More and more athletes, exercise enthusiasts, and weekend warriors are either reducing the amount of meat they eat, or switching completely to a plant-based diet.
Which begs the question: Is it worth it? And how does going vegan or vegetarian affect athletic performance?
The Health Benefits of Becoming Vegan
Many studies have dug into the pros and cons of going plant-based, and while there are some dubious claims out there, several clear benefits have arisen out of the research.
These include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- Improved cardiovascular health. In general, vegans have better blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart attacks and stroke. On a daily basis, improved cardio health means your body can better transport oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your muscles, which in turn may help boost exercise performance and recovery.
- Reduced risk of various diseases, including diabetes and cancer.
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis. Some research suggests that a diet high in animal protein may cause your bones to lose more calcium. While more research needs to be done, stronger, more impact-resistant bones can improve your posture, boost athletic performance and lower your risks of injury.
People who make the switch to a more plant-based diet, or even a completely vegan diet, also anecdotally report benefits like improved energy and enhanced mental clarity. These have yet to be studied in published research, but if you experience those same benefits, they may help boost your performance in the gym!
Supplements for Vegans
If you’re considering making the switch to a vegan diet, or cutting back on how much animal protein you eat, it’s wise to be aware of potential nutritional deficiencies (and the supplements that can help you overcome these challenges).
- Protein Shakes
If you’re vegetarian and still eating eggs and dairy products, this is hardly a worry. But some strict vegans may struggle to get enough protein. If that’s the case, whole foods like legumes and nuts can help you hit your protein goals. Alternatively, a plant-based protein shake can help you maintain your macros.
- Vitamin B12
This vitamin is only found in animal products. If you’re going 100% plant-based, make sure you take a vitamin B12 supplement or eat/drink B12-fortified foods and beverages. B12 is important for energy production and stamina, which has obvious implications for your workouts.
Iron deficiencies are rare in vegetarians, but it can be a possibility, especially if you don’t eat a lot of plant-based sources of iron like lentils, seeds and whole grains. An iron supplement can help you reach your nutritional baseline.
- Omega-3 Fats
Diets that are low in fish and eggs are often low in essential omega-3 fatty acids. Good vegan sources include soy, flax and walnuts, or you can take a plant-based omega-3 supplement.
For more information about a plant based diet and a complete meat free recipe day checkout "Meat-free Monday's."