Updated: May 30, 2022
Plant-based eating can play an integral role in increasing performance and promoting muscle growth. Some of the world’s top athletes are plant-based and performing at the height of their respective sports. Plant-based options can provide the same amount, if not more, of the vital macro and micronutrients various athletes need.
Nutrition should be personalized, which means, there is no one-size-fits-all for what you should eat. Everyone requires different amounts and enjoys different options. In the same way, all sports require different foods at different times. The two general categories of sports from a nutrition perspective are endurance and strength-based sports, with many sports overlapping both categories at different periods during the game or event.
Endurance sports (soccer, tennis, marathon running) require additional carbohydrates to maximize glycogen stores for periods of exercise longer than 60 minutes. This can be done through whole grains, fruits, and some vegetables. Strength-based sports (football, powerlifting, sprinting) often require short bursts of energy, so additional protein for muscle building capacity are essential. Plant-based protein options are abundant and offer additional nutritional benefits, such as increased fiber and phytochemical properties.
Which athletes are utilizing the benefits of plant-based eating for their sport?
1. Venus Williams
Venus Willaims is a top tennis player, and sister of equally dominant tennis player Serena Williams. Venus Willaims has experienced a long career in tennis, and was recently ranked the number 7 tennis player in the world, at 37 years old! She attributes her long lasting career to her recent change in diet towards plant-based eating.
In 2011 Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, which is an autoimmune disorder that affects various body systems such as the eyes, salivary glands, joints, lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, digestive organs, and nerves. She often found it difficult to play tennis, being fatigued and experiencing tremendous joint pain.
Her doctors recommended she try a plant-based diet, which could lower inflammation and result in less pain and increased energy. She has found success in this new diet, being able to maintain the carbohydrate and protein requirements for her long lasting tennis matches. Her switches have included reducing the amount of heavily processed meats and animal based products, which caused her inflammation and pain. She has switched to a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, with plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts, and soy.
2. Patrik Baboumian
While you may not have heard of this name before, Patrik Baboumian is a massive figure in sports. Literally. Patrik is a German strongman and powerlifter, winning the European powerlifting championships and being named German’s strongest man in 2011.
Patrik eats approximately 5,000 calories each day to maintain his weight and increases his muscle building capacity by consuming 410g of protein a day in the form of soy and other plant-based protein options!
Plant-based eating supports his macro and micronutrient needs while increasing his strength and ability to perform in the gym!
3. Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan is one of the faces of women in American sports. The two-time Women’s World Cup winner began a vegan lifestyle in early 2018. While originally going vegan to support giving animals a voice, she has noticed a change in her own play on the field saying, “If anything, it makes me stronger and helps with fatigue and recovery.”
She has continued her efforts to support plant-based eating while encouraging her teammates to give it a try. She helps them with making switches from milk and animal products to plant products such as soy milk and the new Beyond Burger.
4. Mike Tyson
Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson may not still be in the ring, but he is another top tier athlete that has made the switch to plant-based eating. Mike Tyson grew up eating many animal products to help maintain his weight and strength when fighting, but realized these foods were leading to increased inflammation and arthritis associated with joint and muscle pain.
Mike Tyson was able to lose 130 pounds after switching to a vegan diet. He notes the history of plant-based eating with Roman gladiators, “the greatest gladiators, the greatest ones in Roman times, they were all vegan. That’s fighting to the death!”
Both endurance and strength-based athletes can benefit from the switch to plant-based options. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide a variety of complex and simple carbohydrates necessary for longer periods of exercise, while plant-based protein options are abundant to maintain and build muscle. The phytonutrients and antioxidants found in plants (and not animal products) can help speed recovery and reduce inflammation — and perhaps give plant-based athletes a competitive advantage.
Have you found plant-based foods help with your workout recovery? Please share your experience below!
P.S. Check out The Game Changers, an inspiring new film about plant-based athletes!
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Hey everyone! My name is Alec Pienta and I am finishing the master's level Coordinated Program of Nutrition at Georgia State University, which will enable me to sit and (hopefully) pass the exam to become a Registered Dietitian. I was drawn to studying nutrition through sports and exercise in high school. Nutrition education is one of the aspects I am most passionate about. I enjoy being able to talk about nutrition guidelines, clear up misconceptions, and tell fun facts! I am open to where the world of nutrition leads me, but know that I will be happy being able to communicate nutrition information to anyone who will listen.