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Why athletes are choosing plant based diet? Does it work for all?

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“I should go on a plant based diet!” If the thought crossed your mind after watching Game Changers, then let me tell you, you are not the only one.

 

Athlete or not we want to give it a try especially after knowing that our run machine Virat Kohli too is on a vegan diet.  Not only him, high profile elite athletes like Lewis Hamilton, Serena and Venus Williams have long been vegans.

 

 

 

As an athlete you might think that protein is your elixir and muscle building and meat go hand in hand. It’s because we have been conditioned this way since years.

 

When Arnold Schwarzenegger told Sylvester Stallone in Escape plan that “you hit like a vegetarian” it added to the foundation that protein for muscle and strength can only be obtained by animal products. You might ask then why are athletes turning to plant based diet?

 

Unlike popular opinion that vegetarians eat only “ghaas phoos”, the reality is far from the portrayed image and people are coming around the fact that your protein and daily nutrient intake can be fulfilled on a plant based diet.

 

After watching Game Changers Virat Kohli tweeted that “Being a vegetarian athlete has made me realise what I have believed all these years regarding diet was a myth. What an amazing documentary and yes I’ve never felt better in my life after I turned vegetarian”

 

Our client Sushil Kumar, Indian Olympic wrestler is a pure vegetarian and managed to bag Silver medal in London and Bronze in Beijing without eating meat or eggs.

 

Tennis star Serena William was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011 after which she was advised to go on a raw vegan diet to relieve her symptoms and it helped her improve her performance. Kyrie Irving is one of the most famous basketball players and he switched to vegan diet after watching “What the Health” a documentary on Netflix.

 

Vegan athletes have always been around for many years but only in recent times the focus is on them due to increased media exposure and awareness.

 

How does a plant based diet benefit the athlete must be your next question. Research has shown that plant based diet could offer potential performance benefits due to the antioxidant (polyphenols), micronutrient (vitamin C, E) and carbohydrate-rich foods typical of plant-based diets assisting training and enhancing recovery.

 

Plant based diet is high in fiber and antioxidants which help neutralize the post exercise oxidative stress and help in early recovery, intense exercise leads to suppressed immune system which might make the athlete prone to infections and proper nutrition in form of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory foods and micronutrient is a must to boost their immune system function and aid in metabolic recovery.

 

Excess fat intake and poor food choices may exacerbate exercise-induced immune-suppression. Adequate micronutrient intake (notably folate, carotenoids, B6, B12, C, E, zinc, copper, iron, and selenium) by athletes has been suggested to attenuate suppression of immune function.

 

Seeds containing omega-3 (flax, hemp, chia, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower) are a healthier alternative to animal-based fats and oils. They offer a substantial amount of protein and are a healthy fat source with the right balance of fatty acids, lignans, sterols, and other beneficial components contributing to immune-competence(1).

 

A plant based diet helps reduce inflammation and helps lower serum concentration of C-reactive protein; and inflammatory marker. This could be due to absence of inflammatory foods and fats which mainly come from meat.

 

A few studies have examined the possibility that specific foods with antioxidant activity (e.g., tart cherries, pomegranates, blueberries, blackcurrants, and watermelon) may decrease post-exercise inflammation and facilitate recovery(2).

 

However poorly constructed vegan diets might predispose individuals to macronutrient (protein, n-3) and micronutrient (vitamin B12 and vitamin D; iron, zinc, calcium, iodine) deficiencies(1).

 

A follow-up study in college athletes intervened with whole food plant based diet showed following results stated by the athletes: A plant-based proteins alone are not sufficient for athletic performance, eating a plant-based diet can be easy and affordable, and stressing “healthy eating” will get better results than stressing “Whole Food Plant Based” eating.

 

This was supported by quotes from the athletes including:

  • “WFPB eating is ok, but not all the time”
  • “If WFPB are given to me I will eat it, but I won’t go out of my way to find them”
  • “Plant-based is ok for the off season, but an athlete needs meat and chicken during the season”
  • “Honestly I’m just tired after practice. I’m just going to grab whatever is easiest and you have a bunch of work to do(3).”

 

One thing can be concluded by these findings is that a plant based diet needs more planning than a normal vegetarian or meat based diet as one needs to monitor the calorie intake as well as carefully plan the meals around workout and training to get optimum nutrition and avoid nutritional deficiencies.

 

So does it work for all? maybe or maybe not. Every individual has different nutritional requirements and not one single thing works for all.

 

 

Research has shown that vegan diet is beneficial not only for athletic performance but also countering medical conditions. Read more here https://www.ryanfernando.in/do-vegan-diet-works/

 

Call us on 9743430000 to discover whether or not vegan diet would be beneficial for you. Consult our expert nutritionist who will make a call after carefully analyzing all your parameters and help you with the optimum nutrition strategy to fuel your body and improve performance.

 

Ryan Fernando is an Award-winning celebrity Sports Nutritionist with 2GUINNESS world record and 2 Olympic medals under his belt. His client list include Olympic wrestler Sushil Kumar,  cricketer Shikhar Dhawan & bollywood superstars Aamir Khan & Abhishek Bachchan. He is  Chief Nutritionist at QUA Nutrition Signature Clinics.

 

 

References:

  1. Fuhrman J, Ferreri DM. Fueling the Vegetarian (Vegan) Athlete. Curr Sports Med Rep [Internet]. 2010 Jul [cited 2019 Nov 22];9(4):233–41. Available from: https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00149619-201007000-00013
  2. Barnard ND, Goldman DM, Loomis JF, Kahleova H, Levin SM, Neabore S, et al. Plant-based diets for cardiovascular safety and performance in endurance sports. Vol. 11, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2019.
  3. Subach RM, Mazurek S, Klein L. Attitudes and Beliefs of Division II Collegiate Swimmers on the Adoption of a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet. Vol. 26, J. Swimming Research. 2018.
  4. https://www.businessinsider.in/sports/these-19-elite-athletes-are-vegan-heres-what-made-them-switch-their-diet/articleshow/66466237.cms
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