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13 Ways Plant-Based Eating Can Benefit Athletes and The Vegan Athlete's Nutrition Handbook is here!

Updated: Feb 21

runner, running

Hi there, friends! I wanted to let you know that I got word that my new book, The Vegan Athlete's Nutrition Handbook: The Essential Guide to Plant-Based Performance is in the warehouse and ready to ship! Expected ship date is August 17th.

The Vegan Athlete offers nutritional guidance for athletes of all levels from weekend warriors to fitness enthusiasts to elite athletes who are plant-curious, transitioning toward a plant-forward diet, or want to refine their existing plant-based nutrition plan. It is a comprehensive guidebook for anyone looking to either dive deep into the nitty-gritty details of the science behind plant-based eating or simply have access to easy-to-follow vegan menus, recipes, tips, and tricks that can enhance performance, recovery and overall health. The book also addresses specific athletic and lifecycle concerns such as inflammation, bone health, sleep, and supplements. The book provides guidance for everyone who is moving their body in whatever way works for them! With easy-to-follow vegan menus, recipes, tips, and tricks that can enhance performance, boost recovery and improve health, there's no reason not to pick up this book!

author, book, vegan athlete

By the way, you don’t need to be an elite runner to perform better from eating more plant-based foods. In fact, you don’t need to be a runner at all. Adding more plant-based foods to your plate can help to fuel your walk, pickle ball sessions, swim lessons, hiking adventures, and more. Plant-based foods can fuel your physical performance and support your mental focus whether you’re a weekend warrior, elite athlete, or somewhere in between. Below, find 13 ways in which plant-based foods can support athletes of all kinds.

Sustain Energy

plant-based food, plant-based bowl, plant-based nutrition

Plant based diets are high in fiber through whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Getting adequate fiber through plants increases satiety and controls blood sugar, allowing for consistent energy throughout the day. Plant-based foods are also nutrient-dense, containing an abundance of essential vitamins and minerals that are necessary for metabolism, converting macronutrients into energy and promoting cellular health throughout the body and the brain.

Decrease Inflammation

stretching, runners

The effect of plant-based eating on inflammation has been extensively researched, showing that plant-based, high fiber, phytochemical-rich diets have been associated with lower inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). A 2015 study found that participants randomized to a two-month plant-based diet experienced reductions in inflammatory scores, when compared to those eating diets higher in animal fat and products. Other studies have found that diets high in fat and processed meat are associated with elevated inflammatory markers.

Improve Digestion

smoothie, apples, digestion

Plant-based diets promote healthy gut bacteria through fiber, especially prebiotic fiber that is found in foods like bananas, artichokes, oatmeal and asparagus. Studies show that high-fiber plant-based diets can alter the composition of gut bacteria and increase bacterial diversity, improving digestion and overall gut health. A healthy gut has been linked to reduced short and long-term inflammation. Of note, avoid experimenting with high fiber foods during training or competition, which may cause gastrointestinal distress. Increase fiber intake slowly and boost water intake as fiber intake increases.

Increase Mental Focus/Improve Cognition

cognition, focus, meditation

One study reveals that following a plant-based diet during midlife reduces the risk of cognitive decline later in life. The data available through the Singapore Chinese Health Study looked at nearly 17,000 people (45-74 years old) who were interviewed about their diet and lifestyle and completed cognition assessments. The researchers found that those who adhered to plant-based dietary patterns during midlife were 18-33 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment later in life than those who didn’t follow a plant-strong or plant-based diet.

Expedite Recovery

smoothie bowl, berries

Compared with meat-eaters, individuals eating a plant-based diet receive more phytochemicals, also called phytonutrients, many of which act as antioxidants and help to fight off inflammatory free radicals. Free radicals may lead to muscle fatigue, reduced athletic performance, and impaired recovery. Choosing a variety of colorful plant-based foods can quench free radicals and reduce inflammation.

Improve Performance

running, runners

A plant-based diet, low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol, helps improve blood viscosity, which helps more oxygen reach the muscles and enhance athletic performance. Plant-based diets also improve arterial flexibility and diameter, leading to better blood flow. Studies suggest that a meal high in saturated fat from animal products may impair arterial function for several hours following the meal.

Sleep Well

sleeping, sleep hygeine

According to one study, one in three Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, cognitive decline and poor performance. Certainly, cutting back caffeine and alcohol may improve sleep. However, one study looked a little deeper at dietary patterns and sleep and found that diets high in fiber and low in saturated fat and sugar can offer more restorative and uninterrupted sleep. Results show that greater fiber intake predicted more time spent in the stage of deep, slow wave sleep.

Manage Weight, Train More Efficiently

aerobics, gym, workout

Plant-based diets that are low in saturated fat and high in fiber may help to reduce body fat. Reduced body fat has been associated with increased aerobic capacity. Studies also suggest that people who eat primarily plant-based diets tend to have a lower body mass index and lower rates of obesity than those who eat meat.

Support Immune Function

spices, plant-based, immune system

A strong immune response requires nutrients for protein synthesis and cell proliferation. Vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals found in plants support these specific immunological functions. Also, building gut diversity through fiber can fight off intestinal pathogens.

Decrease Risk of Lifestyle Diseases

elderly, movement, running, outdoors

Similar to the general population, athletes are at risk for heart disease. In one study, 44 percent of endurance cyclists and runners had coronary plaques. A plant-based diet may prevent heart disease by reversing plaque, decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing undesirable excess weight.

Increase Overall Well-Being

gardening, lifestyle

One study looked at the well-being of 68 individuals who switched to a vegan diet after instruction versus 45 subjects who didn’t receive vegan diet intervention. Those who followed a vegan diet for 22 weeks reported improvements in general health, physical functioning, mental health, vitality and overall diet satisfaction.

Lessen Anxiety and Depression

golden milk, turmeric

Nearly eight percent of Americans over the age of 12 experience depression (staggering number!). One study analyzed the dietary patterns and risk of depression in 3,486 subjects over a five-year period. Individuals eating whole foods reported fewer symptoms of depression compared to those who ate mostly processed foods. Additionally, when comparing a vegetarian versus omnivorous diet, vegetarians reported more positive moods than meat eaters. Plant foods are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which generally help to repair damage and decrease inflammation in brain cells. In addition, plant foods may help restore balance to neurotransmitters. Arachidonic acid, a type of fat found only in animals, may create inflammation in the brain and feelings of anxiety, stress and depression.

Connect with Nature/Support the Planet

nature, outdoors

Not only can plant-based diets be viable options for athletes, but they also fair better for the planet. Most plants require fewer natural resources for production compared to meat. Seventy percent of the worlds natural water resources are used for animal agriculture. Livestock emissions (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane) are responsible for about 18 to 20 percent of greenhouse gases (a source second to fossil fuels), not to mention the amount of rainforest land that is destroyed to make room for more animal agriculture.

Overall, a whole food plant-based or plant-forward diet can help to optimize intake of nutrient-dense foods while minimizing intake of inflammatory foods, like processed foods, oils, and animal products. A plant-based diet consists of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, seeds, and nuts. Adding more plant-based foods to your plate can support all types of athletes of all ages, helping to fuel their performance


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