Improving one’s athletic prowess traditionally involves consuming large amounts of animal protein, specifically lean beef, chicken breast, and egg whites. But as some Olympians demonstrated, going vegan might be critical to athletic glory.
Some of those who worked to a podium finish at the most recent summer and winter Olympics have shifted to a plant-based diet. It’s a gamble that has paid off for seven Olympic gold medalists from various disciplines.
Among those touting the merits of going vegan to improve their performance are figure skater Meagan Duhamel, snowboarder Hannah Teter, sisters and tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, footballer Alex Morgan, runner Carl Lewis, and track star David Verburg.
Their shift to plant-based diets flies in the face of the conventional belief that going vegan cannot possibly be enough to fuel the body for daily living, let alone competitive sports.
However, according to registered dietitian Tara DellaIacono Thies, vegan diets have helped these athletes boost their strength levels, their overall performance, and personal fitness. In her practice, she has counseled a number of athletes on how to incorporate healthier foods and habits into their training regimen, not only improving their performance in their chosen sports, but also their health in general.
As Thies puts it, athletes can subsist – even thrive – on a vegan diet. In recent years, many athletes have made it into the upper echelons of their sports without consuming meat or animal-derived products. Indeed, in a report published in the journal Nutrients, athletes who are strictly vegan during their training noted better cardiac health, improved muscle recovery post-performance, and sustained strength and energy levels.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing how vegan diets are often medically mandated to reduce blood cholesterol, reverse plaque blockage in the cardiovascular system, alleviate high blood pressure, and even keep weight at healthy levels.
According to Thies, athletes who want to go the plant-based route can start by swapping out animal protein as well as eggs and dairy for high-protein plant foods like legumes and nuts. They should also pay attention to how much they’re getting in the way of essential nutrients like Vitamins B12 and D, calcium, choline, iron, and zinc.
As with conventional diets, plant-based diets also call for balance. Therefore, athletes may also consider taking key supplements for nutrients not typically found in plant-based foods.