-based diet can help athletes meet their carbohydrate needs. Plant-based eaters typically eat more nutritious carbohydrates because they eat legumes and root vegetables. Adequate carbohydrate intake enhances endurance performance by increasing muscle glycogen levels. Glycogen is where our muscles store carbohydrates to use as a fuel source while exercising.
A plant-based diet high in fruits and vegetables is rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. High antioxidant intake from a plant-based diet helps to prevent cell damage caused by free radicals which are compounds created during heavy exercise. Free radicals can cause muscle fatigue, reduced athletic performance and poor recovery following exercise. The actions of antioxidants are important for muscle recovery in athletes.
How Does a Plant-Based Diet Affect the Resistance Training Athlete?
It seems as though science is split on how a plant-based diet impacts resistance training. A small study comparing the force applied by the muscles of omnivores and vegetarians found no difference between the two groups. Another study found that older men who ate an omnivore diet gained more muscle mass while doing resistance training than older men who ate a vegetarian diet. However, in many studies the muscle mass of omnivores and vegetarians are comparable
Eating a plant-based diet has many benefits, including improved athletic performance. Whether you’re an endurance or strength-based athlete or just regularly exercising on your own, a plant-based diet has benefits for everyone.
Are you surprised by these findings? Let us know in the comments below!
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